Monetization - 14 min read  - January 18, 2021

Top Strategies to Grow the Retention Rates of your Mobile Games

Learn all the Key Retention metrics for your Mobile Game launch, how to build your Retention Formula and Top Strategies to Improve your Retention Rates.

You’re about to launch your next mobile game into the markets. You probably already have done it. You’re definitely expecting good results, and you’re checking your retention metrics to see how the users are enjoying it. However, the metrics you’re getting don’t reach your expectations, not even the industry standards. The panic runs into your veins, and you’re having second thoughts.

All mobile app developers who decide to launch their projects have felt this way before. Maybe even you, after reading these lines, can recognize yourself in the previous situation.

Lately, I have been receiving a lot of requests to get help on this topic. The struggle is so real that we have decided to create a series of articles around relevant topics such as All you need to know about LTV for Mobile Games; How to Improve the CPI & ARPU of your UA Campaigns & tips for creating Video Ad Creatives for Mobile Games that just work.

Today we’re bringing a list of all the Key Retention Metrics on a Mobile Game Launch. We want to show you how to build your Retention Formula and the Most Efficient Strategies to Improve your Retention Rates.

Summary for this article:

Key Retention Metrics for your Mobile Game

From Appodeal, we still find many developers (mostly indies) that launch their games to the global market without doing a proper technical launch or even a soft launch. We have often emphasized the importance of Soft Launching your projects, that we have even created a “How to Run a Game Concept Test” 20-page guide that you can download for free.

However, some developers still ask us which retention metrics should they check during their soft launch.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. The answer will vary depending on the genre, the core audience, mechanics of your games… You’ll have to decide which ones fit better to your mobile game.

From our experience, quite often, developers check the wrong metrics or expect unrealistic high values. When that happens, it’s easy to take the wrong steps or make wrong decisions.

In Appodeal, we have already listed some of the most relevant retention metrics you can track from your Appodeal Dashboard. Below, you can find them in full detail:

Day 0 Retention

We’re starting with a metric that not many developers use, and it’s not 100% necessary either. However, it may be interesting to know the percentage of users who return within 24h after installing the app on their devices.

It is quite useful when you need to quickly understand if some of the retention features you’ve integrated are properly working or anything that may block the user’s game experience.

Day 1 Retention

Shows the percentage of users that open your app one day after the install. This metric can tell you the first impression that the players get from your mobile game and how likely they are to remember your game.

Tutorial Retention

Even hyper-casual games have a tutorial, and your game should have one too. It’s a good way to control the user’s experience and be sure nothing awkward is happening during their first encounter.

You don’t have to bother that much with the industry averages for this metric during the soft launch phase. Instead, focus on growing your Tutorial Retention value after each new version you release.

Tutorial Conversion

It also tells you how many users have already gone through the “learning phase” and understand what your game is about.

Your tutorial should have several events, depending on how many steps they have. This way, you can check at which specific moment they have churned during their tutorial experience. Don’t be shy about how many events you place in your tutorial. This is a crucial moment of the user experience. The tutorial is the first date they have with your game, and they must fall in love with it.

Depending on when they churn, you’ll get exactly what you need to tweak in your tutorial.

Every genre has its needs. Maybe your tutorial experience is too long, maybe too short. Or maybe it’s overly complicated, or it doesn’t show enough meat. The best approach here is to segment your users and tweak it in both directions.

Speed of Tutorial Conversion

Related to the previous paragraph, you may want to check how much time the average user spends on your tutorial. Avoid worrying too much about the “exceptions of the rule.” Some people do weird stuff, and they may get stuck in the tutorial for weeks or even months. Just focus on the average, and you’ll be safe.

Skip Rate

Some mobile games give the option to skip the tutorial. It’s something you should consider once you get several updates. Your churned users may come back, and they most definitely will want to skip the tutorial.

User Session Length

No matter what analytic tool you use, the user session length should indicate how long users play your game since they open the app until it is closed and sent to the background. It varies from game to game, but in most cases, longer is better.

Each genre has its average session length, and they vary a lot between each other. People spend an average of 4 minutes on Arcade games; in puzzle games, the average is up to 8 minutes; and average casino games have user session lengths over 12 minutes. And the user session lengths of top games go way longer than that.

User Sessions per Day

Sometimes mobile game developers worry too much about the user session length, and they completely forget about the average number of sessions that a user plays their games in a day.

Depending on your current monetization strategy and the mechanics of your game, you may get more Ad Impressions by having 7 daily sessions, each one of 5 minutes long (35 min total), rather than 3 daily sessions of 7 min each (21 min total).

There are exceptional cases about games that have discovered that longer user sessions may burn players and reduce long-term retention, causing a drop in the LTV. Sometimes you may have a growth opportunity when you force your users to stop playing your mobile game, so they come back later wanting for more. However, this is not a very common pattern and is probably not recommended without extensive testing.

User Progression Unit (AKA User Level)

This metric is mostly known as “% of users that reached X level.” However, after the tutorial, there are so many possibilities depending on the game genre that not everyone can track the “User Level.”

In short, you should create a metric based on the “currency” or “unit” that your game uses to track the user progression. While most games use levels, there can be exceptions. An endless-runner may use meters/feet, a casino game may use “coins,” and a strategy game could even use “conquered territories.”

Use what you must, but don’t forget this one. It will be useful to create progression graphs, find bottlenecks, and increase your retention rates by improving in-game features (not just in the gameplay, but also in marketing offers, bonuses, etc.)

7-Day Retention

The number of players that have returned 7 days after they have installed the game. While D1 showed memorability and likeability, D7 (apart from the obvious mechanics’ engagement) shows the potential that your game has to convert non-paying users to paying users and generate constant flows of revenue.

30-Day Retention

The share of players that have returned 30 days after they have installed the game. This is useful for detecting if your game can attract paying users who will spend higher amounts of money through in-app purchases. It is also a very relevant metric for mobile games expect to have a strong base of long-term non-paying users and want to integrate and optimize rewarded video ads.

Mid-term & long-term such as 7D & 30D retention metrics, are not that important during your game launch, but they are worth mentioning in this article since they have a strong importance in Ad Revenues. The more your users stay on your app, the higher the opportunities for you to send them Ad Impressions and get revenues from non-paying users. 

Appodeal Accelerator Program

Now that we’ve gone through the most important Retention metrics in the mobile app & gaming industry, it is time to focus on skyrocketing those metrics.

Building the Retention Formula for your Mobile Game

As a mobile developer, you will definitely want to establish the most meaningful retention rates for your apps. For that, you need to stop thinking like a developer and think as the player that will enjoy your game.

First, Define which Actions your Players should take

Videogames are complex, and mobile games are no exception.

Imagine that your game is a ladder or a stair. Each step is a stage in your business conversion funnel, and to move to the next step, they have to perform certain actions, reach certain milestones or spend a certain amount of time.

Do you know which actions, milestones, or key points of interest your players have to do to move forward in each step of your game?

You may think this is a dumb question, but many apps and game developers get lost when trying to define these steps or actions. It is not because they don’t know which actions, but this is a tricky question; usually, what developers think is a simple action or an easy milestone. When users have to do it during their gameplays, they get completely lost.

In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf’s critical action was to “go to Mordor and destroy the ring.” However, the adventures the hobbits had to endure to reach mount doom were… well, we ended up with three long books/movies. However, if Gandalf thought about the eagles at the beginning of the story, Frodo could have easily thrown the ring into the lava from the heights and fly away safely.

So, first things first, list all the critical actions that your players must go through. There, you will identify the so-called “pain points”: places, features, or moments during your game that players will rather shoot themselves in the foot instead of going through them.

Only then, you’ll be able to divide them into several stages in your retention funnel and start elaborating and applying strategies/methodologies to ease the “pain” in these points.

You will be creating your unique “retention formula” for your game.

Then, Optimize your Critical Actions & Define the Retention Timeframes

If you find that your list of critical actions is too big, or you can’t totally identify if all the actions you listed are truly critical, there are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • What am I offering here?
  • What value does that give to my players?
  • Is this exciting enough for my players?
  • What would my players rather do instead?
  • What is the meaning of life?

The list of questions is infinite, and it will depend on the type of game you’re designing.

Be as critical as you can be, and you surely will find your own to optimize your list of critical actions. If you are out of ideas or it is still hard to tell which are pain points or critical actions, you can even play the game of your competition. Sometimes it’s easier to point out the “pain points” of projects you’re not involved in.

Once you’ve finished listing all your critical actions, it will be the time to define the time frames that your players need to complete them.

Some critical actions happen once, and some others are part of a loop in your players’ experience.

For example, finishing the tutorial is something that users will only do once. However, you may want your users to click on the “in-app purchase,” or the “watch rewarded video ad” button as many times as possible.

To determine the timeframe of your critical actions and establish a course of action, you can follow this four-step process:

  1. Grab the data from all the users that have done the critical action.
  2. Check how long it took them to complete the action a second time.
  3. Divide them into groups/segments depending on how much time they need.
  4. Start defining strategies for each segment of users.

It’s easy to start but hard to master. Depending on your game’s complexity, you’ll find that putting this 4-step process into practice is time-consuming… but your game deserves it.

In the future, we will make more articles expanding this process. For now, if you have done this, you would have already identified the two most important things in your “retention formula”: all the steps and the timeframes.

Now, let’s talk about how to increase the retention metrics we were talking about before.

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Strategies to Grow your Mobile App Retention rates

You have identified your Critical Actions, the Timeframes for each one of them, and you want to define strategies to boost your retention rates.

At this point, you may already have some ideas about what you want to improve. Still, we want your game to become a top-earning hit, and we have prepared some ideas for you.

Tweak your Tutorial: Make them fall in love with you.

The tutorial is the onboarding experience that your users will have in your mobile game, and this makes it one of the most crucial key processes of your retention strategy.

Players usually are impatient and don’t believe in second chances. They won’t think twice before leaving a F2P (free-to-play) game and never coming back.  It’s not that they have invested anything, and by leaving, they aren’t losing anything either. 

When a user opens your game for the first time, they are in an “exploration mode.” They wish to learn as minimum things as possible to start having the joyful experience the game promises them. Therefore, you must lead your users into optimal actions and make everything easy for them.

Once you’ve tweaked your tutorial, you reach its best possible version, and you can’t think of anything else to improve… check your analytics. They will tell you the truth and will point out if there’s any critical step during your tutorial where people are still churning.

The most common issues with tutorials are:

  1. too long,
  2. too complex,
  3. too straightforward,
  4. too explanatory. 

The first one is quite obvious: the longer your tutorial is, the higher the chances you lose a share of your users on each stage. Users don’t usually want to stay long in the “exploration” phase and want the candy that they were promised.

If your game is too complex, it’s common to split the tutorials into several smaller ones and unlock mechanics as the user progresses. Give small triumphs before adding more complexity to the game, or you will frustrate them badly.

People also like to think that their game experience is unique. However, tutorials are usually always the same for everyone: a controlled environment to increase retention. If you can add non-relevant variables that vary between different gameplays, that can be a good incentive for users to stay in the tutorial.

And the last one, when you over-explain yourself, or you don’t allow your user to interact with other features that may grab their attention freely, that is another big demotivator. If there’s a button, people will want to push it. If you don’t want them to go that way, don’t show that path… yet.

Push Notifications personalized & aligned with your Theme

When marketers talk about personalizing the Push notifications (and other types of communication), they usually mean two things:

The first one is that you must adapt and align your Push Notifications with your theme.

For example, let’s say you have created a city build manager mobile game. Certain characters around the city help you keep it in control: the mayor, the police officer, the accountant… a cool way to catch the user’s attention would be to write the Push Notifications as if their favorite characters were sending them.

A great push notification should not just look like that the app is trying to bring the player back. It should also add value to the user experience.

On the other side, personalizing a Push Notification it also means to use the players’ data to have a unique experience.

If your game asks your users a nickname, then use it! The same goes with their user level, their friends, the name of their favorite characters, the last feature they have used. Instead of sending them a generic message that will always be the same no matter what they’ve done, go with something more unique. Make them feel acknowledged.

Following with the previous city manager, a personalized push notification would be something like: “Hey [username], you can’t abandon your city for [var_days-since-last-play]! The [var_feature-most-used] is in flames and [var_top-character] went rogue!

And this kind of personalization goes to other communication methods, such as In-App Messages, personalized offers, and any other way you reach your players.

Align your Retention Strategy with your Monetization Model

You want to retain your users for as long as possible, and for that, your monetization model must be aligned with your retention strategy. 

Players will have longer user session lengths depending on the perceived quality of their game. Otherwise, users may not spend enough time on your app to consider purchasing in-apps or even watching rewarded video ads. 

Mobile game developers should find the balance between the UX (User eXperience) and the monetization methods in their games. 

Some game genres improve their retention rates by decreasing the number of promotions & in-app offers at the early stage of user experience. Instead, they monetize with non-intrusive in-app advertisements, such as rewarded video ads.

The rewards aren’t just in-game money or hard currency. You can trade all sorts of virtual stuff through rewarded ads:

  • unlock access to new areas,
  • temporary access to specific features,
  • multipliers of natural rewards,
  • even remove experience blockers (such as timers, lives, etc.)
  • and the list goes as long as your imagination can reach…

Players are always looking for the smartest and fastest approach to progress, and there are plenty of ways to make Retention and Monetization come together.

Encourage, Respond & React to your Feedback

Most of the players want to feel connected with the games they love.

Try to keep as many as possible ways for your players to reach you. They will tell you what they like, which features are frustrating them most, what they expect from your game and new perspectives that you may not have considered.

Negative reviews, when answered back with a gentle and considerate touch, can become positive reviews. Even more, you can turn a player who is about to churn into a loyal user. If you do, they may consider spending more time, more money, and even defend the glory of your game and assist other users in need of help.

Identify & Reward your Loyal Users

Usually, all the loyalty programs that work in mobile games have strong personalization features. The rewards they offer are valuable and meaningful for the player who receives them.

If your mobile game has 100k (or even 500k!) users, there’s a chance that they may have similar behavioral patterns and think more or less alike. However, the higher the number, the higher the chances your users don’t resemble each other at all. 

It’s common to classify top spenders or VIP users into one single category: loyal users. That becomes an issue when you decide to reward those users, and you treat them the same way. As they say, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” 

Avoid irritating your loyal users by being attentive to what in-game features they use more, to which IAPs (In-App Purchases) do they spend more money, or their habits. You can even ask them what they want.

At this point, you may be thinking: “Why that much hassle about loyal users in a blogpost focused on retention?”. 

First, because if you keep them entertained, engaged and satisfied, they will…

  1. tay longer in your game,
  2. defend your brand against external toxic sources,
  3. debate about your game in public forums and communities,
  4. positively review it on the app stores,
  5. and fill the surroundings of your game with positive vibes. 

Top games have proved that feeling part of a greater cause, such as a community’s game, is a pulling effect that increases retention rates. And that pulling effect happens when these games generate those engaging vibes.

Summarizing: What is the best approach for you?

After listing all the metrics, ways to detect weaknesses in your retention models, and strategies to skyrocket your retention rates, there’s still something we still want to emphasize. There is no generic solution to boost your user engagement and retention rates.

Just because the Push Notifications may seem to be working in your competitors’ apps, that does not mean that the same Push Nots will be the right ones for your mobile game.

Keep the perfect balance between all the retention strategies you decide to apply. Always assess and test, which is the best choice for your app. Ask yourself if that feature or method will be adding value to your users or if, instead, it will frustrate them. In the latter case, the best you can do is to review your options, improve them, and keep iterating.

The last thing you want is to push your users to another app that offers a greater value. Avoid making him churn from your game.

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Marc Llobet
Marc Llobet