September 8, 2023
Player loyalty can be a frustratingly ambiguous concept, made only more so by its scarcity.
The latest benchmarks from Appsflyer show average retention declining year-over-year, with just 6.5% of users sticking around for more than seven days after install. Meanwhile, Data.ai’s State of Mobile 2022 report saw annual mobile game player spending fall 5%. With player bases getting less profitable and more fickle, it’s never been more important for publishers to have a firm grasp on the KPIs and tools that let them deepen relationships with players while fostering revenue-generating behaviors.
But measuring something as abstract as loyalty isn’t easy. It often means different things to different publishers, with good reason. Loyalty to a deep-lore-focussed RPG vs a branded match-3 puzzler are likely to look very different on an analytics dashboard. Building a unanimously shared definition won’t happen overnight, but in our experience as creators of a mobile game loyalty program, we’ve found some metrics more helpful than others.
Between rising CPIs, growing privacy limitations, and additional industry headwinds, life is getting tough for mobile game marketers. Industry pundits like Deconstructor of Fun’s Eric Kress³ don’t see things getting better soon, explaining how “... the growth of yields continues to decline and that means not only are we getting lower downloads, we're getting lower quality of downloads.” In short, profitable players are in short supply, and so loyalty is in demand.
This is reinforced when you consider the fact that the value of a loyal player compounds over time. As industry analyst Eric Seufert explains, “Many people consider a ‘leaky bucket’ to refer specifically to the onboarding funnel, but in reality user churn is more expensive later-stage than during the onboarding process … Losing the user with a year of tenure is more damaging to the business than losing the early-stage user because of that proven affinity and acquired behavioral data.”
User loyalty is a multi-faceted concept, and there is no one tried and true way of measuring how loyal your users are. Instead, marketers and game publishers have to rely on a handful of metrics to construct a picture of their user’s attachment to their game. These are some of the metrics we’ve found most helpful.
Understanding loyalty is about understanding a player’s sentiment about your game, and how that impacts their behavior to keep returning to play and spend in your titles. For that reason, we’ve found that looking at loyalty in a quantitative manner requires both a monetization and retention lens. Player spending behavior and player engagement behavior both play crucial, intertwined roles in making up the elusive “loyalty” calculation.
To that end, we’ve broken our loyalty formula into six key metrics:
Let’s cover why.
In the world of mobile gaming, in-app purchases vie for a spot in players' spending plans, competing with other optional expenses. The games that really grab attention and offer a lot of value tend to rise to the top as the preferred choice. Measuring the share of spenders your game has by D30 is a great baseline metric to understand the quantity of spenders in your playerbase, and provides a quick-glance look at the quality of your in-game monetization. In a nutshell, the metric calculates how many of your users made at least one in-app purchase (IAP) within 30 days of install – also known as the install-to-purchase conversion rate.
Implementation of strong monetization systems in your games can drive share of spenders and quality of user spending (measured below by frequency and size of purchases) leading to increased revenue per user and long-term loyalty.
⭐ Fun fact: Lifestyle games come in first above all other genres for share of spenders (D30) according to the 2023 Mobile Gaming Loyalty Report.
As the name implies, this metric tells you the percentage of users making multiple IAPs (in-app purchases). Why does this matter when measuring loyalty? Well, a user making repeat purchases in your game is one that sees value in what it offers. Repeat IAPs are the building blocks of high-value player bases and are a self-perpetuating driver of loyalty – the more a user spends in your game on a recurring basis, the more invested they should feel to stay and play.
If you are not seeing a high enough repeat purchase rate, you may need to re-think the value and structure of your IAPs and their place in your digital economy. Look for opportunities for your IAP offerings to provide evergreen value to players as they progress through the game's lifecycle, in turn adding momentum to the loyalty flywheel. Making IAPs irresistible and yet not so obtrusive that they turn users off is the winning formula for driving higher repeat purchase rates.
⭐ Fun fact: 97% of in-app revenue is generated by repeat purchasers, according to a study by Adikteev.
The most profitable game economies are those that offer value to players at all pricing tiers. And while it’s no replacement for ARPPU when it comes to estimating hard financial returns, average purchase value is an effective measurement of your IAP pricing strategy’s contribution to monetization. A value too close to your lowest-priced IAP suggests not enough players are seeing value in your higher-tier offerings. The closer it trends to your higherest-priced IAPs, however, the more likely it is that your game economy is effectively cultivating purchaser loyalty in a balanced economic manner.
This is a difference worth tracking over time, both within your game and at an industry level. Research from SensorTower explains how “The median price of IAPs in the top U.S. iOS games saw a slight uptick in 2020 after remaining flat between 2017 and 2019. Among the top 20,000 most downloaded games on the U.S. App Store, the median IAP price climbed 25 percent from $3.99 in 2019 to $4.99 last year.” Knowing the environment in which your IAPs are competing can help afford monetization professionals the insight they need to keep prices competitive yet fair.
D30 retention rate is another baseline metric, similar to share of spenders (D30), that helps publishers measure the quantity of player engagement, before diving into other metrics to measure the quality of that engagement.
At a high level, retention is one of the best, quick measures of a mobile game’s success as it indicates how well your game is delivering on its value proposition – repeatedly delivering fun, engaging experiences to players on the go.
As Oleg Yakubenkov, CEO of GoPractice, says in a Deconstructor of Fun article, “Day-30 retention is a clear signal on the metagame performance and the depth of the game. It’s unlikely to see a significant percentage of users playing a game for more than 30 days without working metagame and often a deep social experience.”
However, retention doesn’t stop being relevant after Day 30, and many publishers today have started turning their sites to measuring more long-term retention, like D180, D360, and beyond.
👀 Related reading: The long game: How to reduce churn and retain mobile gamers
The more often players open your game and play, the more loyal they’re likely to become. Average session counts, especially when viewed through the lens of retention interval segments, provide a valuable snapshot of lifestyle penetration. Multiple daily sessions often point to a deeply engaged user base. One that has found a place for your game in their personal routines. Games with average session counts in excess of days retained have managed to work their way into the smallest windows of opportunity for play. This has long been the guiding design principle of casual and hyper-casual games, which aim to provide engaging experiences during commutes, bedtimes, and other quiet moments.
In a foundational piece of free-to-play game design wisdom, industry pundit Nicholas Lovell explains how adhering to “The Starbucks Test” helped developers at Natural Motion keep average session counts high. The test simply asks the question “Can you play your game and have a meaningful experience in the time it takes for a barista to make your macchiato?” By prioritizing divisibility and “short loops”, developers are able to maintain high-touch relationships with their players multiple times per day, cultivating long-term loyalty in the process.
Knowing the average amount of time players spend per session with your game can be a powerful measurement of loyalty, especially when paired with average sessions per user, and considering that it’s something players are able to do themselves with app usage stats built right into Android devices. In the right context, average playtime can provide valuable insight into how players are actually engaging with your title relative to your expectations. A 2022 survey by GCS Special Gaming & eSports found that among US mobile gamers, about 21% of mobile gaming sessions (the largest cohort identified) lasted 30 minutes to 1 hour. Ten percent of respondents stated that their usual gaming session was about two to four hours.
Like average session count, averages are likely to vary. Hyper-casual publishers shouldn’t be surprised to see a relatively low average playtime per session, but it could be a major warning sign for RPG or strategy game publishers. Pay close attention to any material changes following major feature updates to see if you’re fostering greater loyalty with players.
If you need one more reason to measure playtime, consider the fact that the world’s top publishers leverage it to publicly celebrate the levels of engagement that their games foster. As reported by TheGamer Blizzard was happy to share that “Diablo 4 has been out for a day and has already proven itself to be a huge hit. It's not only the fastest-selling Blizzard game of all time, but it has been played for 93 million hours, which is roughly 10,616 years.”
At Mistplay, we know a thing or two about loyalty. Namely, our app is designed to help mobile game publishers acquire and retain users by rewarding them for returning to your game. The more they play, the more rewards they get. And the longer they stick around in your game, the more revenue opportunities come your way. Users love being rewarded for playing their favorite games, and publishers get a practically hands-off way to keep their users engaged. Learn more about how Mistplay works today.