August 28, 2023
Player retention has always been a top-priority metric for mobile game developers. This is with good reason: Happy players stick around and buy things. When the fun stops, so does the revenue.
But in the last few years, mobile game player retention has become even more essential to success. Growth challenges like rising cost-per-install1 (CPI) and dwindling k-factors2 have created one of the most difficult mobile game marketing environments in history. Industry experts 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.”
This has highlighted the renewed importance of making the most of every install. As the cost of acquisition increases, so does the value of downstream engagement coming from well-retained players. To that end, we’ve compiled some of the most effective mobile game player retention strategies helping publishers keep players engaged today. But first, we need to talk about the tools and functionality necessary to execute these strategies.
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After more than 30M+ lifetime downloads of the Mistplay app, we’ve learned that no matter what retention strategy you’re pursuing, it needs to be built on a tech stack capable of agile and actionable player segmentation. Designers, product managers, and marketers all need a reliable set of tools with which they can measure, test, and iterate on the design features that have the greatest impact on retention. That means the ability to carve out control groups, run multivariate tests, and analyze the resulting data. Most critically, your stack should allow for the targeted delivery of personalized experiences using these segments.
It also requires that individual platforms play well with others. Delivering a truly dynamic, personalized experience requires a martech stack build of solutions that can be reliably orchestrated to operate in concert. Building an effective integrated mobile martech stack is a big job, and beyond the scope of this article. Thankfully there’s no shortage of resources available to help guide developers through the process. Mobile measurement partner Appsflyer, for example, has a comprehensive guide on the subject clocking in at over 20,000 words. It covers attribution, analytics, automation, and more. Once you’re confident with your stack, it’s time to put it to good use with some of the following mobile game player retention strategies.
Mobile apps get one chance to make a first impression. 2023 data from Appsflyer shows that an average of 77% of players aren’t retained past the day they install an app. Optimizing for better early-stage retention represents one of the greatest points of leverage available to developers, which typically means rigorous analysis of your game’s tutorial design and early gameplay. This can be accomplished through playtesting in controlled environments, but testing on live products has the advantage of larger data sets, lower overhead, and long-term visibility into downstream results like LTV.
Developers have a number of tools and tactics at their disposal when it comes to FTUE optimization, including:
The most essential tool for optimizing your FTUE is an analytics platform capable of measuring funnel progress. Amplitude, for example, features a funnel analysis chart which it explains as being “a series of steps a user takes as part of the experience of using your product. Product managers often try to encourage users to navigate these funnels in order to demonstrate product value and to increase engagement. Amplitude considers a user to have converted through a step in the funnel if they fire the event in the order you've specified.”4
A well-defined onboarding funnel should be one of the first investments publishers make in their retention optimization efforts, after which they can move onto more dynamic features that target longer-term retention milestones.
Rewarding players for periodic activity is another high-return retention investment that’s been nearly unanimously adopted by the top 100 mobile games. Rewarding players just for returning to your game once per day helps establish long-term loyalty and can serve as a building block for revenue generating activities. Like tutorials, login bonuses are a design niche unto themselves that have evolved to include their own set of best practices, including:
Offering greater rewards for consecutive logins can be another effective way of boosting retention. In an article for GameDeveloper.com, Game Data Pros CEO William Grosso explains the benefit of leveraging the psychological principle of fixed-interval reinforcement in the design of reward systems that offer “... both cumulative and consecutive log-ins.” He goes on to point out that “by claiming regular rewards -- especially when the rewards get incrementally larger -- players get into the habit of logging in, which in turn increases their attachment with the game.”
👀 Related reading: 5 essential elements of effective mobile game loyalty programs
Maintaining open and active lines of player communication is another crucial component of effective mobile game player retention. It’s also one of the biggest opportunities to personalize the player experience. By combining dynamic player segmentation with responsive communication automations, publishers can demonstrate the level of earnest consideration that players expect and respond to. Examples include:
Lifecycle marketing is one of the best opportunities for publishers to deliver personalized experiences to their players. Armed with a rich customer data platform (CDP), publishers can keep communications concise and limited to individual player interests. And it’s a good thing too, considering the growing appetite for personalization among customers at large. A 2022 Salesforce study of over 13,000 customers and 4,000 businesses found that 66% of consumers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations, and 56% expect all offers they receive from businesses to be personalized.6
The player lifecycle starts with acquisition, and while retention gets easier to affect further down the funnel, there are decisions to be made at the very top that can have lasting benefits. A growing number of UA solutions now offer value-exchange advertising mechanics that aim to counteract the “window shopper” dynamic inherent to mobile free-to-play, and Mistplay is proud to be counted among them.
Mistplay and other loyalty-centric UA channels do so by fostering ongoing relationships with players that prioritize user experience. After downloading the Mistplay app, players share a few pieces of basic demographic information before our AI-powered recommendation engine provides personalized suggestions for games they’re most likely to enjoy. When they install and play those titles, players are rewarded with credits that can be exchanged for real-world rewards like Amazon gift cards.
While loyalty-centric tools like Mistplay could still technically be counted as incentivized traffic, they deliver a caliber of traffic well beyond that of conventional offerwall cost-per-engagement (CPE) campaigns because they’re predicated on mutual value exchange. Visit our advertising page to learn more about how Mistplay can help you acquire and retain higher-value users.
Modern mobile gamers spend their time on a variety of platforms, and each one represents an opportunity to stay top-of-mind. In fact, a 2022 Statista survey of more than 1,000 gamers found that “... approximately six in 10 respondents used YouTube in relation to gaming or gaming content. Facebook was the second most popular social media platform to use in regard to gaming content or activities. VoIP and communication channel Discord was reportedly used by around 40% of respondents, while Reddit was used by 23% of respondents.”7 These platforms and more represent ideal venues for community engagement activities, including:
By keeping social channels, subreddits, and Discord servers active, mobile game developers can expand their share of their players’ combined media diet. While not directly attributable to retention and revenue in the way that a paid social campaign might be, an engaged community provides the momentum necessary to keep your organic flywheel spinning.
It’s an approach that’s well-understood by the best in the business. In an article for GameDeverloper.com, Supercell game designer Alex Roque explains how “... the community around Clash of Clans has an essential part in almost all the decisions they made. They refer to them to understand the problems of the game. Both the general feedback and data helped to identify issues that players had.” Roque goes on to caution, however, that while a vocal community is a great way to identify problems, it’s ultimately up to the developers to solve them. “When it comes to solutions it's a little bit trickier to get ideas from players,” Roque states. “As a designer in this game I need to have a very high-level view of everything that's happening.”
Long-term player engagement is a full-stack effort. Every touch point needs to put user experience first, and that starts with loyalty-centric growth channels. The Mistplay mobile game loyalty program is a win-win for advertisers and players alike. Players get personalized recommendations and one more reason to stick with the games they love, while mobile game marketers reap the benefits of an engaged and valuable player base.
Visit our advertising page to learn more about how you can start cultivating better mobile game retention with Mistplay.