May 19, 2023

Loyalty is the new key to profitable growth for mobile games

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It’s been a sobering few years for the mobile game industry. SensorTower data from 2022 saw almost every genre experience dramatic revenue decline¹, with Newzoo² optimistically calling it a “corrective year.” Today, 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.” 

Meanwhile the limits of traditional user acquisition are being tested. Measurement platforms like Tenjin are reporting ever-rising CPIs⁴ and macro-scale media institutions like eMarketer are tracking negative sentiment towards traditional digital advertising⁵. SensorTower data⁶ data also shows that market saturation is leading to greater barriers to organic discovery, with the number of downloads needed for games to top the charts rising 37% between 2019 and 2022.   

For mobile games, all of this means the path to profitability is steeper than ever. And while the industry has historically favored growth strategies that rely heavily on paid user acquisition, today’s landscape demands a new, loyalty-first approach that marries top-of-funnel user acquisition with post-install engagement and retention in order to increase LTV (Lifetime Value) and keep mobile games profitable.

Prioritizing player loyalty

As the cost of player acquisition rises, so too does the value of keeping players engaged, retained, and spending. This is especially true for known-payers, but it’s best employed as an overarching philosophy in times of economic hardship. As ChurnZero CEO You Mong Tsang explains in the Harvard Business Review⁷, “Not only is retention less vulnerable than acquisition to the short-term swings of a bad economy, but the rule of thumb that it costs five times more to win a new customer than to keep a current one becomes even more extreme in a downturn.” 

By the same token, the cost of losing a well-retained player far exceeds that of a newly acquired one. As industry analyst Eric Seufert⁸ 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.” 

A loyalty-driven growth strategy is the key to maximizing the number of players that make it into your most valuable, best retained cohort. By building trust and delivering value such that loyalty is earned, game publishers can offset the economic downturn that’s currently casting a shadow over the industry. But as renowned management theorist Peter Drucker says, “[only] what gets measured, gets managed,” and with no unanimously agreed-upon method of measurement for something as abstract as player loyalty, publishers will first need to decide on appropriate proxies. 

Recognizing player loyalty

Measuring mobile game loyalty isn't impossible, but its overlap with something as diverse as human emotion means that its definition should vary from genre to genre and even game to game. That said, in our own experience as an app publisher, we’ve found that by assembling the right cross-section of engagement, retention, and monetization metrics, developers can take action on the power of loyalty to yield value across their portfolio. Here’s a few options to consider when developing your own definition of mobile game loyalty to supplement the most common industry KPIs:

  • Stickiness: You’re already tracking daily active users (DAU) and monthly active users (MAU), but the two can be combined to produce “stickiness,” which is an effective macro-level loyalty measurement. As Dev to Dev’s Vera Karpova⁹ explains, you can calculate the “sticky factor” by dividing average DAU by average MAU. Karpova suggests that you’ll want to aim for a result of at least 20% – 25%. 
  • Rolling retention: Unlike classic retention, rolling retention measures engagement at or above the defined time horizon, making it an indicator of loyalty among players who have experienced what your game has to offer. To calculate rolling retention, divide the number of users who opened the app on or after a specific day in the app’s lifecycle (for example, seven days after installing) by the number of users who opened the app for the first time on day zero. Run this calculation at multiple intervals – day three, day seven, day 30, day 90, and so on – to get the full picture of how well you’re retaining players after they’ve been exposed to your offering.
  • Session Interval: Going one layer deeper to measure the average time between gameplay sessions lets publishers examine the intra-day/week habits of their player base. Shorter intervals are indicative of habitual play, and are a better measurement of loyalty than session length, which varies widely by genre. View this metric through the appropriate cohort filters to get a reliable view of how effective your game is at becoming part of your players’ daily routines.
  • Repeat Purchase Rate: Conversion is a necessary step along the path to paying-player loyalty, but it’s not enough to measure it in isolation. The percentage of players who buy more than one IAP vs those that only buy once, however, is as effective a measurement of IAP value as you’re likely to find. Combine it with ARPPU and you’ve got a strong handle on the loyalty of your most valuable players.

Cultivating player loyalty

Fostering loyalty is an effort that should span multiple disciplines with the ultimate goal of capturing a greater share of your audience’s total leisure time. For this reason, keep in mind that it’s not only other games that you’re competing against. As one Netflix executive explained to The Washington Post¹⁰, “We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO . . . There are thousands of competitors in this highly-fragmented market vying to entertain consumers." The same is true for mobile game publishers, and your loyalty-efforts should reflect that. 

IAP prices should hold up against competitive scrutiny, with the total value they provide being greater than or equal to the value derived from other media like desktop games, streaming subscriptions, etc… Log-in bonuses should be sufficient to permit players meaningful engagement with their favorite gameplay loops. Live ops and community engagement initiatives should keep reasonable pace with other media cycles, while community managers should endeavor to maintain a level of presence comparable to that of other media franchises, whether that’s via social media, forums like Reddit, or communications platforms like Discord.  

Finally, invest your user acquisition budget in channels that encourage downstream engagement and feature exposure. Rewarded user acquisition channels that favor engagement allow you to extract dividends from your finely-tuned loyalty machine by getting players past initial install and into the most compelling parts of your games.

How Mistplay can help

While there’s no shortcut to fostering mobile game loyalty, there are helpful solutions. The Mistplay loyalty app helps players discover new titles through an AI-driven recommendation engine, optimized towards spending behavior. Mistplay then rewards them with points for playing/spending which can be redeemed for real-life rewards like Amazon gift cards. The result is a more engaged, better retained, highly-loyal user base. By being both user-centric and partner-focused, our approach creates a win-win scenario that ultimately enriches the user experience and drives LTV.

Want to know more about how the Mistplay platform leverages loyalty to drive LTV? Reach out to our experts to discover the many advantages of advertising with Mistplay.

SOURCES:  

  1. Craig Chapple, Most Mobile Game Genres See Revenue Declines in the U.S. During H1 2022 as Industry Headwinds Bite, August 2022
  2. Tom Wijman, The Games Market Will Decline -4.3% to $184.4 Billion in 2022, Newzoo, November 2022
  3. Chris James, “We’re going to see declines of 5-10% in the mobile games market for two more years,” claims Eric Kress, PocketGamer.biz, March 2023
  4. Lewis Rees, Cost Per Install for hypercasual games hit an all-time high, PocketGamer.biz, January 2023
  5. Audrey Schomer, Consumer Attitudes Towards Digital Advertising 2021, Insider Intelligence, July 2021
  6. Stephanie Chan, Downloads Needed for a No. 1 App Have Climbed 37% in 3 Years, Sensor Tower, June 2022
  7. You Mon Tsang, In a Downturn, Focus on Existing Customers — Not Potential Ones, December 2022
  8. Eric Benjamin Seufert, Optimizing growth: the “leaky bucket” isn’t an early-stage retention problem, September 2018
  9. Vera Karpova, 25 Metrics That Track User Loyalty in Games, Medium, November 2017
  10. Brian Fung, Netflix: Fortnite is a bigger rival than HBO, Washington Post, January 2019

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