You’ve built a fun game, you’ve put in some clever monetization, and you know how to get users to find and install it. But what do you do when players don’t stick around? Retention is generally the most important factor for an app’s success. If new users become regular users, you can depend on them to attract new audiences, to keep a community going, and to monetize. Without them, the financial success of your app largely depends on seeing a return from their first experience- which, let’s face it, is not likely going to happen.
There’s no easy answer to mobile retention. You can have a great game on your hands, but with unlimited distractions just a tap away, they could easily be lost. What can you do to increase your odds? Let’s cover the basics:
First Impressions Should be Lasting Impressions
The first 10 minutes of gameplay should be of the utmost priority. It’s the best time for introducing mechanics while simultaneously showing players what your game has to offer. Developers often struggle with striking a balance between on-boarding and tutorialization. If your introduction to gameplay mechanics is too tedious, you will lose player interest fast. You can dump them into gameplay faster, but they may end up lost and confused. It’s best to get them into the game and playing with the basics, guiding them as they play… and if you have any magical elements to your presentation, this is the time to show them off and hook those players.
During that first 10 minutes, your players shouldn’t lose. That doesn’t mean you give them the easiest experience you can (you don’t want to bore them), you just want to send the message that they can play this game and win. You want the new player to always have the first victory.
The game “Boom Beach” starts you off guns blazing, putting you into the thick of its gameplay immediately by having you build defenses for your base to ward off enemies–it is and exciting way to start a new game. It will briefly pop up with how-tos to aid first time users, but it doesn’t stop the high-action flow and it gives those players and taste of what the core game is about almost instantly.
Make push notifications relevant
Push notifications are one of the best ways to remind players about your game and to get them back to try new things. That being said, the best thing to promote in your push notification would be a the fear of missing out on a new or timed feature. Events or missed opportunities not only are a timely way of engaging your audience with a notification, it stressed a sense of urgency, increasing your odds of effectiveness.
It’s also a good idea to send a push notification when you know your player would like to come back… when it’s their turn, or when an idling mechanic is up. Or when a daily activity they engage with is again available. Using push notifications to reinforce a pattern of play is a great way to help the player establish a habit.
In the game Clash of Clans, push notifications are tailored to what happens when other players engage with your base. At any point in time, players are prone to receiving notifications that their base has been attacked by an enemy player. There’s nothing like a call to action like an invading force!
Give incentive for social engagement
Implement social sharing and reward players that do. As much hate as facebook is getting these days, they are still a strong ally for the video game industry and help games acquire millions of users. A player needs to be pretty passionate about a game in order to proactively invite their friends, unless the reward for doing so is very enticing.
There’s a problem with basic social game invites, and it’s only growing: they are considered by most as spam. “Jim invites you to play MONKEY CRUSH” as a message isn’t exactly a great motivator to download and spend some time in an app. Facebook even filters game invites out into a separate stream, often ignored by users. So what can we do to make social invites amazing enough for players to want to send and prospects happy to receive?
Here are a few ideas:
Creative content. Let players show off avatars, vehicles, levels and other things they create while playing.
Videos. If your game has epic, boss battles, cool effects, humor or is just plain awesome to watch, let players share a video of their last session.
Challenges and help. Use social messaging as a way to prompt new players to interact, such as helping to solve a word problem, a one-on-one challenge, or to team up to form a social group within the game.
Dooky Dodge is an humorous hyper-casual game what does it right. While the game is very simple to pick up and play, it has a richly hilarious ragdoll sequence when you take a spill. At the end of each round players have the opportunity to share that video, which is has viral potential.
Put Personalization at the Forefront
Players feel most at home when they have more aspects of a game that they can control and personalize. Having an avatar that a player can customize and make in their likeness increases their attachment to the game and how their creations inhabit said game.
It’s also a great way to show off the potential of sticking with a game. If players see others with amazing hats and accessories, premium vehicles, unique animations or sayings, they realize the potential of continuing and unlocking more to customize their character even further. This helps increase their stake in the game as they get started. It’s not just something to use in game, as mentioned previously, it’s something they can show off socially. It’s a good idea to expand from realistic personalization, and offer costumes and accessories that show off with weird and outlandish themes that stand out from the crowd.
When Fallout 4 was released, it’s avatar creation system was do intricate that a flood of videos hit the web showing off people’s creations (and recreations of themselves and celebrities). Then of course there is Fortnite, where if you don’t dress yourself up in the silliest of costumes, you don’t play Fortnite.
Create and Promote a Daily Return Incentive
Want users to return daily? Well, give them a daily bribe! Giving a small reward for each day for booting the app is a proven method. It also gives you another reason to send out a push notification. It’s also a great idea to have the rewards increase in value for every consecutive day they play. If they miss one day, they will have to start over, and no one wants that!
The game Bloons Tower Defense 6 has a daily return incentive that’s conducted like a treasure chest. Each day players open the chest to claim a reward from it in the form of items and currency. The level of the reward increases the more consecutive days you log in. For instance, day 2 gives you $20 in-game cash whereas day 5 gives you $100 in-game cash.
Surprise Players with Small Bonuses for Their Time
Players typically get caught up in a award/spend compulsion loop that’s hard to break. The more rewards you feed, the more they spend, and build up that loop.Small ancillary rewards can be given out periodically (on a timer or for filling an arbitrary meter) to keep that loop active. For instance, you could bring up an option for a player to unlock a special reward after 3-5 minutes of gameplay, or after playing 3 games, or just for crushing 999 candy tiles.
Not only does this help grow that compulsion loop, it can also be used as a strategy to extend play sessions. If your data is showing players drop off after 20 minutes, maybe award them a free power up at the 20 minute mark.
Crossy Road rewards players who continue to play for extended periods of time. Every 3 minutes a timer will start that rewards a player with 500 coins, given their playing the whole way through. The longer you play, the more you earn. It’s simple, but it works!
Make New Features Known
Players are always looking for new content to sink their teeth into. If you have new items or gameplay mechanics that you’ve added, you should be promoting it very ambitiously within your app. Even slapping a small “new” sticker over areas of the menu that contain the added content does the trick. Take it outside the game and excitedly announce it in the release notes and push notifications. Maybe even sprinkle elements of it into a new app icon.
In the game “Foodgod’s Food Truck Frenzy”, newly added and unlocked items and deals are presented within the home screen so the players can see find them as soon as they enter. Regular app icon updates also hint of new food items and features that typically follow a theme.
Have Achievements Span Days (and make tracking transparent)
Having your player work towards the goals that would take them up to a week of play sessions. If you can hold user retention for that amount of time it will be beneficial for your success as a mobile game. Along the way remind the player of their progress towards those goals, and if they are close, let them know. Players are more likely to play another game or two if they are”just close” to getting that unlock.
Angry Birds is sectioned off into individual sets of episodes, each containing a total of 63 levels that are sectioned off into 3 sets of 21. Completing a set of levels plays an animation giving the indication that your player has progressed. Along the way a diverse set of achievements keep the sense of reward along the way.
Manage Your Session Length Appropriately
If your gameplay sessions become too long, players will either blast through the content and eventually lose interest in it. Often times, longer gameplay sessions tend to be more repetitive, especially for low-scoped games. Longer sessions could also mean that the difficulty if a particular session may be too much for a player to handle.
According to “GameRefinery”, the average mobile session length should be anywhere from 5-15 minutes. Even for games like endless runners, where you’re supposed to go as long as possible, should try to shorten the length of time between sessions with a currency cost, a timer, or increasing difficulty. Doing this will ensure that players will be motivated to continue playing to beat that one specific session that they may have just enough time for.
Add Idling Mechanics
Managing certain amounts of content behind a timed wall can be surprisingly beneficial for user retention. Most often, games with timed events reward the player for returning to the timed item to collect a reward. While a player waits for that to be complete, their more incentivized to go explore other aspects of the game. Or if they complete a game session, there’s a reason to come back later.
Once you have a decent idling mechanic in, start adding more complex idling of multiple items. Have some that end within a game session, some that end a few hours later, and a few that will entice players to check tomorrow. Align these with your daily retention goals to see the best return.
Idling-based games like Cookie Clicker have some of the best examples of idle game mechanics. Certain upgrades you get can tap the objective for you while you’re away from the app. When the player reopens the app, they’ll be greeted with the rewards the game has been collecting for them. The compulsion loop these types of games have are the compulsion to frequently open the app to check progress and collect rewards, which are directly line what we want out players of all games.
Mobile Games Designed to Hook Players
When we design games we design with compulsion loops in mind. We don’t just build games for someone to pick up and play, we design for them to pick up and play, over and over again, so long term monetization and marketing plans are more effective. Have a game idea that needs a solid, thoughtful and meticulous development team to bring it to live and guide it through the mobile app market? Let’s chat.