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4 Essential Lessons From ‘The Game Developer’s Guide to Mobile Retention’

4 Essential Lessons From ‘The Game Developer’s Guide to Mobile Retention’

“Mobile games is not an ‘all boats rise industry,’” says host Ted Verani in the latest Gamesforum Online webinar on mobile retention. “With hundreds of new games coming out each week, holding players’ attention is harder than ever.” As VP Business Development for wappier, Verani is well acquainted with the challenges game devs face when it comes to player retention. For this session, he assembled a team of industry veterans to discuss concrete strategies they’ve learned over the years to attract players and keep them engaged. Panelists included Patrick McGrath, Head of Berlin Studio at Ten Square Games; Rimmy Spanjer, MD of Games Division at Hyper Hippo; and Ignacio Marin, Game Manager at Gameloft.

If you missed it, you can watch the full session, titled Game Developer’s Guide to Mobile Retention on our video page, but here are the top highlights.

1. The D1 Experience is vital for user retention

As Ignacio Marin explained, it’s crucial for devs to pay close attention to their game’s onboarding funnel: “You want to have as many people as possible surviving through the onboarding or the tutorial of the game to make sure there is no critical technical issue that is making people drop the game.” Pay attention not only to whether players drop out but when. Users may leave because they perceive the tutorial is getting in the way of their fun. “The best tutorial is one that doesn’t have to be there at all,” says Marin.

But it’s also important to consider the difficulty at the beginning of your game experience, recognizing that “difficulty” means different things to different players. Even players who may welcome a challenge later still want to feel like they’re making some kind of progress during that first session. “Usually it’s wiser to make it easier upfront so they feel some success before it gets challenging,” says Marin.

2. Understand why people play your game

Of course, the obvious answer to why people play any game is, “They enjoy it,” but Rimmy Spanjer says devs would be smart to understand the intrinsic motivators players bring with them. “Every player is going to have their own reason for why they’re playing, and it’s not going to be about reaching a level or some currency,” he explains. “You have to stop and think about ‘What are the actual things my players are actually going to want and be motivated towards and am I making it clear that these exist in my game?’”

Spanjer then brought up an example of intrinsic player goals from one of the longest-lived gaming franchises in the world: Pokémon. “Every time you play Pokémon, the coolest, most evolved, and fanciest Pokémon are foreshadowed to you early on. You’ll meet a trainer with the coolest one or someone will use one to stop a natural disaster. It becomes a thing players want even though it’s not technically listed as a specific goal.” Looking at your game’s retention data can give you an idea as to what your user base’s intrinsic goals may be, and you could simply ask them for that kind of feedback in your forums or discord.  

3. Take the lifespan of your game into account

All games have a D1 retention metric they can point to, but after that, the metrics that matter depend entirely on the game, says Patrick McGrath. A hyper-casual game, for example, is probably more concerned with D3 than D7 because the game isn’t designed to retain players long term. So in addition to other standard retention metrics, he recommends paying close attention to when the user curve flattens. Every game has a point at which retention drops sharply, but it’s the curve after that, when the user base normalizes, that holds the key information.

“Every game has a very tight flattening of the curve at some point. Whether that is day 7, day 10, day 15. Every game has its own curve where that starts to flatten when your decay rate flattens out. It’s an indicator of the game’s overall health if things start to change around that,” he says. If the decay curve normalizes, then drops suddenly, something in the experience needs immediate attention.

4. Rethink those log-in bonuses

It seems like a simple equation: if you want to increase player retention give them a bonus for logging in every day. Except focusing too much on retention can disguise what’s really going on with your user base, says McGrath. If all they’re doing is opening the game, collecting the bonus and leaving, “your retention’s looking fine, but people aren’t actually engaging.”

Marin echoed those thoughts by suggesting developers fixate less on a daily log in than on a daily activity. “We want them to take actions in the game and to get engaged. In Asphalt, we made the conscious decision not to have a daily bonus. Instead, we have a daily goal system.” McGrath followed that with the suggestion that tasks with different difficulty levels set the stage for an “MMO loop” of doing just one more quick task before you log off. 

These are just some of the points addressed during the chat, which included specific tactics developers can use to improve (or troubleshoot) retention for their mobile game. The panel gets specific about what daily log-in bonuses do wrong, the importance of using arrows, and the psychology of loot boxes. Watch the entire 60-minute discussion of The Game Developer’s Guide to Mobile Retention here.