Tag Archives: Retention

Maximize Profits with the Top Freemium Tactics of 2020

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The global gaming market is estimated at $152 billion, with 45% derived from mobile games. The mobile game market is constantly evolving, new tactics and even platforms, like Apple Arcade, are being introduced. As a mobile game developer, being dynamic and staying up on the latest trends is of the utmost importance. Staying on top of these trends will help make a more engaging and profitable mobile game.

Keeping this in mind, below are the top freemium tactics of 2020:

RETENTION IS (STILL) KING

Mobile game developers must remember that freemium games begin and end with a good retention strategy that keeps users engaged.

Daily Tasks: Set-up daily tasks that pass the Starbucks Test. One of them can be opening the app on a daily basis. These should be fairly simple to complete and offer a reward, encouraging users to integrate gameplay into their daily lives.

Rewards Pack on User Birthdays: Give users some kind of bonus on their birthday to enrich their personal relationship with the game.

Challenge Dormant Users: After 3 days, give users a special, temporary challenge to reengage them with the app. Temporary promotions can be an effective way to instill a sense of urgency in the call-to-action and trigger users to open the app.

Promotion Before Subscription/Free Trial Ends: Tempt the user to sign-up or to extend their subscription by offering a temporary promotion 24-48 hours before their free trial/subscription ends.

When it comes to measuring retention, check out the model retention rates below from The Tool (Performance-Based Mobile ASO):

  • Day 1 Retention – 40%
  • Day 7 Retention – 20%
  • Day 28 Retention – 10%

Retention can also be tracked hourly instead of daily where Day 1 Retention will be the percentage of users who returned within 24-48 hours from the install. Here’s how it might look in analytics systems such as devtodev (via The Tool):

Retention-Analytics

OUTSTREAM VIDEO ADS

Outstream Video is a new type of video ad unit, referred to sometimes as “native video”, designed for targeting mobile users.

Outstream Video ads do not require placement within a Youtube video. They play with the sound off on mobile screens when more than 70% of the ad is visible. The user can tap the ad to turn the sound on and restart the video from the beginning, or they can continue scrolling. When less than 70% of the ad is visible, the video pauses.

Advertisers such as the Hong Kong tourism board have had great success using Outstream Video ads, delivering 30% incremental reach with a 40% lower cost per completed video and 85% lower CPM.

REWARDED ADS PAY OFF

When it comes to monetizing a mobile game through advertising, rewarded ads remain at the top of the food chain. A recent survey of app publishers asked what their most successful monetization method was. Rewarded Video Ads won with 75% of the vote.

By offering users some kind of in-game reward, such as an extra life, a bonus item, or a new avatar, app developers can improve UI and engagement while encouraging ad views without bothering the user. Rewarded ads remain the ad unit with the highest earning potential.

LOOT BOXES

A loot box is a randomized box of in-game prizes. Users pay for an in-app purchase, but there is no guarantee of whether it will contain gold or pennies, the user has to make the decision to purchase in exchange a random reward. While this tactic is somewhat controversial in Europe where Belgium and the Netherlands have cracked down and labeled it gambling, it remains a popular tactic. Loot boxes are particularly effective for  Whales, wealthy mobile game users who will readily pay to improve their performance in the game.

SELL YOUR DATA

The collection and sale of data is a massive industry. If your app offers the technical means to collect user-generated data such as geolocation, it may be worth it to acquire user consent to license that data.

Applications like Waze & Foursquare receive community-generated data from their users and effectively leverage it to monetize their applications. Waze licenses data to businesses placing location-based ads, whereas Foursquare licenses point of interest geolocation data to Google & Apple for their first party GPS apps Apple Maps & Google Maps.

CONCLUSION

It is important to keep in mind that monetization is the icing on the cake—without an engaging game that hooks users, there will be nothing to monetize. However, making key decisions in the development process with the monetization strategy in mind will *literally* pay off in the long run.

Check out our previous blogs on Mobile Game Monetization for an overview of the fundamentals.

Game Design Techniques: Significantly Increase Ad Revenue with a Sharp Core Loop

Due to the budgetary, software and hardware limitations of mobile games, developers must hook audiences with a well-built game incorporating layers of psychological strategy. The core of any mobile game is the Core Loop. The Core Loop is the main facet of gameplay. It’s the beating heart upon which all progress is precipitated. In sports games, it’s the matches. In Angry Birds, it’s launching the birds to destroy the pigs. In Candy Crush, it’s the levels. The Core Loop is the obstacle that users willingly take on with the intention of overcoming in exchange for a feeling of accomplishment. While retention techniques can reinforce that feeling and can add to the experience, no game can survive a poor Core Loop. In some cases, a great Core Loop doesn’t need any sort of extravagant retention technique. Flappy Bird, which took 3 hours to make, can accrue $50,000 a day in ad revenue purely off the Core Loop.

THE BASICS

A good Core Loop for a mobile game generally entails a simple, enjoyable, repetitive action which triggers a reward when executed properly. This reward is something in-game which triggers a dopamine rush for the user. The rewards can be anything from gaining points, getting lives, advancing levels, power-ups, unlocking characters and items, and so forth. These rewards are tiered and the dopamine rush should vary depending on the level of accomplishment. For instance, the main action of Fruit Ninja is slicing fruit. Slicing one fruit triggers a dopamine rush, but clearing a level of fruit triggers a larger dopamine rush, and getting on the high score list triggers yet a larger one, etc. Retention tactics can dictate how these rushes are tiered, but the action which produces the rush is the most important thing: the Core Loop.

LOOPING

Rule number one of the Core Loop for mobile games is to actually loop. After one loop completes, another loop begins. The user completes a level and begins at the next level with their score intact, or they fail to complete the level and begin at the start of the same level with their score reset. Even rewards apps for retail stores rely on Core Loop to hook users. Console games are monetized through retail, so they can craft larger budget, more intimate single-player experiences, but mobile games are generally monetized through the Freemium model, which means ad-revenues will make up the bulk of their profits. Ads come at the end of the Core Loop, so the more loops per user, the better. Thus, mobile developers generally invest in simple but rewarding, well-crafted, repetitive gameplay systems.

PROGRESSION AND REPETITION

Pac Man Level 1 Vs. Level 2 via GitHub

While a Core Loop must loop, it also must instill a sense of progression. If the user doesn’t feel like they’re making progress, they will likely quit. Users want the satisfaction of accomplishment, and both satisfaction and accomplishment require a sense of finality. Arcade games are popular on mobile devices because they thrive on repetition. Level 2 of Pac-Man is not much different from Level 1, but it is different, and that minor difference instills a sense of progression; the sense that a new challenge must be conquered with skills accrued in past gameplay experience. Memories unconsciously become technique. In games like the aforementioned Flappy Bird, the goal is simply to get a high score. There are no levels, but a sense of progression is still built purely through how one’s high score builds. If the high score weren’t displayed, Flappy Bird would still have a Core Loop, but nobody would play it since one couldn’t measure one’s progress. It wouldn’t feel like a game. The beauty of high scores is they represent a single player game with a social release, which is also great for social media promotion.

SESSION LENGTH

Session length is a vital aspect of the Core Loop. The Starbucks Test entails that the user should be able to have a meaningful experience with the game in the time it takes the barista to make them coffee. A concise session length will get users coming back often in the empty pockets of their day.

DUAL LOOP

The Dual Loop is an advanced game development technique that can deeply enhance gameplay. At the end of the first loop, the Dual Loop technique offers the user the option to stop their session and enter into a mini-loop which enhances the next loop, which is a continuation of the first. When you play Clash of Clans, you can battle, which is the main loop, but you can also collect resources or build and train your army in between battles. The dual allows the user to add quick 30-second interactions which pass the Starbucks Test and increase their investment in the competition.

One of the best ways to enhance your ability to develop a Core Loop is to play and analyze other games. A well-designed Core Loop can lead to mobile gaming success on minimal budgets, and massive success on larger budgets.

The Secret to Monetizing Mobile Games: Retention

In the Freemium era, retention is perhaps the most important measurement of a mobile game’s success. While console games are sold in boxes, rely on marketing, and profit primarily from sales (in addition to ongoing online content/purchases), the bulk of mobile games are free and must begin generating revenue after they have been installed. In-app purchases and advertising revenues make up the vast majority of revenue. The average in-app purchase is made 12 days after first launching an app. During that time the user is likely generating revenue primarily through in-game advertising.

The great FTP (Free-To-Play) game monetization expert Nicholas Lovell (a consultant on Angry Birds Go—the very first FTP game from the conception on) breaks down the FTP game design process into a pyramid of three games which play off of each other: Core Loop, Retention, and Superfan games.

FTP Pyramid Via Game Sparks

CORE LOOP: The Core Loop is active gameplay: playing matches in Madden, clearing a level in Candy Crush, catching a Pokemon and battling in Pokemon GO. The Core Loop is the heart of the game. Without an engaging Core Loop, a game has nothing on which to build.

RETENTION: The Retention Game revolves around the Core Loop and is everything that instills the user with a sense of progression toward an overarching goal to keep them  coming back. It is the scoring mechanisms, the levels, the mechanics which establish progression (commonly the game maps), the narrative in Single Player games like Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed, the achievement system, and the leaderboards. Retention reinforces positive feelings and a sense of accomplishment from the Core Loop experience. Without an effective Retention game, users will not see any point to the game and will not receive an sense of accomplishment or progression toward a greater goal, and the Core Loop will seem insignificant and fade out.

SUPERFAN: The Superfan gameplay mechanics are catered to those who have developed a significant relationship with the game. They are premium subscriptions, extravagant in-app purchases, add-ons for  game’s die-hard fanatics.  Many mobile games are designed for casual play and no Superfan game, while other high-budget multiplayer games, like Clash of Clans and Pokemon GO, have very established brands and use Superfan methods to capitalize on their fervent fandom.

While having an addictive Core Loop is the most important building block, Retention reinforces positive feelings about the game, instills a sense of progression toward both immediate goals and overarching goals, and ensures users are feeling rewarded by the time they put into gameplay. Core Loop will get them in the door, while Retention will keep them in the house and lubricate their wallet.

Here are four of the best guidelines for developing retention, including specific methods, for mobile games:

SEDUCE THE USER WITH AN INTRODUCTION

In the highly competitive market for mobile games, games must engage from the introduction. Games with bland introductions will not retain users. An investing opening cut scene, an aesthetically appealing title screen and awesome music/SFX will pay off when they seduce users from the outset to play on and enter the Core Loop.

MAKE THE GAMEPLAY ACCESSIBLE

If a game is too easy or too hard, it won’t be worth the user’s time. It’s important to specify a game’s audience, decide what level of gamer they will be, and make it accessible to them.  Tutorials can help introduce game concepts, but when they are too long or restricting, they hurt more than they help. Offering users tips and tricks during loading screens and through push notifications are a clever way of increasing accessibility to new users without infringing on the Core Loop.

REDUCE AVERAGE LENGTH OF SESSION

The STARBUCKS TEST has become common terminology in game developer circles. If the user can’t have a meaningful experience in the time it takes for a barista to make your drink, then the game loop is too long. In mobile games, which are primarily played in the pockets of time where the impatient smartphone owner must wait, it’s vital to have a short Core Loop which the user can complete quickly and come back to throughout the day.

INSTILL A SENSE OF PROGRESSION

While some games, like Flappy Bird, are simple and fun enough to succeed on an arcade level with only high scores, most mobile developers are unable to achieve the same level of competition and must instill a sense of progression in order to retain the user. Whether it’s unlocking new levels or characters or progressing along a game board, the game must congratulate the user frequently in order to reinforce positive feelings about the game. Many games enlist achievement systems in order to give the user tangible goals with rewards outside of the main objectives of the Core Loop.

Read more on Achievement systems here via Gamasutra

Learn more about retention in the YouTube lecture below by Lovell. At 1:11:00, Lovell explains how prototyping the retention game outside of the Core Loop to see if it still feels effective is a great way of testing how effective retention methods.

Ultimately, the two biggest factors which will lead to uninstalls for mobile games are boredom and frustration. The game designer must battle these factors both in the immediacy of the Core Loop and the overarching retention strategies.

Mobile Game Monetization Methods for Bartle Types: Make Bank off Killer Gameplay

The Mystic Media Blog is currently engaged in a series of articles examining each of the Bartle types and how to acquire, retain and monetize them according to their desires. Check out last week’s article on Explorers.

Bartle Types Taxonomy Via Extra Credits

The Killer is the wild card of the Bartle Types. While both Achievers and Killers are competitive,  Achievers compete with/through the game, whereas Killers compete with anyone or anything in their immediate vicinity. The Achiever wants to act upon the game according to the rules of gameplay, while the Killer just wants an immediate thrill. They derive pleasure from interfering with the functioning of the gameplay and/or the experience of other players. Like Internet “trolls”, Killers gleefully enact subversive behavior under the guise of their game persona. They aren’t interested in winning, socializing or exploring – they just want to provoke and impose themselves on the virtual world and its inhabitants.

Killers thrive on the experience of disrupting gameplay. Achievers represent the ultimate target since they are most antagonized by being killed. As a result, in multiplayer games, the more Achievers you have, the more Killers you’ll have, which may lead to a decrease in Achievers and overflow of Killers depending on the level of engagement of the gameplay. Explorers also represent easy prey for Killers, and if there are too many high level Killers, it may become hard for Explorers to explore. Socializers also make an appealing target for Killers in multiplayer games. Like Socializers, Killers are interested in interaction and influence. Some of the same retention tactics apply to both Bartle Types.

The best way to retain Killers is to give them opportunities to disrupt other players or the world of the game. In MMORPGs and shooters, it’s easy for them to find other players to kill. The challenge in single player games (especially single player mobile games) is how to appeal to a Bartle type that thrives on interaction. For one, Killers aren’t just into killing. Interfering with elements of the world will also appeal to them. For instance, if there are elements of the game world, such as crates or trees, which the user can crash into and destroy, it offers the same immediate thrill of interference as player elimination.

Games get creative to offer opportunities for world interaction. In The Legend of Zelda, beyond combat with enemies, Link can also famously antogonize “cuccos”, an element of the world. In Grand Theft Auto V, the ultimate game/franchise for Killers, users can not only kill civilians, but can bump into them for a humorous disruption. Offering cheat codes in single player games represents an opportunity for the Killer to expose and modify the game engine on the game developer’s terms. Pokemon GO employs battles in Pokegyms. Games like Candy Crush give Killers the thrill of destroying parts of the world. Killers love explosions. Giving them a tangible goal, like specific collectibles or targets that generate explosive reactions, will go a long way in retaining their interest.

In order for a Killer to spend money on a game, they must be engaged by the gameplay. Killers are looking for a specific type of satisfaction, a kind of schadenfreude. Retention methods are key since if a Killer doesn’t get satisfaction, they’ll move on quickly to something more immediate. Offering alternate game modes, such as low-gravity or disco mode, may entice Killers’ desire to subvert the game world. In multi-player games, extra weapons, stealth and any advantage in the killing department may tempt Killers to purchase if they are invested in the game.

As with appealing to any Bartle Type, everything begins with engaging gameplay. Thinking of these player types during the process of development will enrich your techniques and ultimately your final product.

Next week, in the final article of our series on Bartle Types, we’ll take a look at Socializers and the best methods for attaining, retaining and monetizing them.