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Game On!

Posted on November 21, 2016

The following post is from Head of Business Development, Steve Kirchhoff. Steve is an app retention specialist with many years experience and extensive industry knowledge of advertising and mobile gaming.

First Things First

Mobile gaming is the most rapidly developing industry in the world. As of September 2016, 140 billion apps were downloaded from the App Store. Of that 140 billion, games account for over 24.43% of the total downloads and have driven 85% of global app revenues. But while the growth of the industry has skyrocketed, so have user acquisition costs, sending mobile marketers into a tailspin trying to figure out the best ways to retain and monetize their growing playerbase, of which less than 1% are driving actual revenue.

Enter Retargeting

Ultimately, a game’s retention rate determines its revenues and continued success in the mobile market. But how can you ensure high retention rates and the longevity of your app in such a competitive industry recording retention rates as low as 27% after the first day? Though each gaming app is different and requires a tailored strategy, to tackle the retention issue head on, you need to start thinking of your strategy as being a bit like an orchestra and each tactic as an instrument. Sure, each instrument alone sounds great. But they sound better when played altogether. Below is a list of some of my best tips for retention, which when used altogether can ensure your app’s enduring position at the top of the charts.

Where to Begin?

Understanding how players interact with different features in your app gives you a real sense of how your app is performing, and some areas that you may need to work on. It’s crucial that you clearly define your retention goals early on and distinguish the in-app events that correlate to these goals. Let’s say you want to understand early engagement levels and user churn rate, you need to start by tracking your app’s onboarding process. With more than 500 gaming apps being launched everyday in the app stores, players are spoiled for choice and ultimately make the decision as to whether an app will be staying on their mobile device a couple of minutes after they’ve downloaded it. If your churn rate is high at this early stage in your app, you may need to optimize the onboarding process. It could simply be a case of deleting unnecessary fields so that players can get right into the action of the game, or providing clearer instructions to first-time users to ensure they understand the focus of your game.

Stay Calm, and Keep Tracking

Tracking the in-app progress of your players with key events like tutorial completion or level completion are important KPIs in telling you what features are acting as blockers, and also let’s you understand the behaviour of your users over time. Event tracking should be done in real-time to ensure no data latency and will allow you to send the most relevant, personalized messaging to your users. When coupled with a simple cohort analysis, event tracking can provide granular insights as to the points in your app when your users need to be re-engaged with display ads, push notifications, or in-app messaging offering coins or other relevant incentives to help them complete a level they are stuck on, and continue their gameplay. These users who remain engaged further into the app are your most important users. Whales drive the revenue of your app but can take up to 18 days to convert so keeping them engaged at this stage is fundamental for monetizing your app.

Separate the Whales from the Minnows

Understanding the full customer journey of your game requires a thorough analysis of the event data being tracked within your app. When it comes to audience segmentation, my advice to gaming developers has always been to start simple and optimize over time. Start with manageable user segments like payers and non-payers, and get more granular as your campaign develops by looking at KPIs like ROAS and retention rate after 30 days. You can then use additional events to build user segments, like reaching level 5 or a certain amount of gameplay. This will allow you to retarget users in a way that is meaningful and effective in driving your app’s engagement. Once you have your audience segments down, you can start to consider the types of ad formats to use. Dynamic creatives have the potential to drive higher click-through rates and engagement levels depending on how you use your data. Think of your VIP players and how you can tailor the messaging of your dynamic ad to offer them specific rewards for their usage. By offering them special discounts and offers, you have the power to shorten the sales cycle and increase their spending frequency.

That’s Deep, Bro

Deep linking is a no-brainer for gaming developers. With so many gaming apps available all vying for the coveted space on a user’s mobile device, gamers have come to expect an optimal experience at all stages of an app from onboarding, to level completion. Deep linking allows you to return your users directly into the heart of your app when you retarget them with display ads. This seamless user flow reduces the number of steps in your conversion funnel and can more than double your app’s retention rate. Deep links can also allow a clearer understanding of your marketing efforts giving you a more accurate insight as to which campaigns and sources are most effective in driving users to your app.

Winning Hearts and Minds

In our most recent recap post, we were talking Pokémon Go and Niantic’s latest Halloween Special campaign which ended up driving their global in-app revenues by more than 133% in less than five days. More and more smartphones are purchased each year as gifts and with the holiday season fast approaching, gaming developers should be increasing their advertising spend to ensure their games are staying at the top of the charts during the most competitive time of the year. Upgrading your app with some holiday themed customizations may be a small effort on your end that can improve the user experience of your app, and one that will not go unnoticed by gamers who will have more time over the holidays to leave glowing reviews of your game. Rewarding users with a limited holiday bonus can also encourage increased engagement levels and ensure that your app is on everyone’s ‘Must Have’ list.

So, to Wrap It up

To get your gaming app ready for retargeting in this increasingly competitive industry, be sure to have clear goals in mind. Track the events that are most relevant to your app as these will inform your segmentation and overall retention strategy. Always think user-first when you’re designing your onboarding phase, making it as easy as possible for your users to continue their gameplay with the most relevant, personalized messaging you can muster. And never, ever be afraid to use the brain of your retargeting partner. Though no gaming app is the same, your partner should be able to provide you with some tips to get your retention strategy off the ground and ensure your game’s continued success in the mobile market.

Want to find out how you could step your re-engagement strategy up a notch? Get in touch with your account manager or shoot us an email to!