Retention, or why will the user return to the game?

Published on December 12, 2012

Retention, or why will the user return to the game?

Hello, Habr!

I've always been interested in game dev. A few years ago I took a step and plunged into this world. I was struck by the success of Angry Birds, the rise and fall of Zynga, and one thought kept me awake - “How did they make such cool games?”

A lot of time passed, a box of experience accumulated, in the bins some fragmentary notes and comments formed. I decided to structure and systematize everything, trying to answer one of the cornerstone questions - “Why will the user return to the game?”.

Since there is a lot of material, I decided to break it into two parts. If the topic is interesting, the second part will be released in a week.

Introduction and General Concepts

It often happens - you try a new game and turn it off after half an hour. “Not delayed” - spinning in my head and do not want to return at all. But the graphics are cool, the setting is a favorite, and it seemed like it wasn’t boring ... What could be the matter here?

For social (and not only social) games, there is such a characteristic as retention. In other words, the ability to hold the player in the gameplay. Retention is one of the most important parameters of any social game, along with virality and the ability to monetize. For developers of freemium games, this indicator is extremely important, since it directly affects their income, but for everyone else, retention will affect the success of sales of game sequels.

Retention shows how many users who started playing today will return to the game tomorrow. Retention should not be overlooked if you plan to get good statistics of daily and monthly visits and in-game purchases.

Such different ideal scenarios for the development of the game. We will talk about them in future articles.

For social and mobile games, retention is usually considered according to the DAU / MAU formula (the sum of active users per day / the sum of active users per month), many consider this indicator to be an indicator of the “potential” of the game. It is also customary to distinguish between daily, weekly and monthly retention. If we talk about acceptable numbers, you can listen to the opinion of Henrik Suuronen (Henric Suuronen), the former head of the company Wuga (Wooga), which released several hits for facebook. His opinion is that if the daily retention of the game exceeds 40%, the weekly 20% and the monthly 10%, then a happy future awaits the game.

Previously, in the era of non-social or extra-social games, there was no need for  anyretention level. Yes, if you wanted to return to the game, go through again - this will indirectly affect future sales. Now, when players on mobile platforms and social networks receive games for free, developers need to sell something inside the game. And this can only be done when the user devotes time to the game, at least the least. If a user logs in once and does not want to return - what is the chance that he  will buy something inside the game? Of course, such a chance is negligible. But if the user enters the game daily, he sees the direct meaning of buying somethingin Game. This means that a high level of retention directly affects the income from the game. No matter how sophisticated and ideal the monetization system is, it is unlikely that it will bring significant income on only one-time users. What methods of increasing retention exist?

A small warning: it is not a good idea to use all-all-all elements of increasing retention in one product. If the user feels too much, feels that he is being dragged almost by force into the game, he most likely will not return or will ignore even the most effective techniques.

Elements that can increase retention

Plot and characters

People love characters and become attached to them. They are interested in what happens to them during the game. A similar feeling makes us look forward to the new series of the series. Like the series, we are ready to return to the game again and again and learn something new in the script, characters and the world of the game. Even if you control a character, this does not mean that you are not interested in what will happen to him next.

MISA President of the  Army Ettek (Army Attack) gives us a new job


The game should show the user what exactly he has not done in the game at any moment of the gameplay. A reminder of the task encourages the user to return and finish it to the end. These tasks show the player all the possibilities of the game, serve as a kind of guide, assistant. It is only important to find a middle ground in the quantity and speed of submitting new tasks - if there are too few tasks, the user can get stuck on  something and quit the game due to the inability to pass one or another moment. If there are too many tasks, the user can lose focus, drown in all its diversity and leave without understanding what the game authors wanted from him.

Also, one should not forget about the quality of such tasks - they must be feasible and clearly measurable. The quest "Become a King", appearing at the very beginning of the game does not stimulate the user, but only repels him, showing that the goal is unattainable in the foreseeable future. A quest in which it is necessary “to catch frogs until the witch fills the chest with them” is unlikely to stimulate the player if he does not know how many frogs he needs, because it can be three frogs and five hundred.

Jetpack (Jetpack Joyride) not only gives quests, but also shows my current progress in them

Property and hoarding

The game should show the user his path in the game, his merits and deeds. Collecting, the desire to collect and keep firmly instilled in many people of European and Western cultural traditions. Property, loot, collections, awards, achievements show the user his progress, his accumulated efforts. Levels, skins and unique uniforms, hard to get in very deep dungeons, are also an excellent motivator for returning to the game. In this regard, you can play on the peculiarities of human psychology - the more difficult it is for an object (status, rank , etc. ), the higher it appreciates it, even though the obstacles can even be far-fetched, the pay is too high, and the receipt is uncomfortable. Mystery Menor

smoking connoisseur collection  (Mystery Manor)

Missed opportunities

If possible, the game should limit the maximum supply of self-reproducing resources and should require even the slightest attention to oneself even for trivial tasks. The player must understand that paying at least a fraction of the attention to the game will give him much more advantages. If there are no restrictions in the game, the player will be able to postpone his return indefinitely and may soon forget about the game. For this purpose, the energy limit, the limit of resources and other gaming joys is realized. As a result, in order not to miss the opportunity to get additional bonuses, the player returns to the game to perform routine actions, for example, collect gold from his houses. It would seem that for convenience it is possible to automate the process and automatically credit the accumulated amount. But behind this “optimization” lies a serious retention problem.

Optimization Results:

Zinga is also wrong - after a year absence from the game, I became fabulously rich

Initially, the  Mafia Worth (Mafia Wars) passively earned money immediately transferred to the account. As a result, you could not attend the game for months to save billions and the number of "candy wrappers" on the account lost all meaning.
But the game requires a click and collect all sorts of different things from each house:

dull collection
The Simpsons: Tapped Out (EA) , a game based on the Simpsons, draws quite well into the gameplay

Regular events

The game should show that the world itself lives outside the user's time, and the regular presence in the game promises additional dividends for it. This element is a logical development of the previous element. With the help of regular events, such as lotteries, weekly tournaments, you can develop the user's habit of returning to the game. The user likes to participate in events, he feels that he does not miss a single opportunity to do something in the game. In addition, if the reward for continued participation in such events will help the player in the main gameplay, this will add another factor in order to return.

A good example of the implementation of weekly tournaments:

By participating in such tournaments here you can get valuable gifts

There are rewards for participating in the tournament, and a global expensive prize. In addition, the current place of the participant in the tournament and the remaining time are indicated.

Interaction with friends

A system of invitations and social connections should show the user that his friends need him. Responsibility to friends encourages the player to return and help them, do something for the benefit of themselves and others. In addition, there is an out-of-game pressure on the user in the form of calls and text messages “Please come in for a second, drop one copper bar, I’m not enough to collect new armor”. The easier it is for the user to drag friends into the game, the more opportunities to create a favorable atmosphere, the less desire the user has to abandon the game or switch to another. The mechanisms of interaction with friends are also beneficial in that they open up the possibility for the work of viral mechanisms, which we will discuss in another article.

In addition, competition is important for many users - stimulate it with the help of ratings and competitions. Make a global rating for seasoned players and several “leagues” - local ratings based on additional characteristics. The more such leagues, the greater the chance of a player to receive any prize place and honor. Particular attention should be paid to the organization of the rookie league and the league of friends - when a new player sees a real opportunity to enter the local pedestal he will have more reasons to pay attention to the game in the future. Remember that the rating system motivates only the top 10–20% of participants.

Initially, the Game Center has several types of ratings, including a breakdown by rating among friends and general ratings

What to expect next?

In the second part, I will continue this inexhaustible list of tools to increase retention. It will be possible to read there how the mystery affects the player, why the game is likely and what the depth of the game and the game round are.