Why focusing on tomorrow brings back players in the long run

Post 2 of 3: How to analyze your mobile game’s retention data

In the first of this three part series, I discussed the importance of the first 10 minutes in mobile gaming to player retention. I shared two anti-patterns — the “Flats” and the “Gorge” — to look out for in your own data, and discussed ways to improve performance.

In this post, I talk about metrics that relate to your player’s engagement and provide meaningful benchmarks from Google Play for you to better understand game performance. I’ll cover how these engagement metrics relate, and a new key metric which can be used to optimize long term player engagement.

Average stickiness for games on Google Play

All developers want more players, and most closely track their daily and monthly active users. In a perfect world, a game’s daily active users (DAU) would basically equal the monthly active users (MAU). Ideally all of your players would come back every day and would never churn.

Unfortunately, we all know this isn’t the case; the number of daily players are rarely anywhere near monthly uniques. Games lose new installs due to low retention and veteran players churning over time. Even frequent players aren’t compelled to log-in every single day due to a lack of strong return mechanics. Therefore, understanding a game’s stickiness is extremely important.

“Stickiness” is commonly measured by taking a ratio of average daily active users divided by the number of unique users during a time period. Most developers measure weekly (DAU / WAU), or monthly (DAU / MAU) ratios to measure engagement over time.

For top grossing free to download games on Google Play, the weekly stickiness (DAU / WAU) ratio is 55%. If your game’s ratio is higher than this, it means your game is retaining and engaging users at a higher rate than half the top performing games on Google Play. For monthly stickiness (DAU / MAU), top games have a median of 31%.

So how do these metrics correlate with each other? The plot below shows the DAU / WAU ratio on the X axis, and the DAU / MAU ratio on the Y axis, with each blue dot representing a top game on Google Play. It’s eye-opening to see the extremely strong correlation between the weekly and monthly ratios.

This means that if your goal is to increase a game’s monthly active users, you can focus on a shorter time frame and work to improve the DAU / WAU ratio. By running 7 day tests and measuring the effect on your weekly active users, improvement in the DAU / WAU ratio can lead to strong gains in your game’s DAU / MAU ratio.

The significance of daily retention

In addition to weekly and monthly stickiness factors, you can also look at a metric which gauges the daily return rate of active users — the DAU return percent. This metric looks at what percent of yesterday’s daily active users, returned today. Effectively, this treats each day’s DAU as a cohort for the purposes of seeing how many return in the future.

Across Google Play’s top performing games, the median DAU return is 77%. This means that 77% of today’s players come back tomorrow. The top quartile of performance is 81%, and the top decile of games have 84% of players coming back every day.

DAU return % — Next day

In the same way that DAU / WAU and DAU / MAU are correlated, it is also possible to compare the DAU return % to the weekly stickiness factor. The graph below shows this relationship with DAU return % on the X axis, and the DAU / WAU ratio on the Y Axis.

Again there’s a positive linear relationship between the two metrics. This means we can see strong increases to our weekly active users if we focus on maximizing the number of users who return every day.

Looking at these relationships yields a powerful, yet simple conclusion — the most important thing you can do to grow your player base is focus on bringing people back every day.

Can DAU return also be a proxy for churn?

The DAU Return % can also be leveraged as a proxy for player churn. In addition to looking at the percentage of a day’s DAU’s who return the following day, you can also look at how many return 7, 14, and 28 days later. In the case of the 28th day, the median game sees 57% of players returning, while the best performing titles see 70% or more of their players active on those DAU Return dates.

DAU Return % for the 28th day

Additionally, the 28th day DAU return % also shows a strong correlation to the next day DAU return %. This further supports the belief that the most important factor to focus on for retention, engagement and growth of your player base, is getting today’s players to return tomorrow.

Improving your daily return percent

Three strategies that you can employ to increase your daily return percent are return mechanics, social systems, and push notifications.

  1. Celebrate the return mechanics in your game. Ensure players value them and anticipate coming back to receive them every day. Importantly, ask yourself questions like how do players perceive them? How important are they? Can you improve them? Can you ensure all players are aware of them? Can you celebrate them more?
  2. Leverage the social systems in your game. The tighter the bonds you create between your players, the more likely they’ll return. Effectively, with a strong guild or clan system, or features like meaningful chat groups and substantial friends benefits, your players do the work for you. Strengthen your existing social system or build new features, then leverage them to bring players back every day.
  3. Think about push notifications and how you can truly personalize them. Let me throw out an idea I’ve been kicking around since I worked as a developer: what if you were to build a time history for each player, and identify what time they normally played each day? If a player usually starts playing at 6 PM, could you send them a customized push notification at 6:30 PM if they haven’t logged in yet? This is extremely powerful as it’s highly relevant to that person as they are receiving notifications tailored to their specific habits.

Focus on tomorrow to improve retention

Ultimately, the most important thing you can do if you are trying to grow the number of players for your game, is to focus on tomorrow. The strong correlation between daily, weekly and monthly stickiness ratios suggests a strong focus on daily retention will pay dividends for long term retention. In the last post of this series, I’ll dive into payer frequency data and look at ways improve the monetization of your game. If you are interested in improving game revenue check out ‘Five tips to improve your games-as-a-service monetization’, and also get insights into who your players are in ‘Who plays mobile games?’

What do you think?

Do you have thoughts on measuring and improving game retention? Let us know in the comments below or tweet using #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.