How to prolong a game’s lifecycle

It’s not a secret that users tend to monetize better as they progress further in the game. In this article I will list out some of well-proven recommendations to extend the duration of a game’s lifecycle.

     1. Limited launch

Some testing should be done before the product is fully released. You need to be sure that players will be motivated enough to complete, on average, as much of the game as possible (very few will actually finish all 100 levels of your game, if it will contain that many). The best way to achieve it  is to allow a limited part of your target audience to play it beforehand and to track their progress using analytics. After the first batch of players have tried playing you will realize if there are evident problems in the game process to be fixed, especially concerning player retention.

    2. Keep the game sustainable

When finally you are ready to expose your game to a bigger audience you should be well-prepared to analyze the ongoing performance and provide improvements in a timely manner. Here are some points that should be taken into consideration:     

  • Create a decent support system – be very sensitive to your users’ problems. React fast and professionally to their requests and complaints. This seems obvious but it is very complicated to achieve in practice. Your support should be well -trained and regularly checked by undercover testers pretending to be players. One negative feedback sounds louder than 100 positive ones so do your best to keep users satisfied.
  • Measure retention rates – start collecting data about players’ retention for 2 days, one week and 30 days. For different game genres and regions rates could broadly range but it is considered that 40%-20%-10% is a solid retention rate for a casual game on a mobile platform..
  • Drop-off levels – you should analyze if there are hard to pass levels. If you see that many users are getting stumped by some event of your game you should make that event easier or more exciting. It is especially important for tutorials and the first levels of your game. Tracking your drop-off rates in various parts of your game is necessary to improve your churn-rates (the monthly percentage rate at which users stop playing a game) which is crucial for monetization.
  • Have a clear understanding of what features are demanded by players and which are not really needed – something in your game could be more frequently used by players (abilities/objects/perks etc ) while other things could be considered unnecessary. You need to keep in touch with your users and track this info, it would help you to develop and add more demanded features and improve or eliminate what players don’t like or don’t use. It is especially important for games where users can purchase something to boost their game progress.
  • Focus on users who bring the money – everybody knows the rule about 20% of customers bring 80% of the incomes, the same rule works in gaming industry. Donators’ information should be separated from all others. Apply cohort analysis to define users with the highest rate of ARPU ( Average Revenue Per User ). So if you see that a group of players with the best ARPU cannot beat the boss on the fourth level and pay money for some items like bombs that a character can drop – you should make a boss weaker and add more types of bombs.
  • Build the community – the retention rate is much higher when users can boast with their achievements and share impressions with each other. Social players are the most loyal so it is very important to create a platform that will allow them to rally around your game. Social Media networks is the best place for it. It is also a great source of information for updates and improvements. If your number of followers has reached a certain amount you should start thinking of organizing special events for them. Maintaining everyday activities in SM is a daily routine that should be taken seriously.
  • The player isn’t always right – many times, players will ask for new features and changes – while it is important to listen to the user’s feedback, especially concerning bugs, the goal isn’t to appease every player’s fantasy, but to create a game which has a high user retention rate while keeping the project on a reasonable budget – in fact, sometimes there may even be a paradox, where in users will complain about a feature, but which will end up increasing user retention rates, and therefore your profit – it is always a delicate balance. Remember – if your game is free-to-play and supported by ads, then the customer isn’t actually the player- it’s the ad network.
  • Use push notifications to remind the player of your game – these shouldn’t be too constant, as then the player will get annoyed and simply delete your game. Rather, if your game is simple then a notification or two once every few days can help bring back players which would have otherwise forgotten about your game. On the other hand, if your game is of a more complex kind, such as a “farming” style game (where you build/maintain things, be it crops or cities, and collect coins), or even a tamagotchi or MMO style of game, then push notifications can actually serve their purpose, and, as their name implies, notify the player of important happenings in the game.
  • Get to know the basics of psychology – players are human beings, and we all have our in-built cognitive biases (bugs) which can be exploited, thus allowing player to stay more engaged in your game and spend more money on In-App Purchases. Casino’s are experts at this, all being windowless and without clocks, to rid the visitor from his sense of time, always playing the same generic music, and having a disorienting layout which makes it hard to find the exit. Study other games – what “tricks” do they use to help keep the player in longer and to spend more? Nothing new needs to be invented here.

      3. Make regular updates

You should schedule your updates even before the game is launched. Once players start downloading it and the information flows in it is necessary to analyse all the data and improve the game constantly. There should be two types of updates:

  • Regular weekly/monthly updates – small improvements should be done regularly and the more users play your game the more frequency of updates is required to keep a game sustainable.
  • General updates – once in few months or once in a year. This update is related to serious changes in your game. When DAU (daily active users) starts decreasing you should be already prepared to put some new catchy features to your game and stimulate users play more.

      Summing up

Your strategy is to turn your game to your users’ addictive habit which they cannot give up. Once people start feeling uncomfortable if they cannot play when they used to – your goal is finally reached.