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Last update: June 2020

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5 Stages of User Engagement for Mobile Games

Free-to-play (F2P) mobile games have taken the world by storm. The F2P market hit $12.6 billion in revenue in the United States alone last year, and is projected to reach $13.2 billion in 2020. Clearly, F2P is a very attractive business model for mobile games. But monetization can be tricky, and it is tied to having healthy user engagement with players of your mobile game. In order to convert free gamers into paying customers, you will have to identify their needs and preferences across their full lifecycle as users of your gaming app.

Stage #1: Onboarding

Onboarding is your chance to make a fantastic first impression with your user. The onboarding stage is when users are at the greatest risk for churn. In fact, 75% of new users abandon an app during the first week after downloading, and those numbers are even higher for mobile games. So make sure you do everything you can to ease them into the process.

Once they download your app, send an automated push notification welcoming them to the community. Include a deep link to a tutorial walking them through the game’s features, explaining how to navigate the app. Or give them a taste of what you have to offer with a free sample of content, a small bonus of in-game currency, or a guide to the first level of your game. 

If you see their attention lagging – for example, they abandon your app in the middle of creating their avatar – send them a push notification to remind them to keep going. User engagement for your mobile game can take the form of freebies, invitations to share their activity with a friend, habit-building reminders to keep playing – anything that will inspire them to use your app more.

Stage #2: Engagement

Once you’ve built a strong, ingrained habit of app usage for your user, keep that using streak going! If you’ve built a quality mobile game, the habit of playing it should build itself. However, with mobile games’ churn levels even higher than other mobile apps, you will need an extra boost of encouragement. This is when your push campaign will need to be at the top of its game. Engage players 3-4 times a day, with content you know will interest them.

These notifications can be reminders to open up the app at a regular time each day. (Click here to read more about adaptive scheduling, and how to determine the right moment to reach out to users.) If they do this enough times, playing your gaming app will become an automatic action for them.

You can also use notifications as an extension of gameplay. Send gamers an invitation to come back into the app for a quest or raid. Send them a challenge from one of their friends in the gaming community. Spark their competitive spirit by showing them how their high scores measure up to their rivals. And every now and then, sweeten the deal by offering them an extra life, or a cache of in-game currency, etc.

Stage #3: Milestone

No player will stick with your game long if it’s just a rolling stream of gameplay. You need to offer them milestones to strive for, so that that dopamine rush will encourage them to keep playing. So if they’ve defeated 100 enemies, or leveled up in skills, or completed a series of tasks, reward them. Send an in-app message the instant they complete the action, to congratulate them.

And it can’t just be empty congratulations. Reward them with something that makes gameplay even more enjoyable. For example, access to a higher tier of customizable cosmetics in the shop, or a bonus level in the game, or a treasure chest of loot. Give them a stronger sword, or a new skill that means they can access new areas of the game.

Personalized milestone user engagement will make users feel they’re making progress in your mobile game, rather than treading water. Send users their well-earned milestone rewards via push notification.

Stage #4: Conversion

For all F2P games, this is the end goal: to convert your free players into paying customers. There are two main tactics for this:

  • Micropurchases
  • Subscription to higher tier gameplay

In the early days of F2P games, developers depended on whales – 2.2% of gamers who made up most of the mobile game’s revenues. However, monetization tactics have evolved since then, and nearly everyone who has a long-term relationship with a mobile game ends up a paying customer to some extent.

Invite users via push or in-app messaging to purchase new lives, in-game currency, skins or other aesthetic customizations for their avatar. Keep prices low – a few dollars at most – and players will be more likely to wave away the cost.

The other favorite method of monetization is to invite users to a premium tier of gameplay. This was most famously employed by Fortnite, who offered players their “Battle Pass” subscription, which players can buy for the in-game currency V-bucks. Subscriptions can unlock access for players to premium gaming modes, avatars, functionalities, and other bonus features. Essentially, a Battle Pass is an invitation to a VIP level of gameplay, and a push notification serves as the invitation.

Stage #5: Churn/Reactivation

The thing is, not all players will stick with your game. Luckily, push notifications are the best tool you have for reversing churn. The best strategy is to beat churn before it happens. This means targeting at-risk players, whose number of app opens and time spent playing are dropping off. Try to woo them back in by offering them discounts, bonus content, or free in-game currency.

If they are well and truly churned, don’t give up. As long as they still have the app downloaded, you can communicate with them via push notification. Remind them why they downloaded the game in the first place. And give them a taste of something new, that will make them curious to open your game again. Ask them for feedback, with a deep link to an in-app portal. If they were dissatisfied with your game for some reason, perhaps there’s something you can do to mend that.

For more tips on how to beat churn with push notifications, read our recent blog post.

If you have more questions about push notifications, and how you can use them to maximize user engagement with your mobile game, email us at hq@openback.com

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