Why You Need to Track User Retention in Mobile Apps and Games

Why You Need to Track User Retention in Mobile Apps and Games

by Andrea Knezovic

If you’re an app developer or publisher, user retention is a mobile game metric you must track. It has a significant impact on your ROI and directly influences the overall success of your app or game. 

In this article, you’ll learn: 

  • What is user retention
  • How is user retention measured
  • How to calculate retention rates
  • Tips on how to track user retention

You also get practical tips on how to improve user retention and an overview of user retention statistics. 

Ready to master user retention? 

What Is User Retention?

User retention is one of the most important metrics any app or game publisher should track even before the release. This metric basically tells you how many users returned to your app or game in the given time period.

User retention is also important for your user acquisition strategy. Because as you get new users, some of the old ones will just stop playing the game. Essentially, user acquisition never stops since there will always be users who downloaded your app and never started using it, some stop using it after some time or uninstall it completely.

How is User Retention Measured?

Most often, user retention is measured in 4 intervals:

1-day retention
7-day retention
30-day retention
90-day retention

For example, 30-day retention would be the percentage of users returning to the app at least 1x within 30 days. 

However, you can measure user retention for any time period.

How to Calculate User Retention in Mobile Apps & Games?

Let’s say a mobile game was downloaded by 1000 users. Out of 1000, 200 used the game after one day. Only 100 used it after a week. After one month passed, there were only 50 game players left. And on day 90, 10 game players remained.

In this example, user retention rates are: 

1-day retention – 20%
7-day retention – 10%
30-day retention – 5%
90-day retention – 1%

Why Is User Retention So Important?

The harsh truth is – more than half of users that download your game probably won’t open it. Not even once. According to GameAnalytics, a mobile game is considered successful if its day-1 retention is above 35%. 

We launch a game, and if we’re not comfortable with the KPIs, we kill it. (…) We definitely want more than 40% day 1 retention. If we can hit 50%, that would be great. We do care about day 7 – but that’s almost a cherry on top.

Paul Woodbridge, Director of Design at MAG Interactive (IronSource)

Looking at day-1 and sometimes, day-7, retention is the key indicator of the future success of your app. On a small sample, you can tell if your game is going to work or not. The majority of game publishers aim for day-1 retention between 35 and 40%. For any lower indicator, a game will probably be archived and the focus will be shifted on a new project.

hyper casual games

User Retention in Hyper-Casual Games

User retention is an important metric for any mobile game or app, but it’s maybe the most important for the hyper-casual genre.

Hyper-casual games are characterized by simple gameplay mechanics. They have very few features, opposite to core games. Their lifetime is short, and the majority of revenue comes from in-app ads. Hyper-casual games aren’t after the big money spenders, they’re after players. The goal of hyper-game publishers is to have an engaged audience that will continually want to come back to play the game.

This type of game is aimed at wide audiences and for a game developer or game publisher, it is important to know if something will work on a scale.

In the case of very specific apps that are used only a few times a year – apps like Airbnb or Booking.com, user retention can’t be the key indicator. Those apps you’ll use when you’re booking a vacation or going on a holiday, you won’t open them every day. That is why some apps need a longer timeframe to get the right values. To look at user retention for these apps, we need to include longer periods between consequential sessions.

How to Track User Retention?

To track user retention, you’ll need to set up mobile app analytics. Mobile app analytics are the best way to understand your users and get insight into their behavior within the app.

How else will you know what are your users tapping, swiping, and buying, how long are they staying in the game, or how often do they open the app?

After you’ve chosen a mobile app analytics tool you want and you’ve set everything up, ’ll be able to track retention. And to properly track retention, you’ll have to use cohorts, depending on which metric is important to you.

A cohort is a set of users that started using your app around the same time (or the same day of the week). It’s important to track cohorts to know the retention rate by seeing how many users end up coming back to your app. Retention cohorts will often be shown in a chart, where each row will represent a cohort.

User retention through cohort charts will also show you how your game is progressing over time. As you release new updates, redesign features or fix bugs you’ll be able to see has the retention improved.

Some of the cohort examples are:

  • All of the players that installed the game in January
  • All of the players that installed the game on Monday

How to Improve User Retention? 12 Practical Tips

Now that you know why user retention is important and how to measure it, it’s time for some tips on how to improve it. 

onboardin process app

1. Initiate an Efficient Onboarding Process

An efficient onboarding experience is the foundation of good user retention – it’s important to make a good first impression. However, many developers still don’t do this right. 

The key is to make the onboarding process as simple as possible – if your app or game is difficult to start using, people will just give up and move on. 

For example, if your app requires registration, as for minimal data and make the steps simple and quick. Otherwise, it might turn users off and they’ll abandon your app before they even started using it. 

Furthermore, don’t bombard users with millions of different features all at once – focus on the most important features and give them some time to explore the app. Always avoid overwhelming users. 

It’s also a good idea to give them a short tutorial on how to use the app/game. 

A user’s first session should also incorporate a tutorial. It should be highly engaging, interactive, aesthetically pleasing, glitch-free, and easy to use. Start ‘rewarding’ the user immediately, whether it’s with a practice level that is over-simplified and easy to beat or free tokens for completing the tutorial or registering their email address.

push notifications example

2. Utilize Push Notifications

While push notifications are a great way of interacting with users, they’re a double-edged sword. They can both boost user retention and make it even lower. It all depends on how you utilize them. That’s why you need to be strategic.  

Here’s how you use push notifications the right way. 

There are many different types of push notifications – they can be related to updates, discounts, sales, reminders, etc. It all depends on what type of app or game you have and what’s your goal. All of these types of push notifications have to be done right. When I say done right I mean:

  • relevant
  • timely
  • valuable

Pay special attention to your notifications’ content. Make them fun, use branded phrases, enticing calls-to-action, emojis/graphics, or in-app incentives.

Another thing you need to make sure is they are useful for the user. For example, let’s say you have a mobile game. You can remind users who haven’t played for an X amount of days to come back and play again. Perhaps you’ve added some new game content – that’s also a good opportunity to send out a push notification. 

Finally, perhaps the most important thing with push notifications is to avoid spamming – it will irritate users and you’ll achieve the opposite effect. Also, it’s not a good idea to start sending push notifications right away – let users have a good experience with your app or game first. 

in app messages example

3. Send In-App Messages

Another way to communicate with users is to send in-app messages. They’re usually triggered by a specific event or a completed in-app action. In-app messages can include new feature announcements, updates, reminders, personalized offers and discounts based on user profiles, etc. 

Just like with push notifications, the same rule regarding frequency applies here as well. 

Don’t overdo it. 

Instead, be strategic about when you’ll send messages and what they’ll include. 

Another thing you need to be strategic about is who receives these in-app messages.

Don’t blast the same messages to everyone. Instead, segment users into groups. For example, new users, loyal users, paying users, etc. Each one of them should receive messages that fit their in-app user journeys.

4. Engage with Users on a Personal Level 

Here’s the thing. 

People want to feel special. They want to feel like someone understands them and takes care of them. 

That’s why engaging with users of a personal level results in high engagement and loyal users. 

This relates not only to push notifications but all other forms of communication with the users. It should always be individualized and highly relevant to the user. 

Basically, it’s personalization – tailoring the app experience to meet the needs of a specific user. It’s a step beyond customization and it results in long-term relationships which leads to higher user retention. 

According to Localytics, “App users who feel listened to based on their data are much more likely to continue launching an app. In fact, apps that send messages that are targeted based on simply profile or profile and behavioral data and built on dynamic content see user retention within 28 days of receiving the message range from 61% to 74%.”

in app messages reward loyal users

5. Reward Loyal Users

A good strategy to improve user retention is to incentivize users to keep coming back to your app or game – give rewards to loyal users. It’s basic psychology. 

This can be done in a couple of different ways and it largely depends on the type of app/game. But in general, offer users something they would find valuable

For example, if you have a mobile game, a reward can be in the form of extra lives, coins, bonus content, discounts on in-app purchases, etc. 

It will incentivize users to keep playing and engaging with your game. 

6. Add New Content Regularly (Don’t Let Users Get Bored)

One of the biggest reasons why people get bored with an app or a game is repetitiveness and lack of fresh content. 

Attention spans are getting shorter and it takes a lot to keep users engaged. 

That’s why you should never stop improving your app/game and adding new content. For mobile games, it can be new levels, characters, storylines, skins/decks, and other features. 

ux ui app design

7. Perfect Your Design

App design also plays a big role in improving user retention. If it’s hard to navigate and doesn’t look that great, people will be turned off by it. That will result in poor day 1 user retention. 

That makes sense. Imagine you bought a product and it was poorly designed and complicated to use – you would either return it or stop using it. Even though most apps are free and are not physical products per se, the same rules apply. 

So make sure you perfect both the UX and UI design – it will do wonders for retention and overall user satisfaction. 

8. Integrate Social Interactions

Another trick to improve the retention rate is to add social features to your app or game. Those features allow users to connect and engage with other app users. 

It can be done in several different ways. 

For example, you can integrate social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter and enable social sharing. 

Another feature you can add is the ability to follow or add other users as friends. Having the option of customizable user profiles is also a good idea because it drives social interactions. 

strava app user retention tip

For example, Strava, a fitness tracking app, has a newsfeed that allows you to view daily activity and updates from app users you connected with. You can also give kudos to other users for their workouts. 

In gaming apps, you can implement social features in different ways. Create ways for users to engage with their friends via the game, whether it’s through a personalized leaderboard, in-app messaging, or rewards for sharing scores on social media.

candy crush saga social features in mobile games

For example, Candy Crush Saga allows players to connect with friends they want to connect with. Once they do this, they can see their in-game progress on a world map. Besides that, they also get the ability to ask them for help – more in-game lives.

9. Add Gamification Features to Drive Engagement

According to a study done by Apptentive, mobile games usually have better user retention than apps. That’s why many non-gaming apps are implementing game-like features. 

This is known as gamification. 

Most commonly, those are incentives like collecting points, completing levels, achieving personal goals, etc. 

This drives engagement and results in better retention because users get a sense of achievement and it makes using the app more fun. 

10. Keep Working on Improving User Experience

You should never stop working on improving the user experience of your app and game. There is always something you can improve, and you’ll notice it translates into better user retention. 

To conclude this, here are some additional tips from Aaron Smith, a free-to-play games developer from Ilyon®.

The end goal of every mobile gaming platform should be to reach the ‘loyalty stage’ with as many users as possible. At the loyalty stage, a user is devoted to the game’s brand and user retention typically stabilizes.

In order to get to this point, however, there are several important features that mobile games can utilize to increase the likelihood that a user will stay engaged long enough to reach this crucial milestone. These are:

  • using push notifications right
  • an ongoing sense of progress
  • implementing social features

11. Avoid Misleading Advertising

Are you using paid advertising to acquire new app users? We highly recommend you do, especially if your app is a mobile game.

However, many apps (again, especially games) create ads that deceive people. As a result – they churn on the first day. Bye-bye, good retention rates!

If your app is a game, make sure to include authentic footage and highlight the game’s best features. Of course, some special effects and additions are welcome. Anything that makes your game look completely different is not. Simple as that.

Misleading advertising may get you a lot of installs, but we assure you, it will inevitably harm your app’s retention rates.

12. Allow Two-Way Communication

You want to build a relationship with your users and make their opinion and experience matter.

There is no better way of doing this than encouraging user feedback. Give players a platform to contact you outside the app or game itself. For example, a dedicated forum, customer service, or via your social media channels.

The feedback will sometimes be great, sometimes okay, and sometimes horrible.

I can’t emphasize this enough so I will capitalize it – DON’T IGNORE THEM!

Always reply to the users’ comments. If it’s possible, offer them solutions. If not, explain the situation.

This way, the players will get an impression you’re doing everything you can to solve their problems.

As a result, they might keep using your app/playing your game for longer.

User Retention Statistics for Mobile Games

Retention rates significantly vary between different genres.

Generally, all games fall into three categories:

  • Casual genre (action, adventure, arcade, casual, and puzzle games)
  • Classic genre (board, card, casino, trivia, and word games)
  • Mid-core genre: (multiplayer, role-playing, simulation, strategy, racing, sports games)

Here are the most recent retention rates for all of them, provided by Game Analytics’ GameIntel platform.

Casual Genre

Top 25% of casual games

Here’s how the leading mobile games in the casual genre fare when it comes to user retention.

After the first day, which is the crucial point for mobile games, top games in the casual genre retained 29% of players in 2022 – the same as in 2021. That tells us retention rates have been stable for this genre.

After one week, in 2022, leading games in the casual genre retained 6% of players – 1% less than in 2021. That’s significantly lower than D1 retention, but it’s normal and happens across all genres.

Day 30 retention is usually even lower across all mobile games. Casual games lose the majority of their players after one month, retaining only 2% – the same as in 2022.

Median 50% of casual games

Here’s a quick overview of retention rates for median casual games.

Day 1 user retention in 2022 was 20%, the same as in 2021. Compared to leading casual games, that’s 9% less.

After a week, the median 50% of games retained around 3.5% of players – 0.5% more than in 2021.

Day 28 retention rates were low in 2022 – 0.7% on average, which is just slightly less than in the previous year.

Bottom 25% of casual games

As you might expect, casual games that are at the bottom have poor user retention – around 12% after one day, 1.4% after a week, and only 0.02% after a month.

If you have a casual game, this gives you a good indication of what you should aim for and what you should avoid, i.e, ending up in the bottom 25% of casual games in terms of retention.

Classic Genre

Top 25% of classic games

Leading games in the classic genre had a higher 2022 day 1 retention than leading casual games – around 31%.

After a week, these games retained around 11% throughout 2022.

After 28 days, retention rates went down to around 5% – 1% less. That’s similar to leading casual games.

Median 50% of classic games

Median classic games kept around 22% throughout 2022 – a 1% decline compared to 2021.

After one week, user retention was around 6%. That’s 2.5% higher than for median casual games.

Day 28 retention for median classic games was decent throughout 2022 – around 2%. While that might not sound like much, it’s pretty good for median games, especially when compared to casual games.

Bottom 25% of classic games

Bottom classic games struggle with retaining players, but not as much as casual games.

One day after installation, 13% of players were left in both 2022 and 2021.

After one week, most players were gone – only 2% of them kept playing. After a month has passed, bottom classic games retained around 0.1%. While that’s very low, it’s significantly better than bottom casual games.

Mid-Core Genre

Top 25% of mid-core games

Overall, leading games in the mid-core genre had lower retention than leading casual and classic games.

More specifically, day 1 retention was 26% in 2022. As a comparison, casual games had 29% and classic 31% retention.

After 1 week, 5% of players remain in top mid-core games, similar to casual games, but lower than classic games.

Even for leading mid-core games, day 28 retention is very low – only around 1.6% in 2022.

Median 50% of mid-core games

Day 1 retention for median mid-core games was around 18% in 2022 – 1% less than in 2021.

Day 7 and 28 retention rates for these games went as low as 2.6% and 0.7% respectively.

Bottom 25% of mid-core games

Finally, here are 2022 retention rates for the bottom 25% of mid-core games.

After day 1, they retained around 11% of users. Very few players keep playing after 7 and 28 days – around 1.3% and 0.2% respectively.

Final Thoughts on User Retention

Each category, as well as each platform, has its unique features, and we can’t compare game metrics without taking that into consideration. In a crowded mobile space, you need to make an effort to REACH your users & KEEP them!

User habits are constantly changing, and the attention span of the users is shorter by every day. We use our phones to shop, book flights, and pay our bills. To stand out, your app/game needs to be great – and one thing that will tell you that with certainty is user retention.


About Udonis

Udonis is an independent full-service mobile marketing agency that acquired more than 300,000,000 users for mobile games since 2018.

Visit udonis.co


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