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Why you need to track user retention in mobile apps and games

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

Matija Hanicar

April 17, 2019

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

Retention can be defined for a certain period – we can look at 1-day retention, 7-day retention or 30-day retention. 30-day retention would be the percentage of users returning to the app at least 1x within 30 days. To track retention, we’ll need to use cohorts. Cohorts are groups of users that started using the app around the same time (or same day of the week).

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.

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 user tapping, swiping and buying, how long are they staying in the game or how often to they open the app?

After you’ve chosen mobile app analytics you want and you’ve set everything up, you’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.

User retention chart in Google’s mobile app analytics platform – Firebase.

A cohort is a set of users that started using your app around the same time (or 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.

Main elements of a retention chart from Firebase - cohorts, retention rates...
Main elements of a retention chart from Firebase – cohorts, retention rates…

Why is user retention so important in hyper-casual genre?

The harsh truth is – more than half of users that download your game probably won’t open it. Not even once. A hyper-casual game is considered successful if the day-1 retention is above 40%.

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. Majority of hyper-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 can be produced in a short time, so if something isn’t working, it is easier to just move on the next project than to waste resources and energy.

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

Data is the key

In the competitive environment of mobile, it becomes more and more important to track KPIs. Some of the biggest publishers give you the opportunity to sell the game to them if it meets the harsh standards.

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 cohorts examples can be:

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

However, hyper-casual games usually do have low day-30 retention. That is the main reason most of the hyper-casual game publishers resort to designing a new game to keep things fresh.

User retention & user acquisition

At the beginning of your user acquisition strategy, you need to think about user retention. 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.

User retention can be a valuable indicator of the app’s quality. Most often it is measured in 4 intervals:

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

For hyper-casual games, the most important indicators. will be 1-day and 7-day retention.

In case of very specific apps you will use only 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 every app needs a longer timeframe to get the right values. To look at user retention, we need to include longer periods between consequential sessions.

How is user retention measured?

User retention is measured in time intervals mentioned before, shows how many initial users come back to your mobile app or game after trying it. If the user retention on the first day is 50%, that means that half of the users used the app again after trying it.

Statistics of the market aren’t that peachy, a average day-1 retention is around 26%. Android and iOS apps have roughly similar retention rates, with slightly better day-7 retention on iOS.

The Average Retention Rate

Above you see the average retention rate for Android and iOS apps. As you can see, the retention rates are pretty similar, falling down to 6% on the 30th day. As the time passes, the number of users returning to the app is lower.

How to calculate retention rate?

How to calculate retention rate?
How to calculate retention rate?

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

User retention in this case is:

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

To sum up:
If you’re already working hard to get new users and investing your budget in the marketing of the app, you want that the users keep using the game.

For the hyper-casual genre, user retention is the key indicator of the overall potential of the game. After finding out that day-1 retention is only 5%, most hyper-casual publishers would abandon the game and just focus on producing a new one.

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 space of mobile, 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. With new features and possibilities, there is more what can we do with mobile devices 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.

And for any hyper-casual game publisher – user retention is one of the key metrics that will predict the success of your game.

About Udonis:

We are an award-winning marketing agency specialized in mobile apps & games. We help scale products that people love, keeping the attention on data and results. Have questions, need help? 🤗 Email us at hello@udonis.co!

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