Free-to-play games thrive on hooked players who make launching a session part of their daily (or hourly) routine. Getting players and keeping them starts long before launch; it takes careful planning to ensure retention strategies are deeply rooted into your game.

Use these 10 retention-boosting tips to hook players from the get-go while maximizing revenue and ROI.

1. Prepare for Success

Prepare for a soft launch. It will give you insights into where your users abandon your game so that you can make adjustments quickly. Look for feedback on your game’s performance on different devices and in different regions.

As you tweak your game based on the feedback, take note of any troubleshooting tips you might want to include your description.

Know your metrics. D1/D7/D14, LTV, and ARPDAU are all good starting points, but take a look at this comprehensive guide for a better idea of which metrics you should be tracking.

2. Consider Your Time and Energy Mechanics

To keep your player involved in your game, include time and duration mechanics. Always focus on the game’s fundamental source of enjoyment.

When looking at these mechanics, keep the game’s value front and center. Activities that tap into the value and pleasure of the game can be broken up into more than one session. This encourages the user to return again and again to check on its status.

As you can see below, the mobile game, Episode by PocketGems, follows a similar strategy. Passes are required to continue each story by starting a new episode; players can either wait for them to replenish or purchase additional ones:


3. Keep It Personal

To keep your players involved in your game, build in customization. A personalized playing experience is much more engaging than a generic one, no matter the genre. Allow players to choose their own names, backgrounds, avatars, music, language and more whenever possible.

Unison League is a perfect example of this concept:


4. Make Your First Impression Count

First impressions count even in the world of mobile; mobile games retain 20-40% of their players one day after install on average. On top of that, more than half of the users retained after Day 1 abandon the app after a week. This is make or break it time; users who are turned off or frustrated by your game from the get-go aren’t coming back.

First, always get your players involved in the game from the start; if you can get them to understand the objective of your game in 3 taps, even better.

Next, make things easy on your new audience by allowing them to skip log-ins and get started playing. Removing this barricade to access gets them playing right away. If you include intuitive controls and quick tutorials, you can translate this instant access into a hooked player.

Finally, consider allowing for offline play as well.

Pro-tip: Go easy on your new users and allow them to enjoy the game a bit before introducing ads.

5. Cross-Sell Your Portfolio with Clever Challenges

Mobile games that promote other games in the form of daily challenges, quests, and tournaments often see higher conversion rates and more engaged players. This strategy is called meta-games and is designed to cross-sell. The right meta-game on the welcome screen can encourage a player to try another game from your portfolio while increasing session length and/or frequency in the current game at hand.

For more details about how meta-games can increase conversion and retention rates, check out the full report from KamaGames.

6. Incentivize Engagement with Rewarded Videos

The right ad format can increase retention for your free-to-play game. Rewarded videos give users a taste of in-app purchases, encourage them to interact with the game, and truly reward them for engagement.

Use them as boosters within your game after the player levels up or otherwise achieves a difficult goal. If you do decide to show rewarded videos after a failure, limit them to once per session, so they retain their value.

7. Build a Community of Evangelists

Once your player is hooked on your game, it’s time to bring in friends to keep the engagement going. Allow players to invite friends via social media; they can then work together to achieve the game’s objectives.

You can even build a “sharing community” where players share advice and resources with each other. As this community develops, use your own social media platforms such as a forum, Facebook page, or wiki to interact with diehard fans.

8. Surprise Your Players with Bonuses

Bonuses can be a great way to keep players coming back as long as they’re implemented strategically.

Here are two big don’ts:

Don’t punish players for failing to log-in by taking away too many vital resources as you may find yourself pushing away reactivated players. If a player comes back and finds all of his hard work has been destroyed, he has little to no motivation to return.

Don’t give out bonuses like candy every single time a player launches a session. If you eliminate the surprise factor, whatever you’re giving away feels less valuable and players may lose interest.

And an even bigger do:

Do reward players with special currency, tools, or some other key item regularly in the beginning and taper it off as needed. Double up on rewards periodically to maintain that element of surprise.

9. Strategically Use Push Notifications

Messages can be a great way to boost retention. The trick is to avoid generic messages and personalize them to your audience instead. For activities or goals that require multiple sessions, encourage players to return with push notifications about what’s been completed or how many minutes they have remaining to move to the next stage.

Pockemon Go follows this concept well:


Image source: PocketGamer

A sense of urgency always motivates players especially if they feel they may lose progress and have a solid idea what is waiting for them.

Incorporate weekly releases of new content with your notifications. This way you tap into a sense of predictability as people know when to check back, but you also leverage that element of surprise as they don’t know they’ll find when they return.

Also, think about the timing of your request for push notification privileges. A request right after launch is likely to be ignored. Let your players feel the value of your game; then, make the request for push notifications with a personalized message.

10. Segment Your New and Power Players

Take the personalization factor up a notch by segmenting your users into targeted groups. Allow new users to get accumulated to the game by only showing ads after 5 minutes of gameplay or disabling ads altogether for power players who have already made in-app purchases.

Give players more reason to come back to your game by providing the most customized ad experience possible through Appodeal Segments.

Are there any best practices you’d add to (or subtract from) the list? Let us know in the comments.