Skillz Blog

Player Retention and Engagement With Competition-Fueled Gaming

In mobile games, building great player retention is a critical goal for developers. In fact, when developers talk with one another about how their games are performing, the first question you’re likely to hear is “How’s your D1?”, shorthand for “What percentage of your users come back to your game the day after they first launch it?”

You might wonder why developers are so fixated on metrics like Day 1, Day 7, and Day 30 retention when their ultimate goal is to increase revenue in their games. The answer is actually quite simple – when players aren’t staying in your game, it’s unlikely that they’ll pay and very unlikely they’ll pay repeatedly. If players aren’t retained, they simply can’t become great customers.

Mobile game designers and product managers spend the bulk of their time working on making games “sticky,” and for good reason. In our ample experience making mobile games better, we’ve seen time and time again that increasing a game’s monetization is relatively straightforward, but moving the numbers on retention is much, much harder.

Players bounce out of games for a variety of reasons. Even in successful mobile games, about half the players won’t return for a second day. The barrier to trying out a new mobile game is very low – especially since the majority of mobile games are free. In most cases, the user just has to push a button in the app store and wait a few seconds for the game to appear on their home screen. As a result, mobile gamers tend to try out a lot of games. According to Statista, there were more than 197 billion mobile app downloads in 2017 (an average 41+ apps per user). That means a game needs to be pretty special to hold the attention of its players.

No matter how fun and well-made your game is, it’s inevitable that some players just won’t like it. Although most game designers aspire to make games that will be popular to the majority of players, it’s a rare accomplishment. Most games are popular with – at best – a few demographic segments, like young men or adult women or kids. Since it’s so easy to get your hands on a new mobile game every day, people will download and try mobile games that they would never buy in a shop without carefully deciding if they really want to play. Plus, those people are very likely to abandon games after their first sessions. Unfortunately, making your game competitive won’t help you very much with those players, since people like to compete in activities that they intrinsically enjoy.

However, there are other challenges to player retention that competition can solve effectively. Often players will give up on a game they enjoy if they become tired of having the exact same experience every time. Even with a stable ruleset and no major changes to gameplay, competition enables players to hone their skills over time. Competition fulfills the player’s need for new, exciting experiences with a whole world of opponents and the ever-present desire to be the best.

Many players may also stop playing a game because the difficulty level isn’t right for them. Most players appreciate being in a state of Flow, where the challenges presented to them are neither so hard that they become frustrating nor so easy that they become boring, but rather stay in a consistent zone of optimal challenge. As a game designer, this isn’t easy to deliver. Your game will inevitably attract outstanding players, beginners, and everything in between. Creating a game that can challenge all levels at a consistent level can feel somewhere between incredibly difficult and impossible.

Once again, competition is your friend. Rather than worrying about whether you can adapt your game to the needs of every player, you can just figure out which players are at each skill level and match similarly skilled players against each other. The Skillz platform’s proprietary machine-learning technology ensures that players’ skill levels are accurately assessed and that their opponents will provide them with just the right level of fair, fun competition.

Additionally, creating a social fabric in games can dramatically lift retention, which should come as no surprise to mobile game designers. Competition can help you build that social fabric quickly, easily, and strongly. Developers work hard to build great social features to help keep players engaging with their friends and nemeses within their games, even when those games are mostly single-player. And the retention value of social interaction isn’t unique to mobile; we’ve previously discussed how competitive scenes and gathering places – both local and online – have helped classic games retain and build their player communities over decades and centuries. We’ve seen similar phenomena on the Skillz platform, where players love coming back day after day to compete in their favorite events against opponents old and new.

Of course, competition alone isn’t enough to make a game sticky, or well-monetizing, or broadly appealing. Before competition can even enter the picture, developers need to build fun games that players love. However, as we’ve consistently seen, competition helps great games work even better for players and developers on multiple levels. It can help you keep players around longer and monetize each user better, all without compromising your game’s appeal to a wide variety of users. Skillz is ready and waiting to help you figure out the best way to make your game competitive with our comprehensive suite of tournament management and eSports tools, and our expert game designers. We’re excited to see what we can achieve together!

If you’d like to learn more about the key components to developing a successful competitive game, then check out our eBook: Why mobile is the perfect platform for a world wired for competition.