How to Keep Your Users Playing


player retention strategies for online gaming


Vadym Usachev

Unity Developer

In free to play the market – before thinking about monetization and revenue for your game, you need to know – how to keep players in your game in the first place. There is a really small percentage of gamers, that spend money in their first hours, days or even weeks of playing a game that they liked.

What is a sense of progression?

So have you exactly can keep players in your game? Well, there is a thing, called “Sense of progression”, that comes in different shapes and sizes and needs to be in every game. Let’s break a few examples of that:

Example #1: Progression in earning and spending 

Let’s imagine that the whole premise of your game is to throw a spear into the target far from you. That can be a simple, physics-based mini-game to play in the subway. But how can you keep players to throw that spear over and over and over again? 

Firstly, let’s add rewards for throws. The closer to the target you hit – the more coins you get.

Secondly, let’s add some places to spend those coins. For example – skins for the spear. If 90% of your game is to watch, how that spear is flying to the target – then this will be good and desirable purchase for the player.

Just these two steps without any gameplay changes already add some sort of game progression. Now players don’t just throw spear over and over, now they earn coins with each throw and soon they will be able to buy new skin for it.

Example #2: Progression in unlocking content

Let’s imagine that your game is a rouge-like – you need to kill all enemies on the randomly generated floor, then go to the next one. Rinse and repeat until you reach the final floor. This premise is more interesting than a spear throw and will keep players for some time. But how we prolong that time?

Let’s add secondary objectives or tasks. For example – to not take damage on the first floor or kill 2 enemies with one bullet, or beat all floors in 15 minutes, etc. If a player achieves that – we reward him with some kind of unlock – new playable character, or a new weapon, that he can find when playing.

This way is much better than just having all content available from the start. Why? Because we not only adding gameplay time for the player, which is great for us but also giving players that sense of progression, rewards, for their hard work.

Example #3: Progression in getting better

Let’s imagine that your game is competitive (multiplayer, player vs player), for example – poker. The best way to keep players playing in competitive games – create ranks and leaderboards. A player wins a game – he gets points for his rank. He wins some more – he promotes to a new rank. That simple premise – to have players in skill groups with the rank system is enough on it’s on, to keep competitive players in-game.

In poker case, and games with one vs all type of games – add tournaments. With different prize pools, rewards and skill levels. These tournaments will encourage players to get better and spend more time in-game, which is good for us.

Let’s break ways for monetizing each of our examples

Example #1 is self-explanatory. 

We have skins for our spear, that player can buy with in-game currency. Few packs of that same currency for real money will do. Notice, that players still can get these skins without purchasing. Is it bad? No, because by playing the game regularly players watch more ads, that in 2020 are built almost in every f2p mobile game.

Should we add real money only skins for the game? Yes, but remember, that players never should feel deprived, because they didn’t spend real money. So be sure to have enough free content, for people to earn and enjoy.

Example #2 is a bit harder.

While in the first example we just visually changing something, to be prettier for the player, in this case, we have unlockable content, that enhances the game. You should never strip players from the game content because they didn’t pay (not including new expansions and DLC packs)

Implementation of purchases in this type of game is always hard but is not actually necessary. Rouge-like completionist genre is time-consuming for a player. Here, ads – are the best way to earn money. You can add visual micro-transactions for some content, but better is just to focus on content quality and replayability and get revenue from ads

Example #3 is purely on microtransactions.

When it comes to multiplayer there is only one important rule to know: never sell something, that can make players stronger. If your game has products, that can give players advantages vs other players – the game will self-destruct. This not only breaks the balance, based only on in-game skill but also creates a negative experience for players, that don’t pay. The result for your game can be crushing: drops of player-base, problems with balancing the game, negative reviews, etc.. 

So, how to get revenue from multiplayer competitive games? Microtransactions. Even if your game is something simple like multiplayer chess, just adding skins for the board or chess itself will do. If a player spends dozens of hours in your game, he will almost always consider a purchase of something, that can visually enhance his game. 

Let’s summarize 

So, what you should remember about purchases in your games before you implement them:

  1.  Make a good game, then think about products. Always focus on positive user experience. Make your game fun, addictive in some ways, to keep your players in it.
  2.  Do not sell in-game content for money. If your game is free, it should be fully available for free. Even if you add expansions (large content packs for the game after release), is it right, to sell the game for free and ask money for the DLC’s? Money-gated content generates negative user-experience. And if you still want to implement some sort of gated content – just add the way to achieve it for free, it will take a lot longer, sure, but still, it will neglect that negative experience. 
  3. Do not sell products, that affect in-game balance. This type of product infuriates a lot of players and will have negative effect on your game.
  4. Think about the products that you want to sell from the customers’ point. Have a look at your game. What you as a player would like to purchase? In the first example, we thought in that way and came to the conclusion of what to sell.
  5. Never forget about the ads. Ads are always good way of revenue, especially if your game has a lot of playing time. Also, you can add a purchase that disables ads and a lot of people would love to purchase that if your game is good and time-consuming. One thing to never do with ads – spam them. Find ways to show ads in less-annoying places possible, or they can easily scare off a lot of players.
For ClientsOctober 8, 2019
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