Retention is arguably the number one early indicator of potential free to play success.The longer players are actively engaged with your game the more likely they are to become paying players, so if you are unable to retain players your revenue potential will plummet. Here we’ll take a look at some key features to consider when designing your game around retention and how best to implement them.
Keep the loop short and simple
F2P games are structured very differently to more traditional games and the most successful tend to focus on one or two core mechanics whilst automating or simplifying the rest.
As well as keeping the loop simple, you must also structure it in a way that is conducive to short play sessions. Mobile games are often played in parallel with low-intensity activities like watching TV, as well as when players have a few spare moments between other activities. Players will often be interrupted so it’s important not only to allow for variable session lengths, but to allow the player to interrupt and restart as required without any detrimental effect. The benefits of this approach can be seen in titles like the hugely popular Clash Royale, where multiplayer is kept asynchronous and battles limited to a few minutes in length.
Make sure your players are progressing
A reward that feels earned will always trump a reward that feels free and whilst this mantra often leads to the dreaded “grind”, the most successful mobile titles all have some sort of progression system to unlock levels, perks, options and story.
It helps to not bombard the player with too many options at first on mobile, giving players a set of short term objectives to keep each sessions simple and keep the sense of progression constant. Hearthstone introduces cards and perks gradually in its opening hours, constantly giving players opportunities to try new things but stopping short of overwhelming them with options.
Use positive re-enforcement
It goes without saying that it helps if your players feel good when playing your game and there are a number of positive re-enforcement strategies you can employ to ensure they get this buzz.
- You played the core loop several times? Here’s a bonus!
- You spent money in-game, take this prize!
- You play every day? Enjoy our daily challenges!
Candy Crush Saga gives players a bonus each time they level up, refilling their energy meter to encourage them to keep playing until they hit the next level. Elsewhere, Gacha systems are a form of positive re-enforcement that have proven controversial in the past, but in modern Western games a less random version of the mechanic is often used where potential rewards and probabilities are more transparent.
(Carefully!) consider negative re-enforcement
As much as we want our players to feel good, fear of loss can be an even more powerful driving factor and players often react more strongly to losing what they already have than to potentially gaining something new.
- If you don’t return to the game the crops will rot.
- If you don’t defend and upgrade your base, people will steal your resources.
- If you lose the battle, all rewards accumulated till now are lost.
A negative reinforcement can have an ever greater impact once the player has invested himself into the game, but these mechanisms must be handled with care as too often they can become “punishments” that result in unhappy and frustrated players. One such example is the crop withering mechanic used in Farmville, the principles of which are still often used in more current games like Clash of Clans, but with less damaging consequences.
F2P games are run as a live service and a game that stays the same indefinitely will soon lose out in an increasingly hyper-competitive marketplace.
Regular updates and new content such as items or bonuses and timed events are all examples of ways in which keeping your game fresh and relevant can keep players coming back for more. Endless runner Subway Surfers was released back in 2012 but through regular updates and events has managed to keep itself near the top of the download and revenue charts for the entire duration. This is a fantastic example of how even a relatively simple game can keep engaging new and current players through regular updates.
Make Multiplayer Meaningful!
Multiplayer is one of the best ways to keep players coming back, but especially in the usually asynchronous world of mobile multiplayer, gamers want to feel that the end result of competitive play represents a genuine measure of skill, not an outcome of chance or game design.
The Elo system is a system of (near) zero-sum point exchange and is one used across the games industry from Game of War to FIFA. Players earn points from each other by beating the other in battle. This point exchange between players of different progress levels is made ‘fair’ by transferring more or less points depending on the player’s existing score differences.
If a player understands that their score or skill rating is a true measurement of their abilities, they will be far more likely to invest more time in protecting and improving it.
Following these guidelines when designing your next game will ensure you provide players with a positive, engaging experience that has them returning to your game day after day. You can also speed up development, save money and get your game launched faster by using ChilliConnect to run live events, implement multiplayer and deliver regular content update. Sign up here to find out how or get in touch.