August 29, 2023

Understanding churn in mobile games: How to calculate it and why users leave

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    What is game churn?

    How to calculate churn in your game

    6 reasons why mobile gamers churn

    1. Poor onboarding experience
    2. Lack of engaging content
    3. Poor user experience
    4. Unbalanced difficulty or progression
    5. Badly implemented monetization strategies
    6. Competition and availability of alternatives

    Stay in-the-know about mobile retention strategies

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    If you’re noticing a steep player drop-off just days after a user installs your game, you’re not alone. In an increasingly saturated mobile game market, publishers are competing against many other mobile games for player attention – and churn rates of 75% or above are not uncommon at the 30-day mark post-install. In fact, a recent article by Adjust shows that average mobile game D30 retention rates are just 6%, indicating a 94% churn rate only 30 days after a game is installed.

    As the opposite of retention, churn can be a scarier concept to focus on, but understanding what makes players churn, how to identify it, and what you can do to prevent it are all great steps toward boosting your game’s retention and LTV. In this article, we cover the basics of how to calculate churn and the common reasons players might leave your app never to return.

    What is game churn?

    illustration about user churn in mobile games

    User or game churn refers to the concept of players leaving your game after installation, never to return. Whether it’s one day after download, or three months, understanding where, why, and when your players churn is the first step toward improving user retention and LTV.

    Game churn is often tracked by the app churn rate – a mobile game metric that measures the percentage of players who do not return to a game over a specified period of time.

    In 2022, Pushwoop, a customer engagement platform for mobile publishers around the world, found that a whopping 75.4% of players on Android devices churn from the game by day 30. A variety of things can lead to player churn, from immediate short-term issues like a poor onboarding experience to longer-term issues like a lack of fresh and frequent content updates. 

    How to calculate churn in your game

    The calculation of your app’s churn rate is fairly straightforward, and usually broken down into specific intervals:

    • Day 1 churn
    • Day 7 churn
    • Day 14 churn
    • Day 30 churn
    • Day 90 churn

    The churn rate is the opposite of your game’s retention rate – it measures the people who left the app rather than those who stayed.

    Game churn % = [users at beginning of period - users at end of period] / users at beginning of period

    For example: Company A just launched their new mobile RPG and want to calculate their user churn.

    Day 0: 3,000 installs 

    Day 7: 600 users open the app 

    Day 30: 150 users open the app 

    Therefore, Company A’s churn rate for their RPG after 30 days is 95%.

    🎮 Fun fact: According to Adjust’s Mobile App Trends Report of 2023, the average retention rates for games in 2022 were: 

    • 29% D1 retention rate 
    • 19% D3 retention rate
    • 6% D30 retention rate

    The above rates indicate that there’s a sharp drop-off in retention and engagement even one day after a player installs a new game, showcasing just how persistent the churn issue is for mobile. 

    Why does your churn rate matter?

    Analyzing your game’s churn rate helps paint a picture of your overall users’ behavior. Once you’ve benchmarked your churn rate, you can analyze where and when churn happens in your game to start identifying patterns that lead to churn. By knowing the common patterns and triggers of churn, you can roll out targeted strategies to at-risk users to combat churn, improve game retention, and ideally increase your LTV.

    Taking a cohort-based approach to tracking your churn rate can help bring patterns to light more clearly. Maybe players acquired through certain advertising sources are likely to churn faster than if acquired through other means. This will give you the insight you need to reallocate your marketing budget for better retention.

    It doesn’t all have to be in-game event tracking to find out why your users churn, however. By allowing players to provide feedback to your development team through user surveys, support forums, or live chat, you can hear exactly what’s unsatisfactory from the players themselves and work to resolve it. 

    At the end of the day, you will always have player churn. But knowing the numbers, signs, and patterns is the first step in improving your game experience for players and trading in churn for retention. 

    👀 Related reading: How to improve mobile game player retention: 5 effective strategies

    6 reasons why mobile gamers churn

    While every game, player, and situation is unique, there are a few common reasons to address to keep your app's churn rate from dipping. 

    1. Poor onboarding experience

    If your first-time user experience (FTUE) is bad, you’re going to see a spike in churn from day 1. An article by Wappier shows that D1 retention across popular mobile game genres is barely above 30%, indicating that 70% of users have churned just one day after installing the mobile game and that the FTUE is a critical piece to get right to reduce your churn. 

    Before launching your game, thoroughly test your UI, as well as the onboarding email flow for new players, and your in-app walkthrough experience to familiarize users with the game’s mechanics and layout.

    👀 Related reading: What players want: Play, spend, and loyalty trends for mobile gaming in 2023

    2. Lack of engaging content

    A lack of engaging content can be a retention killer early on and in the latter stages of a player’s lifetime with your game. A study by Newzoo found that 9% of both new and loyal gamers have churned from their games due to a lack of fresh content. 

    Ensuring there is engaging content right from the start is key, and having a LiveOps strategy to deliver fresh content and updates at a steady cadence will help keep your D30 churn (and beyond) at reasonable levels.

    3. Poor user experience

    The user experience in your mobile game doesn’t end after a player is onboarded. If players find your UI clunky, your support channels confusing, or your game mechanics too difficult to tackle, you may face a high churn rate. As Maja Nadvešnik, Outfit7’s UI Designer, tells Unity in an article on mobile UI design, “Good game UI helps create a seamless and enjoyable player experience, allowing players to focus on the game itself rather than struggling with confusing or poorly designed interface elements. For players to feel more comfortable and confident as they play, we as UI designers need to think about clarity, usability, consistency, and accessibility.”

    Once players stop having fun with your game, they’re not going to stick around, so monitoring in-game behaviors and keeping your lines of support and customer communication open will help you identify where you can improve the user experience to keep players coming back.

    4. Unbalanced difficulty or progression

    Games need to strike a delicate balance between being fun and being challenging. With a plethora of apps vying for attention at any given time, players will have less patience for overwhelming difficulty if your game is missing the mark with that balance. If your game has a steep learning curve, this could put players off and you may see higher app churn as users struggle to progress and feel accomplished in their sessions.

    Unity’s how-to article on improving retention covers three pillars in getting the difficulty right: 

    • Segmenting: Using data to split players into groups of casual, midcore, and hardcore; or novice, intermediate, and expert to build out specific strategies and difficulty curves to keep all cohorts retained. 
    • Rewarding: Giving players a taste for victory by rewarding actions early and always giving a silver lining. 
    • Progression: Give players a feeling of accomplishment early by allowing them to level up or complete campaigns earlier at the beginning of the game. 

    5. Badly implemented monetization strategies

    Nothing kills a player’s enjoyment in a game more than being overwhelmed with poorly targeted ads. By comparing your ad placements and IAP implementations against your churn, you can get a better sense of what monetization is working versus what is driving players away. For example, you may find that interstitial ads are leading to a steep drop-off of players, but rewarded video ads don’t have the same effect. 

    An article by Venturebeat suggests that developers should adopt a hybrid monetization strategy to mix in-game ads with IAPs for more revenue growth, and that rewarded ads are especially successful in games that have a built-in game economy. “Rewarded ads can give players a taste of premium in-game items, motivating them to purchase those items in the future, ultimately increasing IAPs” says Chitra Kannan, Product Manager for AdMob.

    👀 Related reading: ​​What is rewarded advertising and why does it work?

    6. Competition and availability of alternatives

    Today’s mobile game market is saturated, so doing your game’s genre well and going above and beyond where you can – like having unique mechanics, better branding, a healthier community, etc – can really make the difference in keeping your players from churning to a competitor. 

    According to an article by Udonis, the most downloaded mobile game genres  in 2022 were: 

    • Hyper casual (1.6 billion in downloads)
    • Simulation (617 million in downloads)
    • Puzzle (375 million in downloads)
    • Action (349 million in downloads)
    • Match (240 million in downloads)
    • Tabletop (218 million in downloads)
    • Kids (212 million in downloads)
    • RPG (166 million in downloads)

    But keep in mind that this also means they’re the most common genres, and therefore the most saturated categories for mobile games. The same article also discusses some of the top breakout subgenres, like Word (as part of Puzzle), Creative Sandbox (as part of Simulation), and Roguelike RPG (as part of RPG). 

    👀 Related reading: 5 essential elements of effective mobile game loyalty programs

    Stay in-the-know with mobile retention strategies

    Mobile gaming is competitive, and mobile gamers are inundated with new titles every day. With user acquisition becoming increasingly difficult, focusing on post-install retention is the best way to solidify and improve your LTV. Subscribe to our monthly loot box for more mobile gaming insights on how to retain your mobile players and visit our advertising page to learn more about how you can cultivate better game retention with a loyalty-first strategy. 

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