September 5, 2023

The long game: How to reduce churn and retain mobile gamers

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6 strategies to reduce churn in your mobile game

Trading churn for retention with Mistplay

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Today’s mobile app market is more competitive than ever, with almost 700,000 mobile games available today across Google Play and the Apple App Store. Combine the abundance of choice with the decreasing attention span from the rise of short-form content like TikTok and you get one of the biggest challenges mobile game publishers are facing today: churn. 

Long-term retention for any app category has always been tough, but games have it particularly ahrd, with a OneSignal article reporting that D30 retention for mobile gaming is only 2.4%, only scoring above Education (2.1%) and Photography apps (1.5%). 

While churn is not a fully conquerable concept, you can work to reduce it to keep your users coming to play and spend in your titles long after install. Understanding churn, being able to calculate it, and knowing the common reasons why players churn from mobile games is just the first step. Today, we’re covering six new strategies to help combat game churn and retain your mobile players to day 30 and beyond. 

6 strategies to reduce churn in your mobile game

1. Level up your game’s FTUE and onboarding 

You have just a few precious minutes after install to introduce your game’s mechanics and core gameplay loop to players in a way that keeps them entertained. If you’re seeing a high mobile app churn rate early after players download your game, you likely need to take a closer look at your onboarding experience.

There are many things that come together in your game’s FTUE (first-time user experience), which means many levers you can pull and areas you can test to combat a high churn rate – and extend your average user lifetime.

Here are some key actions you can take:

  • Introduce your game with a walkthrough: Use in-game pop-ups to explain your game mechanics and help players understand your UI. Players learn by doing, so walk them through actually playing the game, rather than just telling them what steps to take. 
  • Keep first-time game mechanics simple: Introducing too many mechanics too early can leave a user feeling overwhelmed. Try streamlining the mechanics you present to your user in their first experience to get them to that “aha!” moment as quick and as painlessly as possible. Once a player “gets” your game, you can introduce more mechanics to deepen the gameplay experience and add new challenges for players. 
  • Let players personalize their experience: By giving players personalization choices early on in their experience – such as customizing their character, selecting a starter item, or editing their profile – they will be more likely to build an emotional attachment to the game right off the hop.

Mobile games are in the unique position to make their onboarding experiences fun too, like Genshin Impact’s onboarding flow that’s integrated directly into the game’s opening cutscene. During the cutscene, users are prompted to answer questions about themselves to help direct the flow of the cutscene, immediately immersing players into the gameplay – while also adding personalization to the experience.

2. Implement monetization strategies that make sense for your players

Just like players might churn from bad monetization strategies and overwhelming ad experiences, they might also stick around longer if you do your monetization right. In fact, the Unity 2022 Gaming Report found that the right ad placement can increase player retention by 26% after one day, 8% after seven days, and 3% after 30 days of gameplay. 

So what monetization strategies make sense for your game to combat churn and boost revenue? The most common monetization strategies for mobile games are in-app purchases (IAPs) and in-game ads (IAA).

In-app purchases 

Building in-app purchases into your gameplay is a great way to improve revenue while giving players in-game rewards in return. Google’s 2022 Mobile Insights Report found that the top reasons mobile gamers make in-app purchases are to: 

  • Progress more quickly (36%)
  • Reach a personal goal (32%)
  • Access higher quality experiences/content (32%)

And the top in-game benefits they spend money on include:

  • In-game currency (34%)
  • Unlocking special items/characters (30%)
  • Unlocking new characters (29%)
  • Customizing the appearance of items/characters (29%)
  • Character abilities/skills (28%)
  • Power-ups (25%)

In-game ads

When done right, in-game ads can have a positive impact on your retention and player experience – but getting it done right can be the tricky part. Here are some of the most effective in-game ad types:

  • Rewarded video ads: This type of rewarded advertising gives players an in-game bonus from watching a video ad. Rewarded video ads for extra rewards (20%), currency (14%), and gacha mechanics (13%) are the most popular according to Unity’s 2023 Mobile Growth and Monetization Report. This is one of the most effective ad formats for mobile games in 2023.
  • Interstitial ads: These ads cover the screen and are shown at natural breakpoints in the game loop. They can be static, video, or even playable ads – the more engaging, the better.
  • Offerwalls: This ad format rewards players for completing specific tasks – often outside of the game, like completing a survey. Unity’s above report found that D90 retention for offerwall converters is 14% compared to less than 3% for other players.

👀 Related reading: What are rewarded video ads and how do they work?

3. Offer regular updates and content drops to retain interest

If your game starts to feel repetitive or old, players are more likely going to abandon your title for something new. This is where LiveOps comes in. Plan out new content, events, and regular updates to keep your game feeling fresh and continue to give players new things to do. 

In fact, just this year, SensorTower data found that mobile games with LiveOps strategies generate 30x more revenue than ones that don’t, with the Games-as-a-Service (GaaS) model becoming a key retention tool in the highest-grossing mobile games of the year.

LiveOps rollouts can include: 

  • Contests and events
  • New features and game modes
  • Limited-time offers
  • Bug fixes and updates

Try testing out different LiveOps strategies to see what gets your players the most excited and what times are optimal to roll out new updates. Even more, keep an eye on what new tech is coming out to help implement your LiveOps strategies moving forward. For example, Apple’s new In-App Events feature, which launched in 2022, lets you promote in-app events directly on your App Store listing to help boost conversion. As Paulina Osipova writes in her recent article, “In-App Events are a subtle yet effective tool that enhances the install conversion rate and user loyalty.” 

🎮 Fun fact: According to SensorTower’s 2023 Mobile Gaming Report, all of the world’s top revenue-generating mobile games use LiveOps content releases for long-term player engagement – with many also employing season passes, subscriptions, and starter packs.

4. Build your game’s community through social features

Social features aren’t relegated to just multiplayer games any longer, and for good reason. A sense of community (and competition) is a heavy hitter in terms of building an emotional connection with players and keeping them entertained.

The State of Mobile Gaming in 2023 report by predicts that social features will remain in high demand beyond this year as “consumers seek to stay connected with family and friends.”

There are many ways that mobile games can incorporate social features into their ecosystem – from stoking a sense of competition through leaderboards and challenges to giving players a sense of community through friend lists, social shares, and more.

Here are some ideas: 

  • Add an element of competition through leaderboards, challenges, and achievements
  • Foster a sense of community through friend lists and social sharing
  • Give players a place to chat with a Discord community
  • Keep your fans in-the-know with regular social media updates 
  • Show off your game to a wider audience with Twitch streams 

🎮 Fun fact: 60% of the top-grossing mobile games have Social Clans features, according to SensorTower’s 2023 mobile gaming report.

5. Encourage player feedback (and act on it)

Evaluating your churn and retention depends on a combination of qualitative and quantitative data. By giving your users a voice through bug report functionality and user surveys, they can tell you exactly where they’re having issues in your game and why they might leave. But gathering that qualitative (and quantitative) data is only half the battle. 

Player feedback in mobile games goes through many filters to keep its revision (or the amount of feedback to review) manageable for the teams that can act on it. As multi-award-winning game designer, Jennifer Scheurle, writes in a Polygon article, “[The feedback] is filtered through community managers (if applicable); developer interpretation of the feedback; technology assessment and producer assessment of what it might take to change something in reaction to the complaint or note; and data we collect from the game itself, including crash reports and other pieces of data, such as the popularity and overall use of whatever is to be changed. That information is also filtered through the channels of many experts, and finally, internal testing sessions that include the proposed change…You can’t just change one thing in a game; doing so almost always makes something go wrong somewhere else, and so you want to find and fix those issues before they reach the players themselves.”

So while the pipeline from feedback intake to concrete action may be long and arduous, keeping communication channels open with your community (and the feedback reporter) is an important part of the process to show your players that they’re being heard.

6. Reward players and build loyalty

Incentivizing in-game action is another great way to delight players and keep them coming back for more. Building loyalty not only moves the needle on your churn, but also your LTV. 

Nicholas Kerr, Mistplay’s VP of Loyalty and Lifecycle, notes that “By rewarding players for their continued participation and achievements, game studios can create a more competitive yet rewarding environment that enhances the overall user experience.”

Here are a few ways to integrate rewards and incentives into your game:

  • Offer log-in bonuses to help reduce churn and increase DAU
  • Tie point rewards to in-game actions that players can redeem for in-game items 
  • Further incentivize IAPs by attaching in-game points to purchases
  • Reward players with achievements and badges they can show off in their profile – for instance, assigning a rarity value like Steam and PlayStation do with their achievement systems can give players more bragging power
  • Introduce a tangible rewards system like Mistplay does for play-and-earn

Tangible reward programs have been proven to help increase mobile game retention. For example, East Side Games saw a 9.5% increase in D7 retention by running a tROAS campaign with Mistplay.

👀 Related reading: Loyalty is the new key to profitable growth for mobile games

Trading churn for retention with Mistplay

In the fiercely competitive world of mobile gaming, reducing churn and improving player retention are both crucial for long-term success – but the best methods to combat churn for your game can only be uncovered by experimentation, data analysis, and iteration.

If you’re a game publisher looking for a proven way to combat churn, subscribe to our monthly loot box of mobile game insights or visit our advertising page to learn more about how you can cultivate better game retention with Mistplay.


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