November 30, 2023

Mobile game player retention: The comprehensive guide

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3 player retention strategies for your mobile game

  1. First-time user experience optimization
  2. Login bonuses
  3. Lifecycle marketing

Mobile game retention metrics that matter

  1. Day X retention
  2. Lifetime value (LTV)
  3. Churn rate

Mobile game retention benchmarks by genre

What to look for in player retention software

Choosing the right player retention partner

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Player retention is one of the single most important aspects of app development. Ensuring that users who open your app stick around and, preferably, spend money has always been a top priority, but with current challenges such as rising cost-per-install (CPI)1 and falling k-factors2, now is one of the most challenging times for app development in recent memory. 

It’s crucial, therefore, to make the most out of every install, which is where player retention strategies come into play. With the right strategies, metrics, tools, and partner, you can give your players the kind of experience that builds loyalty and drives long-term retention. With that in mind, let’s dig into the details that will set your mobile game up for success.

3 key player retention strategies for your mobile game

An illustration of stacked coins represents player retention and growth.

There are multiple valid player retention strategies, but which one will serve you best depends on your app, your goals, and even your target audience. For example, a retention strategy that works with the puzzle genre's predominantly middle-aged female audience may not be enticing at all to the young adult male-driven audience of RPGs. That said, there are certain techniques that are universally good ideas when it comes to maximizing player retention for your mobile game. Here are three of the most important:

1. First-time user experience optimization

When it comes to mobile game player retention strategies, there’s no better place to start than right at the beginning by nailing the first-time user experience (FTUE). You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and with competition in the mobile space as fierce as it is, that first impression is more crucial than ever. According to Appsflyer, 77% of users churn out3 on the first day they install a mobile app. Your window of opportunity for impressing a new user is small, so optimizing tutorials and early-stage gameplay should be a priority. 

  • Optimize tutorials: Given that a tutorial communicates the core skills required to play the game, it’s an essential aspect of the game to get just right. A clear, comprehensive tutorial can make the difference between a user engaging, sticking around and making a purchase, or not engaging and leaving you with nothing. Keep in mind that what worked for you previously may not be the right choice for your current app; the onboarding for a complex strategy game should be measured so as not to be overwhelming but a tutorial for a hypercasual title has to cut to the chase. As Deconstruction of Fun noted, Smash mobile hit Marvel Snap manages to showcase the complexity and appeal of a CCG into under four minutes, which made it accessible to more than just the traditional CCG audience. 
  • Send follow-up communications: Personalized email and SMS messages can help prevent churn by easing players through the onboarding process. SMS in particular can be effective considering players are already using their mobile devices.
  • Personalize player experiences: Player preferences can have a profound impact on retention rates when they’re used to personalize onboarding. If players show a preference early on for certain aspects of your game, like character customization, for example, develop game logic to ramp up exposure to those aspects, especially in regards to monetization. 

2. Login bonuses

One easy way to zero in on a winning strategy is by learning from others’ success. A common trend among the top 100 games is rewarding players for simply returning. Offering enticing rewards in exchange for regular activity can have an outsized impact on loyalty and lead to revenue-driving behaviors. 

At Mistplay, we have the Daily Play feature, which rewards extra units to a player each day when they play a game in the Mistplay ecosystem for at least 2 minutes. Originally, the feature was a weekly bonus that was based on maintaining a 7-day streak, but we updated it to Daily Play and found players were happier without having the pressure to maintain a streak. The frequency and type of log-in bonus will vary based on your game genre, audience, and more, so testing what your players respond best to is encouraged!

Some login bonus best practices include:

  • Personalized rewards: Use what you know about a player’s preferences to deliver more value by offering bonuses on the aspects of the game they prefer. Offering them in-game currency won’t mean much to them if they never spend it, but they might appreciate a cosmetic or booster.
  • Bonus claim notifications: Don’t let those goodies languish! Send communications reminding players to claim their bonuses.
  • Reward scaling: Providing greater rewards for frequent logins can also boost retention. Player streaks that offer increasingly valuable items are great for encouraging faithful login habits. 

3. Lifecycle marketing

Players expect and will respond positively to a certain level of earnest communication — so long as it feels tailored to them specifically. According to Salesforce4, 66% of consumers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations, and 56% expect all offers they receive from businesses to be personalized. Maintaining an open line of communication is another great strategy for enhancing retention, especially when paired with segmentation, but you must always be mindful of where your user is in their lifecycle. Treat a veteran player like a newbie and they’re likely to feel like just another number to you, but communication that recognizes your standing relationship will make them feel appreciated.

Some examples of effective lifecycle marketing include:

  • Progression-based messaging: Utilize player segmentation to create dynamic messaging that reflects the unique experiences of your players and recognizes where they are in their lifecycle.
  • IAP bundle promotions: Pitch players in-app purchase (IAP) offers early on, after they’ve onboarded and developed a feel for the specifics of your in-game economy. Early spenders tend to become the most loyal members of your community, and generous IAP offers can help motivate them to take the plunge.
  • High-value player re-engagement: Pitching lapsed players can have a high return on investment (ROI); their familiarity with your game means they already know the value of it and can likely be re-engaged, particularly if you have new content to promote.  

To learn more about player retention and see more examples of player retention strategies, read How to improve mobile game player retention: 5 effective strategies.

3 essential mobile game retention metrics

An illustration of a calculator represents the formulas and metrics for mobile game retention.

Measuring retention is the only way to be sure you’re hitting your targets and achieving your goals. Whether you’re aiming for long-term growth or a short-term win, here are some retention key performance indicators (KPIs) you can use to measure how your retention efforts are faring.

1. Day X retention

Day X retention is the gold standard of retention KPIs. It measures the number of users you have retained after the Xth day after the player opens the game. Here’s how to calculate it:

(Number of users who open your game the Xth day after first opening it, AKA Day 0) / (Total number of users who first used the app on Day 0) = Day X retention rate 

Day X retention is commonly measured against Day 1 and Day 7, with the percentages of those days being key measures of a game’s long-term viability, but the X can be any day after a player opens an app. Measuring different Day X stats against each other can provide valuable insight into your overall player experience. Significantly higher retention on Day 1 versus Day 7 could indicate a poor FTUE, for example.  

2. Lifetime value (LTV)

LTV uses retention rates to calculate the potential return you can expect from an average user of your app:

(Average revenue per daily active user) * (average player’s lifetime in your game) = Lifetime value

LTV is especially useful in calculating the return on ad campaigns and measuring their success across your marketing channels. A successful campaign will return a higher LTV.

3. Churn rate

Churn, also often considered the flipside of retention, represents the number of users who have left your game after a certain period. A certain amount of churn is inevitable (and can even be healthy), but a sudden spike in churn rate might signal something’s gone wrong. A huge dropoff in players after a specific level, for example, might point to a gameplay imbalance; out-of-the-ordinary churn numbers after a specific ad campaign might indicate a disconnect between marketing message and user expectations. 

(Total number of users who have not opened your game on or after Day X) / (total number of users who first opened your game on Day 0) = Churn

Churn can be used to determine the success of various features of your game, how effective they are at boosting retention, and whether or not your acquisition strategy is out of alignment with your goals. 

For more information about these and other retention KPIs, read 6 essential mobile game retention metrics and how to calculate them.

Mobile game retention benchmarks by genre

An illustration of multiple checkered flags represents mobile retention benchmarks and goals.

Managing your app’s retention is a lot easier when you know for sure where you stand. Now that you know the KPIs to keep in mind, it’s time to consider how your performance stacks up against other developers. 

Game retention benchmarks allow you to measure your app’s performance against averages or other common results. It’s important to remember, though, that multiple factors can impact KPIs. Mobile operating systems, game genres, and the player’s location can all influence retention rates, and it’s important to note that Apple’s recent changes to how data is tracked have made gathering data more difficult.

All of that being said, these are some key benchmarks you can use to measure your app’s retention.

A recent 2022 report by AppsFlyer5, in which they tracked 11 billion app installs across 11,000 apps, noted that Day 30 retention rates are in a 20% year-over-year decline overall and suggests the following benchmarks for Day X retention rates:

Q3 2022
Day 1: 29.46%
Day 3: 14.47%
Day 7: 8.7%
Day 14: 5.54%
Day 30: 3.21%

AppsFlyer also found that owned media marketing was significantly more effective for retention than paid media campaigns. Owned media such as SMS messages, email, user invites, and cross-promotion generated a retention uplift rate of 212.3% vs. 123.4% for paid media. 

The report also examined retention rates for games by genre, organizing its findings into the following genres: Action, Casino, Hyper-Casual, Match, Puzzle, RPG, Shooting, Simulation, Strategy, and Tabletop. The results show that Match games have a higher retention rate overall, while Hyper-Casual tends to be the lowest.

Action Casino Hyper casual Match Puzzle
Day 1: 29.77% 28.16% 29.31% 32.65% 31.85%
Day 3: 13.77% 14.78% 12.11% 19.62% 18.2%
Day 7: 7.64% 9.85% 5.90% 13.98% 12.18%
Day 14: 4.41% 6.65% 3.13% 10.35% 8.43%
Day 30: 2.14% 4.10% 1.38% 7.15% 5.35%
RPG Shooting Simulation Strategy Tabletop
Day 1: 30.54% 28.54% 30.10% 25.39% 31.30%
Day 3: 15.58% 12.16% 14.83% 12.81% 17.66%
Day 7: 9.85% 6.45% 8.71% 8.06% 11.90%
Day 14: 6.23% 3.58% 5.39% 5.26% 8.39%
Day 30: 3.48% 1.79% 2.96% 3.12% 5.51%

To examine these benchmarks further and for more recent findings regarding mobile gaming benchmarks, read The big list of mobile game retention benchmarks.

What to look for in player retention software

An illustration representing users and the various profiles and analytics player retention software offers.

Simply put, LiveOps means treating your game as a service and offering continual updates and events to maintain consistent player retention and generate long-term loyalty. According to SensorTower’s State of Mobile Gaming 2023 report6, 91% of the top 500 mobile games use a LiveOps monetization model, including the top ten highest revenue generators.

Managing all of the player data that comes along with LiveOps is a challenge for teams of any size, which is what makes player retention software such an invaluable tool. 

One of the biggest reasons for adopting player retention software is to manage player messaging. According to Airship7, 95% of users who don’t receive push notifications within the first 90 days of installing your game will churn. A quality cross-channel communications management program can help you utilize all of your marketing channels: in-game notifications, SMS messages, email, social media, and more can all be leveraged to ensure your players are aware of live events, in-app purchase opportunities, and other offers. The best player retention software will allow you to sync these messages and measure performance across all channels. 

You should also look for the following features:

  • Trigger-based notifications to automate messaging
  • Bulk send text and email notification capabilities
  • A/B testing for incremental performance boosts
  • Support for images, GIFs, and video
  • Analytics and reporting on campaign performance
  • Personalized messaging capabilities
  • Compliance features, such as opt-in/opt-out and unsubscribe options

To explore three more reasons why player retention software is on the rise and the features you should look for, read Mobile player retention software: 4 things to know before you buy.

Choosing the right player retention partner

Ultimately, player retention is the most important metric you have, because your players are the lifeblood of your app. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to implementing the smartest, most effective plan to keep your users engaged and loyal. Thankfully, you don’t have to go it alone. 

Mistplay can help. Mistplay uses an AI-driven recommendation engine to connect players with games they’ll love, then rewards their loyalty with real-life rewards, like gift cards. Purpose-built to attract high-value players and with AI-powered suggestion algorithms, Mistplay keeps users engaged, boosting loyalty and driving long-lasting retention. If you would like to know more about how Mistplay can help your app retain players for the longhaul, contact us today.


  1. Pocket Gamer, Cost Per Install for hypercasual games hit an all-time high, Lewis Rees, January 2023
  2. Deconstructor of Fun, The mobile games industry in the year 2023, January 2023
  3. AppsFlyer, 2022 app retention benchmarks report, Naval Handa
  4. Salesforce, State of the connected customer report
  5. AppsFlyer, 2022 app retention benchmarks report, Naval Handa
  6. Sensor Tower, The state of mobile gaming 2023
  7. Airship, How push notifications impact mobile app retention rates


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