User retention in mobile apps and games

Mobile devices are a constant part of our pocket’s contents. They are currently so common, that some countries report a 70% smartphone ownership rate among citizens. South Korea holds the record with a result of 88%. In India it is 17%, however a lot of people do not have a personal computer in their household there, with the main device to access applications and the Internet being the phone. A similar trend is apparent in other developing countries and, even though you can find examples of countries like Uganda and Ethiopia, where only 4% of the population has a private phone, globally, almost 2.3 billion smartphones are currently in use.

Not only the amount of users is growing – there is an increasing number of games and mobile apps available on the biggest platforms. In 2016, the amount of mobile applications in Google’s and Apple’s stores has surpassed 4 million, with the Apple App Store seeing an increase of 1000 mobile applications per day. Even though developers of mobile applications can theoretically reach a growing number of consumers, those are faced with an overwhelming collection, thanks to the huge market competition. Each category is filled with similar mobile apps, which often seem indistinguishable. A lot of dishonest developers go as far as to completely copy the ideas of others. In 2013, a company named Tiny Hearts Limited has created a paid mobile app called Wake Alarm Clock, which in just a couple of months has seen a few copies. When the company contacted its ‘competition’, it was met with no shame regarding the attempt to fool the users.

Apart from the huge competition, the biggest challenge for app and game developers to overcome is to keep the user involved in the app. This is often a much bigger problem than reaching new consumers on such a crowded mobile application market. What should you do to not only gain new users, but also keep the existing ones? In this post, we will present the idea of retention of mobile users: what it is, how to measure it and what to do to keep your users entertained by a mobile game or app.

Mobile app retention on the 1st, 7th, 30th and 90th day in mobile apps

The retention of mobile app users is one of the parts of the user lifecycle, which is crucial for the measurement of LTV (LTV – Lifetime Value). If it happens to be very different from the category’s average, it can also be used as a relative indicator of the app’s quality. It is commonly measured in 4 basic time intervals:

1 day
7 days
30 days
90 days

In the case of very specific apps, where the activity is used cyclically, it is viable to set up a longer timeframe, with the inclusion of longer time periods between consequential sessions. Apps like Skyscanner, which is an app meant for the browsing and booking of flight tickets, usually used not more than a few times a year, are good examples here. In the Google Play Store, there is an app that helps you fill out your PIT tax declaration – the company behind it, E-file, each year prepares a new version of the e-pit, which, by definition, will only be used once by their users – however, you can still talk about customer retention here. If the user was satisfied with the version from a given year, he will return next year for the new one.

User retention, measured in the time intervals presented above, shows you how many initial users come back to use your mobile application or game after trying it. And so, a user retention of 50% on the 1st day means, that at least half of the users have used the app again. The statistics of the market are quite ‘rough’ however, with the average user retention on the 1st day equaling not more than 25%.

There are a few measurement methods, all a bit different from each other in terms of methodology, however the most popular here is presented below:

Retention on day N = The amount of users returning to the app in day N divided by the amount of users initially installing the app on the first day x 100%

Let’s say, that, initially, the application was downloaded by 1000 users. Out of this user group, 200 remained after a time interval, then 100, followed by 50 and finishing with 10. The user retention is in this case:

20% on the 1st day
10% on the 7th day
5% on the 30th day
1% on the 90th day

Mobile apps, on average, lose up to 75% of users before the next day, with a loss of 95% within a week, and, with the decrease of user inflow, the retention becomes even harder with time.

A growing amount of mobile app or game downloads is, proportionally, equal to a growing amount of user outflow, which radically increases the cost of gaining new users for the mobile app.

If you rely on a freemium monetizing model, it can result in the lack of return on your investment. If, initially, you assume, that the mobile application is greatly popular with a download number of a million, what can you determine after finding out that its retention is at 5% on the 1st day? It is important to know the average statistics for your mobile application’s category, so that you have a point of reference and comparison. It is not a good idea to start with comparisons with the most popular of apps, it is better to focus on the closest competition.
The process of building a mobile app cannot simply end with its publication in the store. The finished code is not yet a finished product here, which means that, in the era of start-ups, the developers have to make an effort to monitor important factors and implement appropriate changes. Before this happens however, at the very beginning, a work ethic should be agreed upon. Before we present a few proven methods for mobile user retention, let’s make sure that its creation was done while keeping some important factors in mind.
At the very start, we mentioned that user retention in mobile apps and games can be an indicator of the class and quality of the mobile app or game. This quality is mostly a matter of its stability. A high outflow of users in a short period of time can be an indicator of the app not working properly on the installed devices. The first impression is often the most important, and nothing ruins it more than a lagging or malfunctioning app. You need a lot of time and effort designated for testing of the app to make sure that our publication works properly on various platforms, system versions and devices. Even a prolonged loading process can prevent the app from ever being opened again. A couple of years ago, Apple has decided to create their own navigation app called Apple Maps. Unfortunately, the app was so buggy that it has quickly become the topic of memes and news. Even the biggest of companies have their mishaps, which can however be avoided by thorough testing.
The Internet is filled with comparisons and presentations of not only the most popular apps, but also the unsuccessful ones with many issues. Interestingly, some apps can be seen in both listings of great and problematic apps. Snapchat is one of the most popular apps, but it can be found in lists of the most power hungry smartphone applications, too.

Another way of scaring the user is by offering too many options – if the interface is overloaded, an immediate uninstallation is to be expected. Same thing goes for the transparency of the app – if the user does not immediately understand how to efficiently and quickly do what he wants our product to help him do, he will quickly abandon it. A degree of minimalism, both within the menu layout and the option amount, is always a good thing.

It is a good idea to really think through the process of the introduction of the user to the details of the apps functionality to make him immediately see the advantages the app has. The founders of 37signals and creators of Basecamp have really focused on the restriction of their apps options, a process they have the written a book about, Rework. It is great to make sure that your new customers do not feel overwhelmed by not only the amount of options, but also fill-out forms or notifications. Overusing push notifications is one of the main reasons for app uninstallation, so it is generally not a good idea. Of course, for incoming messages of any kind users expect such notifications and in this case, the lack of them could actually be the reason the user abandons your product. For a lot of categories, the use of user notifications is quite obvious. A weather app can for example inform the user about an incoming storm, a navigation app can give information regarding road conditions, an article collector can tease you with one of the breaking news stories. The basic question is when – what’s the right moment, another one is just what. Same thing goes for asking for reviews or ratings in the store – if, already shortly after installation, we ask the user to rate the app 5 stars, we could instead make him give the lowest rating and uninstall the service. Such a question should be present in most apps, but timing is very important in this case.

Push notifications

An example of a good use of push notifications is the McDonald’s app. New users receive information about a voucher for free fries and other coupons in their nearest restaurant. Not everyone can use such a solution though, however receivers appreciate things other than presents, too. The Bump, which is an app for following your pregnancy, uses positive emotions and interesting comparisons in its notifications to encourage moms to further monitor their child’s growth. Sometimes, a well-written copy or even good use of emoticons can bring the user back to the app.

We’ve mentioned before that if you want to directly address your users, it is important to know the right timing. Push messages are most effective when the user feels a high level of excitement. It the case of mobile games, it could be the completion of a certain stage, for others, a bigger purchase. It is important that the users receive the information after they have already received what they wanted from the app, never before. Another important thing is to factor in the time zone of our user. Nobody would like to receive a message in the middle of the night. The message itself has to be as short as possible. iOS gives us more room – the whole notification will be visible if it does not exceed 120 characters. In the case of Android, 90 should not be exceeded.

However, not only the mobile apps marketers should have the ability to contact and inform the users. A mobile app should also be capable of ensuring that the users have contact with the developer. This can enable not only the solving of very specific issues experienced by users, but also the giving of feedback and ideas for possible future changes and improvements. The user should always be your main point of interest, which is why it is so important to not only listen to what he has to say, but also analyze his behavior in the app. An implementation of a series of appropriate analytics tools can be a good source of valuable data. Out of other solutions you can use before even making the app public, another one you should definitely try is creating a variety of channels through which you can reach both potential and current users. If the user can be reached by Facebook or e-mail, you can always present him with something interesting to encourage revisiting the app. For example, while using a registration method by connecting with social media, you have a great opportunity to prepare personalized content and offers. It can enable the implementation of gamification, which can often be a wonderful way of keeping the users interested. An unusual example of such a method is Duolingo​, a mobile app that encourages you to learn languages through the challenges that your friends can give you and one another. Now, back to the content – not only stability and a clear, intuitive interface influence the user’s first impression. Preparing a lot of interesting and visually attractive content can make the users want to come back, too.

Only 4% of users contacts the developer

Not even 4% of app users have the option to reach the app’s creators with their opinion. If we thoroughly track the user’s behavior in the app, we can get the impression that we can get to know him very well, but what about the ones which have barely spent a couple of minutes using your app? If we don’t let them tell us, we will never learn why they abandoned the app. And sometimes, to learn something, it is enough to just ask! It is very important to directly address the suggestions of users. Each dialogue can be a source of information just as valuable as numbers and statistics. Among developers, there is a general opinion that mostly the most radical of clients, the ones that either love our product or hate it, share their opinion. According to the research of one of the biggest Internet survey distributors, almost ¾ of respondents gladly fill out surveys, no matter their initial impression of the product. Currently, consumers are more used to taking part in all sorts of survey-based market research. Moreover, apps bring in almost 15% more respondents than other channels of contact. Here, it is good to present a statistic: according to research, among all clients asked for feedback, as many as 98% prefer being directly asked. If we can guess the right timing, it really is enough to simply ask. If we let the users see, that their suggestions are taken into consideration or actually implemented, chances are they will stick around longer. A lot of clients abandon products and services if they are under the impression, that the company is not interested in their needs. If, so far, all the steps above were taken care of, but user retention keeps on falling short of the industry standards, it is a good idea to take a look at our creation and make sure, that the app gives the users something to come back for at all. If there is an option to, you should think about adding new content every day. In the case of mobile games, developers often prepare 24-hour challenges. For other apps, it can be discounts, coupons or even webinars that require constant interaction. Collection of all of the available information regarding our clients, including their opinion, is also very useful. Then, we can more easily prepare something that they would like to see. It is advised to search for solutions that can improve long-term customer loyalty and make said loyalty worth it.
The undertaken action should be well thought through, and all the steps should be made after a deep and specific analysis. Mobile app analytics can help solve a lot of problems on the way – retention is no different. Otherwise, how will we know if we have reached our goal if there is no way to accurately measure the path? A retention indicator requires constant and precise measurements of user amounts. Similarly, we can measure the amount of daily and monthly active users. At a time where so many developers measure their success in terms of mobile app installations, maybe it is a good idea to measure the uninstallations?

According to average statistics, even a 2% retention increase can cause a 10% cost reduction.

There is a line between mobile app retention trends on Apple and Google platforms. As it turns out, Play Store users have a higher tendency to come back to the platform’s apps.

Mobile app retention, on day 1, is, on average, 27% on Android and 23% on iOS systems, and, consequently, 13% and 11% on day 7.

The differences don’t end here, which is why it is very good to prepare different strategies for the platforms, even in the case of the same app. What is common for both systems is that games have the best retention rate. In this category, user mobile app retention after 1 day can be as high as 40%, which should not be a surprise to anyone. If a game is properly playable, the user will come back – the task is to make him come back for as long as possible. The next position of retention performance is taken by Communicators with 33% and Leisure with an average user retention of 25%.

In a way, each category has its trends, and the podium’s positions keep changing in this field. Taking a look at all this information, you can conclude, that keeping this many users is a lot of work – and it is. Most of the statistics above keep on falling. User outflow in mobile apps is constantly increasing, and their attention span is getting shorter. Mobile devices are becoming the most important thing in our lives, letting us conduct a vast variety of tasks and activities, so far meant for other devices. Our smartphones let us take photos, carry out payments, work and even monitor our health. New possibilities, new apps. If our app does not deliver what is expected of it, an alternative can be found immediately. More than ¾ of the time spent using the device is spent using just a couple favorite mobile apps. If your publication is not one of them, you have to at least try grabbing as much of the user’s time as possible.

User retention in mobile apps and games
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