The 5 Stages of User Engagement in Mobile Gaming

In a previous blog post, we compared the two most popular mobile games of 2016: Pokémon Go and Super Mario Run. These two Nintendo properties may have the same advantage of capitalizing on ’90s nostalgia, but their different business models play a larger role on their user engagement strategies.

Super Mario Run and other premium games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas require an upfront purchase instead of relying on in-app purchases.

Typically, due to the high barrier of entry, these games invest heavily in establishing a highly popular brand outside of the game itself to increase word of mouth and acquire more new users.

For this reason, it’s not surprising that premium games like these generate a significant portion of their revenue from merchandise. Paying $10 upfront for Super Mario Run is a much easier pill to swallow when Nintendo has spent decades building loyalty by selling everything from t-shirts and keychains to Campbell’s soup.

Premium, however, is the least common mobile gaming business model: App Annie reports that in-app advertising and freemium are projected to account for 90 percent of market share in the mobile app industry by 2020.

Theoretically, it’s not as essential to engage users of premium games. After all, the gaming company has already won the customer’s business. Other than the indirect effects of persuading users to invite all their friends, there is little cold-hard-cash incentive to keep them playing.

On the other hand, user engagement is absolutely vital to convert freemium gamers into paid users. To develop a true omni-channel growth marketing campaign, it’s important to take a three-pronged approach, coordinating emails, push and in-app notifications with relevant messages that reinforce one another and encourage users to complete certain actions.

We’ve broken the user engagement lifecycle down into five stages, examining the types of communications that are most applicable to each and recommending the best channel to increase user engagement.

While these suggestions are absolutely essential for freemium games, we believe that premium games would also benefit. So, regardless of business model, here are the steps you can take today to turn a casual gamer into a diehard fan.

Stage 1: Onboarding

Congratulations! You’ve accomplished the difficult task of gaining a new customer. Start the user engagement journey on the right foot with a welcome series. Help customers get started with easy tutorials and useful how-to’s, and offer a method of contact in case they have any questions.

In-depth resources are best communicated via email, which can be collected from users, either manually or with logins to Google or Facebook, during the onboarding stage. This stage is also when word of mouth travels the fastest, so make sure your emails include a way for gamers to invite their friends through social media.

  • Goal: Welcome and educate new users
  • Recommended channel: Email

Stage 2: Activity

The battle for user attention is a cutthroat one: mobile analytics research shows that 24 percent of gamers never return after their first session and only 22 percent return one month after download, so the key is motivating customers to maintain a regular level of activity.

Messages can be scheduled once per day or week to remind users to login or triggered by specific events related to gameplay (e.g. gaining another life). Because these messages are meant to be sent when a user is not in the app in order to encourage increased activity, push notifications are the best channel to inspire action.

To ensure that your notifications won’t be a nuisance, you can create a communications preference center to ask users what types of reminders they’d like to receive and at what frequency.

  • Goal: Motivate users to play regularly
  • Recommended channel: Push notification

Stage 3: Milestone

In the middle of the user engagement lifecycle, a customer has become familiar with the game and is making good progress slaying enemies or zooming through levels. Take advantage of this momentum by rewarding their dedication.

In-app notifications are recommended to inform users of achieved milestones, whether they’ve walked ten miles or unlocked a special character. Take your notifications to the next level with buttons to send users straight to the place where they can claim their new prizes.

  • Goal: Reward users for gaming accomplishments
  • Recommended channel: In-app notification

Stage 4: Conversion

Only applicable to freemium games with in-app purchases, this stage is critical in converting users into paid customers. Although some people are comfortable opening their wallets for any game they download, most users need to justify spending on virtual products by investing a significant amount of time playing and believing in the advantages that purchased items will bring.

In-app notifications are the most effective channel to increase sales during this stage, especially when they’re optimally timed. Informing users of general promotions is easy, but offering personalized sales on special boosts when a gamer is stuck on a particularly challenging level can result in more conversions.

  • Goal: Convert users into paid customers
  • Recommended channel: In-app notification

Stage 5: Reactivation

No marketer wants their users to go dark, but it’s bound to happen if they’re not properly engaged. Even the uber-popular Pokémon Go lost 79 percent of its users in the two months after the game’s release, perhaps because it takes more than puny Pidgeys to convince people to venture outside.

At this stage, users won’t be logging in to view messages in the app and are most likely ignoring push notifications or have opted out of receiving them. To win back their attention, it’s time to bring in the cavalry. If weeks or even months have passed since their last session, emails are great for updating users with new features, providing them a digest of their past progress, and offering incentives to resume playing.

  • Goal: Re-engage inactive users
  • Recommended channel: Email

Whether you’re marketing an infinite runner or an augmented reality adventure, understanding the five stages of user engagement and maximizing channel relevance will keep your customers coming back for more addictive fun.

Want to learn how to make your omni-channel marketing more successful? Request a demo of the Iterable platform today.

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Iterable is the growth marketing platform that powers omni-channel relevance at scale.

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