Sent on December 3rd, 2021.

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🙌️ The Magic Of Retention Day-30

Recently, a game studio founder asked me how I’d test early in game development, perhaps at the concepting stage, if a game would have good enough Day-30 retention.

Through my career in free-to-play, I’ve observed several projects that resulted in sustainable player retention, meaning that people who start playing the game have become hooked to the game, and it’s become a hobby for them.

Here are four characteristics that I’ve seen that work well to ensure strong Day-30 retention.

Social gameplay

Early in concepting, you’ve decided that the game will focus heavily on social gameplay, which can take up many forms. The most successful social glue is created when you’ve got groups of players working together to beat ever harder content. These groups are leveling up together and more getting powerful gear together.

The harder the content gets, the more the groups need everyone to show up on time since they need each member to chip in. The dynamic of groups of twenty players are fantastic since if someone isn’t putting in the work, the group leader can kick them out and bring in a new eager member.

Completionism gameplay

Word puzzle games were the first free-to-play games that catered to the motivations of people who’d want to play games to keep themselves busy. Then came Match-3 games, farming games, and the latest addition, the merge games.

Each of these games has a heavy emphasis on busy work kind of activity, where your motivation to complete things, like clear a board, make you come back every day, for that dose of busywork.

Often when people look at a Match-3 game, they think that the long-term motivation to show up comes from the matching, but it more comes from the completion of the entire board. A great example of this is Merge Now! from Lion Studios, where you have a table full of toys. You won’t progress until all the toys have been paired and you get to move on.

Games-as-a-service

Shaun Rutland put it well on the Deconstructor of Fun podcast: “The most interesting thing about mobile is it went from a transition of Facebook gaming companies moving into mobile being great games-as-service companies. I do think the best mobile games companies are probably best at games-as-a-service, and that’s where things are heading and having your team deliver great things for the players.”

To me, service-based games are like theme parks, which are open 24/7, and there are constantly new events happening. Games aren’t expected to be static. Instead, they are evolving experiences, where the player feels novelty daily. The player can expect daily missions, daily IAP offers, and continuing progress on the weekly event on entering the game daily. It’s a combination of new content being released to the player excitingly.

Examples of mobile games that operate like theme parks:

Flow

In game design, we often talk about how players experience flow in our games. The feel of flow comes when the player enters an altered state of this intense concentration on the task at hand, with total control over what they are doing.

The player’s brain operates differently in the state of flow. In flow, we don’t care much what others think, our fight or flight responses are lowered, and the intrinsic motivation is heightened.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes in his book Flow:

Conditions for Flow are:

  • Knowing what to do next
  • Knowing how to do it
  • Freedom from distractions
  • Clear and immediate feedback
  • High perceived challenge and high perceived skill

A great example of flow in gaming comes from merge games. The critical player motivation is clearing aboard, and the flow starts when you control the board.

You have a mental image of where items are. Workshop tools are on the top left corner. Food is in the top right, clothing bottom left, etc. You come back to the game, and it’s so familiar, and the flow begins immediately. If the board is different all the time, it doesn’t get to develop into something “homey.” For example, in Merge Friends, when I’m on the second board, it feels less fun to play there and feel much better back on the first board. It becomes a clash of the primary and secondary board because I feel the flow better on the primary board.


Sponsored by Gameye


🎮 Ville Heijari — Opportunities in mobile

In this week’s podcast episode, I’m talking with Ville Heijari, the founder of Original Games, a new mobile games studio with people in St. Petersburg, Helsinki, and San Francisco. Ville has been in mobile games ever since his early days at Rovio, when Angry Birds had just been launched.

During the last dozen years, he’s accumulated learnings from all sorts of places and has now teamed up with a great team of game developers. In this discussion, we talk about all the learnings from the places Ville has been at and how Original Games is approaching the merge genre with their first game, Merge Inn. And we cover so much more.

Listen to the full episode by going here.

📃 Articles worth reading

Play-to-earn: How gaming’s revolutionary new business model works — “In the past few decades, we have witnessed seismic changes within the video game industry, most notably the arrival of completely new business models. Where pay-to-play once held dominion, the landscape was transformed by the free-to-play phenomenon, and now we have play-to-earn.”

Investing In Your Co-Founder Relationship — “I’ve been working with co-founders as an investor and coach for a decade, and while I’ve helped many co-founders improve their communication and deepen trust, I’ve witnessed countless co-founder splits. This includes numerous clients, friends, and even my wife. I’ve seen close friends, college roommates, and former colleagues come together only to drift—or break—apart. I’ve seen long-time and close relationships end sadly. I’ve also seen the conflicts among co-founders damage and sink companies.”

The perilous mythology of Brand Marketing for digital products — “The promise of brand marketing is that, by creating presence of mind within a consumer for a particular product, the purchasing of that product becomes habitual on some cadence; for instance, whenever a consumer is in the market for new shoes, they default to a particular brand because of some affinity for it that has been cultivated through brand advertising (and, obviously, product satisfaction).”

💬 Quote that I’ve been thinking about

“People who change their minds because they learned something are the winners, whereas those who stubbornly refuse to learn are the losers.”

— Ray Dalio


​Sponsored by Matchmade

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I hope you have a great weekend!

Joakim