A developer has just entered soft launch, and they are expecting their first numbers in a few days. They are first anticipating the Day-0 numbers, looking at first session engagement metrics like session length and session count.

I’ve yet to see any developer get stuck at Day-0 engagement numbers. They all keep moving to gather Retention Day-1 numbers. But that is where many developers are often against the wall.

Last year I wrote about Day-1 mobile soft launch metrics, and how it can become difficult to move the metric. But I keep on coming back to this topic.

I recently talked to a developer who is doing quite well, with a game in soft launch and having decent Day-1 numbers. We both agreed that Day-1 means that the player loves the core gameplay. And onwards, from there, you get to Day-3. You have to have the player appreciate and understand their journey as a player in the game.

I’ve seen from working with dozens of developers in mobile gaming that it is often challenging to communicate your next steps. When there’s no proper system to follow, the accountability of following through best practices can become a loose act.

Because we lack a proper system for staging and approaching a soft launch, I’ve created scenarios to help developers communicate where they are in the soft launch and develop approaches for different scenarios.

Here’s what the visualization of these scenarios could look like.

I’ll give an example of how to approach the soft launch improvements into Day-1 retention numbers. The developer has soft-launched their game, and they’ve acquired enough players (a few hundred) to have statistically significant Retention Day-1 numbers.

Dark green means you are doing very well

Approach for this scenario: You can proceed to the next metric to improve.

Light green means you are looking good, but there’s room for improvement.

Approach for this scenario:

  • Use analytics to discover what players aren’t doing like they should be doing. Improve FTUE, look at App Store funnel with Geeklab, try to AB test some big things in the core gameplay, e.g., tweaking the game’s difficulty.

Yellow is questionable, and it means that you still have a lot of work.

Approach for this scenario:

  • Many things can be wrong with the game. The developer needs to go into full curiosity mode, and they need to ask what is wrong with the game? There are qualitative and quantitative ways to discover what is wrong with the game.
  • Quantitative (analytics) What is similar about the players that are coming back on Day-1? And what about the players who aren’t coming back? Look at these groups of players. What are they doing in their sessions? Are they playing the game you assumed that they’d be playing?
  • Qualitative (non-analytics) Compare your game to the competition, conduct playtests.
  • Consider significant changes, i.e., go from real-time to turn-based, from portrait to landscape, change the game’s theme from fantasy to modern war. (For theme changes, of course, first test them with tools like Geeklab)
  • Do a Pixar BrainTrust, where you invite fellow game developers (even from outside the company) to look at the game, share the top findings you’ve already discovered about how the players play the game, and ask them to give ideas on what is wrong.
  • For more on Pixar’s BrainTrust, read my article on “Why your game will fail.”

Red is either a lot of work or thinking carefully if the game merits any further work.

Approach for this scenario:

  • Here, with Day-1 being below 30%, the developers could ask themselves why the low retention numbers weren’t evident already in their playtests? Why did they need to launch to get these numbers?
  • You can take a similar approach as the yellow scenario has. Still, it’s going to be a task of considerable size to increase a game’s Day-1 retention numbers by twenty percentage points. You need to evaluate the opportunity cost and consider killing the project.
  • Whatever you do, the team needs to take away the most plausible reason for the game not working. Otherwise, the team risks repeating mistakes and not learning from failure.

Application of the scenarios model

You can play around with the scenarios. Maybe your game category would require Day-1 to be above 55% to be dark green. Or perhaps Day-1 at 30% is something you are comfortable with, as you know that those players will stick around for Day-7 and Day-30, and you can start focusing on other metrics.

You can develop your own innovative approaches to the scenarios, on both the quantitative and qualitative sides. Player surveys are great at revealing long-term retention issues, gaming-specific data tools like Dive.games can surface data in new ways. Ask around, what have other developers used for figuring out ways to improve metrics.

Don’t conform and don’t be complacent.