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Strategies and actions to take for keeping your most valuable players in the game for the long run. Keep top spenders, socializers, whales and power gamers happy with these tips.

Gur Dotan, Blogger

August 6, 2015

6 Min Read

Mobile gaming is a tough business to make a living from.  With the influx of games in the app stores and user attention span going down, retaining players in your game and driving them to pay is a holy grail that few developers reach.  In fact, according to data reports by Swrve, over 50% of your in-game revenue comes from 0.15% of your users, or so called whales.  So given that you have 10,000, new users installing your game every month, a grand total of 15 players will bring you half the in-app purchase revenue form that month's installs.  This reality is moving the industry to new best practices of retention and is effectively prompting game studios to put all of their focus on these 15 whales.  Here are 5 actions that smart studios are taking to retain these VIP players:

Spot The Whales

The first thing to do is to have an analytics platform in place that can track paying users so that you can track their behavior more closely. Normally we analyze user behavior en masse, using aggregative analytics tools. Here, we need focus on a small segment which will be scrutinized on a more granular basis even to the extent of looking at actions of each individual user. If you have multiple games, you must also be able to track these users across them to learn their spending habits in different titles and genres.  The term “whale” is over exercised here, but what we really mean is users who are paying significant money to purchase virtual currency and goods in the game.  The Same goes for Facebook connect across multiple games and socializers.

Contact Them Directly

The best way to contact your users is by plain old email outreach or the use of forums.  The psychology of personal touch plays its role here.  Wooga are well known for nurturing their gamer community via forums, and they actually let some of them be admins and moderators of discussions.  PocketGems are known for calling up their users on the phone regularly and asking them for feedback.  At SOOMLA we’ve received quite a few reports from the developer community about gamers who showed increased engagement after being contacted personally by the developer.  Discussion with your players is always healthy as it positions you as an authentic developer that truly cares about its audience, which gamers love.  You can leverage the discussion for both feedback , but also for rewarding them with in-game currency and getting them playing again.

Urban legend has it that one gaming studio noticed a significant in-app purchase drop from one of their top spenders.  They contacted that user and realized that person had gone on vacation and forgot his iPad.  The studio went out of its way to “Fedex” a new iPad to that user and immediately saw the revenue climb back up.

Offer Exclusive Benefits

In games with an elaborate economy you can create special statuses (e.g. prince, king, mayor, chief etc.) which will be granted for loyal users and top spenders.  The lucrative players will be given the option of buying virtual goods unique only to themselves which in turn makes them even more lucrative.  It also prompts more sharing as players achieve a higher status, and drives virality as a by product.  You can also create limited edition items with a unique look that will be exclusive only to users of this group.

Get Them to Come Back with Push and Retargeting

Getting new players and keeping them within the game is important, but when looking at your VIPs it becomes essential. Push notifications and retargeting work really well here. For example, if there are any special sales, discounts or giveaways, your important gamers can receive push notifications letting them know. This can work on weekly promotions, holiday season sweepstakes, daily coin rewards…your choice. Try a few different features to see which one works best.  Make sure to segment your users wisely in the push platform you choose so that you can target payers of different levels.  An example for creating a payer segment with SOOMLA and OneSignal.

Identify Them Early

Mobile gaming reports show that you are losing 80% of your users in less than seven days. This means that for every whale you are able to retain there are 4 whales you are not even aware of that will drift away. Getting those four to stick around would potentially double your revenue. Spotting these payers as early as day-0, on their first session, is key for adapting the game to their preferences and retaining them. The best way to do that is by relying on cross-game data and spotting the users who were spending large amounts in other games.  Mid-core and hardcore gamers are known to be very sensitive to ads.  You’ll never see ads in the biggest titles unless a player hasn’t paid for over a week or a month.  So one interesting use case when identifying whales is that you want to consider disabling all advertising for them to keep them immersed in the game.


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