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Indie Game Analytics 101 (part 1 – five terms)

A starting point for analytics every indie should know, not just to pay the bills but also to check that players are seeing your true creative vision.

This is a post from the featured series on the Unity Analytics Playnomics blog (or on It takes from lessons after launching Battle Group 2, which is a finalist at IGF China and was featured by Apple and Humble Bundle.

dylan jones

Game analytics are vital on both a business and creative perspective. Analytics can be used to adapt your tutorial that contains un-seen issues, balance your economy, or even make quick changes for increased profit. During meetups, I cringe when I see developers shrug at analytic questions with “Our game is premium”. Yes, there is a strong prescience that analytics are in bed with mobile / F2P games and they often focus on maximizing profit, but not exclusively. No matter what your goal is, analytics should be a priority if you care about money or even if you just want to know how players experience your game. Before we dive into a topic, we must first build an articulate vocabulary to discuss. In the first part of this series, I’ll cover the top 5 most important terms and offer insights to allow future conversations or research. This first part will lean towards the biz, and part 2 will list how to avoid universal mistakes game developers make during their first few games with analytics and the best tools to use. Let’s dive into the vocab!

  1. Retention - The players that sign up and come back. Often discussed as “day 5 retention is X%, day 7 retention is Y%”. Retention by day is found by noting how many players come back to play on that specific day.

Note: This is the most important metric for games. If you’re going to optimize or make any improvements, this should always come first. Money follows.
Insight: Different services will measure this in alternate ways. Flurry’s main retention metric is actually ‘rolling retention’ (although it makes little note of it) which means it includes later days in earlier days (eg if someone doesn’t return until day 7 they appear to come back on days 2-6 as well, which can inflate results). As always, check how your service does any measurement to avoid being that person who boasts off the charts / lackluster numbers.
Further Reading: Stickiness, Churn, Duration, Engagement

  1. Cohort - A group of players that join your game in the same way. These may be players who joined on launch day (specific time), or players who joined from a PC website (specific platform).

Note: It’s vital to know what sites bring in the most engaged players, having them in a cohort lets you compare them to other sources.
Insight: Later, you may consider advertising or buying players. Cohorts are key for when you acquire players from a paid channel or network. You can better compare X budget on Google Ads versus Chartboost, and capitalize on who has the longest retention or better ROI.
Further Reading: CaC, CPI, CPM

  1. LTV - Life Time Value’s basic definition is the average money spent by both paying and nonpaying players (which is calculated by the average revenue per user (ARPU)) times the number of months a user remains active.

Note: This is not just for F2P games, it also includes DLC on premium games and any extra purchase as well. LTV is vital when you start to do any type of paid advertising or acquisition. This answer the core question of “How much are players paying?”.
Insights: This is the first mid-level experience calculation as it’s a surprisingly complicated solution for a simple question. We’ll deep dive into it in later sections, for now you can keep checking the further reading sections for more.
Further Reading: Proper LTV, Calculating LTV, Seems Apsalar has the best free calculation but it’s not predictive.

  1. K-Factor - Measure the viral growth of a game by multiplying how much a user exposes the game to other players (Infection Rate) by percentage of non paying players who become paid (Conversation Rate).

Game Note: This includes everything from friends who virtually tell other friends to play a premium demo or a tweet about their F2P game’s high score.
Insight: I’ve given talks and interviews on the moral implications and issues of F2P vs premium and forcing viral growth inside them. Long story short, members of this industry have different priorities and ethics, stick with what works for you. There is a balance between pay walls in Candy Crush and an unobtrusive tweet button for a screenshot of Monument Valley.
Further Reading: Infection Rate, Conversion Rate

  1. CPA / eCPA - Cost Per Action or Acquisition is player acquisition costs, such as downloading your game or adding a player to your mailing list. eCPM is viral growth of the CPA and the real cost of acquiring a new user.

Note: When acquiring players, the eCPA must be lower than the costs to acquire a new user for a short-term positive return.
Insight: While this last topic is more advanced and business heavy, it is important to know it is the king for advertising and getting new players.
Further Reading: A/B testing, CPC, CPA The next part of Game Analytics 101 will consist of warnings and advice to new developers of analytics and tips on tools.

While the above vocab can be interrupted as mostly “business themed” it will cover best practices for tools to create the best possible game flow and experience. Follow me @tDJ or find more at If you have any questions, I hope you reach out!

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