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Weak F2P game design causes between 60-80% of players to leave a game for good after a disappointing first session. Our research reveals the top five reasons why players leave your game and crucially how publishers and developers can change this.

Mark Robinson, Blogger

March 31, 2014

5 Min Read

How many poorly designed or frustratingly greedy free-to-play games are you playing at the moment? None I’m guessing – which puts you firmly in the majority.  Indeed, our research shows that weak game design causes between 60-80% of players to leave a game for good after a disappointing first session.

Until recently publishers and developers with substantial acquisition budgets were not overly concerned with low first day retention rates, as the Lifetime Value (LTV) of those players was high enough to cover costs and deliver a profit.  However, that particular party is now over thanks to soaring acquisition costs which in many cases can now outstrip Player Lifetime Value. 

So how can publishers tip their games back into profitability?

It’s pretty simple math. If the percentage of players that you retain aren’t spending enough to cover the cost of acquisition then you’ve got two options.  You can either focus on improving player engagement by aiming to increase the number of players who monetize or focus on players that are already engaged and encourage them to spend more, increasing lifetime value in that way.   Either way - you need engaged players first otherwise they have no commitment to stay in the game given it was free in the first place..

As lifetime values increase then acquisition becomes more affordable and, instead of a downward spiral chasing more and more elusive quality recruits, the viability of the game is fundamentally changed.  

Why do players leave your game?
Understanding why your players leave your game is vital to build better relationships with your players.  The reasons for leaving differ considerable from player to player, which is why you can’t create a single version of a F2P game and expect it to work for everyone.

deltaDNA has assessed the game design of over 80 games and drawn up a series of best practice rules that dramatically improve player engagement.  The games we have assessed range from the complex MMO worlds, through to casual Facebook games and Social Casino as well as some of the best performing mobile F2P titles. Their design effectiveness has been scored against over 50 criteria.  From this we can identify why players leave games before they have the potential to become engaged and loyal players.

There top five reasons and levels of the percentages are startling:


% Games with Poor Design in this Area

Monetization Too Harsh Or Early


Difficulty/Outcomes Not Balanced


Resources Run Out Too Soon


Poor On-boarding


Lack of Rewards and Incentives


Every second counts
The first 60 seconds of gameplay is incredibly important, players need to get in, enjoy themselves and immediately be rewarded, however poor on-boarding was evident in 31% of games we analysed.    

It’s important that F2P games have a simple but engaging tutorial and well-structured progression to keep the players moving through the levels.  The start of the game should give as much of a taste of what it has to offer at the outset as possible.  

Give them an idea of what the best weapon, creature or vehicle in-game can do. If the best weapon in the game is the BFG, do you really want to wait until 90% of players have abandoned before making it available?

Another sure-fire way to lose players in the first session is to make the monetization mechanics either too harsh or too early, yet more than two thirds (70%) of the games we analysed suffer from this problem.   If players don’t become engaged then they won’t spend, so waiting until they reach the threshold of engagement is vital before introducing any monetization mechanics.

Make it personal
One of the common problems we found is games often lack player resources. In fact, 34% of the games we looked at failed to offer enough so players run out too soon in the game which causes  frustration.  While the experts might well be able to get by on the limited resources available, it’s a mistake to think all players are the same.  

By thinking about the player experience very clearly and taking into account different levels of competency, patience, momentum and competitiveness, it is possible to improve engagement. And once engagement is maximized, revenues will increase as the players value the opportunity to maintain and deepen their gameplay. 

We also found that 28% of games lacked the rewards and incentives required to keep players engaged beyond the first session.  One game in particular offered a strong discount on gems – however having just installed the game you have no idea whether the offer was relevant or good value. 

Developers have to be patient and generous in early gameplay and gift resources to players if they run out too early.  The challenge is to use game data effectively to enable you to be responsive to different playing styles and personalize in-game messaging.  By doing this engagement can be dramatically improved, making the game much more viable all round.

The transition from selling boxed products to managing live gaming services has an inevitable learning curve.  Good F2P game design is a constant and difficult balancing act between retention and monetization. A data-driven approach supports engagement and helps build long term player relationships.  With the cost of acquisition continuing to rise, ignoring lifetime value is not an option. 



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