No name recognition? Here’s how to build loyalty with your players

if you’re an indie developer launching a game with no name or brand recognition, you do need to pull out all the stops when it comes to building a loyal user base. Here are some tactics that can keep players coming back to your game again and again.

Pokémon GO often gets a bad rap in the press as a flash-in-the-pan. However, when you dive into the numbers, its retention -- a very real indicator of success --  is just as good as that of Candy Crush and Clash of Clans. Pokémon GO had more downloads when it launched, which meant it had more to lose, but it’s actually retained many of its players: It has 15.4M weekly active users, which is actually 4x those of Clash of Clans (3.85M). The actual retention rate of both games is around 75%.

Pokemon GO’s incredible success is of course largely due to the huge name recognition it already had in place — literally decades worth of feverish attention —  so it hasn’t had to rely on many of the traditional tricks that help with game retention. It hasn’t had to. With Pokémon GO, players don’t get regular push notifications pulling them back into the app or notifying them of the slew of new content they’re putting out -- that would be gilding the lily.

But if you’re an indie developer launching a game with no name or brand recognition, you do need to pull out all the stops when it comes to building a loyal user base.

Below are some tactics that can keep players coming back to your game again and again when you can’t rely on nostalgia or brand loyalty to do it for you.

Think about retention from Day One of development and use well-respected analytics platforms.

When your game is still in development, and its only players are you, one friend, and a proud parent, it’s easy to get laser focused on user acquisition. How exactly will you go from three users to 300,000?

There are endless user acquisition strategies -- from ad networks to social to PR -- but you have to remember that getting users to download your app is only half the battle. Those users can come and go quickly if you don’t have strategies in place for retention, and it is next to impossible to determine where you’re losing players if you don’t have analytics and measurement tools incorporated into from the outset.

I highly recommend using analytics platforms that allow for cohort analysis and dashboards that show trends in retention like Adjust, Amplitude, Apsalar, AppsFlyer, Mixpanel, or TUNE. This way, you’ll be able to pinpoint any problems from Day One -- just like well-established “brand-name” games do.

Retarget to get players back.

One of the advantages to being a “little guy” is that you can retarget lost players in a cost-effective way. As SurveyMonkey points out, Pokémon GO is so big it doesn’t make fiscal sense to go after lost players, but for games with a smaller user base (and really just about any other game), retargeting is a no-brainer.

Place your retargeting ads in games that are similar to yours and build lookalike campaigns off of your most valuable players. This way, you will catch players whose taste you know is in keeping with your own game. You can learn more amazing app retargeting strategies here from AppsFlyer.

Continually add new content that keeps players coming back

Here you can absolutely take a cue from Pokemon GO: regularly launch new content. Nothing delights players quite like fresh content, as Pokemon GO has demonstrated with charming baby Pokémons, a holiday event, and a partnership with Starbucks. Subway Surfers is another great example -- locations change every month and have included a range of dramatic locations, from Transylvania to Kenya and Rio to Mumbai. Fresh content gives players new reason to play the game. Indeed, if a game becomes stale, people will lose interest. For your players, the magic of the game doesn’t lie in a well-timed push notification or an impressive analytics tool. It lies in the content of the game itself.

Advertise for free by cross-promoting in your other games

If this game is your first, this tip won’t work. But once you’ve launched even 2 or 3 games, you can cross-promote among them. King is extremely adept at this -- it cross-promotes among all of its Saga titles.

Advertising your new game in your existing games is an easy way to acquire players who already love what you build. No target audience could be more perfect, and even better, it’s essentially free to reach. Promote your new game within an older game where it makes sense, for example on a screen with buttons, or via push notifications.

Build a brand with your gaming portfolio

When you launch new games -- and even with your very first game -- think about what your overall brand will look like. Use similar color schemes and branded app icons the same way large publishers do, like Zynga and King. Brand your characters, too, so that you build loyalty to them and make it easier to launch spin-offs. (Angry Birds is a great example of a brand that has leveraged the same brand and characters over and over again in different games.)

Good branding doesn’t instantly boost downloads or retention, but it’s a smart long-term play. Your homegrown IP might not turn into the next Mario or Sonic, but even independent studios have had great success by building a brand, like Zeptolab with Om Nom/Cut the Rope, Outfit 7 with Talking Tom, and of course Rovio with Angry Birds. Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the basic principles of branding and reap its rewards, namely reduced CPI because you have a built-in fanbase and good retention rates.

Any well-established game publisher has a leg up when they release something new because its IP is recognizable. That means that indie devs have to be extra assertive about retention strategies in order to compete. You should plan for retention from the outset and set up a sound, sophisticated analytics solution so you have a granular view of what your players do in  your game, continually add fresh content, and cross-promote among your games. Last but not least, treat your games collectively as a brand rather than as discrete units. Together these strategies can go a long way toward keeping your players coming back for more.  


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