How Gaming Approaches Retention

Sep 15 2018

My roommates and I recently bought Mario Kart on the Switch. I’ve noticed just about every time we go to put the controllers down, we unlock a new item in the game. Then of course we have to try it and the game goes onwards. They seem to know exactly when and how to throw incentives to keep you playing.

This type of retention is likely based on test data and providing thresholds that appeal to the common person. However, I have noticed mobile games implementing even smarter tactics. A game I play frequently has started rewarding me with in-game coins. They come when my usage over time spikes and starts to drop. So rather than giving me set rewards, they are tailored to my play style. It is far more effective in keeping me plugged in.

While video games are tech, I write about this because it heavily relates to software. Knowing when to spend money to further engage a customer is important. Getting someone on your platform is only monetizable or interesting if you can keep them there. And while you can give $1000 in credit to every user annually, it is not efficient. This raises the question: how do you do deploy resources or capital to increase a customers usage?

Games have it figured out well. I think it is tricky for services because they can be a pest of they send you notifications daily. Mobile game publishers have fleets of games and cross advertise so well that they just want you in their ecosystem. The game itself does not matter. It would be interesting for particularly modularized offerings to take this style of approach, treating them as nearly different products. I may run a simulation on this soon.