Building an Active User Base for Mobile Games | AppsFlyer
5 Min. Read

5 Stages of Building An Active User Base for Your Mobile Game

Eugenia Dychko (Guest Author) Mar 14, 2016

As hard as it can be to acquire users for mobile free-to-play (F2P) games, turning them into a loyal and engaged audience is even more challenging. An install is just half the battle because it doesn’t necessarily transform downloaders into loyal and active players. In fact, almost 70 percent of users who installed a gaming app will quit the app within a mere 24 hours and only about 5% will stick around for more than 30 days. To make matters worse, only 2.3% of F2P gamers actually make in-app purchases.

The real revenue in mobile games comes from “whales”. These heavyweight gamers, only 0.23% of all players, generate 60% of the revenue! Ultimately, commercial sustainability of your game is more dependent on whales than ever. That’s why building a large, active user base from which you’ll get more whales is key.

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How do you do it? Well, the trick lies in striking a balance between acquisition and retention, while paying close attention to analytics, and using multiple marketing methods.


1. Know your audience

Defining your target audience is absolutely critical. If done right, it will save you a lot of time and money. To develop an effective and precise marketing campaign, you should understand:

  • The needs and preferences of your target audience: This can be done as part of secondary research by analyzing numerous competitor apps that are successful in acquiring loyal users. What is their messaging? What features do they offer? Explore industry forums and blogs for case studies and don’t hesitate to ask experienced game developers (i.e. on Quora, Gamasutra, Gaming Insiders, etc.).
    Also, a low budget test campaign is a good way to pinpoint desired demographic targeting for further spend. You can acquire a small group of users, analyze their lifetime value and retention rate, and define the most valuable group. Apart from age and gender, try behavioral targeting based on users’ recent actions and interests (i.e. arcade games can target users who are interested in Casual Games on Facebook).
  • The most suitable monetization model and price range: An app’s monetization strategy should play along with the behavior of the target audience. For example, parents tend to consider paid apps as a safer choice when they search for educational games for kids. When it comes to free-to-play games, users consider in-app purchases as an optimal choice, because they have a chance to start playing for free, get familiar with the features and game community first.  Although, from a developer’s perspective it seems fair to include ads into F2P game, users may feel annoyed when they see banner ads.
  • The right time and place to reach your target audience: According to a recent AppsFlyer study, iOS users’ install activity is as much as 25% higher on weekends, whereas install volumes among Android users remain relatively similar throughout the week. Also, define the platforms, channels, sources and publishers where you can reach your audience. For example, same category apps, industry forums, thematic groups in Facebook, game-driven media sources etc.

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2. Concentrate on acquiring high LTV users

Unless you’ve built a unique and addictive game that goes viral (lottery-like odds…), you need paid app promotion in order to succeed. Although high-quality traffic is costly, it forms a core active user base.

Your goal is to set up a customized, sustained campaign that will generate ROI-positive users who remain active over time and deliver revenue.

This is done by connecting attribution to in-app activity, and then aggregating the data back to the acquiring channels and comparing them.


3. Test several acquisition channels

Testing several ad networks and platforms will help diversify risks, lower cost per install (CPI), and capture more opportunities for effective user acquisition. Each app is unique, and testing multiple options is the best way to achieve an ideal media mix. Get your ensure attribution and marketing analytics in place and then test, test, and test again!

  • Social:  Facebook is one of the most efficient tools for user acquisition that lets you evaluate each funnel stage even on the low budget level. The social giant offers unrivaled scale on top of granular targeting options (per phone type, activities, installed apps, and social connections). You can also find users with the same parameters as your audience through the Lookalike Audience feature.facebook targetingInstagram provides Facebook’s targeting features, a deeplinking option, and several ad formats. One of the main advantages of the Instagram platform is its active and engaged audience and the ability to capture its full attention with an ad. Here is a great case study on a successful Instagram ad campaign for a mobile game.Twitter has also performed well for gaming marketers, especially on Android where it captured the #1 spot in retention.
  • Video: One of the fastest growing formats in mobile game promotion, tripling in ad spend mobile. The main reason for this is that video ads outperform non-video formats, especially when it comes to retention rate. If a user installs a game after seeing a video ad, he/she is 33% more likely to become a loyal gamer. Seeing the gameplay leaves less room for surprise, separating the interested from the uninterested. Check out networks that specialize in video ads, like Vungle, Unity and AdColony.
  • Programmatic: An automated buying method that is changing the mobile game advertising ecosystem. Growing rapidly, the mobile automated method provides an opportunity to create an ad campaign that’s tailored for an individual and specified in terms of budget spend per day and placement. This way, a mobile game owner can control of the selected type of users he or she want to target and specify a frequency cap.
  • App to app advertising: Other mobile games are the perfect place to find loyal, paying users for your app. According to a Soomla report, users who made an in-app purchase in one game are 6x more likely to spend in another game. This can be done through social networks or directly through ad networks that can pinpoint targeting of specific game types. It is also recommended to work with platforms that have direct partnerships with app owners and publishers.


4. Apply retention marketing

User acquisition should be tied to a long-term retention strategy. In the world of infinite app choices, players can easily abandon a game after the first visit or first day of playing. What you really need to do is to hook users from the start and persuade them to keep playing your game. Here is a quick list of retention marketing essentials:

  • Onboarding process that describes the app’s features to a new user and stimulates an engaging experience
  • Proper in-app analytics tool to understand user behavior inside of an app, how users interact with the content, and why they leave
  • Choose a media channel that works best with your audience (in-app messaging and push notifications prove to increase retention – just keep the message brief and informative)
  • Focus on the channels, networks, campaigns and creatives that delivered loyal players


5. Additional promotional methods: ASO, content strategy, virality

Managing ASO or a blog for your app may seem to offer little return on investment. However, methods like content strategy and social activity can help engage potential users, create a brand around a game, and amplify paid marketing efforts. For example, Youtube video game review on one of the Top 100 channels offers social proof for thousands of potential users, displaying gameplay and interesting features, thus making a game addictive from the start.

  • Website or blog is your owned media for the app’s PR promotion and a landing page that leads potential users to the app store’s app page
  • Virality: Word of mouth works better than paid marketing so why not reward users for marketing your game? Encouraging users with in-game currency or some kind of level growth can save lots of money and attract loyal users.
  • PR and social media: Reach out to opinion leaders and media and ask them to review your app. Spread the word on industry forums and social media groups. It’s always a good idea to design a promo video and appealing screenshots and share them on social channels.
  • ASO: App store optimization should be regularly maintained to keep the app visible in the app store search results and generate organic installs. Keep an eye on keywords that your competitors use and market trends.

For most developers it becomes easier to engage users some time after game launch, when they have a clear understanding of how players interact with the game, who will spend, and why users leave. A soft launch and data-driven approach can help build an active user base as well as a systematic approach to additional promotional methods.

Do you have experience in acquiring and retaining mobile game users? What methods have proved to be efficient? Share your expertise and thoughts in the comments!