Retention is a critical component of growth. It’s a simple formula: If you want to grow your player base, you have to keep the players you’ve already acquired.
Retention is important for conversions, too. The longer someone plays, the more likely they are to convert into a paying customer. But if they abandon your F2P game early, there’s little chance they’ll spend money.
Retention is part of growth. If you want to grow your player base, you have to keep the players you’ve acquired.
That begs the question: Why do people abandon games? What makes them forget about your app and eventually uninstall it (probably to make room for another game)?
In this article, I’ll go over the most common reasons players abandon games. Ask yourself if you see any of these problems in your F2P game.
1. Complex/Long Onboarding
Your onboarding experience is an important way to familiarize new players with the game and help them achieve something. But if that process is complex or too long, it can actually get in the way of an engaging experience.
How long is too long? That’s tough to say. You don’t have to give your players a complete tutorial of your game. Help them understand the core loop, walk them to some kind of win, and then leave them to it.
Blossom Blast Saga does this well. Instead of walking you around the UI, the onboarding sequence gets you playing the game.
2. No Compelling Goal
Sometimes players don’t intentionally abandon a game, they just lack a good reason to come back. If they don’t have a goal to work towards, they won’t stick around.
Your players need a reason to play. Whether they want to defeat the story’s antagonist, build the largest civilization, or collect all the forgotten treasure, they need to feel like the goal is worth their time.
Furthermore, the progression itself has to be rewarding, at least on some level. You can’t make every moment satisfying, but none of it should be unpleasant.
Players often feel unengaged when games put too much emphasis on grinding and repetitive tasks. Players are happy to grind if they believe they are working towards something or have a chance to earn something, but they won't grind if they lose faith that there's a reward somewhere at the end.
3. Poor Use of Notifications
It’s important to prompt your players to return to your game. If you don’t, there’s a chance they’ll abandon your game inadvertently.
But that doesn’t mean you should spam them with notifications or push a notification “just because.” Each notification should have a clear purpose, and players should be rewarded for using them as a path to jump back into the game.
For example, each of these notifications gives the player a compelling reason to return, rather than simply reminding them that the game exists.
4. Long Play Sessions
Few players can sit with their phones for hours playing games. Most people play for a few minutes here and there throughout the day. They can’t dedicate hours to a mobile game.
Your game’s core loop should create blocks that fit into a reasonable session. Generally, that’s about three minutes. Your players should feel like they accomplished something in that time, and that their effort cumulatively builds towards a larger goal.
5. Toxic Community
Social games create powerful avenues for players to engage and interact with one another, potentially forming vast, sustainable communities that drive retention.
But some communities turn dark. They attract the kind of people who exploit their anonymity by harassing new players, using vile language, and griefing one another. These kinds of communities turn away new players quickly.
If you allow your players to interact with one another, it's important to invest community management. That could include implementing tools or hiring people to police your users’ behavior.
6. Slow to Update / Poor Live Ops
Just like any other type of game, players will leave yours if they consume all of its content (or enough of it to feel like they beat the game). If you want to keep your players playing and your customers paying, you have to produce lots of fresh content.
But simply producing content isn’t enough. You have to produce it at a pace that keeps them busy and prevents them from turning to another game to satisfy their content itch.
Some game companies generally want to produce lots of content, but they fail at keeping up with their players’ needs because they don't use a formal live ops content calendar.
Bejeweled’s spring event is a great example. Their yearly spring comes with unique rules and prizes. It’s also a generic seasonal event that intentionally avoids mainstream holidays so it doesn’t compete with other games.
7. Player Doesn’t Progress Early
You don’t have to rush the player through the game right away, but they need some early wins to make them feel invested. If there’s no feeling of reward, they won’t have any incentive to keep playing. After all, we play games to feel rewarded.
That said, don’t bombard new players with too many rewards early in the game. If there’s no challenge or investment needed to get those rewards, they won’t feel like rewards at all.
8. Overly Challenging Gameplay
Challenging gameplay is important so people feel like the game is worth their time, but there’s a limit, especially in the beginning. Overly challenging gameplay just makes people feel frustrated.
How hard is too hard? That depends on your player and your game. Dig into your analytics to discover where people spend an inordinate amount of time in your game, or where they decide to give up.
9. Undeveloped Community / Small Player Base
If the value of your game comes partly (or entirely) from its social element, and you don’t have people to socialize with, then the game doesn’t have much value.
Admittedly, this is a catch-22 problem. You might need to focus on acquisition for a while until there’s a population to make that social element provide value.
If players complain about a low population even though you have a lot of players, investigate whether your features that are supposed to bring them together actually work.
10. Poor Marketing / Acquisition
In your marketing, you make a promise to your players about your game. You make a case for why it’s worthy of their time (and possibly their money). This creates an expectation.
If your game doesn’t deliver on that promise, there’s a good chance your players will abandon it, even if your game is objectively good.
It’s important to set expectations in your marketing that your game can easily meet. Ideally, your game should be able to overcome those expectations.
In some cases, poor marketing can target the wrong type of player. If you acquire new players who aren’t right for your game, they’re all guaranteed to abandon your game.
11. Punished for Inactivity
Punishing inactive players (crops withered, loot stolen, castle destroy, etc.) has some potential to keep players coming back. If they know they’ll lose progress if they don’t log in, naturally they’ll log in.
But this is a double-edged sword. If a player has to take a break for a legitimate reason (like work, travel, school, or illness), they will feel needlessly punished for something they can’t control.
Instead of punishing players for not logging in, reward them for logging in regularly. This way they work to get a reward rather than work to avoid a pain.
12. Your Game is a Clone
You might be tempted to copy the gameplay, monetization mechanics, and controls of another popular game. If you could just take a little market share, you could be profitable, right?
Actually, no. Copying hit games is a failing strategy. If your game is just a reskinned version of another game, your players will notice right away.
If you want to be successful, it’s important to dominate a category (by inventing one or finding a vulnerable one) and innovating at the macro level. Little improvements don’t attract and retain new players, but big ones do.
13. Poor Performance
This should go without saying. People will leave if your game loads slowly, lags, bugs out, or crashes. Your awesome loop and mechanics won’t matter if they can’t, you know, play the game.
Fight Churn with Engaging Experiences
Obviously all of those reasons don’t apply to your game. But I bet a few of them made you pause and think, “Well, maybe…”
As a game designer, your job is to create an engaging experience that delights your players as long as possible. As a business, your job is to foster a faithful player base to maximize revenue. The first step to serving both functions is to identify why players abandon your game.