Mobile user retention: when you hate hate hate paying for the same user again and again and again

retention masterclass

Do you hate paying for the same mobile user again, and again, and again? So do most retention-focused mobile developers and marketers. And so does Dan Beasley, co-founder of Viker game studio in London, who is launching Who Wants To Be a Millionaire on mobile in December 2020.

Peggy Anne Salz and I chat with him on this episode of Retention Masterclass.

We chat about the new game, about retention-first mobile marketing, typical mistakes in mobile user retention, and his best advice for game designers and marketers. We also talk about aligning app design for retention, what to do after the Corona bump, and what’s next in gaming …

Scroll down for full audio, video, and a transcript of our conversation …

Listen: when you hate paying for the same user again


Watch: Dan Beasley on mobile user retention

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Read: Mobile user retention and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire

(This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity).

John Koetsier:  Who wants to be a millionaire? Apparently, growth marketers who focus on retention. Hello and welcome to Retention Masterclass. My name is John Koetsier. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And my name is Peggy Anne Salz, and we’re your co-hosts on the show. 

John Koetsier: If you want to grow, you need to acquire new users, right? Our last guest, Nick Hobbs, actually said that you need to focus on retention first.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, which you wouldn’t think of because you’re thinking growth, you’re thinking it’s got to be UA. But you have to require the right users, and you can’t retain, of course, what you don’t have. So you have to work it into the architecture, work it into what your game or your product is. And our next guest has exactly this mindset.

And in addition, we’re going to find out why he does, because he’s coming into some serious IP, John. So this is something, you want to get it right from the get go. 

John Koetsier: Absolutely. And maybe there’s some method behind the madness, or maybe it’s just magic. So to find out if it’s method, madness, or magic, we’re going to chat with Dan Beasley, the co-founder of the London based game studio, Viker.

Peggy Anne Salz: So it’s great to have you, Dan. 

Dan Beasley: Hi, thanks very much for having me. 

John Koetsier: We are so pumped to have you, and we kind of hinted at the big news … which is that you’re releasing a game, the blockbuster franchise, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Tell us more about that. 

Dan Beasley, co-founder of Viker Games

Dan Beasley: Yeah, that’s right. This is Viker’s first foray into branded IP. Up to this point we’ve created our own games. And we are working with the guys at Sony to launch a free to play Who Wants to Be a Millionaire game which will give people all across the world the opportunity to finally sit in that hot seat, compete against friends, family, and the rest of the world, and play for real money prizes.

I think it’s probably one of the first movers in the market in this space, and it’s a hugely exciting opportunity for us. 

John Koetsier: It’s a big one for sure. When is that coming out? 

Dan Beasley: We’re in a soft launch right now in a couple of markets. We are probably halfway through that soft launch, and we’re expecting to launch in the thick of it in December.

John Koetsier: Okay. Wow. Not a busy Christmas season for you at all. 

Dan Beasley: No, no. But there’s no movies being promoted, so now’s a perfect time for gaming. 

John Koetsier: Good point. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely. And then of course, the free to play aspect, you know, it’s an interesting play on the monetization model. Which brings me to the other point, you’ve told me in our prep — and I thought this was really exciting, you know, retention first.

For a gaming company, you don’t put the two together very often. You’re always thinking, okay, I’m just going to pick up some great audiences, couple of bargains here and there, run them through the funnel, whoever stays … pick the whales and we’re home free, right? No, you’re focused on retention first. Which is an interesting mindset, so I just want to backtrack and understand what convinces you, or what convinced you, rather, to embrace this in the first place? 

Dan Beasley: Yeah, I guess it comes from a longstanding perception that I’ve had from friends and colleagues, that there’s sometimes this notion that time being spent in gaming is wasted for people. And we wanted to look at different ways that we could address that for the audience.

And you know, let’s face it, with kind of the UA strategies, we spend an awful lot of time talking about the cheapest and most efficient ways of bringing people into it. But, best case scenario, 40-50% of the people that you acquire today are gone tomorrow.

So for us, it’s really important that we focus on the people that stick around, because they’re the ones that are going to ultimately drive our profits.

Peggy Anne Salz: That makes perfect sense. Of course, there’s some buckets to fill along the way, you know the leaky bucket, if you’re saying that many are leaving, you have to think about it in a very focused way from the get go. Now you’ve been thinking about this for a while. I’m sure you’ve had your trial, your error, your mistakes, your learnings. What can you share? 

Dan Beasley: Yeah, we have more than a few, like most studios. I quite enjoy making mistakes. I think we learn quite a lot from that. Don’t tell my team that … but yeah. 

John Koetsier: I’m sure they know already 🙂

Dan Beasley: And I mean for us, you know, I guess one of the mistakes we made in the early days was probably getting too excited, too early. And you know, those early retention and monetization starts coming through and you think you’ve got, you know, the next big hit on your hands.

So you kind of fast track everything.

But actually, when you start to scale up, the game’s not deep enough, you haven’t got enough content in there, and things don’t pan out in the way that you’d expect them to.

So I guess, you know, I think probably the way we look at it now is, we’re trying to do this with Millionaire, is to sit tight and don’t get carried away by those early metrics. Make sure that your product is full of the features that you need to retain as well as you can do. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Mm-hmm. So I’d like to unpack that just a little bit, because you started to give some advice in that answer, but I really would like you specifically that, you know, if you could tell us advice today for other marketers and for people looking ahead.

Because we’re nearly into 2021 where a lot of marketers I’m talking with, they are changing their mindset, they are changing their teams. So advice is so important now as we shape those strategies. What’s the advice you could give based on perhaps your biggest mistake? 

 Dan Beasley: Our biggest mistake, as I say, I think it’s not giving people enough reason to come back to your game. You know, we think a lot about what we kind of phrase as kind of habitual gameplay.

And giving people a real reason to come back into the game through progression mechanics, and that’s really worked really well for us. And we’ve worked through the portfolio-based approach with global mechanics, so that people start to build a rhythm in our games. And they kind of come in and they know what they’re gonna get, and they make an appointment almost in their diaries to come back every day and play.

Peggy Anne Salz: Mm-hmm.

John Koetsier: Really, really interesting. I had to smile earlier when you were talking about people having this perception that games are a waste of time. And I was going to say like, those have to be parents looking at teenagers … they have a day off from school or something like that.

But, it is 2020, and we all need a break, don’t we? We need some enjoyment, some pleasure, some — something in our lives that’s not stressful.

But you’re clearly kind of a convert to the core importance of retention as a growth mechanic. And I guess the question is, and you touched on that briefly, how do you align your gameplay to do that? How do you reward those users and ensure that they keep coming back? 

Dan Beasley: I mean talking from a Viker perspective, we have, for the last 18 months or so, been launching games where people can get rewarded with monetary value, with prizes. And that forms a big part of our retention mechanics that we’ve got. And with Millionaire, you know, there are going to be daily tournaments, weekly tournaments, monthly tournaments, where you can progress through the game, you can win tickets into the draws depending on how far you progress and how many questions you answer, and all of the other bits that we’ve got inside the game.

So for us, it’s about rewarding people and increasing that throughout the game. And the deeper you get into it, the more you’re invested in it and the more you come back to seek those rewards. 

John Koetsier: Dan, that’s super interesting. And that mechanic will play very, very well along with the lines of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, right? I mean, that’s kind of perfectly aligned for that. So that’s really interesting.

Can you unpack that a little bit more?

Because I’ve seen ads for games, and I’ve got tons of pitches for stories about monetary rewards for, you know, whether it’s games or whether it’s using a certain browser or other things like that. And I’ve often felt like, okay, so I can win like five bucks if I play for three months or something like that, or … and I’ve wondered, what is the appeal there?

Can you unpack what the actual appeal is there? Is it about the dollars itself? Is it about the person that is interested in that? Or is it just the fact that there’s something concrete to win? 

Dan Beasley: I mean, we’ve had hundreds of thousands of people through our games in the last 18 months. And it’s a question we’ve asked ourselves because personally, it’s something that I find quite interesting, the psychology that sits behind it.

And like you say, why are people chasing it for what, in some cases, could be perceived to be quite a low financial reward? And I think it’s a number of different things.

You know, some people just enjoy that process that you go through, trying to achieve that final goal. For other people, when you’re talking about some of these apps, you just go there, John. They’re playing and they’re in lots of different experiences where you can get these different rewards.

And I think when you actually build it all up, it can make a significant difference to people’s lives. I know in our example, we’ve got whole families playing our games, and they’re playing them together and they’re building up that pot together, because actually it means at the end of the month there’s an extra $50. 

John Koetsier: Wow.

Dan Beasley: And that’s the difference between having a treat night with pizzas or not. So there’s lots of different motivations. And we see this going through our community and they tell us all these fantastic stories. And we’ve had people set up businesses, you know, side hustles with prizes that they won through our games.

John Koetsier: Dan, that’s a great answer and super insightful. Thank you. I can’t stop thinking about the white polar bear in the background. I’ve got this phrase, ‘Don’t think about the white polar bear’ … but turning it back over to you, Peggy. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Don’t focus on it, John. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.

John Koetsier: Ah, there you go Dan, perfect. 

Peggy Anne Salz: There we go. But you did have a great segue, you know, you were talking about prizes and you are a convert. Product is the new marketing. Retention is the prize. Retention is the growth. That’s great, but I’d like to put some numbers around this, right, because we’re talking about it being valuable. It’s obviously a valuable experience. That’s how you have the audiences and that’s how everything sort of — it’s fueled by that.

But what are you actually seeing? And what metrics are you focused on? 

Dan Beasley: I mean, like most studios, we pay a lot of [attention] to the usual retention and monetization metrics. You know, Day 1, Day 7, Day 28.

And I can tell you that in our experience, Day 1 to Day 7, once people come in, the drop-off between Day 1 to Day 7 it’s minimal … it’s very strong. We can get cohorts where our Day 1 is upwards of 50%, and Day 7 can be as high as kind of 30-35%.

So, you know, from a retention perspective, we look at that very hard. And also what we look at as well, is number of daily sessions that users have inside our games. We work a lot around content refresh within a day, so that there’s always something new to do in the game. But you can’t just sit there and play all day. We like people to go off and actually look out, look up, and experience the world as well as playing our games.

So yeah, we look at the amount of times that people are kind of coming back through the day, and how frequently they’re engaging with the content refreshes and the notifications that are kind of going out as well. 

Peggy Anne Salz: So, where are we in those sessions and in those numbers? 

Dan Beasley: In terms of daily sessions … 

Peggy Anne Salz: What you’re looking at. I mean, even that’s the answer, right? What do you look at? 

Dan Beasley: Yeah, I mean, with many of our users, they’ll be playing on average our game — they’ll be coming into the game two and a half times a day—

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay.

Dan Beasley:  Which I think is, for us, we see that as a measure of success. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, speaking of measurement, you know, and this started because of our last show, John, because we had Nick and he was just going on about some really sort of inverted logic — things it’s like, really? And so I checked into it, absolutely.

So I’ll give you some idea of the research, and I just would love to have you weigh in on it, Dan. It’s like a reality check for me, right?

So, the research says it can cost 5-25 times more to attract a new customer than retain existing ones. That’s sort of a given. Here’s an interesting one though: cost savings. If you turn it around, invert it, measure it in cost savings, 4-5 times cheaper to retain an existing user than to acquire a new one.

So, what can you share? How would you — would you agree with those numbers? 

Dan Beasley: Yeah, absolutely. You know, one of the biggest things that annoys me the most is through UA and through marketing, is paying for the same player over and over and over. As somebody that looks at the numbers, it breaks my heart when I see that kind of activity happening.

And as I mentioned before, you know, we’ve got typically a portfolio approach of mechanics where you can win in a number of our games. So we also think about it at that level. So we only want to pay for a user once, but we want to move them around our games at the right point. And I know that when we do that, and when I look at the numbers, the LTV exponentially grows for us as we get them playing two, three, four, five of our games. It really does start to really maximize our ROI.

So yeah, I hundred percent believe and fully back the fact that it is cheaper to retain than it is to acquire. 

John Koetsier: So selfish, hey, Peggy, not willing to share more of his revenue with Facebook and Google. I mean, come on. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, I was waiting for more numbers. I don’t know.

Dan Beasley: I share enough with those guys.

Peggy Anne Salz: So I’d just like to continue with one more number, right, ’cause I’ve been looking into this. I even found the word for it — this is a new one. I don’t know, have you seen this one, John? — ‘Corona bump.’

John Koetsier: It sounds like a baby bump, but— 

Peggy Anne Salz: I was thinking that or like a new some sort of downtempo dance. I don’t know, but anyway, we won’t go there. The Corona bump — so many app categories have experienced this and it’s what the media is calling, as I said, the Corona bump. It’s sort of doing this … and it could be flattening out, we’re not quite sure, right?

But my question to you is — and this is gonna sound really odd, Dan — how big is your bump? And what are you doing to maintain that? You know, because if it’s flattening, you obviously don’t want to. 

Dan Beasley: My bump is not as big as it was at the start of the pandemic, around March and April time, I think. You know, I talk to my peers across the industry as you guys do as well, but when the U.K. went into lockdown, March/April time, our K-factor increased probably by about 25-30%.

People were sitting at home, there was the furlough in the U.K. where the government was subsidizing wages if people weren’t at work. So yeah, we definitely saw a bump in organic installs at that point.

What we did also see, kind of May/June time, was a big land grab from lots of studios. You know, I think it became apparent that there was a huge appetite for gaming, and people were looking for new experiences. So actually what we did see, was globally you saw our CPI increased by 20%.

Because everybody was bidding for the same traffic, and if you’ve got strong metrics, I think people were prepared to probably pay that little bit more. So, if you were the big guys, you were good. If you’re an indie, you were probably getting squeezed a little bit more at that point.

But, looking at where we are today, it’s — I wouldn’t say it’s pre-COVID, but we’re there or thereabouts in terms of the numbers.

John Koetsier: That’s definitely the takeaway quote for today. ‘The bump was not as big as I wanted it to be.’ Most people want to lose the bump, at least different types of bumps.

But let’s look ahead a little bit, Dan.

December is big for you, you’re in a beta release right now, probably in a couple different countries, probably not globally. But December’s big for you. You’re releasing, you’re coming out. It’s also a busy time because you’ve got U.S. Thanksgiving coming up in a couple weeks. You’ve got Black Friday, Cyber Monday, you’re coming in after that and just before the Christmas whole holiday, New Year’s, all that sort of thing when we know that there’s new devices, and we also know that there’s often a bump in app installs at that point.

What do you look — as you peer into your crystal ball, what do you see over the next couple of months and beyond? 

Dan Beasley: I mean, I mentioned it earlier on, I think that the next few months — December is always a very busy month. Christmas Day, historically, has always been Viker’s biggest day. People get together with their families and very quickly realize why they don’t spend an awful lot of time with their families the rest of the year, and then go to the App Store and look for something to entertain them with.

So, I think December will be very big for us.

I mentioned earlier that obviously there’s a lack of movies being promoted at the moment, so there’s a big opportunity for studios and for publishers alike to gain new eyeballs into it. And I think with the world being in the state that it is right now, January, February, March, it should be bumper times for a lot of studios with people looking to find new experiences and spend more time on their mobiles.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Excellent. Well, we’ll look forward to that launch and we’ll be super interested to try it out. You also probably have multiple projects in development — and I know you probably can’t talk about things that are planned for launch, maybe in spring 2021 or whatever — but what areas are you looking at?

What do you think will be hot or interesting in terms of gaming and game play in 2021? 

Dan Beasley:  I think shared experiences will be a huge area in 2021. You look at things like Among Us, the success that is currently having in the App Store. Fall Guys, earlier this year, as well. There’s a lot around people playing together, particularly when we’re all very much remote at the moment.

You know, this sense of being together through games, I think that’s going to be a really interesting space in 2021.

For Viker personally, we are really excited about Millionaire and our foray into IP, and that’s an area that we are looking to really get into in a serious way in 2021. Skill-based games where you get rewarded. Again, we think there’s a huge global appetite for that. So, yeah, 2021 is an exciting year and a massive opportunity for us. 

John Koetsier: Everybody is looking forward to 2021 for lots of different reasons. And I love what you said about the social nature, not only because we’re not as social or as present as we have been in the past, but also because that’s likely to lead to a significantly higher degree of retention. If we’re playing it together, it’s not just the game. It is the game, but it’s the environment and it’s a social environment, and it’s I’m playing it with people. I almost have an appointment, like you said earlier. Very interesting. 

Peggy Anne Salz: I was just going to weigh in on that, because one thing also, John, if you think about it, what we’re hearing here is we’re hearing it over and over again, that there is a retention mindset — maybe not retention first like Dan, but very much — and it’s all about not just the experience, you know, it’s product is very, very important, and also the hook. In this case, the social aspect.

So it’s really constructing for a retention experience as shifting very, very much from trying to build it around metrics, to building it into the product or to building it into something that moves us. So I think that shift in 2021 is also going to be very interesting to watch. 

John Koetsier: Cool. 

Dan Beasley: Yeah. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Dan, I was just wondering, is this also something when we say ‘what’s next?’ I mean, it seems to be very much product, social … yeah. 

Dan Beasley: Yeah. I mean, from a social perspective, it’s an area that I think hasn’t received as much attention from some studios as it should do. And the value of it is, if you get it right, can be absolutely phenomenal. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Mm-hmm.

John Koetsier: Excellent. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, learned a lot and thanks so much, Dan, for being with us on Retention Masterclass. Sharing that, you know, a little bit of a primer into a retention first mindset, retention first strategy, what it takes. Great to have you here, great to have you sharing it. 

Dan Beasley: Thank you very much. Thanks for your time. 

John Koetsier: Thank you so much, Dan. That was wonderful. For everybody else, thank you also for joining us on the show. Whatever platform you’re on, hey, like, subscribe, share, or comment, all of the above. If you love the podcast, maybe rate it, review it, that’d be a massive help.

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely. And that’s a wrap. So until next time, as usual … keep safe, keep well, and this is Peggy Anne Salz signing off for Retention Masterclass. 

John Koetsier: And I’m John Koetsier, have a wonderful day.

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