Kongregate - Maximizing Player Retention and Monetization in Free-to-Play Games: Data, Best Practices and Case Studies (Game Connection Europe 2013)
1. Maximizing Player Retention and
Monetization in Free-to-Play Games:
Data, Best Practices and Case Studies
David P Chiu
Director of Developer Relations & Business
Principal, Business Development
(GameStop Digital Ventures)
2. What is Kongregate?
• Open platform for browser-based games
– Flash, Unity, HTML5, Java, etc.
– 96%+ of users already have Unity installed
21M+ monthly unique visitors worldwide
Core gamers – 85% male, average age of 22
MMOs, RPGs, CCGs/TCGs, TD, shooters, etc.
Platform level virtual currency “Kreds” for F2P games
Acquired by GameStop July 2010
5. Stats both reflect & shape mind-set
So what statistics does F2P focus on?
Daily Active Users, DAU
1- & 7-Day Retention
To a lesser extent MAU & 30-Day
30-Day Retention is a good stat, but 30 days is
not “long-term” retention, it’s the start.
6. A little background
All stats are lifetime, min 6 weeks on platform
ARPU: average revenue per user
ARPPU: average revenue per paying user
Player: a Kongregate registered user who loaded
the game page at least once
• Plays = Sessions: our preferred method to measure
17. 2D vs 3D
• 3D games tend to have lower monetization
compared to 2D games
– Lower ARPU, ARPPU & % Buyers
– Initial retention has similar range vs 2D games
– But long term retention is much lower
• Does this mean a 3D F2P game can’t succeed?
– No, remember correlation does not equal causation!
18. 2D vs 3D
• Confounding factors that may help explain difference
in monetization and retention #s
• Developers of 3D games tend to:
– Be console developers with limited F2P experience
– Focus on gfx, may shifts resources away from improving
retention and monetization funnels
– Not accept pay-for-convenience & pay-to-win
– Make games in genres with low monetization (FPS, MOBA)
– May still design games as a shippable product instead of
designing for long term retention, games-as-a-service
21. ARPU & ARPPU
• ARPPUs for single-player games cluster around $5-$10
• Multiplayer games range $20-$350
Average ARPPU for a multiplayer game from Asia: $181
Average for Western multiplayer game: $51
Only 9 Western games have an ARPPU above $100
ARPPU is the main factor in high ARPU for Asian
games, important factor for all games
25. Asian vs Western Style
• Asian games: High ARPPU, tight player funnel
– Monetization caters well to big spenders
• Western games: Lower ARPPU, wide player
– Monetization focuses more on initial retention and
broad conversion to paid at lower prices
– Pay 2 Win is not as accepted by Western devs
• Mixed games: can combine the best of both
– High conversion, wide funnel, still create big spenders
29. Daily Play Bonuses
• Daily play bonuses are good to get users coming back regular
• But improve on the typical 5-7 day daily bonuses
• Reward playing game regularly
in longer term
• Doesn’t reset after 5-7 days
• Doesn’t “punish” players for
missing a day
30. Daily Play Bonuses
• Add an element of chance
- make it exciting!
• Repeat logins opens up
bigger potential rewards
31. Don’t punish people for taking a break
• Psychologically, punishments or the possibility of punishment deters
• Base/castle raided, loot stolen, crops withered, troops dead, account
de-activated, etc. deter players from being away too long
• But it can be a two-edged sword
• Players sometimes need to take a break (exams, vacation, illness)
• Punishment may drive re-activated users away again
“I just got back from vacation/work
conference/being sick but my base is
completely destroyed, my resources are
gone, troops are dead. No point in getting back
in the game since I lost everything already.”
32. Don’t punish people for taking a break
• It can sting but it shouldn’t handicap
• Limit amount of resources that can
be looted or # times you can be
attacked while gone
• Enable shield or protection time if
you lose a significant amount
• Mix positive reinforcement with
• Quick one-button rebuild
• Resources still available for harvest
• Gain XP or gold while away
33. Keep players busy!
More things to do = more players staying
Solo and team PvE
Solo and team PvP
World boss raids
Synthesizing & Upgrading
• Astral Collecting and
It is important to pace the introduction of new features/gameplay modes to not
overwhelm players with a long and intimidating tutorial.
34. Without progress you have nothing
• The foundations of a F2P game are a strong RPG elements and a
sense of progress over time
• Building up account, leveling up, adding/improves skills and stats, etc
• Surprisingly it’s more important than multiplayer
% 50+ Plays
Deep RPG mechanics and multiplayer matter:
• 25x ARPU for Multiplayer RPG vs Single Player non-RPG!
35. Asynchronous > Synchronous
• Multiplayer keeps players engaged and busy in the long run
• But not all types of multiplayer are created equal
% 50 Plays
• Top games have both synchronous and asynchronous multiplayer
(more is better)
• Asynchronous is better than synchronous because it allows players to
play at their own pace and convenience
37. Shopping should be easy and frictionless
• Location, location, location – make the store easy to find!
• Make it easy to find the right item
– Meaningful categories and item descriptions
– No massive scroll bars
• Mix soft currency and hard currency items
• BUT – don’t try to sell too hard, too fast. First few sessions should
focus on fun & giving players reasons to come back to play and get
38. Buy Screen
Bonuses % or/and items provide incentives for buying larger hard currency packages
Clearly call out bonuses of larger packages!
Make all packages visible in one page
Hide $100+ packages until after first purchase
39. Making the shopping experience interesting
First time buyer/ Starter packages
Seed players with some paid/hard currency and guide “intro purchase”
Deals/events to get people into the habit of spending regularly
Offer items that enhance the gameplay experience (not just speedups)
Intro the right items at the right time
Lvl 1 players should not be shown the lvl 100+ holy sword that’s on sale for $100)
Keep them coming back – keep store fresh by adding new items, unlocking items as
players level up and featuring seasonal and time-limited items
40. Make sure players can spend
as much as they want
• The longer someone plays your game the more likely they are to buy and
the less price sensitive they become
• Give committed players the ability to spend at $1,000+ if they want
• Have lots of items that are appealing and useful to a committed player
and price them higher (if possible) than items meant for early/mid-game
play. [Higher means $30-100, not $1000]
• If you make a fun game, someone may want to spend an infinite amount.
• Don’t create a situation where spending is capped by availability or utility.
Again, remember to make it easy for players to buy!
42. Make it easy for community to build
Chat, forums, player-to-player
messages are all great
Real relationships build when
people interact. The more ways
they can do it, the better.
43. Guilds are awesome
• 100% of our top games have guilds
• Guild members spend 10-20x more than non-guild members
• Strong correlation as guilds improve retention and monetization
with late stage players
Some reasons they make a difference
• Social incentives to return I want to see my friends
• Social pressures to return I don’t want to disappoint them
• Improves the psychology of purchases I’m doing it for the
team, not me
• Upends the dynamics of pay-to-win can set up a symbiotic
relationship between buyers and non-buyers where both add
value to the same group
44. Community Management and
If a player invests many hours into
a game they begin to feel some
ownership. It may be YOUR
game, but it’s THEIR experience
Be visible – forums, chat, email
Listen to their concerns and acknowledge their emotions
Be transparent, honest, and accurate
Give advance notice of changes and downtimes
Don’t feed the trolls
45. Opportunity Complains
Customer service is a chance to surprise and delight
• Handle things quickly
• Be generous with compensation
• But don’t do something unless you’re willing to do it
46. Surprise and delight
• IGG rewards its players with some resources after each of its
weekly 30-minute maintenance
48. The Value of Developer Activity
Keep feeding your players
• Regular updates, new features, and events yield greater
engagement and reduced fatigue.
• Sales and specials can offer significant jumps in revenue.
49. The Value of Developer Activity
Equips, Guild bonuses
Fantasy Online Revenue
New zone, XL, etc.
Custom User Items
Hot New Games
50. The Value of Developer Activity
51. The Value of Developer Activity
Labor day event
52. THANK YOU
For a copy of the presentation or questions, email
For more talks & data visit developers.kongregate.com
For web games contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re interested in mobile publishing it’s email@example.com
Follow us on Twitter: @EmilyG & @KongregateDevs
As a platform for F2P games, Kongregate has a unique perspective on what types of mechanics and characteristics of F2P games are most effective at maximizing player retention, monetization and satisfaction. This talk will look at F2P trends and specific game metrics with a comparative analysis of free-to-play games in 2Dvs 3D and by Asian & Western developers. We will examine the similarities and differences between games as it relates to retention/ monetization, share best practices and statistics to understand how to maximize your success with Western audiences.This presentation builds on the series of talks by Kongregate co-founder and COO Emily Greer (who couldn’t be here but I must thank for doing the bulk of the hard work in this presentation!) The format will be familiar to those that have attended those talks in the past but are updated with new stats and content.
Hardcore gamersDriven by achievements (1M+ badges/wk)96%+ of users already have Unity installed
Hardcore gamersDriven by achievements (1M+ badges/wk)93%+ of users already have Unity installed
Develoepers of all shapes and sizes from indies to big multinational companies
The statistics that most F2P developers look at DAU, $/DAU, D1, D7 and D30 retention. 30-day retention is usually used to measure to “long term” retention in the F2P industry. While it is a good stat, 30 days is not “long term”, it is just a start.
So let’s take a look at some of that data. Before I dive in I want to give a few definitions so that it’s clear what I’m talking about.Very important how you define a user as they can change ARPU dramatically We believe the # of play sessions does a better job of capturing the intensity of gameplay. For instance, with 30-day retention, a player that plays the game twice in 30 days and another player that plays the game 100 times in 30 days are not differentiated.
ARPU and ARPPUs for F2P games on Kongregate. X-axis is ARPPU, Y-axis is ARPU, size of bubble represents gross revenuesARPPUs for single-player games cluster around $5-$10Multiplayer games range $20-$450+
We all tend to obsess over games/companies showing exponential growth but more often that not that’s followed by a crash. Linear may be less sexy and headline-catching, but the tortoise generally does win out. Top games still making as much or more as at launch as they hit 2- and 3-year anniversaries on Kong.
Removed outlier with ~$10 ARPU to make charts easier to read
Removed outlier with ~$10 ARPU to make charts easier to read
Removed outlier with ~$10 ARPU to make charts easier to read
Removed outlier with ~$10 ARPU to make charts easier to read
Data is a few month older than the data used in the previous graphs so #s are smaller for some games (e.g. game at $350 ARPPU in this graph is at $450 ARPPU in previous graph because users had more time to spend in the game)Average ARPPU for a multiplayer game from Asia: $181Average for Western multiplayer game: $51Only 9 Western games have an ARPPU above $100ARPPU is the main factor in high ARPU for Asian games, important factor for all games
Data is a few month older than the data used in the previous graphs so #s are smaller for some games (e.g. game at $350 ARPPU in this graph is at $450 ARPPU in previous graph because users had more time to spend in the game)
Asian games tend to have lower % buyersWestern game tend to have higher conversion ratesData is a few month older than the data used in the previous graphs so #s are smaller for some games (e.g. game at $350 ARPPU in this graph is at $450 ARPPU in previous graph because users had more time to spend in the game)
Asian games also tend to have lower initial retention as you can see hereWestern games tend to have higher initial retentionData is a few month older than the data used in the previous graphs so #s are smaller for some games (e.g. game at $350 ARPPU in this graph is at $450 ARPPU in previous graph because users had more time to spend in the game)
And consequently also less players making it deep into the game since Asian games lose more players in the early gameData is a few month older than the data used in the previous graphs so #s are smaller for some games (e.g. game at $350 ARPPU in this graph is at $450 ARPPU in previous graph because users had more time to spend in the game)
Let’s put the data in chart formYou can see a strong correlation between long term retention and monetization- a player can only spend if they are still in the game!The more they plan, the more they are likely to buy, buy multiple times, spend more per transaction and overall.Revenue is dramatically weighted towards those who play a game very, very deeply – more than 80% of revenue comes from the 2% of players with more than 100 lifetime sessionsAsian multiplayer games lose more players in the early part of the funnel, but more than make up for it by getting extremely deep investments from their most dedicated players.
Now that you have seen the data, you are wondering what the top games are doing in order to retain and monetize better than others. In this next part, we’ll look at best practices and give examples from games to help maximize player retention, monetization AND satisfaction. We work very closely with developers to help them optimize their metrics and success on Kongregate.
Let’s start by looking at some ways to optimize retention
First of all, let’s look at daily bonuses. Daily bonuses are a good tool to get users to play a game regularlyBut there are ways to improve on the typical 5-7 day daily bonus you see out thereExample from an Asian MMO called Wartune, a big hit in China by Seventh Road that has been brought to the west by R2 Games.
Here is another daily bonus example from a game called Card Monsters from a Western developerThe daily play bonus here has ben turned into a roulette mini-game
Since we want people to keep playing, lots of game take the tack of punishing people (crops withering, troops dying, account deactivated) when they’re gone for too long. This is bad – we all have times (exams, vacations, work crunches, illnesses) when we need to take a break from a game. And the problem with punishing people is that the consequences are experienced not when they’re gone, but when they come back – the exact behavior you want to reward. If they feel like they’ve lost too much they’re likely to quit – why start again if you’ll just lose it?
Since we want people to keep playing, lots of game take the tack of punishing people (crops withering, troops dying, account deactivated) when they’re gone for too long. This is bad – we all have times (exams, vacations, work crunches, illnesses) when we need to take a break from a game. And the problem with punishing people is that the consequences are experienced not when they’re gone, but when they come back – the exact behavior you want to reward. If they feel like they’ve lost too much they’re likely to quit – why start again if you’ll just lose it?Clash of Clans on mobile handles this well as well. Your base may have been looted but that shows just briefly before your base restores itself and you can fill up your resource bars. You may even have gained trophies…Wartune and Dawn of the Dragons actually reward you with gold and XP after an absenceAsians MMO automatically have your character “meditate” while you are gone
This is Wartune, a big hit in China by Seventh Road that has been brought to the west by R2 games. It has so many currencies, bars, buttons, etc that it’s almost hard to see the screen of an advanced player, though they do a good job of introducing them gradually. There’s synchronous solo & team PvP, solo & team PvE, asynchronous plundering, guild battles, farming, town building, weapon synthesizing & upgrading, astral collecting & combining, and I’ve definitely forgotten something. It is important to pace the introduction of new features/gameplay modes to not overwhelm players with a long and intimidating tutorial.
RPG is defined a bit loosely here, and really means that you’re building up your account over time, leveling up, adding skills, etc.
The very top games have both synchronous and asynchronous multiplayer because more things to do is better, but asynchronous generally the focus. Aysnchronous allows players to play and interact at their pace and convenience which leads to deeper engagement.
Now let’s look at best practices and examples to optimize monetization
Shopping should be easy AND frictionlessExample in which user could not find the shop because it was a hot air balloon floating above your town. You had to move your screen up there (and there is no reason to do that if you didn’t know there was a store up there). Make it easy for users to find the storeMake it easy for them to shop and find what they are looking for (meaningful categories and descriptions, no massive scroll bars)Mix soft and hard currency items But don’t try to sell too hard, too fast. First few sessions should focus on fun and giving players reasons to come back and play and get hooked
Provide bonuses % or/and items provide incentives for buying larger hard currency packagesClearly call out bonuses of larger packages! Decrease friction, do the math for the player and make shopping easier.Make all packages visible in one pageHide $100+ packages until after first purchase. Prevents sticker shock and users getting turned off by seeing $250, $500+ packages early on
Make sure players can spend $1k+ if they want to
Okay, so what do I need to do to build my awesome linear business? The first one seems sort of stupid but is actually both hard & complicated once you add that 6 month caveat. There’s lots of fun games that you enjoy for an hour or two, or even a week or two, but quickly run out of steam. Here are some ways to fight that.
We’ve got chat next to every game, and forums just below, and we think it’s a big contributor to games reporting significantly higher ARPUs (generally 2-3x ARPU over FB and other platforms, sometimes 5-10x) on Kongregate than on Facebook.
Revenue is generally 20x higher for guild members than non-guild members, though generally true of late-stage players it’s a bit hard to tease out causation. However the addition of guilds, especially competitive guilds, is often an inflection point for revenue for games. Upbends dynamics of pay-to-win – symbiotic relationship between time-rich and money-rich users
1) And ideally, fun – let the players see you’re human2) You don’t have to agree. Players sometimes want things that are batshit crazy. But if they know you heard them, it immediately feels like a dialog and a partnership.3) Explaining your “why” goes a very long way4) Advance notice gives players time to adjust OR get excited5) Engage the rational in calm discussion, but never let yourself get combative and disengage once 1-4 have been satisfied. This can be hard.
This includes fixing bugs & exploits as well as answering emailsIn the face of a real problem/issue, how much does some virtual currency or items cost you? Token amounts are often enough to acknowledge the issue, and keeping the player = pricelessBecause news will spread and players will (correctly) think you’re unfair. So have rules for what you will and won’t do and why, so you can be consistent.
Example of an Asian developer turning a weakness into an opportunity to have fun with their community. Players appreciate the humor and the developer acknowledging the issue, explaining the situation and letting players know that they will work on it
While this may seem obvious, keeping your players engaged and happy is crucial to your bottom line. Where it gets less obvious is frequency. Adding 6 major features once every year is completely different than one major new feature every 2 months in the eyes of a player. You can also use things like events and special deals to stagger dev-heavy content and features while still keeping an active community.
Here is another view of Fantasy Online, this time graphing weekly revenue. The spikes occur due to increased interest from players and promotions run by Kongregate, but then the low end after each spike gets higher. Players react well to a game that feels like it is alive and growing, and are more willing to invest in it when they feel that their investment will retain value in the long run, or perhaps even gain in value as the game develops.
By contrast, here is an Asian MMO that started off doing extremely well – far better than Fantasy Online (so far!). They were featured early and built a big audience, but then not much happened with the game. The only major update was launched over a year after the game released on Kongregate, and while it built up a relative spike of interest briefly, the momentum was lost and the game, while still profitable, hasn’t been able to regain its earlier glory days. Meanwhile, Fantasy Online has grown and now outperforms this other game by a fair margin.
Taken to an extreme, here is Dream World, which is a mostly text-based MMORPG that developed a bit of a (large) cult following on Kongregate. Initially the game did well, though was not outstanding and definitely was below the aforementioned Asian MMO. A single expansion was launched after a few months, and then not much until 9 months after release. At that point, content updates become much more frequent, with new features, promotions, and events appearing on a monthly basis. Large spikes followed by higher valleys grew revenue tremendously. The only real downturn was late 2011 when the Playmage team focused their efforts on their new game (Time World) and didn’t update Dream World significantly. As predicted, sales trailed off a bit, until after Time World launched. Just recently Dream World launched a New Server with a special event and the revenue appears to be heading back upward.