Ever heard of the phrase, “Player retention is the key to success”? When developers focus on engagement and acquiring players organically through word of mouth, social and online discovery, as well as digital store outreach, they’re starting down the right path. Even game marketing and attending events. But that’s just a small piece of the puzzle to creating a successful game. At the end of the day, the number of acquired players won’t matter if they all leave in a span of a few days.
But improving player retention is a science, much like marketing. You have to know what players enjoy, what they don’t, and ideally, what they expect from you. The best way to get your game noticed is by finding out what all these variables are, and combining them into a game.
Luckily, we’ve narrowed the list down at least some with these six surefire ways to improve player retention.
1. Design that Intro!
For starters, take the age-old rule: first impressions matter. Much like when people go on a first date, they want to see something that will make them stay for the long haul. That means developers need to spend more time designing the intro. The title screen, the loading screen, and the first level all make up the player’s first impression of a game.
The objective is to keep it all interesting, but short. No one wants to sit there for ten minutes waiting to finally play. Not being able to run around on your own in the first 3-5 minutes of the game is a major problem. If it’s a long one, at least make it skippable.
And sure, this may affect story a little but that’s not a bad thing. A story can still be engaging without the longest prologue known to man. If anything, this might help your writing be more effective.
2. Rethink Your Tutorial
Next up, those tutorials. Ever played a game where even the most basic of tasks had a tutorial prompt? No one likes that. Forcing a tutorial on players is a great way to lower player retention. It shouldn’t be long, boring, or patronizing. That sets the tone for what’s to come and gives off a terrible first impression.
Find a way to let them know what they absolutely need to know without using a traditional session. Give them crumbs of information here and there as they progress, but don’t overload. The objective here is to create a minimalistic tutorial that puts the player in control and doesn’t overwhelm them with needless information they can figure out themselves.
3. Avoid Backfiring Grinds
Putting it bluntly, backfiring grinds are highly unpleasant. Grinding shouldn’t ever be counterproductive. For instance, as much as we all love Skyrim, there was a major flaw with grinding in that game. Once you got the best gear, you pretty much strutted around. You were invincible!
A game should always remain moderately challenging. There should be a sense of reward after spending hours farming and looting and selling, etc. But it should still pose a decent level of difficulty.
4. Never Rely on Grinding Entirely
In the same token, don’t make the game rely entirely on grinding. There should be some essential rewards here and there to keep the player going. Motivation, if you will. Developers should never design the game in a way that makes players completely “squishy” if they don’t grind 24/7/365.
For instance, Diablo 3 is all about the grinding, but it has a surprising balance too. Starting out, you have to force your way through levels, until roughly level 5-8 before you can create items, or purchase from the merchants. Players don’t have to wait for a decent drop the entire time, they can buy it when needed. In higher levels, even a weak roll on a weapon can be thrown into Kanai’s Cube. There’s also Blood Shards you can use to find a better alternative.
5. Implement Good Community Management
Did you know that a hostile or intimidating MMO community can alienate newcomers? This is an unfortunate truth for developers who desperately need to keep acquiring new players, while improving retention rates. Bad communities pave the way to a fall in popularity.
The best way to avoid this problem is to make sure you implement good community management. Community managers come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the game studio and its mission, but they all serve as the face of the company. Even offline! They strategize social events and opportunities, build strong, healthy communities and help to market the game. They sometimes serve as storytellers, when it comes to managing these game images, oftentimes using stories about real life experiences in the game to connect with new, potential players.
By implementing community management you can count on, the players have more of a chance to enjoy the game you slaved over. The managers will ban people who absolutely don’t need to be playing (repeat offenders), and encourage positive social interaction.
6. Don’t Make Sessions Bare
Finally, this one is mighty difficult, but it’s a must: don’t make your sessions bare. Each chapter in your game needs to have material. Content is key. If players can walk on by through the level and find a handful of things at best, you need to rework the game.
The problem with this is that the larger your game is, the more tedious this becomes. Smaller worlds with more linear story lines don’t have this problem as much as MMOs or other open world games. This is why generators are often used in these cases, but that can lead to content being forced. There are no shortcuts to doing something right—you just need to do it yourself, preferably with a team of writers who can all take a town, chapter, etc.. Be prepared to invest a lot of time on this.
If it seems like a lot, remember, these are just six starter tips to improving your retention rate. There’s a lot more you can do, like targeting the right audience and opting out of targeting a saturated fringe of the market. Whatever path you take, make sure to do your research and use your time wisely!