#1: Attention Retention: Analyzing Appsflyer’s 2022 Report
Appsflyer, known by game companies for its attribution product for mobile apps, released a new report with insights related to changes in retention over Q3 2022 in both games and apps.
From the gaming perspective, four main findings caught our attention:
- In games, D30 retention has been falling for the past three years. In Q3 2022, it has dropped 20% year-on-year.
- For Android apps, D1 retention has been falling, but the report doesn't specify whether that’s the case for games too.
- Despite the decline in Android retention, iOS is stable, although the report doesn't specify the situation for games.
- Owned media remarketing (such as email, SMS, and push notifications) has surged past paid media remarketing (such as retargeting user acquisition campaigns). In games, the D30 retention uplift for owned media remarketing was almost double that of paid media remarketing (212.3% vs 123.4%).
Since there was ample room for the report to be more extensive and analytical, we decided to take a deeper look into Appsflyer’s findings, and specifically from a mobile F2P gaming lens. But first, let's quickly go through our data analysis methodology:
- Our data partner, data.ai, has provided mobile F2P gaming data.
For retention information:
- We compared data for 50 top games split evenly into five top-grossing genres (Puzzle, RPG, Strategy, Casino, and Simulation & Lifestyle).
- We are only looking at the following top 10 countries (US, Germany, Australia, Brazil, China, South Korea, United States, France, India, Japan, and United Kingdom).
- We used data.ai market size estimates for downloads data, and across the same countries used in the retention data.
Hypothesis #1: D1 retention is falling for Android games in Q3 year-on-year - TRUE
As we can see in the chart below, the majority of genres analyzed are in fact trending downwards in terms of D1 retention, with Casino being the only one where it is relatively flat.
To answer why, let's look at download trends across the genres analyzed:
For the most part, downloads have been stable in most genres. What that tells us is that despite the end of the COVID boom, mobile game developers of these genres managed to keep downloads at the same level as before. And if players continue to download a similar number of games while their free time is negatively impacted due to the end of COVID restrictions, we can expect players to drop games at a higher rate. This could be a possible cause behind the drop of D1 retention.
Added to that, there is also the question of how developers managed to maintain downloads at a similar rate as before, given that players would spend less time gaming post-COVID. Could developers be spending more money on user acquisition? And would they change the campaign mix to fit UA in their budget? A higher mix of CPI campaigns vs ROAS campaigns could be reducing the quality of users coming to the app and therefore could also impact D1 retention.
Hypothesis #2: D30 retention is falling for Android games in Q3 year-on-year - FALSE
An analysis of D30 retention in Android leads us to believe that long-term retention is not trending down for the top games in the market's most significant genres. Instead, quite the opposite, it is trending up.
What could be behind this upwards trend of long-term retention? We already know that for the most part, Android installs have been pretty stable. We also know that D1 retention is trending downwards and believe that COVID and/or a change in the UA mix could be behind it.
The market is getting more competitive, and due to changes in privacy rules in iOS and a slow rollout of the same in Android, UA is getting harder to perfect, and teams need to evolve their strategies to fit the ever-evolving UA landscape. Since the upstream funnel is currently slightly harder to predict/control, the most logical way to keep growing in the market is to extend longevity of games, which is exactly what we are seeing top developers doing with new progression systems, social mechanics, and live-ops. This would help explain an increase in long-term retention, especially in the analyzed top-grossing apps.
Further, the games we’ve analyzed are also long-standing titles with heavily established fanbases. Over time, these fanbases will dwindle and long-term retention will tend to move upwards due to the game reaching closer and closer to its core fanbase. It’s probably a mix of this and the above-mentioned reason that’s causing the general uptrend for D30 retention. And the uptrend holds even if the list of games analyzed per genre is expanded to the top 50 vs the top 10, though it might showcase more stabilization the deeper one goes down the top-grossing list.
Why would that Appsflyer report show the exact opposite? It is probably due to the methodology of how the company is calculating the data. As quoted in the report: “The data used in this report covers 11 billion app installs across 11,000 apps in Q3 2022. Data is fully anonymous and aggregated. To ensure statistical validity, we follow strict volume thresholds and methodologies.”
Also quoted in the report: “Minimum of 50k global installs per app, per quarter in question; average excludes statistical outliers.”
The data analyzed here skews toward apps with more downloads, making hypercasual app data very relevant to the final number — and we are well aware of how D30 retention generally trends in the heavily frontloaded Hypercasual genre. At the same time, the report is only looking at apps that were part of its database in Q3 2022 and is excluding apps with less than 50k downloads from the sample. The hypercasual apps we see in 2022 were either nonexistent in the past two years or would have downloads below the analysis threshold. Due to the analysis methodology, we feel there is some pretty heavy selection bias at play (due to hypercasual apps being overrepresented). As Hypercasual’s D30 retention is almost nonexistent, any long-term D30 retention trends cannot really be trusted.
Hypothesis #3: D30 retention is stable for iOS games - TRUE
As we can see by the chart below, D30 retention in iOS is mostly stable. There is some decline in RPG retention, and that is due to some lower retention games being launched in iOS during 2021. When we extended our analysis to the top 50 grossing games across every selected genre, the trend was in fact pretty flat.
iOS downloads also follow a similar pattern to Android and are mostly stable:
Our previous assumption for a raise in D30 in Android was that it happened due to feature improvement in games. Given that the games are the same in both markets and that downloads are also flat in iOS, we would expect to see the same upward trend for long-term retention here.
However, unlike Android, iOS has already been impacted by the privacy changes implemented in the spring of last year. The IDFA changes would make it more difficult for game developers to acquire the right users, lowering the quality of acquired players. At the same time, iOS would have likely felt the same positive impact from game feature improvements, but the negative impact of IDFA would have balanced it out.
Hypothesis #4: Owned media remarketing performs better than paid media remarketing - INCONCLUSIVE
According to information from the report, games with owned media remarketing platforms had a D30 retention uplift of +212.3%, while games with paid media remarketing had an uplift of +123.4%.
Although the data provided could indicate that, in games, owned media remarketing performs very well and better than paid media remarketing, there also could be some underlying reasons behind these numbers that are not necessarily related to the performance of both types of campaigns.
First, it's critical to understand that Appsflyer compares the D30 retention differential between applications that employ each of those remarketing tactics and those that don't to assess both campaigns' effectiveness.
Push notifications are the main component of owned media remarketing in games, and it is now unusual to discover an app without this functionality. Therefore, it would be safe to assume that most games are launching with at least an MVP push notifications system, and when the number of games with this system increases, the rising retention numbers will follow. On the flipside, games without it would either be still in the early stages of development or lower-budget apps, and in both cases, they would naturally have lower long-term retention than the rest of the market. Therefore, the high uplift in owned media remarketing could reflect not the performance of this type of campaign, but just the natural stage of how games are being developed these days.
Another thing to consider is how much IDFA's new rules would affect the performance of paid remarketing in iOS. For example, the new rules would affect the efficiency of tracking users who left the game, which is the key premise behind paid remarketing. Unfortunately, by not segmenting the information between different platforms, we cannot understand how much IDFA (or the lack thereof) impacts these types of campaigns.
All in all, we can conclude three different things from information given by Appsflyer and the data collected from data.ai:
- D1 retention is decreasing in Android. Given ever increasing competition in the market and the future of privacy rules on Android, both Product and UA teams will need to figure out how to reverse that D1 retention trajectory for their games.
- D30 retention is increasing in Android. However, as privacy rules change, we should expect this trend to shift to some level of stabilization.
- D30 retention is stable on iOS. Unless game developers continue to optimize UA for the new privacy era and/or improve longevity of games further, this trend could actually start to move downwards — but we’re confident that enough teams are thinking about combating the lack of IDFA in many ways.
#2: Space Ape is ending development on Boom Beach: Frontlines
Space Ape, the developer behind music hit Beatstar, is ending development on Boom Beach: Frontlines (BBF) after a year in soft-launch, and game servers will be turned off on January 16th, 2023. The game was a twin-stick online shooter born from the collaboration between Space Ape and its investor, Supercell. Boom Beach is of course a huge (not the biggest) IP for Supercell, and this game was clearly a move to further expand the IP and move it into the franchise realm. Unfortunately, Space Ape wasn’t really able to deliver.
So why is Space Ape killing the game now? According to Space Ape co-founder, Simon Hade: “Despite two big soft launches in a year we were not seeing the long-term engagement to justify a global launch. Meanwhile, other games on our slate were showing a lot more promise and so, with finite resources at our disposal, the team made the call to stop work on Frontlines and help the rest of the studio.”
That statement breaks out into two aspects to consider:
- Not delivering on Supercell retention when using a Supercell IP
- The opportunity cost that came with time/effort required to improve the game's metrics
First, since this game used a Supercell IP, we would be remiss to not point out the product performance pressure that comes with it. While this point might not be specifically called out by Space Ape’s leadership in any of its public announcements, the clout Supercell has in the mobile F2P industry is something that many teams aspire to have themselves and through the products they build. This intangible pressure would’ve almost surely played a role in Space Ape’s game development process, as it had a golden opportunity to show that “it can do it as well (or even better) than Supercell.” But needing to meet Supercell's high standards of game performance is no easy task either.
Space Ape's co-founder hinted that long-term retention was inferior. And that information is very similar to what we found in our analysis of the game's soft launch last month. BBF’s mid-to-long-term retention was especially low compared to other Supercell benchmarks, including Brawl-Stars, another twin-stick shooter title.
The problems with long-term retention most likely also affected the game's RPD, which at $0.99 was not terrible (but also not great) for twin-stick titles and considerably below any of the other Supercell titles. More worryingly, contrary to what happened to other Supercell titles, the game's RPD had remained flat since the first launch, as shown by the RPD curve below (Android Canada only, aligned by launch).
That brings us to the second point — improving the game would require pretty large structural changes and would’ve been an extremely expensive undertaking for Space Ape. The lack of improvement in the game's RPD was an indicator that whatever Space Ape was doing was not really improving the game, and more drastic measures would probably need to be taken to get the game to Supercell metric standards.
As mentioned in our past analysis, BBF has significant problems in its progression and monetization systems. And some of those problems were deeply structural and would require a reformulation of the game’s primary system — Cards (Heroes, Weapons, Power-ups).
And so the opportunity cost question comes into play — other cheaper and less risky games in the pipeline could theoretically benefit from BBF’s resources. At BBF's peak, 25% of Space Ape's employees, or 30 out of 120, worked on the shooter game. Significant game changes would only make BBF more resource-intensive for Space Ape. Therefore, the company decided to concentrate on other games in its pipeline that it considers cheaper and less risky. The side benefit of pursuing this strategy is that Space Ape would’ve almost surely levelled up its game development capabilities while working on BBF — all of that is reinvestable value into other titles.
According to Space Ape’s co-founder, two other Casual games are currently being developed by the company — a puzzle game and a music game. Both games are likely cheaper to build out versus BBF, and in Beatstar’s (which we previously deconstructed) shadow, Space Ape would also consider the music genre a safer bet.
However, there are imminent risks with the chosen genres as well. The puzzle segment is highly saturated, and neither Space Ape nor Tencent have any successful experience in the genre. The Music genre in the US is, on the other hand, quite small and still features a low RPD. That said, Space Ape has shown enviable product prowess with scaling Beatstar, and it will most definitely be reinvesting a ton of those learnings into its new product. And not to mention all the product learnings from BBF that it can use across its game development process, regardless of genre.
All in all, Space Ape’s roots are in mid-core, where it has experienced moderate success and BBF would have generated many insights that could be reinvested into all genres of new titles, especially new mid-core titles if it chose to do so. In the meantime, it is to be seen whether Space Ape can successfully enter the puzzle genre and/or replicate the success of Beatstar.
Game Launch Radar
#1: Wildscapes: New Acres
- Publisher: Playrix
- State: Soft Launch
- Territories: India, US, Australia (Android only)
- Classification: Casual - Puzzle - Match-3
- Wildscapes: New Acres is a revamp of Playrix’s previous zoo-themed title, Wildscapes. The original app was released a couple of years ago after the original Scapes franchise, but in contrast to Playrix’s leading titles, it performed poorly.
- Wildscapes: New Acres at first glance looks very similar to the original game. The game still features the match-3 puzzle & decorate gameplay of the original game, with players completing levels to renovate and build their zoo. There are, however, some changes in the game, from slight changes in the levels and some more important changes in the metagame. You can watch a video of the gameplay here.
The noticeable changes in the levels are subtle:
- Power-ups have different skins. The new skins make them more evident than before and also more similar to other match-3 titles.
- Boosters also have different skins, and there is now one additional booster.
Changes in the meta are, however, more relevant:
- The original Wildscapes lacked a lot of the narrative components from the Scapes franchise. Although the main idea of the game was centered around renovating the zoo, there was not much of a storyline guiding that.
- Wildscapes: New Acres brings in a proper narrative centered around not only the game’s previous protagonist but other supporting characters as well.
- The game also tries to leverage the zookeeping aspect of Wildscapes and bring story quests related to taking care of animals in the zoo, like feeding, washing, and petting.
- Playrix probably still believes in the potential of Wildscapes, and it’s creating a new revamped game, instead of investing resources to turn the older product around.
#2: The Eminence in Shadow: Master of Garden
- Publisher: Crunchyroll Games (Sony)
- State: Hard Launch
- Territories: Worldwide
- Classification: Midcore - RPG - Turn Based RPG
- The Eminence in Shadow is a turn-based, gacha RPG. It’s similar to RAID: Shadow Legends in gameplay, but it is narrative-heavy and focused on anime fans. The game is based on an anime series based on a novel by the same name produced by Nexus and available to stream on Crunchyroll. You can watch a video of the gameplay here.
- Crunchyroll is a streaming platform and the biggest distributor of anime content in the West, and similar to Netflix, it has also expanded to games, having released its first title in mid-2019. This does make a ton of sense from the lens of transmedia storytelling, but a deeper look will be required to see whether it makes sense from a long-term business standpoint.
- Despite the game’s anime-themed content and convoluted UI, the game studio’s biggest consumer base is in the West, which should be expected given that’s where the streaming platform focuses. This could also be considered a niche market, although with a generally high spending power, as evidenced by the performance of ACG-themed games in the West.
- Crunchroll’s most successful title so far is another gacha turn-based RPG title — Princess Connect — which, with an RPD of $12, performs below the market’s leader, RAID: Shadow Legends ($25). Of course, The Eminence of Shadow’s performance remains to be seen.
Other Game Announcements
- Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile has soft launched in Australia. Link
- Apple and Google both name Apex Legends Mobile game of the year. Link
- Celebrations and content galore as Netmarble’s Ni no Kuni: Cross Worlds reaches 200 days. Link
- Nintendo’s first mobile IP, Dragalia Lost, closed down on November 30th. Link
- Yu-Gi-Oh! MASTER DUEL passes 50m downloads milestone and announces new tournament. Link
- Mobile strategy game Polytopia integrates eSports support in-app with “Challenger” mode. Link
- The Seven Deadly Sins: Grand Cross celebrates three and a half years of service with a massive amount of events and two new heroes. Link
- Raid: Shadow Legends' newest character is WWE superstar and former UFC champion Ronda Rousey. Link
- “Massive” layoffs at Wildlife as it drops all non-mobile game projects. Link
- Supercell US hires four ex-Rioters as veteran duo form second North American studio. Link
- SYBO appoints Rovio veteran Philip Hickey as new Chief Marketing Officer. Link
- Roblox snaps up Apple veteran John Stauffer as VP of Engineering. Link
- Bethesda is working on a new mobile game. Link
- Tencent aims to branch from mobile for its big international push. Link
- Hyper-casual developer Gamejam Co. rebrands as Superfine. Link
- New research finds vast potential in the Saudi game development market. Link
- The fight to recognize video games' value in the European Union. Link
- NLRB again rejects Activision Blizzard’s argument on Albany QA vote. Link
- Pakistan stops overseas payments for mobile games and apps. Link
- Loot box bill filed in Australia. Link
- UK and Germany on track to generate a combined $12.1 billion to the global gaming market in 2022. Link
- Gamerji, the esports tournament platform, raises $3 million in its pre-series A round. Link
- Pokemon Go's Hoenn Tour is taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada, in February 2023. Link
Content Worth Consuming
- Bucking the Recession in Mobile Gaming (Deconstructor of Fun): “In data.ai and Deconstructor of Fun’s latest collaborative report, we dive deep into a comprehensive analysis of the mobile gaming sector and which genres are defying the economic slowdown.“ Link
- The Secret Behind The Bizarrely Enticing Lily’s Garden Ads (Blog Udonis): “Lily’s Garden ads have transformed the world of mobile game marketing. Some love it, some hate it, but nobody can look away. That has, in turn, resulted in millions of downloads for the mobile game Lily’s Garden. To learn more about its exceptional advertising strategy, read my analysis.” Link
- Ep. 106: Advertisement, Marketing, and User Acquisition (Mastering the Retention Podcast): “This week on Mastering Retention, Tom speaks with Janos Perei (Head of Growth at Voodoo) about many different forms of advertisements and marketing campaigns, their complexity, the importance of making marketing the foundation of your studio, and how UA should work hand-in-hand with LiveOps.” Link
- Episode 39: Top Seven Game Design Trends – 2022 in Review (GameRefinery podcast): “What were the hottest mobile game design trends in 2022? In this episode, we look back at 2022 and reflect on the biggest trends that happened in mobile games. Joining us are our resident experts and Chief Game Analysts from GameRefinery, a Liftoff company, Kalle Heikkinen and Erno Kiiski.” Link
Key Insights Into U.K. Gamers | Newzoo Gamer Insights Report (Newzoo): “The United Kingdom is the world’s sixth largest market by game revenues in 2022, and nearly three quarters of the U.K. online population are game enthusiasts. Who are the U.K. gamers, how do they engage with video games, and what motivates them to spend money on games? In this free consumer insights report, we analyze the gamer audience and games landscape in the United Kingdom.” Link
- 11 tips for killer User Acquisition ops (Q4 version) (Matej Lancaric): “Yo! Enjoy these few tips that will help you to improve your UA Operations. If not, at least you spent a few minutes reading and not working. Sit back, relax with the winter Q4 edition, and share this with your UA friends. They will love you!” Link
- How to monetize the 97% of non-payers in your midcore or hardcore game (Iron Source Blog): “At Appfest 2022, Noelia Lopez, Blockchain PM and Senior Monetization Manager at Tilting Point, shared her ad monetization strategies for midcore and hardcore mobile games. Read the summary or watch the full video.” Link