6 Strategic Tips From Belka Games on User Engagement and Retention
What’s the formula for creating a game that sits at the forefront of its genre, interests and engages players, and keeps them coming back for more? Belka Games’ Pavel Sudakov, Head of Research and Development, and Executive Producer Eugene Gilmanov shared some insider tips on how they create captivating experiences for every player.
When does user engagement and retention become part of the planning process for a new game title?
In early discussions with the R&D department, engagement and retention metrics are integral — even more than monetization benchmarks at this stage. We typically start building out our product hypothesis based on market data, projections, and a long-term retention strategy. The key is to prove that our game is interesting, and our aim is to reach our benchmark metrics from the core game loop — not from LiveOps or additional retention mechanics — because it provides insight into the lifetime of the game and enables us to improve it from all sides. For a soft launch, if the core game loop base is unstable, it will collapse under all additional game mechanics or activities that get added in the future.
How do you keep games new and exciting?
For starters, we try very hard to avoid any surprises for our game creators and developers. We continuously and scrupulously analyze the market and our competitors so we have our finger on the pulse of game trends. We want to give our players newer and more exciting game mechanics and LiveOps than anyone else, so we’re always polishing and improving core gameplay. We can only do this by understanding what they want. For example, we know that Solitaire players love slot-machines and board games, and that Bermuda Adventures players love deeper decoration mechanics like dressing up their favorite characters. It’s all about understanding who is playing your game and which types of experiences they want to engage with.
What are some specific engagement tactics that were applied to Bermuda Adventures?
We had a good story, a strong plot, and a screenplay, and we tried to avoid the same mistakes our rivals were making and take everything into account that we’d learned since the release of Funky Bay, one of our farm and adventure simulator games. With game mechanics, there aren’t any absolutes, but in the case of Bermuda Adventures, we wanted to make it a real-life multicultural family story. Diversity was in the foreground for us, and so was putting this family in unusual, challenging, and fun situations, as modern-day city people lost on the Bermuda Islands. We think this approach helped the game show positive metrics from the very beginning, which empowered our continued work on the product to improve what was working best.
What’s a typical Belka Games checklist when it comes to integrating retention strategies that support KPIs?
The main goal for our User Acquisition (UA) team is 100% ROAS in the first 360 days, using both in-app and ad monetization, and optimizing both ROAS and install value. Every gameplay event should be interesting to users, which means the audience understands mechanics, takes part in the events, and that LiveOps events positively affect their activity and core experience.
To hit our KPIs, we focus on the golden cohort of retention formula: Day 1 = 40%, Day 7 = 20%, Day 30 = 10%. We also focus on long-term retention. Another checklist item is to analyze the first session and every step where a user might encounter a problem, so we can improve our understanding of the engagement funnel.
In addition, LiveOps events have their own engagement and monetization benchmarks, and we make sure that every new feature adds value to the user experience. We add LiveOps early to give users the opportunity to experience an emotional connection with the game. We also use onboarding tutorials to present the LiveOps feature (users can’t skip it) because we want to make sure that everyone has a new experience. After the first launch, our benchmark is to get 50% of DAU to take part in the event. Leading up to that, we inform users about the event via our Facebook group, and we also recently started using iOS and Google Play for event promotion. We try to create a habit. For example, a certain player might like a slots event, and she/he knows that it will start on a Monday and will be active for two days. Or there’s a seven-day event happening in their favorite game starting on Sunday. In addition to regular events, we’re also working on unpredictable events to create surprise elements for users.
How does Belka measure and monitor ARPDAU and adjust engagement strategies based on what you’ve learned?
We use five and 30-day periods for our retargeting campaigns and return bonuses. ARPDAU is not the main metric for us because it contains many user cohorts, so we use revenue per install (RPI) for exact cohorts. And even more important are revenue RPI ratios, the metric for lifetime revenue per install. For example, Day 30 / Day 7. Your product can have a good Day 7 RPI but a weak Day 30, and this can affect your entire LTV and ROAS model, so we increase the metric itself and the ratios.
What’s a common oversight many developers make when it comes to engagement and retention?
Every game feature should add new value and a new experience for users. It should be fun, helpful, and good for metrics. Our team believes that if we change something in a game, we need to have a really strong reason, and of course, we do A/B tests to further justify that change and its effect on gameplay.
Feature cohortization shows us that not every feature or event works for your entire audience, so it’s important to know what is working or not working for your daily active users and make changes accordingly. It’s also key to pay close attention to gameplay complexity. Every player has different skills, and it’s important to give them the most interesting and challenging session.
Another common oversight for many newer developers is the importance of perfecting event or mechanics onboarding. This is essential. If the user doesn’t understand your feature for the first time, they don’t have a reason to come back. So our aim at Belka is to engage and monetize every cohort.
To learn more about Belka Games’ recent release of Bermuda Adventures, please read our blog and check out the game. Also learn how global superstar Dolly Parton is making a digital guest appearance in Belka’s hit game Solitaire Cruise.