1, 7 and 30-day retention rates are key, says 'tablet first' Supercell
Late to a platform that was struggling in terms of too much competition, too little virality and rising cost of marketing, it wasn't great timing.
Switching to a 'tablet first' strategy has proved much more successful, however, as demonstrated by its first two releases Hay Day and Clash of Clans.
Still, perhaps it's a little ironic that the player base of Clash of Clans is split equally between iPad and iPhone.
"We see people popping back to check their city status on the phone and then having longer sessions on the iPad," explains product lead Lasse Louhento, of the base-building PVP title.
Of course, Supercell's 'tablet first' strategy is more about providing the highest quality user experience rather than prescribing the device people play on.
"We're fairly small, only 50 people, so our best marketing is the quality of our games. We spend a lot of time on the user interface to ensure they are easy to get into," explains CEO Ilkka Paananen.
"We're also committed to social gameplay. It's more fun when you play together, and you get more viral promotion."
The two releases demonstrate this focus in different ways.
Hay Day takes the traditional co-operative gifting and trading approach. Clash of Clans has a similar mechanic where you can gift troops within your clan. But its main drive is a strong player versus player competitive element with base destruction and resource looting backed up with leaderboards.
Keep them playing
As for how the company's looking to sustain its games, Paananen says the key indicators it tracks are 1, 7 and 30-day retention rates.
"It's satisfying as they've been improving since our beta tests," he adds.
Louhento reveals that for Clash of Clans, the company breaks down the audience into newbies, mid-range and elite groups.
Each play the game in different ways and hence have different retention rates. Of course, the newbies get a lot of attention, because that's the stage players have to successfully complete to become valuable and engaged members of the community.
"We have less dependencies in the early stages of the game, so we've worked very hard on our tutorial," Louhento says.
"Improving this has boosted our retention."
The right cycle
One significant gameplay element that Supercell has tweaked in Clash of Clans is the shield.
This is automatically triggered whenever your base destroyed, and means you can't be attacked until the shield times out. This gives the opportunity to rebuild and reorganise. (Players can also buy shield time as an IAP if they want.)
However, setting the shield time too long resulted in a lack of bases to attack. Of course, setting it for too short meant players could be attacked multiple times without knowing it if they didn't log in daily.
For that reason, the shield time has varied from between 24 to 12 hours. Now it's set at 16 hours.
"We also need to be aware of people playing in different time zones," Louhento points out.
And while tweaking and updating its two live games will keep the studio busy, the opportunity is such that Supercell isn't resting on its laurels.
Its third 'tablet first' title - another action PVP game called Battle Buddies - is currently in beta in Canada and Finland.