Johannes Heinze is Managing Director, International at AppLovin.
As a developer, it's a constant struggle to keep your game relevant in order to retain players.
After the initial hype has died down, one of the best ways to retain your players is by creating regularly scheduled in-game events.
Over the years, in-game events have become major sources of revenue for developers, especially for free-to-play titles and it’s easy to see why.
In-game events are a great way to give players new goals to come back to, which in turn increases revenue. Events also do wonders to extend the life of your mobile game so you don’t have to invest in developing new games just to start over again.
We spoke with mobile game developer Playdemic to get their perspective on why in-game events matter and for best practices on launching your own in-game events.
Why in-game events matter
For F2P games, nearly two-thirds of players abandon a game after 24 hours, according to mobile analytics platform Adjust. This is a nerve-wracking position to be in but player retention can be increased with in-game events.
For players, the benefits of in-game events are obvious - they get a new goal that replaces the routine and grind of normal gameplay once they’ve plateaued. With more players coming back and engaging with your game, the more chances you’ll have to convert these players into paying customers, or to monetise via ads.
In-game events have gotten so popular that games like Clash of Clans now have a dedicated events section which alerts players to ongoing events.
Another example is Pokemon GO, which introduced “Raid Battles”, a co-op gameplay feature that lets players work together to defeat a high-level pokemon in gyms.
The best ways to optimise in-game events
While in-game events are great for player retention, they have to be done correctly. You can’t just throw an in-game party and call it a day.
“Players want to be surprised and excited by new content, so over time there always needs to be an evolution in what you’re offering to players,” said Alex Rigby, Playdemic’s Co-founder and Creative Director.
“The best event items that will generate the most revenue are usually the ones that do something genuinely new and unexpected.”
For example, Playdemic’s Golf Clash gives players a banner and medal that shows other players how far they’ve progressed in a tournament. It’s this simple banner that entices committed players to not participate in the tournament for their own bragging rights.
Another thing to keep in mind is that in-game events must offer items and rewards that feed directly into existing gameplay.
“If you need to achieve a certain goal in the regular game in order to access higher levels of an event, and the rewards from the event give you advantages in the core game, then you have a very valuable combination,” Rigby continued.
By crafting an in-game event around the goals of the core game, you ensure players feel like they’re working towards something bigger and not just completing a challenge for the sake of it.
Speaking of the core game, developers should be careful to not upset the balance of their game by offering an overpowered weapon to the game. While it’s easy to entice players by offering a powerful weapon, there’s a risk of upsetting the difficulty of the game and even the in-game economy.
On a technical level, in-game events should be pushed out to players on the server-side. This means players won’t have to download an update in order to participate in an event, which adds a layer of unwanted friction. It’s also better from a development standpoint as you won't need code support from your engineering team.
As for timing your in-game events, look to seasonal events like Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas for inspiration and to get a head start generating assets.
Of course in-game events should also occur outside of major holidays, so use your best judgement and AB test what works and doesn’t with your in-game events.
The best way to announce and test your in-game events
With your in-game events strategy in place, now it’s time to promote them for maximum effect.
Your messaging should be clear what the event will offer players in terms of rewards to entice them to play.
“We try to ensure that our week-long tournaments are communicated to players around five days before the event actually begins,” said Rigby. “This gives players a chance to not only practice for the event ahead of time, but also to attempt to qualify for a higher and more rewarding tier before the event starts.”
This strategy has led Playdemic to see spikes in engagement and monetisation not only on the first day of the event, but also the days leading up to the event.
Playdemic maximises the number of players that see an in-game event announcement by implementing a coordinated communication play that employs in-game timers, push notifications, in-game news items, forum posts and social media.
Your messaging should be clear what the event will offer players in terms of rewards to entice them to play while the event is active.
One clever and subtle way to announce an in-game event is to change the app icon. This small change will grab a player’s attention since app icons live directly on a user's home screen, which they’re used to seeing constantly.
While it’s tempting to test in-game events by rolling them out in specific geographies only, Playdemic cautions developers to not alienate players by not offering the event to everyone.
“Sometimes the best way to soft-launch a new feature is to roll it out globally for a limited period of time,” said Rigby.
While in-game events can be an excellent way to rejuvenate your mobile game, they have to be done properly for the maximum desired effect.
Events must serve the core gameplay and should not upset the balance of the game. By offering players rewards that serve the core gameplay, the overall goals are still intact instead of offering a challenge for the sake of a having a challenge.
With in-game events as part of your strategy, you’ll see user retention and revenue spike. Events will also serve by extending the longevity of your mobile game so you don’t have to go back to the drawing board with a new game every time player retention drops off.