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How to generate lasting player loyalty with omnichannel messaging

CRO of OneSignal, Josh Wetzel explains how using a multi channel approach to engaging with players can help with long term retention
How to generate lasting player loyalty with omnichannel messaging
  • "More than 95% of your game downloads will churn within 30 days with more than 90% churning in the first ten days"
  • "Gaining permission for push notifications email and SMS is a golden opportunity to deliver impact and indicate immediate interest in your game"

In the mobile market, it’s usual to see players come and go as they dip between their favourite games or drop one for another. While losing a player here and there may be no cause for concern, it’s essential that titles can retain a loyal portion of their player base to ensure long-term success. And it's even possible to do so outside of offering them rewards or new content.

In this guest post, OneSignal’s CRO, Josh Wetzel, shares how utilising multiple personalised messaging challenges to engage with users could be the key to keeping players engaged and earn their loyalty. There's advice on how to get players to opt-in for messaging and tips on how to best use these new channels.

More than 95% of your game downloads will churn within 30 days, with more than 90% churning in the first ten days. That’s the stark reality of mobile applications. As attention spans wane and hybrid-casual games become more popular, the challenge of retaining players is acute.

So, how can you improve that number to bend the retention curve?

First off, lose all sacred cows as it relates to loyalty. I’ve worked directly with hundreds of different mobile games over the past decade. Those that typically have the worst customer retention are relying on preconceived notions. These games typically don’t use email, and rather than personalising their messaging, they send a single, generic message to all their users daily. Every game is different, and every user's relationship to your game is unique. You may have a fantastic game that naturally brings players in, but you must foster loyalty through personalised omnichannel messaging to keep users engaged long-term.

The most successful games take advantage of four key player retention hacks:

  • Optimise player onboarding: Give enough info to orient players but avoid lengthy tutorials to help players get immersed in the action quickly.
  • Incentivise and reward player engagement: Help encourage players to feel a sense of progress and gratification in your game by tracking achievements, offering in-game rewards, and helping them visualise their growth within the game.
  • Use more than one channel to engage users: Each messaging channel has unique benefits and limitations. Using a combination of channels will empower you to tailor your communication to user expectations, increase your reach, and ultimately create a more seamless player experience both in the game and outside of it.
  • Keep producing new content: Players need new, challenging content to stay engaged in the long term. The most successful games take pride in refreshing features and updates to delight users. If you’re unsure where to invest your time for maximum impact, ask your users by sending them a survey in the app or via other channels.

“Gaining permission for push notifications, email, and SMS is a golden opportunity to deliver impact and indicate immediate interest in your game.”
Josh Wetzel

Get players to opt-in to messaging

The most crucial step in nurturing loyalty, beyond building a compelling game, is asking each new user for permission to message them on every channel you have at your disposal. Gaining permission for push notifications, email, and SMS is a golden opportunity to deliver impact and indicate immediate interest in your game. The quick tips are:

  • Create a “pre-permission” prompt: A pre-permission prompt appears before the native opt-in request and gives players essential context to inform their decision. Creating a custom, in-app prompt to ask for push permission empowers you to communicate the value that notifications will add to your game.
  • Optimise your opt-in request: being mindful of the timing and wording of your request can help you maximise conversions.
  • Expand to other communication channels: Once you’ve gotten push permission, let users complete some tasks, spend some time in-game, and ask them to provide an email address via an in-app message. Like your push permission prompt, this should include the contextual value or benefits of sharing this personal information.
  • Segment Your Audience & Autoate Notifications Based on Player Behavior: Only send relevant notifications and emails based on specific user attributes and behaviour. Sending generalised, untargeted mobile messaging is one of the quickest ways to worsen your churn rate.

Omnichannel engagement: The new status quo

In the past, communicating with users over one channel was enough to move the needle. Today, users expect apps to provide an omnichannel engagement experience that honours their device preferences and follows them across desktop, tablets, and mobile devices. Push notifications have long been a must-have tool for every new app, but email, SMS, and in-app messaging have quickly become the status quo. The most successful gaming companies understand the value of a multichannel approach and how to play to the strengths of each medium.

Why mobile apps need email

Mobile email and push notifications complement each other beautifully. Not only will email capture opt-ins from those who elected to deny push notifications, but with the deprecation of IDFA, email represents a critical step towards building a user profile. It’s a notoriously cost-effective channel, particularly at scale, and the engagement gains you will see make it a strong ROI driver.

“Creating a direct line of communication with engaged players is a powerful way to onboard new players.”
Josh Wetzel

Why SMS can give you a competitive edge

In markets where it’s heavily used and you have a higher LTV (thanks to IAP or subscriptions as part of your revenue), SMS has the highest engagement (18% to 20% open rate) and is an excellent inclusion to drive in-app purchases and re-engagement.

The versatility of in-app messages

Unlike other channels, you don’t need permission to message players in your game. Creating a direct line of communication with engaged players is a powerful way to onboard new players, reward engagement successfully, keep players in the loop with updates, and much more. Use In-App Messages to:

  • Encourage friendly competition
  • Onboard users to your game
  • Share updates and promote feature awareness
  • Showcase rewards and recognise achievements
  • Share hints and game tips to help players level up
  • Offer timely discounts and personalised promos on in-game offers

Develop persistent messaging journeys to educate and elevate the gaming experience

Once you have permission, use it carefully and cautiously by building a meticulous and educational onboarding sequence to ensure that as many new users as possible are reaching important game milestones. These can be straightforward, from help connecting with friends, developing an avatar and profile, or tutorials to give new players momentum. As you craft your engagement strategy, beware of distracting players from gameplay by sending messages that aren’t personalised to their experience.

You know your game. What first milestone demonstrates interest, knowledge, and some basic competence? We call these user journey “touchpoints,” and their effectiveness rises rapidly (essentially 200%) when they include push notifications and email. Why, you ask? It’s self-fulfilling to a certain extent, as any player who opts in to receive email and push notifications is essentially saying, “I am invested in your game.” Mapping your user journey is a great way to identify key opportunities and align your messaging with these events to serve as a catalyst for conversion.

“Utilise FOMO in push notifications to remind them of what they’re missing and what game milestones they’re approaching.”
Josh Wetzel

Identifying touchpoints also provides you with ongoing segmentation opportunities. Email is great for long-form communication, such as leaderboards, promotions on IAP, contests, new features, and even cross-promoting new titles. On the other hand, notifications are real-time, ephemeral messages that should be used to showcase accomplishments, in-game social interactions, or nudge players to finish a level or activity. Notifications are essential for crafting rewarding and engaging in-game challenges that keep users hooked. Combined together, email and push deliver far-reaching engagement touchpoints to users at multiple places within the user journey.

Don’t neglect your re-engagement campaigns

Next, develop a re-engagement sequence to bring lapsed players back into the game and introduce them to new titles. Utilise FOMO in push notifications to remind them of what they’re missing and what game milestones they’re approaching. Send emails that remind them of how far they’ve come in the game, and entice players with rewards or promotions they can claim for rejoining the fun, sharing their success on social channels, or leaving app reviews.

Moving just a small percentage of dormant players back into a game will have a material impact on your retention numbers and results.

A great example of this is BeachBumGames, which saw a 140% increase in paid user reactivation utilising multiple channel customer journeys to reactivate dormant players. The last point is two-sided. Work on improving opt-ins through A/B testing different permission prompts and emails while continuing to iterate and test each messaging step of the onboarding and re-engagement phases. Long-term sustained growth will come from improving the steps in each of your player journeys and refining what imagery and phrasing performs best.

Personalisation best practices

Frequency is key. Every game should message users about in-game events, incorporate game news, and promote live ops (if applicable) and promotions. These can be intermingled into each of your sequences.

For example, your onboarding messaging sequence should be light on promotions and heavy on in-game education, focusing on getting each recipient to reach the next milestone in their journey. In contrast, a re-engagement journey can heavily rely on promotion as an enticement to rejoin the game via a discount on IAP or some trial or free access to a section of the game they haven’t experienced.

“Ensure you’re leveraging multiple channels and focus your time on building persistent messaging journeys.”
Josh Wetzel

While you want your game experience to be a frequent presence in front of your players, it’s also important to be wary of message fatigue. Mobile users are more exposed than ever to a bombardment of irrelevant and irritating notifications. To prevent frustration-induced churn, be mindful of over-messaging and make sure your messages deliver the value you promised.

We are visual consumers by nature. Include an image in every email and push notification. Open rates and receptivity jump with images as people react more frequently to visuals than words alone. Even emojis have been shown to drive higher response rates than strictly text. A/B test each push notification with and without emojis and take the time to experiment with different images, possibly for every milestone and activity in the game. This may seem like a lot of work, but remember, you’re building automated, persistent messaging. All your effort is now in optimising these messages to ensure they drive the best outcome at each step of your player’s journey.

There is a wealth of knowledge on this subject, but the most important point to remember? Ensure you’re leveraging multiple channels and focus your time on building persistent messaging journeys that elevate each player’s experience with your game.

Edited by Paige Cook