(and why you should care)

  • Liberty
  • 01/24/2019 01:32 PM
The Five Steps of Player Retention

1st step: Finding the game.
A lot of people just won't even know your game exists at all. This is why Steam and advertising on social media is important. Yes, word of mouth can help but only after someone has already played the game and recommended it to their friends. You need to get them to play it first and if they don't know it's out there, there's not going to be people playing it.

2nd step: Judging the cover.
Hey, images and blurbs are important. Those are the honey trap that get those who find your game interested in playing it and if you don't show something that will capture their interest you're not going to get anyone to play. No players mean no word being spread, which means no players and that means no audience. So those who get past this point and actually play your game are going to be the group who net you more players.

3rd step: The first foray.
The first 10-20 minutes of your game are vital! You might have a long-ass game with a slowly building set-up but you need to get the players to stick around past those first 10 minutes before they can even bother with the rest of your game. If they don't stick around they're going to either ignore the existence of your game completely or leave a review that probably isn't as shiny as you'd like. So nailing the presentation and showing something that will make the player want to stick with the game in those first few minutes of play is extremely important.

I just want to take a step aside here and point out that it's not just the gameplay itself that is vital so far. Presentation of what is shown should be of a high-quality tier. If the first thing a player sees is a glaring spelling mistake, bad grammar, clashing colours, overly empty/busy map or mapping errors their thoughts on your game are going to sink. They will start the game already predisposed to shut it down if something they don't like comes along, instead of giving it more of a chance because they see issues piling up.

This is why testing and polishing are extremely important for a game developer. Spit and shine that first half hour until you can see your reflection. If they're still playing after that half hour they're more likely to forgive a few minor issues here and there but starting off a game with a shoddy presentation?

4th step: Retention.
So they've gotten past the first 20 minutes and found something that has hooked them in. Great. Now you need to keep them in. If a player gets to the 4th step, then they're more likely to be in it for the long haul unless you really mess up somewhere.

One thing I recommend is looking at when people start dropping your game and seeing what's going on at that point. Are some of the instructions confusing? Did you change something or introduce a new gameplay aspect? Did enemy difficulty ramp up or did something in the story change to make no sense?

5th step: Completion.
This is when the player stops playing. Sometimes it'll be halfway through the game, sometimes at the end. Either way, at this point the player has decided that they've played enough to get an understanding of what your game is about and either decided that they don't want to play any more because they can see where it's going to end up/the bad outweighs the good/they've lost interest in the game or they finally completed the whole thing.

You should always aim to have your players complete the game, if at all possible. This means that balance needs to be kept to a level where the player can pass through, that polish is kept up as high as possible, that bugs are ironed out, that the plot remains understandable and interesting and that all aspects of the game work together in cohesion to make a game that will keep a player coming back until there's no more.


This is the absolute goal of the five steps - the aim of game creation. Sharing your story, your ideas, your creation means imparting them in such a manner that the conclusion can be seen by the player, understood by the player and if not accepted, at least acknowledged by the player. That is the ultimate aim and that is why player retention is so important.

It can be hard to keep players to the fourth step if you ignore the first three - because the first three are vital to getting people to the fourth, and ultimately, the fifth.

At every step, you will lose a LOT of people who might have otherwise played due to any number of reasons, but those you keep - those who stay to play the game beyond those first 10 minutes? That's your audience.


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Excellent article! ´ ▽ ` )ノ

I like the fact that this could be applied to practically any kind of media, only that the approach would differ between cases. (Heck, we could also expand every step in here and make an extensive analysis of each point, but who would do that? tbh I would, but I still haven't made any game yet XD )
Since I'm an antisocial maverick who doesn't play demo versions and is looking for new games completely by himself (and receives warnings on this site for no reason at all), the second step (not only the images, but especially the game's story and features) is by far the most imporant one to my mind. If I bring myself to give a game a chance, then something serious will have to happen in order to stop me from playing (e.g. an unmentioned "feature" like level-scaling, one of my knock-out criterions). I'm also willing to cut a game I'm interested in some slack during the beginning, considering the long, linear development process and the typical structures of most games; in fact I would be distraught if the game's first dungeon was its best.

Unfortunately, most game descriptions suck or at least miss several vital specifications. This poses a problem to such an extent that I've developed my own list of questions that I ask before buying an RPG Maker game on Steam. Maybe most players prefer a "hands-on approach" (playing demo versions etc.), but if a developer wants to win over a player like me, it's the second step above all else.
Unfortunately, most game descriptions suck or at least miss several vital specifications. This poses a problem to such an extent that I've developed my own list of questions that I ask before buying an RPG Maker game on Steam.

Sorry to barge in, but I just wanted to say that I agree with you on this. Most people don't know how to advertise themselves in their game pages, and that also makes me not want to play some games (but in the end, marketing is an art that needs to be practised and mastered, like everything else.)
Sometimes people confuse my gender
Good article liberty, and special emphasis in the first two points, since they are way more important than one usually would think.

In the step 2, think it would be good to state or imagine an audience and prepare the cover /first impressions accordingly. For example, I saw people likes characters beautifully portrayed and edgy colours in famous horror games so I'll include a bit on that on my horror game cover, dunno.
I find this to be a very helpful and informative article. And as others have said, I also stress the first two steps tremendously. Regardless of how much like an ass you might feel, if you want people to play your game, you gotta advertise your game, but you should be smart about it as well, look for opportunities to share your game naturally with people in order to not break up some ongoing conversation, otherwise you might come off as obnoxious.

The art of advertising, which I do not claim to be an expert of, is a tough one. Specially if you don't want to come off as that person, you know, the one that only ever joins conversations to plug their own game? I've found that talking about other people's games as well and trying them out before you plug your own game helps advertise your own projects in a more positive light, plus you might get your hands on an interesting project and potentially get some inspiration from somebody else's new game! We're a game making site after all, talking with each other about our games should be something we do on the regular, and trying our best to give each other feedback is also good as that helps everyone in the community get better at their craft.

Having said that, don't feign interest in somebody else's project just to get a chance to plug your own game, people will pick up on it over time and it is a generally very scummy thing to do. Basically, treat other people's projects like you'd want people to treat yours.
I refuse to grind with monsters I've just met for money.
Thanks for your feedback and all you do with this site. I always listen to you.
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