Among the common free to play (F2P) performance metrics, Day 1 Retention may be the one that game developers obsess over the most. This is for good reason; if most players fail to return promptly then how can they possibly be expected to progress and monetize?

Day 1 Retention, that is the fraction of players that return one day after install, is not actually a very powerful diagnostic tool on its own. It is merely a symptom of the underlying broken game mechanics.

It is for this reason that game analysts tend to use the First Time User Experience (FTUE) funnel to diagnose areas where players are being ‘blocked’. However, a smooth FTUE is no guarantee of good Day 1 Retention.

A typical First Time User Experience funnel

Let’s consider the following FTUE.

FTUE chart

A typical FTUE funnel, showing the fraction of players that complete each step during initial stages in the game

Considered on its own, this FTUE could be deemed reasonably good. Around 80% of players are completing, with no more than 6% lost in any step. If this FTUE was paired with a low Day 1 Retention, let’s say 20%, then some analysts may conclude that any problems in Day 1 game-play lie further downstream.

However, using these two metrics independently doesn’t paint a full picture, but it does become clearer when we combine them.

Using Day 1 Retention to assess FTUE effectiveness

Looking at it another way, since 80% of players make it to the final step, if the overall retention is 20% then the retention of players in that step must be 20%/80% = 25%. Going all the way to the end of the FTUE only provides a 5% boost to retention when compared to players who only installed the game. So it can be concluded in this case that the on-boarding process only has a marginal effect on Day 1 Retention.

This is how retention at each FTUE step would look:

Table showing the % retention for players that reach each FTUE step

Day 1 Retention of players that reach each FTUE step, assuming that all the players that don’t reach that step will churn

By this analysis, low Day 1 Retention must mean that the tutorial and first mission are doing nothing to boost retention.

While you could argue that this is a totally artificial setup, on the deltaDNA platform we currently have several games with better FTUE progress than this, and worse Day 1 Retention.

A realistic interpretation here is that the FTUE is not engaging. Tutorials which are extremely short and entirely scripted can often lead to situations such as this. While this is a useful illustration of why understanding Day 1 Retention in meaningful cohorts is useful, it isn’t the only way to understand the impact of post-FTUE play.

Let’s continue our analysis of the game above…

Determining the impact of providing post-FTUE play options

After completing the first mission, the player is presented with three options; progress directly to mission 2, complete a side quest or upgrade their character. It’s difficult to simply add these options to the funnel as the player is not required to do any to progress. We could split our funnel into multiple paths but this would quickly become cumbersome for a high number of options. The simple solution is to measure Day 1 Retention for each cohort, e.g.

Chart showing % Day 1 Retention for cohorts posts FTUE

The Day 1 Retention of players that choose one of three optional cohorts post FTUE

So we can see that Day 1 Retention for players that go straight to mission 2 is 25%; exactly the same as the rate of completion of the FTUE. Players distracted by a side mission have worse retention, while those that upgrade first have much better retention.

The action from this kind of analysis is clear; include the upgrade process as part of the guided FTUE, or clearly signpost players toward it.

How to use this type of analysis throughout your game

The advantage of this kind of analysis is that it can be done for any feature or point of gameplay. It is also not necessary to focus only on Day 1 Retention. Any goal can be used as a performance metric; e.g. Day 7 Retention or reaching a given level of spending in game.

One difficult aspect of this analysis is the requirement to select comparable samples. For instance, let’s say ‘Tournament’ mode is unlocked at level 5. We might see the following impact for tournament mode on retention:

day 1 retention table

However this is not a fair comparison as the ‘Didn’t Play Tournament’ group contains all the players that dropped out before level 5. The fair comparison is:

day 1 retention table 2

By selecting comparable cohorts of players, features at any point from the game progression can be tested in this way.

Using the right KPIs to make a better game

The core difference between F2P and premium games is that revenue is directly related to how long the player sticks with the game. Understanding how every aspect of a F2P game works to engage players is the key to building a successful and profitable game.

Simple KPIs like Overall Retention can be misleading or ambiguous about where problems lie. By connecting your player goals, like Retention, to in-game interactions, the impact of these interactions can be directly assessed. This naturally leads to better player on-boarding and game design.

To measure Day 1 Retention and First Time User Experience in your game, and to create cohorts, sign up to a free trial of our analytics platform.

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