First a clarification - I am using the term “mobile engagement” in a loose sense, to describe how ‘sticky’ a game or app might be in terms of retention, session length, number of sessions or indeed a combination of all these factors. And now on with the rest of the piece…

 One of the numbers that struck many as surprising or unusual in our report on First Time Players, was the fact that 19% of all our new players in November played the ‘game’ no more than once (game in quotes as of course, we looked at data from many diverse games rather than a single title).


Of course that isn't news to those familiar with the industry. In fact when compared to some numbers I have seen, that 19% is pretty good! So why does it strike many as particularly bad, and what does that tell us about the way many people still think about mobile apps in general, and freemium games in particular?

I think what is at play here is a misunderstanding about what freemium games in particular represent, and how they are used in the real world. For better or worse, we find it hard to lose the idea that the install represents the key moment of decision, the equivalent of buying a product in the real world. And although I am sure many of us buy things to use once (or never), we probably don’t feel good about it.

But that is to completely misunderstand the situation. There is almost no ‘friction’ in downloading and playing a freemium game - or testing any mobile app for that matter. In that context, isn't it entirely natural that nearly a fifth of people who download a title decide it isn't for them and don't return?

The confusion of install with purchase kills many a good mobile business. We have to learn that the job of mobile marketing is only half done at the point of install. In fact less than half done. The hard work - conversion, monetization - comes later. And it starts with getting users sticking around for a second session.

Because whilst 19% isn't surprising, it’s still a number we want to work on. You'll get greater ROI by hammering at that number - using A/B testing to optimize user experience - than you will spending on acquisition to pour more players into a leaky sieve.