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A beginner's guide to boosting Lifetime Value

Server-side development, balanced difficulty and weekly events - AppLovin MD Johannes Heinze on increasing LTV in mobile games

Lifetime value (LTV) is the single most important metric for game developers, and it's often what keeps them up late at night. LTV is the de facto barometer informing devs just how well a game is performing in terms of revenue, and it also dictates investment in marketing and user acquisition. Not only that, LTV informs retention and re-engagement strategies.

Despite being an important metric, though, many developers don't give it the attention it deserves. And while there are numerous methods to measure LTV, we'd like to share some best practices designed to help you boost LTV for your mobile games.

Deploy your game across popular mobile platforms

Before jumping into boosting LTV, you should ensure that you have as many active users as possible by developing for the leading mobile platforms, i.e. Android and iOS. It doesn't matter if your LTV is sky high if you've only got a handful of users. We witness this all the time; as soon as devs make games available on each platform, they see incremental increases in revenue simply because they're accessing more available active users.

"The ability to push changes without re-submitting to app stores is especially important when your game is on multiple platforms"

If your development team doesn't have much in the way of resources, you should check out popular tools such as Unreal, Unity, Corona, or Adobe Air. These solutions help make multi-platform development a cinch. Deploying your game across various platforms and all the popular app stores can take a fair bit of time, as you'll be getting involved in activities like creating copy for each app store, taking screen grabs and producing video trailers, but ultimately you'll be rewarded with more users.

When you reach critical mass and scale, you'll be able to do more reliable cohort testing and analysis, largely because you'll have larger sample sizes for A/B testing. All this is critical as you as you optimise your LTV metrics going forward.

Find the “difficulty” sweet spot and keeping users playing

As with most mobile games, the more users play your games, the likelier it becomes that they will spend. It's therefore key to find the optimum level of game difficulty, making it challenging enough to be enjoyable, but not so challenging that players become discouraged and leave.

Cohort testing can help reveal the sweet spot for difficulty - a level where game players are encouraged and engaged, and are compelled to keep on playing and purchase in-game currency. Experiment with different cohort groups; for example, create a very difficult setting and label this cohort "alpha", and also create cohort "beta", which has an easier version of the game. Continue to vary these cohorts until you discover your Goldilocks zone of difficulty, which generates the highest level of engagement and revenue.

"Events can have a profound impact on retention and revenue figures, and therefore improve LTV... We recommend that you run events every week"

Similarly, you should use A/B testing across other important areas such as ad formats, frequency and placement of ads, or optimal rates for currency promotions. Tools from LeanPlum or Optimizely can help with this.

Try to keep things server-side

It's a great idea to do all your activities server-side, so that the majority of your app's operations happen on the backend rather than on the client installed on the phone. Firstly, there's the benefit of size, particularly if you're localising in emerging markets: smaller apps are more suited for markets which usually have slower mobile network speeds and mobile users have less memory storage on their devices.

And when you keep things server-side, you can do do cohort testing on promotions and incentives, events, or fix unwanted bugs, all without the hassle of going through arduous app store entry processes and then waiting for users to update their apps. The ability to push changes without re-submitting is especially important when your game is on multiple platforms, and several of the most popular app stores. When everything is server side, the tedious administrative work of managing changes to several different app SKU numbers is greatly reduced.

However, when engineering your server-side environment, make sure the tools you use all adhere to the respective rules for the App Store and/or Google Play. Otherwise, you may be in for a surprise email telling you your app violates certain guidelines.

Discover down funnel events from new users

When increasing LTV, it's critical to understand the ARPU from every traffic source, so you can determine if you are overpaying or underpaying for users. If you discover that one single source is providing impressive ARPU figures, you should modify your budget to maximise the number of users you're getting from it, and improve return on investment.

"Active community management can help defuse negative reviews of your game, as giving some love to your community goes a long way"

Purchasing a user for £4 or £9 may seem prohibitive, but if they spend £15 that's of course an ideal scenario. Also, with sectors of inventory that are yielding low ARPU, you'll need to decrease your bids to a level that will take you to your ROI standards, or remove your bids altogether.

Activate special in-app events

Create an annual timeline of special in-app events: hold tournaments for users, sponsor events, and make sure you leverage holidays like Easter and Christmas. Events can have a profound effect on retention and revenue figures, and therefore improve LTV. If you are working server-side as suggested, we recommend that you run events every week. But if your game is based on client-side processes, you can build them in with with regular app updates on a monthly cycle.

Plan a high impact social media marketing campaign

Create and nurture a highly engaged community of gamers across social media platforms. This will significantly boost LTV, as it empowers gamers to share news about their gaming experiences and goals. This strategy creates great visibility, excitement and engagement for your games. A strong gaming community can also prove vital for product development, as gamers discuss issues, bugs, improvements or recommended refinements for your game.

Active community management can also help defuse negative reviews/detractors of your game, as giving some love to your community goes a long way. After all, who doesn't like a quick response on social media?

Gaming brands that are great at social media include Game of War, Criminal Case and Crossy Road - check them out and you'll gather some great ideas to help build a loyal community around your game. Just be conscious about community management best practices and respect the opinions of your audience.

Conclusion

These practices for boosting LTV are fairly straightforward, but each one can have a big impact. Combined, they can deliver solid increases in revenue.

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