Guest post: Vostu’s insights on retention patterns in social vs. casual games

[Editor’s Note: The following article comes from Vostu co-founder and Chief Scientist Mario Schlosser and Chief Researcher Neil Molino. It compares retention patterns between Vostu’s city-building sim, MegaCity, and its recently-released real time soccer sim, Gol Mania.]

In Vostu’s experience, what makes a successful traditional social game (defined here as games with common social features like quests and gifting) is building a highly dedicated and engaged long-term userbase that plays up into very high levels in the game. Game play in high levels becomes complex and extremely social. (High-level users exchange a lot more gifts than low-level ones, for example.) These games lose a lot of users early on, but those who stay (at least in a good game) are there for long periods of time and are highly engaged with the game. And, hopefully, they’re paying users.

In contrast, casual games (defined here as games that are social but rely less heavily on traditional social features like quests and gifting) have a tougher time engaging a long-term audience. Gameplay in high levels tends to be the same straightforward, simple activity that it was in lower levels. That means it is harder to continuously engage users in casual games when they reach high levels. This game type does have its advantages, however, as it is easier for users to re-engage with a casual game after a lapse.

From our perspective, social games are soap operas while casual games are sitcoms. The retention characteristics for a traditional social game like MegaCity, our city-building simulation, are very different than those we see in a casual game like Gol Mania, our real-time soccer game. But some of these differences clearly point to opportunities for casual games to learn from social games and vice versa.

We’ll quantify a number of key differences between MegaCity and Gol Mania below. First, at a very basic level, we see the amount of minutes that users play per day shows a divergence between the two games. When we drill into this and break down the userbase of the two games by level, we see that this divergence really stems from the fact that (a) social games have a higher portion of high-level dedicated users and (b) these high-level dedicated users actually play longer each day than their analogous users in casual games. The chart below shows the percentage of users who play x minutes or less per day. “Social game” stands for Vostu’s MegaCity, and “Casual game” is Vostu’s Gol Mania. For example, in Gol Mania, 80 percent of users play 30 minutes or less per day, while in MegaCity, just 60 percent play 30 minutes or less per day.

In the graph below, we see that low-level users show very similar time played per day for both games. Note that it normally doesn’t make sense to compare levels across games, as level 10 in a poker game is bound to be different than level 10 in a cafe game. In our case, however, we can calculate our games’ level curves in a way that an average user levels up every 1-1.5 days regardless of which type of game they are playing. This is interesting: in a user’s early days, casual vs. social games don’t differ.

Mid-level users start to show differences in the duration of play per day:

This difference becomes even more extreme as we progress to very high levels. Hard-core users in MegaCity are highly engaged. A full 50 percent plays more than 30 minutes per day. That’s not the case for long-standing fans of Gol Mania, which are less engaged.