The Sticky Factor: Creating a Benchmark for Social Gaming Success

[The following is a guest post by Eric von Coelln, a social game consultant who occasionally contributes articles for Inside Social Games. Below, he takes a deep dive into the “daily active user” metric and how it ties into game growth and monetization. Important note: DAUs are now viewable on our AppData service. So read this post then go check out your favorite game to see how it’s doing.]

The concept is straightforward: The more a user comes back and plays, the more engaged they are. And the more engaged they are, from my experience at PowerSoccer.com, the easier it is to monetize them. Why? A user who comes in and plays your game every day is much more likely to get to that point where they open their wallet, compared to someone who visits once or twice a month or plays twice and never comes back.

So while Monthly Active Users (MAU) has been a metric that has been used to identify which games have been strong in getting reach (either virally or through advertising), the Daily Active Users (DAU) is the true base you should be able to monetize, weeding out the users that only come for a quick trial and don’t come back. A step further in this analysis is something I call the “social game sticky factor” (DAU/MAU) which allows you to benchmark applications’ ability to retain their users.

If your application has a 33% sticky, that means that for every new user you bring in, you have a 33% shot at turning them into a daily user. Compare that to an application with 20% Social Game Sticky Factor, and you can now compare the potential return-on-investment of a Facebook Ad campaign or further development of a game (either to make it stickier or focus your development on another game with a higher sticky factor).

A key for driving the sticky factor, besides great game play, has been the ability of the application to prompt users to reach out to their friends via the Facebook News Feed with stories and pictures. With several changes to the news feed being rolled out on Friday, including going from a real-time to algorithimic listing of top stories and a reduction in the number and size of images, there may be some significant changes in overall sticky factor metrics going forward.

I’ve looked at the top developers and their average sticky factors, but let’s break that down by game and over the last year (and prior to the newsfeed changes) to look at game-specific insights:

Zynga

Some highlights looking at the Social Game Sticky Factor for Zynga’s top games over the last 12 months:

  • You can see that all of Zynga’s older games (Mafia Wars, Texas Hold’em and YoVille) have steadily increased their Social Games Sticky Factor over the last year from the mid teens to the mid-to-lower 20s.
  • While Mafia Wars came close to 30% in early July, you can see it begin to drop off once FarmVille is cross promoted. FarmVille has sustained an incredibly high 36% Social Game Sticky Factor so far, which has helped it vault beyond the competition in total DAUs.
  • New games like FarmVille, Roller Coaster Kingdom and Café World often have very high Social Game Sticky Factors in the early weeks before settling to some sort of equilibrium
  • Roller Coaster Kingdom sunk below 15% post launch and then the game mechanic was altered (to a more “appointment gaming” model like FarmVille). When the game appeared to be approaching 20% again, Zynga began cross-promoting in their toolbar across applications, showing a quick spike in the Social Game Sticky Factor reminiscent of what we see when a game is launched.
  • We are still waiting to see where the natural Social Games Sticky Factors will lie for both Café World and Roller Coaster Kingdom, but it looks like they will be 30% and 20% respectively

Playfish

Now let’s take a look at the 2nd largest Facebook game developer, Playfish: