Gaming Retention Nightmares: Three Ways to Avoid a Zombie Outbreak

Identifying and re-engaging lapsed players this Halloween

They’re everywhere. In fact, your database is absolutely crawling with them.

Shuffling around with your game from two release cycles ago still downloaded to their phone or console, they spend their free time scrolling Instagram versus engaging with your carefully crafted gaming experience.

They’ve become zombie players, and it’s only a matter of time before the outbreak becomes critical.

So, what’s the plan?

If you’re a subscription-based title, there’s a temptation to just head to the Winchester Tavern, just call it a day, and wait for it all to blow over since you already made money on the many players who paid full price for your title and you don’t want to remind them about the game they’re not playing.

Likewise, if you’re a free-to-play publisher, it’s tempting to focus only on high-value player segments or acquiring/onboarding new players, and let the zombies wander the streets.

A game’s financial success is highly correlated to retention and that means keeping players engaged. However, with new competitive titles seemingly popping every day and the emergence of new retention-killing features like the new iOS “Offload Unused Apps” feature which automatically deletes unused games after a lapse in engagement, driving player retention is becoming more and more an uphill battle for game producers.

Identifying the zombies

Most game producers are sitting “uneasily” in their easy chairs somewhat oblivious to the fact that the zombie apocalypse has started. Some can even hear the chorus of “braaaaains” outside their front door but they are paralyzed – not knowing what action to take.

Sure, they all have done modeling work to predict churn, but can only do so in the days leading up to a cancellation or abandonment. Traditional churn models are like smoke detectors: they don’t predict (and help you prevent) churn, they just alert you when it’s too late. Like they say, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” and old-school churn model’s only solution is to douse the flame that’s already started. Most companies don’t have access to a longitudinal view of their customers that would help them identify those early embers of risk that ultimately lead to a fire.

Within each service or app, however, exists those telltale signs for a consumer who’s at risk for churn – signs of player dis-engagement like slight decreases in session time or decreases in payment frequency or amount. The trick is in making sure this information is surfaced and acted upon with engagement amplifiers in a timely manner to anticipate and prevent customer disengagement (or the fire) from ever happening.

If you’re reaching out to customers after they’ve been infected by a zombie virus, you’re considerably less likely to save them because customers become zombies long before your traditional models can warn you.

Whether someone has already lapsed or at risk for churn, it’s equally important to ask the question, “Is this customer worth saving?” You can only answer that by knowing two things: the root cause of why each individual customer is at risk, and the value you place on keeping them.

Many companies simply blast every lapsed customer with a generic turn-around offer, but having answers to the following questions will help guide which discounts, upgrades, and engagement offers to dynamically present to each customer segment:

  • Why is the customer at risk of leaving?
  • Do you have a remedy for it?
  • How likely is the customer to come back?
  • How much will they spend if they come back?
  • How likely are they to stay and for how long?

The antidote can be spread as quickly as the virus

Just like bad news that travels fast, a good experience can also send ripples through an at-risk customer’s community of relationships or social graph. Using the built-in social graph function of the Amplero AIM Platform, we conducted a study with Columbia University

Our study quickly found that social connections of customers increase their consumption and are less likely to churn due to a campaign that was neither targeted toward them nor offered any direct incentives.

Likewise, it’s possible to stimulate increased usage throughout an entire customer social ecosystem through intentional sharing campaigns.

For example, imagine a dormant customer receives a notification from a friend and responds within five minutes. You then classify them with a high propensity to become a more active customer. Within 12 hours, the customer who sent the original notification could be given an offer to win two movie tickets if they answer a movie quiz. As part of the rules, they can text four people that they’ve texted in the past 24 hours for help, and they’ll also win two tickets each. You’ve now spurred increased usage from the at-risk consume, and made them more open to an upgrade or renewal offer.

In a zombie hunt, it’s the equivalent of injecting the antidote into a person who has been bitten, and all the surrounding zombies also get well.

Not bad, right?

Get beyond short-term metrics

Often, channel-specific marketing tools for game publishers—in-app messaging tools, mobile A/B testing, email, etc.—focus primarily on short-term metrics like clicks, opens, sessions or linear purchases based last-touch attribution.

In a zombie scenario, this is the equivalent of looking for a public bathroom stall in which to hide. At best, it’s a temporary solution.

Instead of clutching that sweaty baseball bat while lifting your feet off the floor and praying the hordes can’t hear your pounding heart, dealing with a proper zombie outbreak requires long-term solutions.

So, what does this mean?

Gaming product and marketing leaders need to be able to optimize campaigns for long-term key performance indicators (KPIs) like player lifetime value, average revenue per player, and yes, player retention. And yes, shorter term metrics like player session time, achievement levels and daily average usage are mileposts to the KPI’s that drive value.

Without this long-term lens on your players, however, you’re constantly chasing short-term goals that could be cannibalizing your long-term KPIs.

To combat this tendency to focus on short-term engagement metrics, gaming companies are increasingly looking to AI-powered orchestration layers to continuously optimize the player lifecycle—across every channel. Rather than writing rules and creating manual segments for each campaign or personalized player experience, these platforms are able to ingest the entire ecosystem of player data and run thousands of simultaneously evolving experiments to deliver the highest performing experiences.

The result is a holistic, multi-channel approach to engaging and retaining players.

For gaming leaders looking to reduce churn rates this Halloween and re-animate lapsed players, contact us learn more about how gaming companies like DoubleDown Interactive are using the Amplero AIM Platform to deliver 1:1 player experiences at scale.

Evaluating AI solutions for gaming retention and revenue lift?

Olly Downs, PhD, CEO and Chief Scientist at Amplero, will host a webinar featuring Forrester VP and Principal Analyst Joe Stanhope discuss the current state of AIM and real-world examples on Thursday, October 26 at 12:00pm PT.


About Glenn Pingul

Glenn Pingul is VP of Scientific Marketing Strategies for Amplero, an Artificial Intelligence Marketing (AIM) platform that helps enterprises better connect with their customers. Prior to joining Amplero, he was a co-founder of the online video advertising ad tech company, Mixpo, where he was VP of marketing.

He has an extensive background developing digital marketing, analytics, and loyalty and retention strategies while serving in executive level positions at T-Mobile USA,, AirTouch Wireless (Verizon Wireless), and The American Express Company.

About Amplero

Headquartered in Seattle, Amplero is an Artificial Intelligence Marketing (AIM) company that enables business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers at global brands to optimize customer lifetime value at a scale that is not humanly possible.

Unlike traditional rules-based marketing automation systems, Amplero’s Artificial Intelligence Marketing Platform leverages machine learning and multi-armed bandit experimentation to dynamically test thousands of permutations to adaptively optimize every customer interaction and maximize customer lifetime value and loyalty.

With Amplero, marketers in competitive, customer-obsessed industries like telecom, banking, gaming, and consumer tech are currently seeing measurable lift across key performance indicators—including 1-3% incremental growth in customer topline revenue and 3-5x lift in retention rates.

For more information, contact us today or follow us on Twitter.