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A marketer’s guide: Must-know KPIs for measuring your mobile game’s performance

by Lewis Leong on Aug 8, 2017

As a marketer, it’s part of your role to accurately measure the performance of your app throughout each phase of its market address, and there are countless key performance indicators (KPIs) to help you do so. But they don’t all apply in every scenario, and not every metric is created equal.

Mobile gaming apps in particular are a different breed. Competing for user attention in the discovery phase is difficult when there are so many options. Once you’ve managed to get on the user’s device, tweaking the user experience and engagement to optimal levels is a science.

Monetization—via in-app purchases, advertising, subscriptions, upgrades, etc.—is where a lot of app marketers spend most of their time, sometimes at the expense of deeper analysis like which users are worth retaining.

To help you do a better job of marketing your mobile game, here are some thoughts on the must-know KPIs you need track in order to optimize:

  • Discovery and acquisition
  • Experience and engagement
  • Monetization and valuation
  • Churn and retention

Common KPIs for discovery and acquisition

With 5.2 million apps and growing between Apple and Android alone (and with gaming almost uniformly the most popular category of apps worldwide), just getting your game noticed is challenging. Convincing users to install, register, and grant permissions for your app to function in its intended way is even harder.

That said, attributing each install to the correct omni-channel source and tracking the associated revenue and payouts isn’t optional, so you must master discovery and acquisition metrics. Here’s what you need to look out for.

App store optimization (ASO) and attribution

The process of how users discover and decide whether or not to download your game (aka user acquisition or UA) is a subject of deep focus for most marketers. While your strategy behind app store optimization (ASO)—including management of your app’s product page—is important, there are other KPIs to track:

  • Number of views to install: How many times a user views or interacts with your brand before installing (a good measurement of ad and brand performance).
  • Attribution for install source: The originating source(s) that referred the user to your app, leading to the install.

Takeaway: It’s extremely important to measure attribution correctly so you can increase marketing emphasis on high-performing sources of referral and reduce, or eliminate, focus on low-performing channels, thereby decreasing overall Cost Per Acquisition, or CPA (see below).

Download, installation, registration, permissions, and upgrades

Total number of downloads is an obvious metric you need to track, but downloads are really just the tip of the iceberg. In order to actually use your app, users also have to install it. Because of this, one thing you should track is what percentage of users fail to complete this process and why. The user may also need to register your app, which requires turning over personal data, granting permissions (e.g. access to photos or contacts), and/or subscribing to ongoing content or other updates you offer.

Takeaway: In each case, it’s very important that marketers diligently track not only “failures to complete” at each of these points, but also how long it takes the user to complete an action (e.g. 2 minutes to install, 2 hours to register, 2 days to subscribe).

CPI, CPA, and CAC

Measuring the specific expense of onboarding a user for your app can be approached in a few ways. In the cost per install (CPI) model, you’re measuring the cost of one user installing your app based on your expense for creating that action (e.g. a $9,000 ad produces 6,000 installs for a $1.50 CPI).

In the CPA model, you approach that expense in a more holistic way by looking at the total expense (e.g. a campaign with a net cost of $50,000 produces 25,000 new users for a CPA of $2.00).

An even more granular KPI, customer acquisition cost (CAC), seeks to include non-paid methods of discovery and measure the impact of areas of operation on the periphery of marketing: inbound call center requests, sales attributable to special events, etc.

Takeaway: Marketers should measure CPI, CPA, and CAC in order to get a holistic view of their marketing campaigns. This will allow them to optimize their campaigns, ensuring efficient use of resources.

Alternative KPIs for experience and engagement

Data-driven marketing that focuses on publishers analyzing user behaviors to create compelling experiences in-app and otherwise is all the rage in gaming apps marketing for a reason: it works. The insights gleaned through cross-channel behavioral indicators are a window into what your users want, and they should be tracked and studied. Here are the most important user behaviors you should be tracking.

Sessions

Many marketers don’t track in-app performance data the same way they do things like taps, or responsiveness to ads, and that’s a mistake. Understanding in-app performance data gives context to user behaviors that ultimately affect your bottom line.

This means you should track a user’s session, which is the combined interactions a player has with your game in a given period of time (e.g. completing a level, buying upgrades, a performance slowdown). Specific session KPIs you want to track include:

  • Number of sessions generated: Usually, the more the better.
  • Length of sessions: Longer is generally better, unless your game is about the user doing things as quickly as possible.
  • Interval between sessions: How much time passes between sessions.
  • Depth of session: How far users go within the session (Level 1 to Level 4, from browsing to buying, etc.)

Latency and crashes

It’s not ‘marketing sexy’ to think about, but in-app technical glitches have a big impact on user experience and engagement. Load time (a factor of latency) is certainly one app performance KPI marketers should keep an eye on (slow load times = short sessions, uninstalls, and poorer LTV, for starters).

Crashes (real or imagined) are also a big deal for app marketers. Any sub-optimal user experience (latency, freezes, kick-outs) will probably be explained by them as a crash, and that’s what they’ll write in App Store reviews. That said, it makes sense for marketers to take the time to understand how these technical elements affect user experience and business outcomes, and what you can do about it.

Takeaway: Marketers should not underestimate the power of technical issues users may be facing. A poor user experience will result in shorter sessions, diminished revenue, uninstalls, and poor app store reviews.

Core KPIs for monetization and valuation

Getting users to install and routinely use your game at scale is just the start. Now you need to figure out a way to make money. Maximizing your game’s monetization potential means understanding and incentivizing  user behaviors. Here are KPIs to track to maximize monetization.

DAU, MAU and stickiness

  • DAU: Daily Active Users
  • MAU: Monthly Active Users
  • Stickiness: How often users return to your game

These are standard KPIs for measuring frequency of engagement. It stands to reason that the more active users your game has, the greater its total revenue potential. In both cases, what’s being measured is unique users who may actually be active in several daily or monthly sessions. Divide DAU by MAU to get an indication of stickiness. The closer DAU is to MAU, the stickier your app is.

Takeaway: Keeping track of DAU, MAU, and stickiness will ensure your game has greater revenue potential, as players will be more likely to spend or generate revenue the longer they stay engaged with your game.

Time to purchase, ARPU, and LTV

  • Time to purchase: How long it takes someone who has downloaded your app to make a purchase.
  • Average revenue per user (ARPU): The average amount of money generated by a given user within a time period.

ARPU is the metric for a lot of gaming apps marketers, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of KPI. The specific way that your app creates revenue has a lot to with maximizing your revenue potential, as this chart demonstrates (data from Developer Economics):

ARPU by revenue model chart

The customer’s lifetime value (CLTV or LTV) KPI goes even further, attempting to measure the total economic opportunity of users, usually as part of a cohort. The equation looks like this:

AppLovin CLTV forumla

Apptamin does a nice job of breaking LTV down into three categories of variables, offering the following example:

  • Monetization: How much customers contribute to revenue via impressions, subscriptions, or in-app transactions.
  • Retention: The level of engagement users have with your game, particularly the length of average customer lifecycle.
  • Virality: The sum value of additional users a customer will refer to your app (see below).

Let’s say your average user generates $1.35 in revenue every month and you have a monthly churn rate of 60%. Your customers are, no doubt, evangelizing your game in the form of ratings and reviews, but absent an accurate calculation, let’s set referral value to 0. Plug in the numbers, and your your average customer has a predicted LTV of $2.25.

AppLovin CLTV formula example equation

Takeaway: Measuring time to purchase, ARPU, and LTV will allow you to calculate the revenue potential for your game.

Measuring virality

App marketers dream about going viral—fervent users who evangelize until the network effect produces exponential organic growth. Like everything else, your app’s relative virality can be measured, tracked, and influenced. The standard tool for measuring virality the K factor, which uses mentions, shares, and referrals multiplied by a specific channel’s conversion percentage to arrive at a rating of app virality. GameAnalytics offers this equation to help understand K factor:

 AppLovin calculating your k factor

A few words about churn and retention

Churn measures the rate at which users uninstall or unsubscribe from your app. In the same way that apps marketers target specific potential users for acquisition during the discovery process, you should commit your energy and resources to retaining and winning back only those users who produce a profit.

The number of users who uninstall your app is certainly an important KPI for marketers to understand, but more importantly, you want to know why they leave. Was their ARPU and/or LTV even high enough to want them back?

There are many, many more metrics for measuring the performance of your gaming app at each phase of its market address. Some KPIs are quite simple, and others are very complex. Rather than thinking of KPIs as gospel, become a student of the data, focus on just the user behaviors that really matter, and pick the most critical KPIs for acquiring new users and monetizing your game.

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