The audience for mobile free-to-play games is cheaper and more transient than previously thought, according to a new report out today from app testing firm Swrve.
The report tracked the behavior of more than 10 million players for 90 days, starting in November of last year. All the players were new to the games being played, covering more than 30 titles in Swrve’s network.
19 percent of those new players opened the games only once, and 66 percent had stopped playing after the first 24 hours. On average, players spent about 45 cents over the course of those 90 days. In line with Swrve’s head-turning monetization report from February, only 2.2 percent of players spent any money at all, and 46 percent of the revenue came from the top 10 percent of those spenders.
Intriguingly, 53 percent of the spending in the games surveyed happened within the first seven days after users started playing. So two-thirds of players leave after day one, and half of their value as paying customers evaporates after week one. Yikes!
Swrve’s interest in all this comes from its core business argument, that rigorous app testing and user segmenting can improve retention and monetization. Its clients include Activision, Epic Games, Gameloft, WB Games and ZeptoLab.
In an interview with Re/code, CEO Hugh Reynolds called the new report a “word of caution around user acquisition,” referring to how heavily big companies often spend to get their apps downloaded in the first place. Those users are so fickle, he said, that a lax attitude toward keeping them engaged leaves money on the table.
“It’s a bit like a first date,” Reynolds said. “If it’s going to be effective, it needs to be effective quick.”
The problem is that not all players would respond the same way to the same signals, Reynolds added. Switching similes to a department store rather than a first date, he said a talented brick-and-mortar salesperson can read whether different types of customers need help or not, and then swoop in if needed.
In a gaming context, this might mean tweaking the tutorial section of a mobile game so that players who exhibit certain signals in testing, like taking too long in one area, could be offered extra help. But like customers who head straight for a particular section of shirts in a store, players who power through the first stages quickly would never see the same hand-holding.
“Watch what people do, not what they say,” Reynolds said. “… As consumers, we’re all weary of this billboard-style communication.”
Update: Free-to-play veteran and DeNA head of European game studios Ben Cousins says the numbers Swrve found are not that surprising. 40 percent retention on day two, he said in a tweet, is “a sign of a real hit.”
“Sounds like Swrve are trying to paint a depressing picture to sell services,” Cousins wrote. “Those numbers are totally normal, can drive success.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.