I have written many times about customer lifetime value (LTV)and how it is the critical determinant of a company’s success (any company, from mobile games to retailers). A user’s lifetime value has to exceed the cost of acquiring the customer, otherwise companies cannot grow and will eventually die.
Last year, I discussed that out of the three key components of LTV – monetization, virality and retention – retention was the one most critical for success. While people sometimes focus on monetization, its impact on the long-term value of a customer is limited. Think of a retail store. Would they rather have a customer who comes in, makes a $100 purchase but never returns or somebody who comes in every week and makes a purchase ranging from $10 to $25? Obviously, they would prefer the latter. Successful businesses, games, apps, have great retention, thus creating high LTVs and allowing for more marketing spend.
While the mathematical case for focusing on retention is incontrovertible, many companies have not perfected how to measure retention effectively. Most social game companies, among the most sophisticated users of analytics, rely on measuring retention by D1/D7/D30 retention (how many players who installed on Day 0 are play after one day, seven days and thirty days, respectively). While this method is an acceptable (and sometimes powerful) way of tracking how new users are performing, even D30 retention only reflects behavior of customers acquired in the last month. It does not show how well the game or company is retaining its existing customer base.
When I was at Zynga, I came across a metric that perfectly captures how well you are performing with your existing customers, CURR (current user return rate). CURR is complemented by NURR (new user return rate) and RURR (returning user return rate). Since leaving Zynga, not only have I taken these KPIs with me, I have used them as a key focus for optimizing products. A post by Nathan Williams, SaaS Retention Metrics: Lessons from Free-to-Play Games, reminded me how important these KPIs are and how to best use them.
CURR (current user return rate) is the most important KPI to track (or at least a tie with NPS). It shows how loyal your existing customers are; you should consider CURR the inverse of churn. If your CURR increases, it means you have improved your product’s appeal to existing players or customers, if CURR declines you have made your game worse. CURR is also an excellent way of looking at how your game is performing among different segments, VIPs versus payers versus never-spenders.
To calculate CURR, you start with all the users who played the game between t-14 (14 days before today, today minus 14) and t-20 and who used the product between t-7 and t-13, what percentage returned to play between t-0 and t-6. The benchmark for a good, but not great, game is 80 percent.
NURR (new user return rate) is a great metric for understanding how appealing your game is to players you have just acquired. A low NURR shows you have a bad initial experience (or a bad traffic source), turning off many users. It is virtually impossible to acquire players profitably with a low NURR.
To calculate NURR, take all the players who used the game for the first time between t-7 and t-13 and look at what percentage returned to the game between t-0 and t-6. You can benchmark NURR at about 30 percent, though it is dependent on the type of game and platform. There is much higher variance in NURR than CURR among successful games (a game on desktop could succeed with a much lower NURR than a game on Google Play).
RURR (return user return rate) shows how many people who had churned and returned to your game stay active. It is a great way of measuring how well your game can capitalize on CRM and paid reactivation campaigns. If the number is low, you are doing a great job of bringing players back but the product is still not compelling to these players.
You can calculate RURR by taking all the players who were active at some point but did not use the product between t-14 and t-20, and did use the product between t-7 and t-13, what percentage returned to play the game between t-0 and t-6. There is also significant variance in this benchmark but I usually target 40 percent for social casino games.
Use *URR to track product performance
Once you start monitoring CURR/RURR/NURR, you should use them to understand what is working and where there are issues. If you see a significant change in CURR, it is almost certainly caused by recent product changes. Low NURR indicates either you have broken your FTUE or you have added weak sources of traffic. A low RURR indicates your CRM or reactivation team is doing a good job but you need to add product features to keep the players you are brining back.
- Retention is the key driver of customer lifetime value (LTV), and CURR/NURR/RURR are the most accurate metrics to track retention.
- CURR (current user return rate) is your most valuable metric, the percent of your current players who are staying active. It shows whether changes in your product are appealing to or deterring your player base.
- NURR (new user return rate) shows if your initial user experience is strong while RURR (return user return rate) shows if your game is appealing to players who have churned but decide to try it again.