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.

zynga-sticky-factor

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-sticky-factor

Playfish

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

Some key points over the last 12 moths:

  • In contrast to Zynga, Playfish started with high sticky factors in games like Pet Society and Restaurant City, but has actually seen those decline. Not included in this analysis are first generation Playfish games like Word Challenge and Who Has the Biggest Brain? which have Social Game Sticky Factors of 8% and 4% respectively.
  • For a good part of this year, Pet Society saw a Sticky Factor in the low to mid 30% range. Then Restaurant City launched in late March with a more compelling game play with early retention rates in the 40%. Pet Society almost immediately saw a drop of the Sticky Factor to the mid 20% range, which suggests some Pet Society users stopped playing consistently as their attention was focused on the new Restaurant City game. Zynga saw this same “cross-promotion-cannibalization” of its playing base with FarmVille and Mafia Wars.
  • New farm sim game Country Story looks like it’s settling into the 20% range, which is still strong, just a marked difference from the 36% FarmVille is seeing. Likewise, the other new title from Playfish, Crazy Planets, has had a difficult time building an audience (been flat around 250,000 DAU) and has been hovering around an 11% Social Game Sticky Factor.

fish-sim-sticky-factor

Fish Sim Genre

Fish Sim Games have jumped into the top 25 and a great deal of this has to do with the strong Social Game Sticky Factors across the board:

Collectively, Happy Aquarium (by CrowdStar), My Fishbowl (by TwoFishes Interactive) and Fish World (by Tall Tree Games) would be the #2 application on Facebook, with over 8.9 million Daily Active Users. All three games have launched since August and seem to have seen slow sticky-factor declines, except for My Fishbowl. This Chinese developed game has a cross-promotional toolbar (à la Zynga and Playfish) that seems to be shared with the #13 game, 開心農場 (Happy Harvest), that I first noticed around September 30th, when you can see My Fishbowl’s Social Game Sticky Factor stabilized and since has grown.

Is a 15% Social Game Sticky Factor the Tipping Point?

There undoubtedly can be a great deal more analysis, but it would seem that when your game application reaches a 15% Social Game Sticky Factor, you have an application that can maintain sustained growth. Below this, it appears harder for games to grow; when Roller Coaster Kingdom was revamped and finally passed 15%, Zynga appears to have turned on the advertising and cross-promotional muscle to push it into the top 15 by DAUs.

While there is a correlation of stickiness to monetization, I’m not suggesting that there aren’t other factors involved. You can have a game that everyone plays, but if there is no motivation for users to buy items (either through impacting game play or providing personalization), you aren’t going to make money. But I would suggest it’s improbable you’ll make money from a social game that no one continues to play.

Eric von Coelln was the vice president of marketing at Oberon Media, a leading multi-platform casual games company, and most recently the vice president of Marketing at PowerSoccer.com. He is now a New York based freelance consultant to games, e-commerce and social media companies — including some of the largest social gaming companies on Facebook. While Mr. von Coelln does write about some companies for which he has done paid consulting from time to time, this post is based on publicly available information and in our view is an unbiased analysis of the industry. You can find his blog here.


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13 Responses to “The Sticky Factor: Creating a Benchmark for Social Gaming Success”

  1. EVCin » The Sticky Factor: Creating a Benchmark for Social Gaming Success says:

    [...] See the full article including comparative graphs at InsideSocialGames.com // October 28th, 2009 | Tags: Fish Sim Games, Playfish, Social Games Sticky Factor, Zynga | Category: Uncategorized | Leave a comment [...]

  2. Mike Sellers says:

    Extremely interesting metrics, Eric. I’ve been digging into this a bit too with the wealth of data we have for FB games. For example, looking at the top 25 FB game providers (as of 10/22), there’s an average 25% DAU/MAU ratio — and eyeballing the histogram, there appear to be two tipping points or discontinuities, one around 15% as you note, and another around 30%. I suspect but don’t have hard data to show that monetization may accelerate above 30% as well due to increased network effects.

    The real question in all this of course is how to relate DAU (or MAU) to monetization. In the F2P MMOG space, several providers have offered data showing that they have an ARPU (not ARPPU) of about $1.20-$1.40 per MAU per month — which is *far* higher than the vague figures I’ve seen for FB, which seems to be at around 25c-50c per MAU. But it’s hard to say.

    Eric, in an earlier post you said that most games appeared to be trying to get to $25K per 1M DAU per day (which, at a 25% Stickiness ratio, works out to a MAU ARPU of $0.19 – seemingly very low).

    Can you say more about where the $25K/1M DAU comes from? It would seem to be low given rumored-but-believable revenue figures for Zynga and Playfish — and as I said, very low compared to the web-based MMOGs (which if nothing else may mean we have better numbers to look forward to as designs mature).

  3. Eric von Coelln says:

    Mike –

    I definitely like your thought on a second tipping point and will try to look at that some more; been putting something together for next week to look at how to measure the impact of feature releases in terms of the Sticky Factor.

    I don’t know that you can really tie DAU or MAU to monetization – that’s a huge leap as there are a lot of variables. For example, I have heard that Game A may be more engaging than Game B, but Game B is where more of the money is being made. A lot of that ties to the way the game was designed to monetize the value points for the player. Hence I think you may find that game genres (like Mafia War-type games) have similar triggers and thus could have comparable revenue rates.

    Regarding the $25K per day per 1 million active users per day, that was suggested by Sean Ryan of Loki Partners (see http://www.insidesocialgames.com/2009/10/01/calcuating-how-playdom-is-making-50m-from-28m-users/#comments) and I don’t have further details; I did have someone who knows the revenues around one of the top 20 games on Facebook use that metric and noted that it was close to what they saw, so it may have validity. But as noted before, I think this varies among games and across platforms (Zynga and Playfish have revenue and users on MySpace and Hi5 as well).

    Eric

  4. jardenberg kommenterar – 2009-11-02 — jardenberg unedited says:

    [...] The Sticky Factor: Creating a Benchmark for Social Gaming Success [...]

  5. How Big Social Games Maintain Their Sticky Factors says:

    [...] of the more interesting applications of the social game “sticky factor” that I introduced last week is the ability to look at the life cycle of some of the most popular games and identify some of the [...]

  6. Slower Growth For This Week’s Facebook Apps With the Most New Daily Active Users says:

    [...] over time. This retention factor figures heavily in the growth and success of apps. We’ve explained in depth why a stickiness of over 15% is important at our sister site, Inside Social [...]

  7. The Early Social Game Winners and Losers After Facebook’s Platform Changes says:

    [...] — we looked at Daily Active Users (DAU), Monthly Active Users (MAU) and the resulting Sticky Factors (DAU/MAU) for top developers on December 7, 2009 (this was around the time the platform changes [...]

  8. The Secret Glossary of Social Games Analytics | Wavedash says:

    [...] DAU/MAU The DAU/MAU ratio is one of the hot metrics in social games. Comparing Daily Active Users to Monthly Active Users shows roughly how many days per month your average user engages with your game. If you have 500,000 daily users and 1 million monthly users, the DAU/MAU is .5, translating to the average user logging in ~15 days per month. The DAU/MAU ratio is strongly correlated with social gaming success. [...]

  9. Zynga Napkin Math « Eric Gonzalez says:

    [...] – DAU:MAU ratio is .375, which is pretty high for the industry. The general rule of thumb is anything over .15 makes a game sustainable. [...]

  10. Facebook DAU and MAU: what they tell you (and what they don’t) « Insight analysis says:

    [...] name for the DAU/MAU ratio – he calls it “The Social Game Sticky Factor”.  In his post in Inside SocialGames, he compares a number of leading apps in terms of “stickiness”, and says that the [...]

  11. Quora says:

    What is the average monthly churn rate for social games?…

    This depends heavily on whether the game is being aggressively marketed or not.   That being said, a good metric to estimate a game’s churn is what’s called the “sticky factor”, which is a game’s DAU/MAU.  You can see an article on the topic http:…

  12. Quora says:

    What is a good DAU/MAU for an iPhone app? Or a standalone site?…

    There are some good stats on DAU/MAU ratios within Facebook apps, where 30% is good to shoot for, but not a lot of people have used this same ratio for web products. Two articles for Facebook apps: http://techcrunch.com/2009/10/29/how-to-measure-the-tr

  13. Panda-Like Update In Android Market Search? | WebProNews says:

    [...] He thinks the ranking now considers either daily active users or the “sticky factor“. [...]

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