In the world of online and mobile gaming, a well-designed core loop encourages users to play well past the initial few seconds. But a well-planned engagement loop — one that harnesses social elements and engaging, individualized user journeys — is the key to keep users coming back.

Appearing as a guest on the Reimagine Growth podcast miniseries, Vikas Vardhan Soni, Head of Product, Gaming Business, at Head Digital Works, talks about the pandemic’s impact on gamers’ behavior. He also shares smart workarounds, such as improved onboarding and player upskilling, and reveals how using CleverTap allowed him to increase retention by 30-35% month-over-month.

Head Digital Works is a technology and gaming group that successfully transitioned WhatsApp Mobile Number List from garage startup to growth-stage company. Great gameplay has allowed the company to achieve significant growth. Social elements and innovations, such as allowing players to invite and play with their friends, are also a great way to chalk up impressive wins in a challenging market.

Gaming apps saw lots of new installs and tons of engagement during lockdown periods, Soni says. And the same was true for Head Digital Works. “At the same time, a lot of players who are influencers on our platform have started reaching out to us, and they started making noise” about wanting to be able to play with family and friends. 

“We tried to seize upon that opportunity and launched two things. One is the ‘friends list,’ and the other one is a private table on both our social and real-money games,” he explains. “This actually had us tap into the network which already existed in the system with respect to players referring each other, and we were able to capture that niche network.” The result, he says, was that “more players started being influencers in the system and started to bring in more players from their contacts.”

Enabling these expanded networks turned out to be good for business. Vikas and his team saw an approximately 20-25% increase in session length on private tables and a 30-35% increase in month-on-month retention. Engagement and retention can grow exponentially when mechanics and communications work together, allowing people to connect and play with friends.

Winning Against Engagement Blindness
Players may be flocking to games, but they are also inundated with advertising. Head Digital Works focused on ensuring user journeys (and the communications that accompany them) are automated and contextual to rise above the noise.

By using CleverTap to aggregate their data into actionable segments, Vikas and his team were able to be more targeted in their communications. “With that, we were able to deliver communication which was much more contextual, much more curated, and much more personalized for the players. That’s where we saw a pickup rate improvement for all our offers and promotions and a reduction in our churn rates.”

Another boost came from choosing a framework that allowed Head Digital Works to identify the most valuable players to engage and motivate at scale. Vikas says that, “one of the simplest ways is using the recency, frequency, monetization model (RFM Analysis)…where we are trying to see who are the players who have been more active in the system but perhaps a little low on the monetization front.”

Vikas’ team looks at the channels that have historically brought in a game’s highest-value players. Early identification of a high-value player allows them to “take care of those players in a certain way, catering to their needs and making sure they have a journey that’s as smooth as possible.”

Up-skilling Players to Drive Uplift
But mapping the journey is just the start. Head Digital Works also Best Database Provider customizes the experience to fit the user’s strengths.

Understanding how well a player has mastered the game—and their appetite to improve their score and their gameplay—allows a marketer to do more than shape the initial first minutes of the customer journey, he says. It provides them with another insight they can use to enrich segmentation and orchestrate an amazing gaming experience. 

But first, Head Digital Works had to define and quantify skill. The company commissioned a study with management consulting firm Deloitte and developed what Vikas calls a “skill leaderboard.” In this scenario, it’s not just about wins, it’s about moves, strategy, and in-game activity — things that also help to show how skilled a player truly is.

Combining this, Vikas says, “gave us clear data about player retention.” And one thing became evident, the better the player’s skills, the easier they were to engage and retain. 

Turning the data on its head revealed an urgency and an opportunity to coach less-skilled players with the right messaging. Newer, less-skilled players require more hand-holding early in the journey to gradually increase their skill. More importantly, Vikas says, it guaranteed these players would become engaged members of the community. 

The Takeaway