How to keep players engaged and coming back to your idle game

Guest author
July 16, 2021

This article is also available in GameAnalytics blog.

Idle games don’t involve much in the way of thinking from the player. And they don’t have an end goal—you just continue to play them, earning more in-game currency and upgrading as you go. They’re usually free to play, relying on in-app purchases and currency passes to make money. But how can you make sure that your players want to keep coming back?

In this blog we’re going to tell you how to do just that, and also share some stats on engagement metrics from GameAnalyticsBenchmarks+ platform, which you can get access to for free.

Why idle games appeal to both players and developers

On paper, idle games sound a bit ridiculous. Why would anyone want to play a game that involves hardly any, well, playing? The numbers say different though—idle games have really high retention rates, and users keep coming back, even when they’ve been playing for weeks. But why?

The answer seems to lie in the fact that us human beings like getting stuff for free. So the idea of earning money without (literally) lifting a finger has universal appeal. Players can leave idle games for hours, days, or even weeks, safe in the knowledge that when they come back, they’ll have more money than when they left (if only my bank account worked the same way). Having said that, there is still a challenge—upgrades get more expensive as time goes on, and players have to strategize to decide which ones to buy.

For developers, idle games have the potential to be really profitable. They have simple designs and mechanics which means they’re fairly quick and cheap to create. In fact, if you know what you’re doing, it’s possible to develop one of these games in only a couple of months. There’s lots of scope for monetization as well—players of idle games expect ads, and rewarded or incentivized ones tend to do well.

All in all, if you get your idle game right, the return on investment can be really great.

Craft Island, Farm Land, and Harvest It are examples of Arcade Idle games, a new idle subgenre.

Idle games in numbers

- Players of idle games show a stickiness of 18% vs 10.5% for Hypercasual titles.

- Idle gamers play more sessions each day—5.3 compared to 4.6 for hyper-casual. They also have a longer average session length (eight minutes) than Hypercasual.

- The average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU) for idle games is nine times more than Hypercasual.

So, how do you keep your players engaged?

Here are our top tips for making idle games that people just can’t keep away from.

Make it free to play

The most successful idle games are free to download, offering in-app purchases and subscription options. Whales (players who spend lots on microtransactions) are very important in this type of game.

Use timed mechanics for your in-app economy

These increase retention. That’s because players want to check in every day to pick up new currency and upgrades, or refresh their daily objectives. It also reinforces the fact that they’ll still get achievements even if they’re not actively playing that often.

Offer daily, weekly and monthly rewards

Rewarding players for logging in every day, or doing something like a battle, etc., work really well with the timed elements of idle games. You might also want to include special events (like limited-time items or characters)—these are all great incentives to encourage players to come back.

Think about including community building

Players love helping each other out. So you can use things like guilds to add in rewards and missions for collaboration. Chat functionality is a good idea as well.

Use battle comps

This is a great way to keep your players engaged. Top players fight each other, and free players bet on who they think will win. This also helps with the community building mentioned above.

Include reminders to play

But make sure they have a purpose. So only use them for things like telling a player they’ve been beaten in a battle, they’ve completed a mission, or some extra-special loot is available. By monitoring traffic and identifying peak times, you can work out the best time to send these out.

You can find out more about how to make great idle games in this post.

Keep players coming back for more with timed mechanics.

Which engagement metrics should you be looking at?

Once your idle game comes out, you’ll want to check how it’s performing. And the best way to do that is by setting some KPIs (key performance indicators)—measurable values that show exactly what your game is performing in the market. But there are a lot of numbers you can check here, so how do you know which ones to look at? Here’s our round-up of the things you should be keeping an eye on.

- D1 retention: top 10% = 45.55% / top 25% = 39.40%.

- Playtime: top 10% = 34.92m / top 25% = 21.0m.

- Session count: top 10% = 5.82 / top 25% = 5.03.

- Average session length: top 10% = 7m / top 25% = 6m. The playtime of idlers is, on average, quite high. So this is an important metric to check when you’re analyzing an idle game’s performance.

To keep track of these metrics, we use GameAnalytics intelligence platform GameIntel, which allows us to get a clear picture of the mobile gaming industry and how our games are performing within it. The tool analyzes a network of more than 100,000 mobile games, 45,000+ studios, and more than 1.2 billion players, 16 billion sessions, and 150 million transactions monthly to present accurate insights on our different KPIs.This article is also available in GameAnalytics blog.

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