When it comes to user acquisition in video games, it’s not just about getting as many downloads as possible. It’s about getting the right users — the ones who will stick around, engage with your game, and ultimately make purchases.

This is where considering the lifetime value (LTV) of users comes into play. In order to have a highly profitable game, you want to acquire users who will have a high LTV, meaning they’ll continue playing and spending money in your game over an extended period of time.

LTV encapsulates a player’s total worth to a game over their entire engagement period. It can often make or break a game’s success. The math is simple. The more players you have in your experience spending more money, the more profitable your game will be.

However, this is easier said than done. Acquiring high-LTV players is one of the most difficult challenges that studios currently face. Previously, we walked through the challenges that gaming studios are currently facing with profitability. In this article, we’ll dive into why player LTV is such an important factor when it comes to profitability. We’ll look at the challenges in acquiring high-LTV players, and outline some proven strategies top gaming studios employ to attract and retain these valuable users.

The Importance of Player LTV

LTV is a relatively new focus in the gaming industry. For years the emphasis was on getting as many players into an experience as possible. The entire focus was on initial sales numbers and day-one downloads.

But as games have shifted towards ongoing live services and free-to-play models, LTV has become a key metric in determining the profitability of a video game. It’s no longer just about that initial burst of players — it’s about retaining those players and monetizing them over an extended period of time.

Focusing on LTV and striving to acquire and retain high LTV players is critical for the sustainability and health of most games. Not only does it push studios to create better, more meaningful experiences that truly resonate with players. It also helps ensure that studios can keep making great games for years to come, even in an increasingly competitive and crowded market.

How Do You Measure Player LTV?

To determine the LTV of your players, there are three key factors to consider:

  1. Retention Rates: How long do users typically keep playing the game after downloading? High retention rates are a good sign of a higher LTV.
  2. Monetization: How much money are users spending in the game on average? This includes in-app purchases, subscriptions, etc.
  3. Engagement: How frequently and for how long are users playing the game? Highly engaged users tend to have a higher LTV.

Based on these factors, you can calculate an estimated LTV for different user segments. This helps inform your user acquisition strategy — you can determine how much you’re willing to spend to acquire certain types of users, knowing their predicted LTV.

For example, if you know that users acquired through a certain ad campaign tend to have a high LTV, you may be willing to spend more on that campaign, even if the cost per install (CPI) is higher. If a particular user segment tends to have a low LTV, you may decide it’s not worth heavily targeting them.

Why Acquiring High-LTV Players is Difficult

Acquiring high LTV users is a constant challenge that requires strategic thinking, experimentation, and iteration. We’ve identified three main challenges that studios face when trying to acquire high-LTV players.

The first obstacle is the sheer amount of competition out there. With so many games vying for players’ attention and wallets, it can be difficult to stand out and attract high LTV players.

Second, high LTV players are often more discerning and harder to please. They’re looking for games that offer deep, engaging experiences that resonate with them on a psychological level. They’re not as likely to be swayed by gimmicks or trends.

To acquire these users, studios need to create games that are truly exceptional — games that offer something unique, compelling, and worthwhile. This means investing heavily in things like game design, art, storytelling, and overall production values.

Third, marketing to these players is also challenging. It isn’t enough to cast a wide net with the hopes of reeling in some high LTV users. You need to deeply understand your target audience and tailor messaging and ad creative that will resonate with them at a motivational level.

Key Strategies to Acquire High LTV Players

Successfully acquiring high-LTV players is a multi-faceted approach that involves everything from game design to marketing and beyond. However, there are two over-arching strategies that the best studios prioritize in order to achieve this goal. If you can nail these two strategies, you’ll have a solid foundation to build on for acquiring high-LTV players.

Design For Long-Term Engagement

Games that prioritize long-term engagement feature deep, complex systems that players can sink their teeth into and continue to explore for months or even years.

At a high level, designing for long-term engagement is about creating a game experience that continually offers players new goals to pursue, new challenges to overcome, and new ways to express themselves and interact with the game world and other players.

On a deeper level, it means understanding your audience and making a player-centered experience that appeals to their intrinsic motivations. If you know what your players want and need, you can dial up experiences that will resonate at every stage of your game.

Without knowing what motivates your players, designing for long-term engagement can become a resource drain. For example, should you design intricate crafting and progression systems, dynamic world events, or emergent gameplay that allows for player creativity and experimentation? Should you create a sense of community or create a strong sense of player autonomy? Should you prioritize robust character customization options, branching narrative paths, or sandbox-style gameplay that allows players to create their own goals and adventures?

If you have unlimited time and resources, you might say “all of the above.” But if you’re like most resource-constrained studios, knowing what will appeal to your players’ motivations is key to a long-term engagement strategy that doesn’t resemble shooting fish in a barrel.

Target the Right Audience

When it comes to marketing and user acquisition, it’s important to be strategic about targeting players who are likely to be high-LTV. Targeting the right audience is one of those things that sounds simple in theory, but can be incredibly complex and challenging in practice. This is especially true with advancements in privacy from Apple and Google that have made targeting far more difficult.

The goal is to identify the specific types of players who are most likely to become high LTV users for your particular game. This involves looking at a wide range of factors, both demographic and psychographic. With this information, you then optimize your marketing creative to appeal to their core motivations.

On the demographic side, this involves things like age, gender, geography, and device type — and understanding which segments of players are most engaged with your game and most likely to monetize.

But demographics are not an audience. To define an audience, you also need to understand what motivates your high-LTV players. This is where things can get complex. Studios will often use a variety of data sources and analytical tools to try to build detailed profiles of their most valuable players. This could include things like:

  • In-game behavioral data: session length, frequency of play, and types of activities engaged in.
  • Purchase data: what types of items do they buy, how often, at what price points.
  • Social data: are they socially engaged in the game, do they play with friends?
  • Survey data: asking players directly about their preferences and motivations.

By combining all of these different data points, you can paint a detailed picture of what your high LTV players look like.

Alternately, you can use audience intelligence software like Solsten to easily identify, segment, and target your high-LTV players based on a number of scientific factors. These include intrinsic motivations, values, and emotions, as well as demographics. This data lets you know exactly what your customer needs and why they need it without having to do any research of your own. Then, you can easily optimize marketing campaigns that will target the right audience in a privacy-first world.

Conclusion

Acquiring high-LTV players is a complex and ongoing process that requires a deep understanding of your target audience, a commitment to designing engrossing long-term experiences, and a data-driven approach to user acquisition and marketing. It involves constant experimentation, learning, and iteration to refine your strategies and adapt to the ever-changing gaming landscape.

While maximizing player LTV is challenging, the rewards are immense. By successfully connecting with the right players and delivering experiences that truly resonate with their core motivations and needs, you can foster a passionate, engaged community that will champion your game for years to come. These high-LTV players are the backbone of a thriving, sustainable gaming business.

To streamline and optimize this process, forward-thinking studios are turning to powerful tools like Solsten’s audience intelligence software. By using Solsten’s deep insights into player motivations, values, and behaviors, studios can efficiently identify, segment, and target high-LTV players, both within their own user base and among their competitors’ audiences. This empowers them to craft more effective user acquisition and retention strategies, ultimately driving long-term growth and profitability.

Ready to take your player LTV to the next level? Check out our in-depth article on how Solsten is revolutionizing the way gaming studios acquire and retain their most valuable players.