Engage your users with Push Notifications

Push notifications are a very powerful tool because they allow communication with your app’s users when they are not actively engaging with your app or game. However, they have to be executed carefully! Otherwise, there is a risk that they will be ineffective, or even hurt your game’s retention and increase churn. Indeed, their perceived overuse has sparked extreme reactions - as the recent Wired article “Turn off your push notifications. All of them” illustrates. Although the author’s frustration is understandable, it is also undeniable that push notifications, when used wisely, can be very useful to users as well as being an effective channel to keep them engaged in your game.

Indeed, here at Thumbspire, we typically experience an increase of game launches around 12-15% on our weekly push campaigns days. The graph below illustrates Day 7 retention for one of our games where the weekly re-engagement push campaigns effect is very evident.

So, how do you effectively configure push notifications in your game?

First of all, it is important to understand the rules for opt-in on both Android and iOS. In iOS, the game needs to get permission from the user by displaying a system pop-up where the user can either grant or deny it, and… it can only be asked one time! For this reason, we recommend to explaining the benefits of the notifications for your game, and gauge the user’s intention before triggering the pop up with a flow similar to this:

Source: Localytics

On Android, permission is granted at install, so historically there has been a higher percentage of opt-in than on iOS (60% vs. 40%). It is important to notice some recent (and upcoming) changes on Android: Android N introduced a 2-click flow to disable notifications for an app, which makes it even more critical only to send timely and relevant information to users, so as to avoid your channel from being “shut down” by them. The upcoming Android O introduces the interesting concept of Push Notification channels, where notifications can be bundled by type, thus allowing better control from the perspective of the user and the publisher. For example, engagement, marketing promotion, and transactional notifications could be separated into different channels, thus offering the user more granularity in controlling what to opt-out from if desired.

Depending on your game you might want to set up transactional notifications for meaningful events, for example when a waiting time is over, when energy refills, or when a user action is required in a turn-based game. While these notifications are typically very useful to bring users back to the game, they need to be designed carefully so that they do not overwhelm the user, increasing the risk of being ignored or pushing the user to opt-out altogether. Keep your notifications “fresh” by mixing in new copy (including emojis), so the messages look more appealing and catch the user’s attention.

Another type of push notifications are the engagement notifications that are typically triggered from your marketing automation or analytics platform (e.g. Appboy, DeltaDNA, Swrve, etc.). You can define cohorts of users based on their characteristics (progress in the game, frequency of playing, time from last session, etc.) and target them with engagement campaigns to bring them back to the game. You should define a broad weekly re-engagement campaign with new copy every week and then smaller campaigns for specific cohorts of users (inactive players, players stuck on a level, etc.). Most tools also allow you to also cap policies to make sure users who fall in many different cohorts don't get hit by too many messages.

To set your expectations, the typical open rate for push notification campaigns range between 2% and 3% with Android having a slightly higher open rate than iOS.

Here are some tips that you should keep in mind in order to maximize the effectiveness of your campaigns:

  • Work on the copy of your message so that it is both compelling and intriguing: curiosity can inspire users to open the notification to find out more.
  • Personalize the message as much as possible. Use specific characteristic of the cohorts you are addressing to connect with the users on a very specific need or situation (e.g. Stuck on a level? Low on cash? Etc.).
  • Nail the timing: you should always set the campaigns to be delivered in the user’s timezone at the times when most users engage with your app. A 2016 Tapjoy study (based on 4.4 million push notifications) found that open rates are highest on Mondays and right after lunch.
  • Make the message actionable: prompt the user to take an action, (with clear results) and, if possible, offer a reward for that action! We guide our developers to integrate mechanisms in the games so that a push notification can trigger a reward: a virtual currency gift, a free power-up, or a special sale promotion. These kind of targeted campaigns with clear rewards have shown much higher open rates and can be very effective to re-engage your users.  

In summary, push notifications are a very important part of your game’s live operations (‘live ops’) after commercial launch. Thumbspire can offer you guidance, or even manage the live ops for your game directly. Get in touch!