The Sticky Factor: Creating a Benchmark for Social Gaming Success

The concept is straight forward – the more a user comes back and plays, the more engaged they are. And the more engaged they are, from my experience at, 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.

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% Social Game Sticky Factor, 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 ROI 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 Social Game 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 algorithmic 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.

In the past I’ve looked at the top developers and their average sticky factors, but let’s break that down by game and over time to look at game-specific insights:

[Edit December 2018 – at this point this post pointed to where the post first lived (but that domain is no longer alive and the content was snapped up by Ad Week here (but the images are gone).  As you never can tell what will actually live forever on the internet, I’m going to post the rest of the post here for posterity (alas my graph for fish-sim-sticky-factor is gone)]


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


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 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.

4 thoughts on “The Sticky Factor: Creating a Benchmark for Social Gaming Success”

  1. (Posted this over on ISG too, Eric – would be interested in your thoughts.)

    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).

  2. 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 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).


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