Traditional videogame markets measure performance based on a very simple statistic: number of unit sales. If your game sells a lot, it’s performed well. There’s an expectation prior to release date and congratulations or commiserations post-launch for either achieving or failing to achieve that target. The advent of free-to-play (FTP) games changed this, however, as you could no longer assume that a certain number of adoptees was a mark of a profitable game.
What followed was a measurement of install bases to determine success, as the theory goes that a large number of purchases/downloads result in a higher number of paying customers. However, FTP games also brought with them a number of additional caveats, such as disposability. When a player pays £40+ for a videogame they’re likely to put some effort into enjoying it, even if at first it doesn’t appear to be of a very high quality. With a free game, however, it’s all-too-easy to remove that game from your device and never think about it again within minutes – or even seconds – of downloading it.
So now we come to the current trend: Daily Active Users (DAUs) and Monthly Active Users (MAUs). Intended as a measurement of not just those who have purchased and/or downloaded your game, but also remain engaged, DAUs and MAUs provide a measurable and concise argument for the size and growth of your audience. When dealing with a FTP game supported entirely by advertising revenue it’s easy to assess how much a title could be making and whether or not it has covered its development and support costs post-launch, or whether it ever will do. Furthermore, it can be used as a metric to encourage more advertisers to buy inventory within your game, potentially increasing revenue as it matures; very much converse to a traditional boxed retail release which will typically see a high quantity of its lifetime sales on the first day of release.
However, we then come to in-app purchases. Throwing the curve entirely out of whack, in-app purchases are as closely related to game design as they are to install base. Developers who have a game which doesn’t have a large install base but is very highly recommended amongst a small, dedicated audience may see purchases at higher rates, while developers with a large install base and a tight understanding of player spending habits will likely find their conversion rate for small transactions much higher. And this is where the argument that DAUs and MAUs have become an outdated metric comes into play.
As reported by Mobile Dev Memo, videogame publishing titan Electronic Arts (aka EA) has announced it won’t be disclosing data such as DAUs or MAUs in its investor deck in the future. EA CFO Blake Jorgensen said it had taken this decision, “because I’m not sure what anyone can do with that information.”
A different yet comparable situation revolves around Xbox Live – the subscription service which allows Xbox gamers to play online – in which Microsoft stopped revealing their MAUs in 2019 as the company prepares for a fully digital future with its Xbox Game Pass and xCloud services.
So where does that leave AR and VR developers? Well, the inconvenient truth is that, as a medium still attempting to find it’s sure-footing in an ever-increasingly crowded marketplace, DAUs and MAUs remain an active ingredient in the measurement cocktail. It would be hard to say that these data points are outdated as they do provide information directly related to install base and engagement, however they may not be able to convey an accurate measurement of success for much longer. As the options for revenue models continue to expand and developers find new opportunities to break beyond the now traditional ‘premium vs. FTP’ argument, new metrics will have to be adopted to assess player retention, growth and ultimately the success of a monetization strategy.
Kevin Joyce has been working with immersive technology since 2013, establishing VRFocus.com as one of the leading AR and VR publications before joining Admix, a non-intrusive advertising platform designed specifically for immersive experiences, as Lead Evangelist.