In the war for the dollars and souls of players in mobile gaming, major publishers fight epic battles. Beautiful women lead troops to battle, master assassins are betrayed and seek revenge and candies are crushed with reckless abandon. Millions of dollars are tossed into the fray. For the smaller developer, stepping on the battlefield is a daunting and almost hopeless task. In the face of such overwhelming odds, developers must seize every advantage, which is why they should turn to the dark arts and call upon the undead to raise an army.

Dramatic metaphors aside, developers are in a massive fight – to find profitable users that are lifetime value positive (LTV). With many games having LTVs in the $20 dollar range, developers can afford high cost per installs (CPI) to capture users. These high CPI bids bump ads to the top of the networks, making it increasingly difficult  for smaller developers to bring in traffic. One often overlooked solution for developers is to re-engage “dead” users, that have used and abandoned the app

Here are five techniques to bring “dead” users back:

1. Get good metrics

In order to bring back dead users, you must first identify them.  Without reliable data and a tool to use that data, many of the following suggestions are not possible. Many excellent third-party providers are in the market if you can’t build your own tool set, but that’s a topic for another article. The most valuable tools to run effective re-engagement are:

  • Player data: Which players were active? It’s not worth trying to bring back a player that was never engaged in the game. Examine the install date, activities (tutorial completion, battles fought, etc.), purchase history, current currency balance,and last time seen.
  • Segmentation: Different players will need different strategies to re-engage them.
  • Data exporting:  After segmenting player, you need to ship your data to whichever communication tool you’re using.

2. Use push messaging

The most powerful tool in the developer’s communication toolbox is sending messages directly to a user’s phone. While effective, you must use it with caution, as too many messages can cause a user to turn off push messaging or delete the app altogether.

Using your player segmentation date, you will want to create messages to the inactive users based on their grouping.  Avoid generic messages like “Your troops miss you!” or “Come back now!” Generic messages are nothing but noise. Tailor the message to the group. For example:

  • Heavy users: remind them of important parts of the game and the fun they had.
  • Highly social players: use names of friends they brought into the game
  • Players with currency in their account: send them a reminder that they have money to spend in the game and what they can buy with their currency.
  • Whales:  Thank them. “The team (or CEO) wants to thank you for playing. Come back and try this new mission.”

3. Update the app

An often overlooked way to bring users back to your app comes from the platforms themselves. When a app gets an update, the user gets pip on their phone that an update is available. Updates are an opportunity to show the player you have new content for them to check out. I would suggest that if you’re able try to push app store updates around once per month, it’s a good cadence to bring users back.

A key part of the update is the messaging your users about the update. Don’t waste time telling users about bug fixes and performance improvements. This is marketing just like any other public facing part of your app. If there is nothing interesting in the update, why should your users care? If you fixed a major issue, tell them. If you have cool new content, sell it. Make your users as excited about the update as you are and they will come back and play.

4. Events

Nothing brings users back and keeps them engaged like good content. As you make new material, look at the segments of inactive players and see if there are common threads among them. Did a number of players drop off at the same place in the app? Did guild battles become stale? Did a major bug cause a number of players to drop off? Use this data to create events to re-engage those segments. Create new guild battle modes, add new levels, and fix your bugs. All of these users were engaged with your app before. Look into where and why they stopped and create events to bring them back.

In addition to fixing friction points in your game, regular events are a great way to keep users engaged in general. It doesn’t need to be a huge game feature. Simple leaderboard contents or social media rallies can be great to remind users of the fun features of your app.

5. Create specials

Everyone loves free stuff. Directly bribing people might be the best way to get them back to your app. Giving users limited time offers, free spins, extra lives or whatever your important core loop might be is a good way to make them feel like this is the time to come back and play.

Use user segmentation to your advantage when creating discounts. The rewards that motivate a newer player might not be the same things that would bring a high-level player back. The same holds true for paying vs. non-paying players. Make offers and send messaging out to users based on that groups’ segmentation. For example, for an inactive but paying group offering them deep discounts on virtual goods to spend their currency on would be more interesting than offering them more discounted currency. High-level players might like free tournament entry or bonus attacks in a battle to make use of their experience and equipment. Whatever the package is, the more customized it is to the group you and sending it to, the higher the re-engagement rate will be.

Every game will have features and enticements that will work best for that user base. There is no one hook that will get people to come back to a game that they are not player currently. Looking at what the players liked to do, customizing the message to that group and leveraging that part of the game they enjoyed can be the trigger to bring your users back from the dead.

Rob Carroll has been working in the game industry for over 12 years on everything from small startups to the largest IPs in the world, recently running the international publishing team for Tapjoy and serving as the North American producer for the launch of World of Tanks: Blitz with Wargaming.