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Pirate Metrics: How to track + improve your games core metrics

Pirate Metrics: How to track + improve your games core metrics

We work with a handful of mobile developers to launch and rework mobile games. Over the years we’ve used many different models to categorize high level metrics that tell us how healthy our games are. Here is our favourite. Dave McClure’s Pirate Metrics for startups, reworked for mobile games.

Pirate Metrics breaks your game down into 5 core focuses with a subset of metrics to track for each focus. If your game is suffering to meet your expectations, or if you have a AAA title on your hands, this model will help you get to where you want to be and/or improve upon your existing success. Here’s the breakdown:


Acquisition channels are traffic sources users can find your game, they behave differently depending on that source. Organic discovery, referrals or users acquired through ad spends will be activated, retained, and monetize based on their source. Some common acquisition sources are:

1. Cross Promotion:

2. Marketing

  • Press
  • Social Channels
  • Email

3. Advertising – here is a list of great mobile ad networks

4. Organic

  • Features
  • App Store Optimization
  • Category Placement
  • Branding

5. Referrals – which is covered in the final section of pirate metrics.

The focus of developing your acquisition channels should be:

Where can I find the largest volume of users?
What is the lowers cost to acquiring them?
What are my highest performing channels (Install%)
What are my highest performing channels (Revenue%)


Activation is unique to your game, it is best to sit down with your team and identify the chronological flow someone will take when navigating his/her way through your game. Activation metrics will often help game designers and PMs identify what minimum activation goals need to be triggered before a unique user shows a greater likelihood to display retention and monetization behaviors. We will use these two statement as an example of activation goals.

Of users who complete the tutorial and make it past level one 5% convert on a monetizable behavior

Of users who complete the tutorial but do not make it past level one, only 2% convert on a monetizable behaior.

The best way to help your team visualize these statements is to build funnel tracking into your game with each of these activation goals tied to a custom event. Incentivizing goal completion is a great way to increase the conversion rate on your activation goals.

Development milestones should be 80% optimization of existing features, 20% on adding new features.

activation flow


The best indicators of your games “Fun Factor & Stickiness”. Retention metrics tell you a lot about your games addictiveness.

Key performance metrics that will identify your games retention are:

  • Daily Active Users (DAUs)
  • Monthly Active Users (MAUs)
  • The percentage of returning users from
  • 1, 7, 30, 60, and 90 days ago. (this typically looks like 60%/40%/20%/10%)
  • Number of daily sessions per user
  • Number of monthly sessions per user
  • The average user lifetime

It’s important to create an increasing number of hooks that bring users into your game and measure their performance respectively.

Some features that you can use to influence your games retention are:

  • Daily lotteries, prizes, or syndicated content
  • Energy depletion mechanic
  • Depth of Content
  • Seasonal Content
  • Quests/Unlocks
  • Identity Development/Customization
  • Early/Mid/Elder Game
  • stat boosts/skill specialization


Your games revenue potential requires oversight on a few key metrics:

  • Metrics that directly influence your revenue:
  • Paying users (%)
  • Incentivized eCPMs
  • Non-incentivized eCPMs
  • ARPU (Average Revenue per User)
  • ARPPU (Average Revenue per Paying User)
  • ARPDAU (Average Revenue per DAU)
  • Virtual Economy (Spent/Purchased)
  • Sessions to conversion
  • New paying users (net new user paying growth)

Revenue is the last key pillar in pirate metrics since it requires strong activated and retained users before enough of your user base is making it through your purchase funnel.


A feedback loop for Acquisition, referrals address any features in your app that allow users to invite friends to play your game (publicly or one-to-one). Referral features expand on the notion of word of mouth and facilitate a natural psychological behavior for content on mobile phones.

Your games referral metrics are:

  • Source (FB post, FB Open Graph, SMS, Email, Twitter, etc.)
  • Invite per source per DAU
  • Invites Sent
  • Invite Impressions
  • Invite Acceptances
  • K-Factor – invites per user x (acceptances/invites)
  • Invites per DAU

Here’s a great in depth analysis by Magmic’s game design team on how to make your game viral.

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