For 14-year-old Abdulrahman Alzanki, playing mobile games never had much appeal. Creating them was a different story. Alzanki's first game, "Doodle Destroy," racked up 900,000+ downloads within a year, with many astounded reviewers commenting on the game's "instantly addictive" nature.

What's most astounding, though, is that Alzanki did it all without writing a single line of code.

Creating a successful mobile game used to require a team--coders, marketers, product people, designers--but today it's totally possible to do it all on your own.

Here are the six tools you need to build an addictive app that will keep players coming back time and time again.

1. User Acquisition With Facebook Ads

Once you have a great game, you need to find people to play it. Facebook ads are a great option because you can target users based on location, demographic, interests and behavior.

If you're releasing a game like Candy Crush aimed at the 45+ gaming demographic, for instance, you can specifically target those older Facebook users already spending virtual currency on games.

The most powerful tool for Facebook advertising is Facebook's own Power Editor, but it's quite clunky and intimidating to newbies. Getting a campaign up and running can take a long time.

One app that can simplify this process is AdEspresso. AdEspresso is a Facebook marketing tool that's more user-friendly than Power Editor and adds features like A/B testing and campaign optimization. It makes using Facebook ads easy by comparing versions of your ads to see what works, then auto adjusting your campaign to make sure you get the best return on your investment.

2. User Onboarding With Personalized Notifications

An Andrew Chen and Localytics study showed that losing 80% of your users in the first week was normal, but the best apps do better. With drop off rates proportionally similar after the one week milestone, it's clear that first week retention is crucial.

Language learning program Duolingo starts tracking your progress with a XP-based system as soon as you start. Users are given XP for completing tasks which are then needed to advance to the next level. After each lesson, learners are presented with a colorful personalized graph showing their XP in the app. This constant feedback loop draws people back to the app to continue making progress at learning a language.

However, programming individualized onboarding flows can be very time-consuming. Appcues is a tool that lets non-developers build onboarding flows without coding. It lets you build personalized pop-up notifications, progress bars, in-app alerts, and tool tips to help users get engaged with your game over and over again.

3. Create A Game With Pre-Built Templates

In the past, creating a game would require first learning how to code. Now with the rise of non-code based game building apps, you can dive straight into the game-making process.

Chupamobile is one of many sites in which programmers can sell source code and templates to others. With thousands of available templates, you can find a framework for almost any type of game.

With a template, someone else has done all the coding work for you allowing you to simply customize. Templates such as Flappy Crocodile have given rise to hundreds of clones including a No.1 free game called Tiny Flying Drizzy.

"Doodle Destroy" was created with GameSalad, which offers an intuitive drag-and-drop game building interface in which you can customize and upload actions, load in art, music, and sound effects, then simply press a button to test your game.

For more complicated games, asset stores like Unity provide tens of thousands of downloadable extensions and other add-ons that you can weave together to create your game, provided you have a minimal amount of coding knowledge.

4. Improve Retention With Behavioral Cohorts

Retention is king. If you can't keep users around, you'll never grow, and the biggest challenge companies have with user retention is understanding the behaviors that encourage it.

Gaming company Zynga was interested in tracking user actions to help determine which directions to take their games. The massive amount of time and resources spent building their own solution is something a much smaller company could never afford.

Today, with the development of apps like Amplitude, this process can be greatly simplified. Amplitude's Compass feature uses behavioral cohorts to see which features are most predictive of retention, allowing for updates to be tailored to these preferences.

QuizUp, at one point the fastest growing app in the App Store, used Amplitude to determine that people who used social features stayed longer. Knowing this, they built QuizUp 2.0, adding in a location and interest based feature in which you could play against strangers and a chat function to allow further connecting--leading QuizUp to a 60% higher retention rate.

5. Reactivate Users With A Drip Email Campaign

One of the most common problems app developers face is user reactivation. Drip emails, a set of marketing emails sent out on a time-based schedule, are a powerful way to contact users outside of the app to remind them about your game.

Live-chat/sales company Olark hoped to re-approach users who have left the site in a way that would catch their attention. They expanded to 10,000 paying customers using behavioral drip emails, which rather than being sent after periods of time, are triggered by users doing a certain action in the app.

Olark specifically tailored their emails to encourage each user to test out the next step in building their Olark profile. By nudging users forward after they complete an action, you can keep them moving to the next step of the onboarding process.

Customer.io is an app that helps companies program personalized drip emails to engage their users. Personalized emails not only make the email seem more helpful, but also give a sense of importance to the user that they are being personally asked to come back to the app.

6. Incentivize Referrals With Exclusive Rewards

Now that you've attracted your target audience, hooked in your user, thrilled them with your game, and presented enticing updates, it's time to expand your network to repeat this process with even more users!

World of Warcraft, the massively popular MMORPG, with over 7 million subscribers, still has a highly effective referral program because even the biggest games still have room to grow.

By rewarding referrals with special items that you cannot get any other way, players feel an even stronger pull to bring in friends and earn these items.

However, keeping track of all of these transactions can get very complicated. Apps such as Extole, provide easy-to-use templates to simplify the referral process as much as possible and reward users almost instantly, giving the thrill of instant gratification.

Kickstart Your Game Development Career

Building a game is a hobby, but building a successful game that keeps people hooked and coming back again for more is a career. By using these tools you can do more than just build a product. You can build a successful company that will thrive.

Published on: Jul 6, 2016