We’ve come a long way from the glory days of unlocking Darth Maul after clearing out Career Mode in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 or 100-percenting the Gears of War achievement list. However, that same spirit of discovery, progression, and accomplishment has remained a pillar of gaming to this day (I’m convinced the Xbox 360 achievement notification could still give even the most jaded gamer a nostalgic shot of dopamine.)

The fact of the matter is that even in today’s landscape of highly profitable mobile games, challenges and rewards are the best ways to drive engagement and sustain player retention by giving players constant reasons to come back for more. But these challenges must be more than a hastily crafted carrot on a stick.

Mobile gaming challenges and prizes must be carefully balanced within a progression system built to preserve long-term monthly active users (MAUs) and heavily stimulate in-game purchases.

Think of them more as unlimited carrots on a conveyor belt.

These 10 tips for creating engaging in-game challenges will ensure your mobile game wins big where it counts: player satisfaction.

1. Understand Your Player Base

Every mobile game’s player base has its own unique set of preferences, skill levels, and motivations. It is up to you as a game developer to activate these factors with tailored gratification. What do we mean by this? If you can deliver on your players’ expectations and pace rewards accordingly, you’ve effectively created a formula for a positive reinforcement loop. This loop fosters retention and unlocks the potential for greater average revenue per user (ARPU).

To better understand your player base, you should collect various types of information to inform your in-game challenges:

  • Demographic data (age, gender, location)
  • Player behavior data (session length, frequency of play, in-game actions, progression plateaus)
  • Engagement metrics (retention rate, churn rate, time in-game)
  • Preferences (preferred game modes, settings, features)
  • Feedback (social media responses, app reviews, survey responses)
  • Social interactions (in-game friends, multiplayer participation)

Consider a hypothetical (and popular) “color connect” mobile puzzle game where players have to connect matching colored tiles to clear levels. Through player feedback and analytics, you discover that a significant portion of your player base enjoys challenging and strategic gameplay, particularly with a competitive element. Armed with this knowledge, you decide to design a new in-game challenge to cater to these preferences.

Instead of relying on traditional solo puzzles, you introduce a timed multiplayer challenge mode where players can compete directly against each other in real time. The challenge requires players to solve a series of complex puzzles within a limited timeframe, with the goal of achieving the highest score. Each puzzle completed successfully earns points, and the player with the highest cumulative score at the end of the challenge wins exclusive rewards or recognition.

This creates a sense of urgency and provides a platform for players to measure their performance against their peers, fostering a strong sense of competition and motivation.

Through monitoring player engagement, you observe a significant increase in the number of players participating in the multiplayer challenge mode. This positive response not only boosts player satisfaction and retention but also opens up monetization opportunities as players may be more inclined to make in-app purchases to gain advantages or improve their performance in the multiplayer challenges.

Your takeaway?
Don’t over-engineer. Simply deliver on what your players already gravitate towards. Understand player preferences and align in-game rewards accordingly.

2. Define Clear Rules and Objectives

An in-game challenge without clear rules and objectives is just gamified homework, and, frankly, a quick way to lose your player base. Defining the boundaries and reasoning behind in-game challenges contributes to a balanced experience, sets important context, enables fair competition, and facilitates player improvement.

Giving players a sense of independence and ownership over their experience is great, but don’t leave everything up to your players to figure out on their own. Guide players on what they need to do to succeed and win their next reward. By specifying the criteria for success, you’re ensuring that the challenge is appropriately demanding without being too difficult or too easy.

The goal? Maintain player engagement and avoid frustration.

How to Proactively Set Up Impactful In-Game Challenges

Tutorial and Onboarding
Don’t wait until players are stuck and frustrated — meet them at the starting line and prime them for success. By using a comprehensive tutorial or onboarding process to introduce the rules and objectives of in-game challenges, you help new players understand the mechanics, goals, and outcomes of their efforts. Take a look at how to create an effective mobile app onboarding process for inspiration!

Progression Tracking
Not only are most of us visual creatures, but we love to obsess over what’s coming our way (how many times did you “casually check” the status of your last Amazon delivery or DoorDash order?). Giving players visibility into their challenges and rewards gives them ownership over their in-game journey and a sense of responsibility for finishing something they started. Plus, like almost everything in life, anticipation always makes the reward that much sweeter!

By including a visual progress tracker that shows players their current objectives and their progress toward completion, you allow them to have a clear sense of where they stand in the challenge and what remains to be accomplished.

In-App Messaging
Every mobile gaming app should be utilizing in-app messages to deliver targeted and contextual information about their game’s challenges and rewards. This can include relevant pop-up reminders, in-game tip notifications, or overlays that appear at specific moments to provide updates about a given challenge. In-app messaging helps reinforce rules and objectives, keeping them at the forefront of players' minds.

Be aware, in-app messaging requires a nuanced approach and understanding of your audience. To prepare, we suggest reviewing our 7 Deadly Messaging Sins in Mobile Games.

Help and FAQ Sections
Always give players a backup resource. A dedicated help or FAQ section within your mobile game serves as a reference point for players to seek additional clarification or answers to common questions. This is especially important for players who may be returning to your game after a period of inactivity or for those who wish to educate themselves at their own pace.

3. Offer Enticing & Meaningful Rewards

Satisfying your players on a regular basis requires your rewards to strike several key attributes to drive continued retention. Let’s break some of those attributes down.

  • Worthwhile Value: Give players either a tangible benefit (in-game currency, items, or power items) or intangible recognition (exclusive content or achievements) to provide a sense of accomplishment.
  • Balanced Effort: Your rewards should feel appropriately earned. Too easy, and it feels unsatisfying, too difficult, and you run the risk of discouraging further play!
  • Variety & Surprise: Repetition breeds boredom. By offering a wide range of diverse rewards, including both expected and surprise rare drops, you create a sense of discovery and intrigue, keeping players engaged and eager to see what they might obtain next.
  • Social Recognition: In multiplayer or social games, add rewards that enable social recognition, such as ranked leaderboards or rewards that can be showcased to other players to foster competition and encourage social interaction.
  • Progression and Unlockables: Provide a sense of advancement within your game by allowing players to unlock new levels, abilities, characters, or storylines. This provides a tangible sense of growth and motivates players to continue playing.

Keep in mind, enticing rewards go beyond the gameplay. Segment your player base based on playing behavior, preferences, skill level, or in-game progress to understand each user's unique characteristics and tailor the reward messaging accordingly.

Use targeted push notifications to address each player’s accomplishments, milestones, or upcoming rewards. For example, a timely push notification may congratulate a player for completing a challenging level or notify them about a limited-time event highlighting an opportunity to earn exclusive rewards. Make sure these notifications are personalized and relevant to their specific progress within the game.

Additionally, in-app messages provide contextual information about rewards. These messages can be triggered when players reach certain milestones. For instance, when a player levels-up, you can display an in-app message that presents them with additional details about a special reward or new unlocked feature.

Whether you are using push notifications or in-app messages, consider the timing of your reward messages to create a sense of urgency and excitement. For time-limited rewards or events, notify users in advance to ensure they don't miss out. You may also send reminders or notifications when rewards are about to expire, encouraging players to jump back in and claim their prize.

The more personalized and timely your rewards messaging strategy is, the stronger the connection will become between your players and your game.

Remember, your game is a long-term journey, so make sure players feel that sense of scale and accountability to build upon the achievements they’ve already collected!

4. Provide Options

Your rewards have the ability to accommodate various preferences, expand your target audience, and foster a sense of inclusivity within your community. Use the following use cases as inspiration to gamify elements of other mobile apps:

  • Your fitness app may offer a variety of workout challenges that target different skill levels, body types, and exercise goals.
  • Your finance app could offer a "Savings Challenge" or “Budgeting Challenge” that encourages users to set specific savings targets or budgeting goals, then rewards them when they reach milestones. These rewards could be as involved as cashback rewards points or virtual trophy badges.
  • Your eCommerce app may offer a "Referral Challenge" where users are encouraged to refer their friends to the app. The reward for successfully referring a certain number of friends could be a "Referral Bonus" where users receive a discount code or store credit for their next purchase.

5. Implement Progression and Scaling

"Progression" refers to the forward movement and advancement of your players within your mobile game. It represents the journey of a player as they overcome challenges, achieve milestones, and improve their skills or in-game resources. Progression is often reflected through various elements, such as leveling up, unlocking new content, earning rewards, or gaining access to higher difficulty levels.

"Scaling" refers to the adjustment or adaptation of difficulty levels and corresponding rewards based on your players’ progress and skill levels. Scaling rewards may also involve providing more valuable rewards as players tackle more difficult challenges.

Players should be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, but in a consistent way that reflects their current skill level. In other words, the more powerful a player gets, the more challenging rewards should be to attain. A player who is effortlessly blowing through all challenges with little to no resistance is having what amounts to a pointless in-game experience. Whereas a player who returns day after day only to remain stuck at the same difficult challenge will soon stop returning out of either boredom or frustration.

By offering scaled challenges and corresponding rewards, players are incentivized to push their limits and strive for higher achievements relative to their skill level, boosting their long-term engagement with the game.

6. Foster Social Connections

Bragging rights — it’s one of the few innate rewards players can give themselves, so lean into it! By allowing users to compare their performance, achievements, or scores with others, you ignite a sense of healthy competition among your entire player base.

On the other side of the coin, incorporating social features such as chat systems or in-game social networks gives players the ability to connect with friends and build a sense of collaborative community within your app. This fosters a supportive and interactive environment, making players feel more engaged and invested in your game.

There are several ways to build these social elements into your mobile game in a way that both drives engagement and fosters a proud community spirit.

  • Live activity feeds
  • Social 1:1 messaging
  • The ability to create and share custom levels or character designs
  • Ranked leaderboards
  • Player tournaments
  • In-game item trading or sharing
  • Timed community events with exclusive rewards
  • Social sharing and/or invites
  • Community forums or discussion boards
  • The ability to join guilds or clans
  • Multiplayer goals or group raids with shared challenges

Adding social elements into your mobile game can work wonders for encouraging player retention and creating opportunities for viral growth through community sharing. However, remember to always consider adequate moderation tools to protect the privacy and safety of players when implementing social elements.

7. Keep it Fresh

In-game challenges present a tricky balance to maintain. You want your players to feel like they are mastering your game without allowing them to actually master it.

The moment players feel like they’ve gotten the most out of their experience is the moment they start looking for a new game to master.

To prevent this dead end, it’s crucial to be constantly introducing new and innovative challenges to players throughout their journeys.

It is popular for many mobile games to settle into a weekly or monthly cadence for challenge updates. But the right pace truly depends on the complexity of your game (and levels or stages), your average player progression speed, and of course, your available developmental resources. The important thing to remember is that in-game challenges should feel frequent to players and have a regular release schedule.

Don’t forget to monitor player metrics, such as retention rates, session lengths, and churn rates, to understand when and where challenges need to be refreshed to optimize player engagement!

Looking for a way to enhance immersion and instill replayability within your mobile game? "Dynamic challenges" propose missions to players that are designed to adapt and respond to their specific actions, progress, or state of the game world. Offering a more personalized experience both makes the game world feel more alive and gives players the feeling that their choices and actions can directly influence their journey.

For example, enemy placements, item locations, or level layouts, can be generated differently each time a level is played, adding unpredictability and freshness to gameplay.

8. Be Responsive

Opening a friendly and productive dialogue with your player base is a game unto itself, and one you need to be very good at if you want long-term growth for your mobile game.

One of the quickest ways to build player satisfaction is by addressing player feedback head-on. Show that you value your players' opinions and care about their experience. Whether in regard to praise or criticism — when players feel heard and acknowledged, it builds their trust and fosters a positive relationship between players and developers.

Actively responding to player feedback can also contribute to strengthened player retention. When players see that their concerns and suggestions are taken into account and acted upon, they are more likely to continue playing the game and remain engaged in the long run.

Lastly, game development is an iterative process, and player feedback plays a vital role in shaping future updates and content. By analyzing and incorporating player feedback, you can make informed decisions about future game updates, prioritize bug fixes, and implement features that align with player expectations.

A responsive approach to in-game rewards means adjusting challenges based on data insights you glean from your community. For example, if a majority of your players are not able to make it to the second level of a game, you may need to provide additional tutorials and hints or make the specific challenge for that level more achievable.

You may also use data insights to create personalized challenges based on player preferences or in-game strengths. By analyzing player behavior and gameplay metrics, you can identify useful patterns. For example, if a player consistently favors puzzle-oriented challenges, you can introduce more puzzle-focused content for them. Similarly, if a player excels at combat-based challenges, you can provide them with additional combat-focused missions to cater to their strengths and weaknesses.

9. Celebrate Wins

Celebrating player victories provides positive reinforcement and validates their efforts, making them feel valued and rewarded for the time they’ve poured into your game. That moment your players finally break through and conquer a demanding challenge evokes an emotionally joyful (and maybe even relieved) response. Capitalize on that emotion by stoking the embers of victory with a memorable celebration.

The prospect of experiencing that same sense of accomplishment and recognition, again and again, can be a strong driving force for players to keep playing and exploring your game further.

Use in-game messaging to create memorable moments by addressing players by their in-game username or real name and congratulating them on their accomplishments. Make the message feel tailored and specific to their achievements, highlighting the significance of their success — it’s a big deal, so make it feel like one! If you’re feeling theatrical (which we strongly encourage!) use vibrant colors, confetti animations, or fireworks effects to create a festive atmosphere. Don’t forget a healthy dose of cheerful sound design or victory-themed music to make your players feel unstoppable.

Take the celebratory moment a step further by attaching rewards or unlocks to your in-app messaging strategy. For example, provide in-game currency, exclusive items, or access to new areas or levels as a direct result of completing the challenge. Your messages should provide tangible benefits that further motivate players to continue their gameplay.

Most importantly, remember that every player victory is an opportunity to create anticipation for the next one. Use push notifications to introduce new challenges or objectives that build upon a player's recent success. By providing them with a juicy preview of what lies ahead, you encourage maintained engagement while also re-engaging inactive players with the possibility of future rewards.

10. Offer Time-Limited Events and Challenges

Time-limited events are special gameplay activities or challenges that are available for a specific and limited duration of time.

During these events, players are presented with unique challenges, rewards, or activities that are not available in the regular gameplay cycle. The limited timeframe adds an element of excitement and urgency to the gameplay experience that breaks up the monotony of (let’s be honest) most mobile games these days. These special events can be themed around holidays, seasonal events, or promotional campaigns, providing an opportunity for players to engage with fresh content while they’re enjoying a new sense of community participation.

For example, let's say your app is a fantasy-themed role-playing game (RPG) called "Realm Quest." Your new time-limited special event is called "Festival of Heroes," and lasts for one week only. During the Festival of Heroes event, you may introduce several features and activities that are available exclusively for that period, including elements like:

  • Limited-Time Quests — A series of unique quests, each with its own storyline and challenges.
  • Seasonal Aesthetics — The game's virtual world is adorned with festive decorations and thematic elements to reflect the spirit of the event.
  • Community Challenges — The event may include a worldwide boss raid, where players from all servers collaborate to defeat a super-powered boss villain. If the community successfully defeats the boss as a whole, then all participants receive event-exclusive rewards.
  • Time-Limited Offers — The in-game store might introduce exclusive offers and discounts on special items or upgrades to promote in-game purchases during the event.

Ready to Take In-Game Challenges to the Next Level?

OneSignal was built by mobile game developers who were looking for a more effective way to thoughtfully communicate with their players. Today, that spirit and motivation live on through powerful in-app and push messaging features designed to delight, retain, and reward mobile game players.

If you feel like it’s time to upgrade your mobile game messaging strategy and start driving in-game revenue with targeted notifications, browse our pricing plans and choose your own adventure.

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