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According to a report made available to the public in 2019 by GameAnalytics, the average day 28 retention rate amongst the 25% best mobile games is barely 4 percent. How does a game which bets on long-term engagement, in which a month is enough to merely finish one full season of gameplay, manage on this market? In the below article I will undertake to answer this question and explain the success of Top Eleven’s longevity?


Top Eleven is a sports game created by a Serbian studio Nordeus and released in May of 2010 as a social browser game for Facebook which has been successfully transferred to mobile devices after slightly more than a year to provide the players with the opportunity of multiplatform fun in all conditions. The player’s task is to put himself in the shoes of a football manager and lead his own club to success through efficient micromanagement of the organisation as well as leading the team during matches from behind the sideline. Unavailingly will one look for elements of arcade since the gameplay comes down to mainly making decisions across various areas of the club’s operation.

1. Gameplay

In the game we can distinguish a few explicitly marked loops which create a coherent whole. Those are:

Establishing the squad

Among the available players, you must pick the first-team squad and the reserve team, take care of its physical fitness and morale and determine the tactical guidelines. Configurational possibilities compared to more complex simulators of this type such as Football Manager are quite sparing, but sufficiently engaging.

Training sessions

From the set of available exercises, you must establish a training plan which, after implementation, allows for increasing some of the attributes of the participating players. There are usually 4 training sessions a day, and a major part of them requires taking care of the players’ fitness. Regular training enables to obtain a team play bonus for chosen groups of attributes which can be activated during the match.

Conducting transfers

Acquiring new players is made possible in a few ways. The most popular option are auctions where, using cash and tokens, you bid on players which are unwanted in other clubs. Every auction takes 4 minutes, and there are 15 of those available simultaneously. In addition to this, there are players alternating in rotation and scouted by the club scouts and an assistant who can be bought off-hand. The further phase of the game includes unlocking the negotiations, which enables buying of the most valuable players from others managers after making agreements with them.

Extension of the club objects

In this layer you must take care of the development of the property belonging to the organisation. Special attention should be paid to the stadium, training facility and the club academy, and the highly developed facilities provide resources useful in the game in certain time intervals.

Playing matches

The club can participate in a series of different matches which include the League, the Cup, Champions League, Football Association tournaments and friendly matches. The latter can be played only upon request provided that the term is agreed with a friend. The remaining ones function only within the plan imposed by the game, so League matches take place once a day, while Football Association tournaments are played only on the weekends. The match has a simulation character on which the player can have a limited impact which consists in conducting personal, tactical changes and activating time bonuses developed in trainings.

2. User progression

Top Eleven bets on long-term engagement of the user with the use of a series of retention mechanisms placed in nearly each of the previously mentioned game loops. The design of the league season in which you can play only one match a day makes it impossible to cut corners, i.e. to be promoted to a higher gameplay class faster than after the passage of 28 days of real time. The cyclically refreshed transfer market, sponsorship deals which require everyday logging and the football variation of the city builder fit in perfectly with the core of the gameplay, planned in the long-term perspective.

The skills of managed football players are expressed in relative values (stars and percentages depend on the level of play at which our club is located) and absolute values (numerical value). This allows managers for an easier orientation on the suitability of player data for the team than in the case of abstract attribute values alone.

There is no license in the game for the real names of players, which paradoxically determines the strength of the title compared to the already abandoned, competitive FIFA Superstars. This is because for a small fee, players can change the names of the footballers and somewhat with their own fair hands, with a small effort produce new content for themselves. The only limitation is imposed on managing the ‘golden eleven ‘of the Hungarian representation from 1954 in the next season or the unbeaten team of The Invincibles, i.e. the London Arsenal from the turn of the century.

At a later stage of the game, social features are also gaining in importance, and to optimise gameplay it becomes necessary, among others, to mutually send gifts in the form of consumables appearing in three versions as: morale, fitness and health. Active friends are equivalent to the possibility of participating in football tournaments of the federation, organising friendly matches and obtaining bonuses which allow to win matches when your friend is sitting in the grandstands as a fan.

At the player’s disposal one soft currency (cash) and one hard currency (tokens) are available. For highly-developed clubs, cash is subject to significant inflation and there are staggering amounts of money on bank accounts; the focus of public attention is definitely put on the latter. Any operations on the transfer market require the transfer of a non-refundable commission in tokens which effectively removes the excess of HC from the economy.

3. Monetisation

Over the years the Nordeus team has proven that they can successfully monetize the popularity and universality of football, which as the most popular sport in the world brings together 3.5 billion fans and over 250 million active players. Over the years, Top Eleven has been at the top of the list of the highest paid iOS applications in both the simulation and sports games category.

This would probably not have been possible were it not for the brilliant marketing move, which establishing cooperation with one of the most famous football managers of our time – Jose Mourinho should undoubtedly be considered. His image used, among others, on the store icon and as a tutor in the tutorial at the beginning of the game, was able to increase the number of game installations by 50% overnight. It also shows that a skilfully used license for one, charismatic character, can be worth more than the entire modern world of football, cf. FIFA Superstars and cause a growth of the user base invoking a snowball effect.

Among the monetization mechanisms, the model use of rewarded ads deserves special attention. A button that allows for playing of the ad is always placed where the player clearly indicates that he needs the offered items (store page, the moment of using the buff). Such a location does not disturb the user’s flow and does not lead to negative associations with a pushily presented spot. According to the results of tests presented at the GDC 2018 conference by Nebojsa Duric, thanks to this ads have no negative impact on retention or monetisation in other areas of the app.

The only currency that cannot be obtained in this way are precious tokens. An alternative to shopping in packages is in this case a wall of offers provided by advertising suppliers. The tasks seen there require a much greater commitment within the promoted applications.

A clever way to reap the benefits of brand/product placement in a football-themed game is to use real brands as sponsors transferring funds to the club’s virtual account as an equivalent for advertising contracts and television broadcasting rights. In the example above, in this way Nordeus promotes another Heroic Magic Duel game and the Clockwork Monkey creative studio that he has created.

Licensed t-shirts and crests of the most popular clubs of the world are waiting for players in the store inside the application. You can only buy them for cash, and the package value is further increased by bundling them with tokens. Due to the marketing strategy assuming an active support of the game on emerging markets, beside world-wide teams you can find, e.g. costumes of the multiple champion of Thailand: Buriram United.

Another item that deserves attention is the special offer modelled on sports betting services. When buying, the player bets on the result of the upcoming match of the Champions League and a correct prediction grants him the receipt of an additional prize. It allows to increase player’s engagement by referring to his expert knowledge in the field of football.

Positive effects in the case of monetisation could be brought by the intensification of offers submitted to players. The packages presented above appear rather occasionally, and have great potential; their regular preparation, e.g. for several matches every weekend should favour an effective increase in monetisation. Packages with licensed equipment (T-shirts, crests) could, in turn, be subject to rotation and increase their value in the eyes of the player due to temporary availability.

4. Live Ops (Live Operations)

There is no doubt that Top Eleven from 2010 and the 2019 edition currently available in Google Play and App Store are significantly different. Although the core of the game remains unchanged, new functionalities have been added over the years, and some of the existing ones in the game have been rebuilt from scratch. Many years of support for the title are also manifested in all activities in the field of Live Game Operations (Live Ops).

Limited-time events thanks to which they can win attractive prizes to achieve their goals await players. These events are targeted at both individual and union players. An example of the second type of event may be the Unite Against Giants 2019 challenge, in which managers play matches against the world’s largest clubs and, depending on the results of these clashes, collect points for their association, competing in the ranking.

The Nordeus team remains active in social media, regularly posting content on its Facebook fan page. During Halloween, it was particularly through this channel that players could choose a special T-shirt that they received in the game for free. The YouTube channel also enjoys great popularity where worth highlighting is the Meet the Managers series, revealing the backstage of the private life of selected Top Eleven players. The brand’s positive image on the internet is also built by a developer-administered discussion forum.

The game world permeates the real world also during English Premier League matches. Stadium advertising bands have often displayed Top Eleven advertising, and spots broadcast on British television during a break in matches have translated into peaks of the app’s installation.

5. Summary, conclusions

After reading this article, you could surely say that the domination of Top Eleven in the football manager genre is no coincidence. Nordeus has managed to find its place on the mobile gaming market by preparing a refined and constantly supported product favoured by a thoughtful app marketing strategy. When designing the game, it is worth bearing in mind the extremely prospective emerging markets and not necessarily focusing on the most obvious, but also competitive American direction. The leading position on the list of the highest paid mobile applications in over 100 countries in the world can be much more valuable.

Game Designer / Live Ops Designer

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