Live Operations for any game is the most important, yet challenging, part of game development. We are no longer in the day and age where creating a game, shipping it off, and wiping our hands clean is acceptable for a long lived financially successful game. Live Ops is now an integral part of any Free to Play game and must be thoroughly planned throughout the design and pre-production phases. Our games become a living breathing organic product that is constantly evolving and you need to strive to give users a fresh experience each and every single day.
There are 3 main areas that you must consider while thinking about Live Ops:
STEP 1 – Content
Number one is Retention. If you cannot retain your users you will be left with no one in your game. This to say, like most games in the market, you will not have more downloads coming in than users playing the game. Its proven that the more gamers play, the more they pay. According to Superdata Research, engagement on mobile grew 19% year over year.
Here is a chart that shows Average American player retention for the top 3 genre’s (The games refer to those with the highest share of global installs in December 2016 (Action, puzzle, and simulation):
It’s also important to remember there are multiple factors to think about when looking at your retention (Regions, platforms, genre’s, etc…). Here are a few interesting stats from Superdata Research:
– Games on IOS retained almost twice as many American players on day 1 as those on Android
– The US was the only country with more players on IOS than Android
– In the US, developers made on average 45% more on an IOS Player, but Android players in China were worth 8x more than on IOS.
The main question then is… How do you I retain players? Glad you asked.
Content is Key for engagement – It’s obviously different with every game, but adding content (and it must be new, intriguing, and compelling) on a monthly even weekly basis is a start. However, before your just throw random content in your game, you must understand what type of users are coming into the game (age, gender, territories) and where they are being acquired from (organic, UA, X-promo, etc…). Performing a user behavior analysis and understanding your audience is a huge advantage when creating new content. What do they like? Where are they spending their time in the game? What makes this compelling? All these questions need to be answered and this will allow you to better design content for your players.
STEP 2 – Optimization
After launching new content, assessing this data and optimizing changes to ensure your users find the content compelling enough to stick around is key. Monitor performance and adjust accordingly to drive progression and short-to-long term engagement. If you find that your users are not engaged in the new content, start the process all over and try again. However, optimizing your new content is not the only thing to look at. Analyze your First Time User Experience (FTUE) and ensure your User Interface is clean of abnormal drop-off. It may not be the content that’s the issue. Having a clear and simple User Interface and tutorial flow is critical to stop early player churn.
STEP 3 – More Content (Events)
Once you feel like you have a good retention metrics and users are enjoying playing the game and the updated content, what’s next? Continue with the circle of content additions, while adding limited time events. Events are premium content that users can play for only a limited time, or have a limited amount of chances. Having a compelling and addictive event can help drive the retention and monetization up.
I can recall a previous project we worked on where launching an event drove a <200% increase in revenue while 60% of players engaged with the event. You can see below from the graphic when we launched the first event in Apr 2016 and what occurs during each weekly event.
STEP 4 – Making money different ways
If you can’t make money, then you don’t have a business. However, if you can retain users and content is compelling enough, users will spend. How do they spend? There are many ways, different scenarios, depending on the game. There are games with a lower DAU that have whales that make up the majority of revenue, mostly mid-core titles. And there is casual progression based titles that have a very large DAU where conversion is higher, but tend to spend less at certain increments. Let’s take a casual game for example. When users are playing a casual puzzle game, there is a long ramp up and the levels will get harder the higher you go. So, as a game developer you need to balance the game as such to create an effect that the user feels accomplished when beating a hard level. Construct this not by adding back to back difficult levels, but by making them feel they are once again good at the game – create a blend of mountains and valleys in your level design. Glaring issues should be treated with priority to reduce player churn and ensure that the ARPPU (Average Revenue per Paid User) for each level is optimal. This way once they hit a difficult level that where they just barely lose, they will pay to finish it.
Here is an example of a chart showing level design for a generic puzzle game with actual vs Ideal attempts for the first 100 levels.
For many other games, they are solely reliant on “Gacha” as their main monetizing mechanic. These are very popular and addictive features that give users an emotional and excitement feeling of playing the lottery and having a chance to win big. **Currently over half of the games in the US Top Grossing 100 list (iOS) use gatchas in gameplay and over 1/3rd of games outside the top 100 Grossing also feature this mechanic.
These are just two of many different ways to monetize your game. If you’re willing to learn and include monetization as a key component with your design, you will have a better chance at a more financially successful game.
STEP 5 – Getting users into the game
After creating compelling content, optimizing for ideally results and meeting your KPI goals, it’s time to start bringing in the users to play all the wonderful things you have accomplished in the game. There is no need to go into many details about how to acquire users, but different sources offer a wide range of quality and scale. There are many platforms (Facebook, Google, Ad Colony, Vungle, etc…) that offer different type of sources (social media, games, apps, offer walls, etc..) which give a large variety of targeting capabilities and different user characteristics (gender, age, location, etc…) from contextual (apps and game alike) to user provided data (Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter, etc..). A few great pieces of advice are 1) test lots of different partners with a variety of creatives and re-evaluate often 2) focus on the “long tail” if you want to grow your titles success financially, and 3) refine ASO (App Store Optimization) to lower CPI’s and increase retention. Although these are just a few highlights for acquiring users, you must use your best judgement and do what’s right for your game.
There are a lot of moving pieces and things to think about when diving deep into Live Operations and we’ve only peeled back a very thin layer in this article. There really is a science behind accomplishing successful Live Operations for any game, and with diligence, patience, and learnings, we can all perfect the art and crafts of Live Ops.
*Source by SuperData Research – www.superdataresearch.com
**Source by Game Refinery – Cultures Combined: Japanese Gachas Are Sweeping F2P Mobile Games In The West