Effective Live Ops Strategies for Free-to-Play Games
Live Ops 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.
Defining LiveOps for F2P Games
Live Ops are new enhancements to game play that are not necessary for the overall functionality or playability of the game, like cosmetic enhancements, weekend events, a limited time offer, or a paid UA (user acquisition) campaign. Basically, these are changes made to the game after it goes live and ones that occur without changing the fundamental game code or playing experience.
These types of changes are especially important for F2P games since monetization starts after the player already downloaded and begins engagement with the game. It all starts with the first-time user experience, of course, but it’s extended with a solid Live Ops program. In fact, Live Ops might be the secret to success for F2P games.
Whether you’re running your own Live Ops or working with an external partner, here’s some simple tips that will help you maximize post-launch performance.
1. Reward Loyalty
Free-to-play games are often most successful when designed to encourage multiple, very short sessions of gameplay. The core-loop must fit into a short time-frame and the player should be rewarded for each time the complete it and each time they return. This encourages habitual play and keeps players checking in regularly.
Developers can encourage this by offering rewards or items for players that check-in daily. The system will allow you to dynamically alter the rewards players received if the data suggested they needed that little bit extra temptation.
You can extend this dynamic approach when it comes to rewarding your most committed or big-spending players. Learn what motivates them, whether it’s bonus currency, items or extra content and tailor your rewards accordingly.
The latest iterations of these systems are often based on the ‘unboxing’ of rewards earned in the previous session – so you can really get creative!
2. Regular and Relevant Events
Turning your game into a ritual is the key to retaining your player base, but when players have so many other mobile games to choose from, giving them a regular dose of excitement and anticipation is very effective. Take the recent “200 Million Download Celebration” in Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle – this saw the game hit number one in the US top grossing chart and sparked a surge in downloads.
This performance-boosting power of events has seen them grow in sophistication and frequency since the early years of mobile gaming, when developers first began implementing seasonal Halloween and Christmas updates.
Many free-to-play games have a mix of recurring and one-off events, with the former often becoming integrated into the core gameplay loop and the latter providing excitement and unpredictability to keep the game from becoming too routine. Well thought-out event frameworks can lead to a dramatic increase in revenue. You should aim to run them regularly and incentivize your players to get involved.
3. Listen to the Data
Game analytics provide many metrics to track and analyze. Informed decisions can only be made about where to direct resources if you’re tracking the right things.
Comprehensive event and parameter specifications are the first part of this. Start with everything you could conceivably need and build in the ability to switch events and parameters on or off to strike the right balance between epistemic strength and budgets for storage and bandwidth.
Analytics tools allow you to delve deep into behavioral data and make discoveries increasingly fast as the sector and these services develop.
These insights need to be turned into a continuous cycle of improvement. When the data tells you that a particular feature is driving retention or monetization, don’t take it for granted, learn from it and direct your efforts to double down on these successes.
Just as importantly, do not be afraid to cut poorly-performing features. It may be tough to cull something that you’ve put so much time and energy into, but being ruthless will help the game in the long run and save you wasting resources on lost causes.
Of course, an intuition built up from experience plays a big part in analysis. Data is nothing without human interpretation and knowing which questions to ask.
4. Test Everything
No matter how confident your team is in its abilities and designs, not every change will lead to the desired boost in performance.
All changes should be rolled out with a kill switch and A/B tested in super-lean MVP form, ensuring they either “fail fast” or succeed just as quickly.
Failing to plan…
Perfecting gameplay and your game’s economy requires experimentation, so A/B testing should be used continuously to optimally tune gameplay rules, currency values, prices of in-game items, and pacing.
Never assume that you can accurately determine the consequences of your design decisions. Form a hypothesis about what you think might happen and then test it.
5. QA is Vital
Any crash bug, performance dip or error in the delivery of an feature, event or sale will have real, tangible and immediate consequences in live products.
When you develop a new feature you don’t want technical problems to sabotage your potential success and undermine the quality of your data.
QA test should work closely with the whole team to check all aspects of every deliverable – from the stability of features, the consistency of game art assets and the configuration of events.
When regular builds and updates are deployed throughout the Live Ops phase QA’s importance cannot be underestimated.
It should go without saying that a buggy or incorrect build going public will result in a drop in ratings and fans losing interest in your game.
Design your game with Live Ops in mind.
Collaborate with marketing teams to expand the reach of the Live Ops campaign (cross promos between games in Live Ops campaigns tend to work smoothly)
Live Ops isn’t just about keeping your games ticking over, it’s an opportunity to improve your games over time and incentivize your players to keep returning.
Reward those players with quality content and events, quickly respond to what your data tells you and be sure to test everything you do.
Follow this approach and you may be measuring your games’ success over years, not months.
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