It's often said in the world of free-to-play development that launching a game is the beginning, not the end.
These aren't boxed products released onto shop shelves, never to be worked on again. These are games-as-a-service that require constant operation and updating, often over a period of several years.
PocketGamer.biz has long been investigating the Making Of notable games soon after their launch, but what happens long after a game is released?
In an attempt to find out, this regular feature will talk to the developers behind maturing live games about their experience so far. You can read all previous entries here.
PocketGamer.biz: With BattleHand now more than a year old, how do you reflect on its performance from launch to the mature title it is now?
Jeremie Texier: It has been quite a journey since our worldwide launch but overall we feel that the game has matured in a very positive way.
We started with what we'd considered to be a minimum core feature set to ensure a fun, immediate experience.
However, we knew that the game was missing some social and competitive features that would help support a much longer tail.
So today, the game has all the features that provide long-term engagement and deeper monetisation, and consequently has more gameplay variety for the player.
BattleHand's performance is stronger today than it was at this time last year.Jeremie Texier
Overall, and though we had our ups and downs, we're delighted that BattleHand's performance is stronger today than it was at this time last year.
How big is the team currently handling live ops on BattleHand?
Now that we have all of our systems and tools in place, and although it very much depends on the content of the updates, generally speaking we have a team of four to five still supporting, improving and growing the game.
How important do you consider customer support and updates to be? What has been your approach to this?
Both customer support and regular updates have been vital to BattleHand's growth as we recognise the obligation to respect our players needs.
We're incredibly proud of our team as, since launch, we've released almost 30 updates to the game. That makes it roughly two and a half weeks per update, so quite a pace for a small studio.
The content of each update has been a blend of "what's on our roadmap?" and "what does the community want?" and, although it's not always easy to please all parties, we think that we've struck a pretty good balance.
We feel we've been particularly successful with customer support.
From the get-go, not only has our Head of Community, Claire, been doing an incredible job of communicating, solving and being transparent with our players, a lot of the dev team as well as the team at Kongregate have chipped in to help too.
You simply cannot replace dealing directly with your players and we certainly have taken the approach that hiding is not an option.
It does make for some uncomfortable moments but also very rewarding ones, and most importantly it absolutely furthers your learnings and helps the team mature through the live operations.
As the game matures, how much continued input has Kongregate had? How do the two companies keep in touch?
Right from the start, both companies were aligned on the goals for the game and our working methodologies.
You simply cannot replace dealing directly with your players and we have taken the approach that hiding is not an option.Jeremie Texier
Communication is very regular and both sides' objectives remain laser-focused on ensuring that the game performance improves over time but remains the fun, entertaining game that we always envisioned at Another Place.
What steps have you taken to ensure that BattleHand maintains a sizeable and active player base all this time after its launch?
First and foremost, it's about updating the game with content and features that both the player wants and that we know the game requires.
It has to be regular so that our players know that we're completely invested on the long-term, thus it remains worth their while to continue being engaged with both the game and our community.
Fast response, with generous and fair customer support, also goes a long way to help retaining players' interest.
Finally, and this is more on the KPI side, we gather, analyse and formulate solutions to gaps, issues, patterns that we find through the data to help improve the game performance over time.
There is no secret here. Basically, it's a careful balance between those ingredients: "What players tell us" plus 'What we feel the game needs" plus "What the data tells us", and although that will lead to a lot of trial and error, it's the only path to success.
Any KPIs such as downloads, DAU or retention you’re willing to share?
BattleHand definitively falls in that category of games that can function with a relatively low number of DAUs because the core fan base is very engaged and over a long period of time.
That core in turn has a relatively high ARPPU, thus enabling us to operate and grow the game.
Retention for an RPG / CCG can be fairly harsh in the first 30 days compared to more casual / midcore titles.
However, players that stay beyond that first month quite often stay for the long run and are still active players today.
What lessons have you learned/are you still learning from BattleHand? Is there anything about the game that, in hindsight, you'd now handle differently?
As mentioned, at launch the game was missing the more social and competitive features (and that was mostly down to team size) so in the future we'll thrive to ensure our games have those components from day one.
In addition, we were somewhat ill-prepared for the extensive live operations these games need in areas including live event creation tools, the life-cycle of content and a more flexible server architecture.
It remains true that you can still be small and also positively disruptive in the mobile space.Jeremie Texier
Those combined factors meant that we had to initially rely on our incredible team to palliate through sheer, brutal hard work in order to pull through the early months and keep the pace with our players.
Another area of learning was around the core gameplay, which we spent a long time honing.
Although it certainly is a success as we found an audience that really enjoys engaging with it, we feel that we can improve on making the core a more repeatable, fun experience in future projects.
In addition and related to live ops, as soon as you rely on regular content drop - however small - to keep the game and its rewards 'fresh', be prepared for a never-ending effort - especially if you don't quite have the right tools at the start.
Given the chance, we certainly would re-address the lifecycle of cards, heroes, rewards and event types from the get-go.
Finally, how has your experience with BattleHand informed where you are/what you're working on now?
Well, all the above are being addressed to ensure that players get what they want at the quality bar they deserve, whilst we can develop in a more well paced, serene and focused environment.
Also, and more obviously, all the learnings - mistakes and successes - gained during BattleHand's various cycles of development means that from the prototyping phase onward, we're already a far more efficient team.
As a result and to illustrate the progress made, although the studio is still only 16 people strong, we're now working on two new titles alongside the BattleHand live ops which remains a priority.
It's certainly a juggling act, but it remains true that you can still be small and also positively disruptive in the mobile space.