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12 lessons from the trenches of a mobile game live operations team

Hothead Games offers best practice advice

12 lessons from the trenches of a mobile game live operations team

Vlad Ceraldi is Director of Development at Hothead Games.

Most mobile game developers know full well the importance of having an effective LiveOps team.

It is one thing to build a hit game, but quite another to sustain success over any period of time. Today’s free-to-play studios have to build stellar LiveOps teams capable of forging direct relationships with players, motivating the community, building loyalty, adding great new content and so much more.

At Hothead Games, we’ve been running LiveOps for games like Kill Shot, Kill Shot Bravo, Big Win Sports and others for years, and we wanted to share some of the “lessons from the trenches” that we have learned in that time.

12 tips for live operations

1. Listen to your community.

A big part of any LiveOps team’s success is its ability to respond to a crisis. It’s important to have a process in place.

The LiveOps team is the company’s most direct link to its users. They understand what motivates players, they know what players like and dislike, and they are the first to know when anything changes. So it’s important that LiveOps listens to the community and passes on what they know to the rest of the company.

2. Base everything on data, but don’t ignore your gut.

We expect our LiveOps teams to pore over data meticulously and be prepared to back up all their decisions with data, but we remind them that sometimes statistics don’t tell the whole story and that it’s okay to make decisions based on instinct instead as you often have to start somewhere. But monitor the resulting data and adjust as required.

3. What can go wrong, will go wrong.

A big part of any LiveOps team’s success is its ability to respond to a crisis. It’s important to have a process in place and know who’s responsible for what when things inevitably go wrong.

4. LiveOps should be a self-contained and cohesive unit.

Each of our LiveOps teams consists of a producer and a multitude of designers, artists and coders who together create new content, but they are supported by other teams such as QA, Customer Service, Analytics and Marketing, all bound together by a singular focus.

This is the best way to ensure that their processes run smoothly and efficiently.

5. Social gameplay drives engagement

At least in our case, the more social features we can get our players to engage with (like clans or player-versus-player battles), the better their retention, engagement and, ultimately, monetisation.

6. Reward your VIPs

Loyalty is something you have to nurture from day one, but you have to know what truly motivates your most loyal VIPs.

Hothead Games has worked on games such as Kill Shot Bravo.

Sometimes it’s bonus currency through purchases, sometimes it’s competition with the right players, sometimes it’s access to special content or preferential ticketing through customer service. Figure out what your VIPs like most, and give them the preferential treatment they deserve.

7. Player expectations change over time

Players will play your game in different ways over the course of their lifetime, so it’s important to understand these differences and deliver custom experiences based on how long they’ve been playing.

8. Target sales & promotions by cohorts

Ensure that processes within the LiveOps team and in-game systems are in place to administer currency sales and promotions, taking into consideration different player cohorts and the impact of price promotions.

9. Time events appropriately

Events are crucial for engagement, but having an event system that has a variety of modes for early, mid and late-game players is the smartest approach. Timing events appropriately will help to maximise the minutes played by participants, although administering valuable rewards are most important.

10. Don’t take player support lightly

Don’t get stuck in a rut and rest on your laurels. The game is a living breathing service that needs to evolve.

Make sure you have a plan in place for player support, and that people on your team are dedicated to executing it. You will be dealing with a living and breathing entity when servicing your customers, so be aware of the volume of issues that can come up with a worldwide audience.

11. Constantly monitor game health.

Most importantly, keep your eyes on the prize - server uptime, KPIs, user behaviours, sinks and sources and quality of UA. It is key to have the tools and technology to run these processes indefinitely in real time.

12. Continue to evolve the game.

Don’t get stuck in a rut and rest on your laurels. The game is a living breathing service that needs to evolve. Adding new content is great but the game needs to change over time, adding new features that drive exciting new gameplay moments or more ways for players to interact with the game and each other.

For us, like for many mobile game developers, LiveOps is perhaps the most important department in the company, so it’s very important that we not only give them the resources and support they need to do their job well, but that we continue to learn the best practices that will help maximise the team’s effectiveness.

These are just some of the lessons we’ve learned over time, but we’re always interested in learning what lessons other developers have to share.

Please let us know in the comments below.

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