Comment & Opinion

5 tips for running effective live operations

Tag Games' Robin Smith offers useful advice on maximising post-launch performance of your game

5 tips for running effective live operations

Robin Smith is Product Manager at Tag Games.

Creating a mobile hit is dependent on extending the long tail of a game, and in free-to-play, the live operations phase is every bit as important as the initial production.

At Tag Games we have run LiveOps for games like Angry Birds Action! and Nonstop Knight, and with backend technology through our sister-company ChilliConnect, we are positioned to gear products for long-term success.

Long-term engagement

Whether you’re running your own LiveOps or working with an external partner, here are five simple tips to help you maximise post-launch performance.

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  • 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.

    Checking in

    Developers can encourage this by offering rewards or items for players that check-in daily, something we first did a while back with Moshi Monsters Village.

    Our system allowed us 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 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.

    Engaging events

    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. We've observed regular boosts of at least 30% in our LiveOps projects, so you should aim to run them regularly and incentivise your players to get involved.

  • 3 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.

  • 4 Listen to the data

    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. We recommend starting 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.

    All ears

    Analytics tools allow you to delve deep into behavioural 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 monetisation, 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.

  • 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.

    Testing, testing

    QA should work closely with the whole team to check all aspects of every deliverable - from the stability of features, the consistency of art assets and the configuration of events.

    When regular builds and updates are deployed throughout the LiveOps 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.

  • 6 Conclusions

    LiveOps isn’t just about keeping your games ticking over, it’s an opportunity to improve your games over time and incentivise 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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