Over the years live operations has become a key element of releasing and maintaining a mobile game.
The top grossing charts often show titles that have been out for years - see Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, Gardenscapes - and these are games that have received a consistent stream of updates since launch.
The live operations process isn’t just your typical updates however, in-game events can also be popular too. London studio Space Ape swears by them, previously claiming in 2016 that it makes up to 50 per cent of its revenues from in-game events.
After successful updates to Angry Birds 2, following what was a slow start and turning the game into a top grosser, Rovio has learned many lesson in the area of live ops.
For one of its latest releases, the turn-based RPG puzzle game Angry Birds Evolution, in-game events were a key part of the development process even before the title was released.
Speaking to PocketGamer.biz, Rovio Games VP Miika Tams says the goal during development was to create a game that has something happening all the time and a product that “keeps players surprised and excited”.
“As one of the biggest aspects of the game is the amount of new birds for the Angry Birds universe, we decided that the best way to have a ‘new take’ on the bird islands was to focus on events,” says Tams.
“In particular, events that lend themselves to the creation of new birds and stories that we can tell with them. Angry Birds Evolution was built to be a game with very versatile tools for live operations so that we can reach these goals.
“We believed then, and we still do, that having a constant flow of new stories with the events in the games keeps players excited, surprised and engaged. Good examples here are the recent Iron Maiden partnership and now the just launched partnership with the NFL.”
Tams says that making sure an event feels like a natural fit for the title and its mechanics is the most important aspect of creating any good in-game event.
“It’s all about the story and feeling of immersion,” he explains, adding that each event in the game needs to feel like something that belongs in that world.
“The other thing that I feel really important is the element of surprise. You should be able to create almost anything, take risks and keep the players surprised.
“For example, for the holiday season 2017, the Angry Birds 2 team created an event in which players collected viking hats during Christmas. When that is balanced nicely with the regular event calendar, you have a chance to create a nice digital hobby for your players - and also give them something that they can talk about with their friends.
“The best events should be something that you will want to tell your friends over a cup of coffee or share in your social media accounts.”
I do believe that is quite difficult to add that to an existing game if it has not been considered from day one.Miika Tams
Like being a natural fit is important, Tams says that the biggest pitfall to avoid when creating events is not designing them to be an integral part of the product from the beginning,
“I do believe that is quite difficult to add that to an existing game if it has not been considered from day one,” he states.
The fact that Rovio thought about this early means the team has an easier time fitting events into the game. Now it’s able to achieve its goal of having something happening almost all the time, across different layers of the title.
For Angry Birds Evolution, Tams says the most visible events are the new character events that can be done with a chosen partner with completely new characters for the universe, or with the original flock from the Angry Birds world. These events can then run for days or even weeks.
An example of such a partnership was its deal with Iron Maiden to bring the heavy metal band’s mascot Eddie into a special Halloween-themed in-game event. It kicked off on October 18th 2017 and starred the new bird as a special playable character. Those who recruited him got to keep him once the event finished.
Rovio’s NFL deal meanwhile sees in-game events from from January 24th 2018 to Super Bowl Sunday on February 4th. A substantial event, it gives players the chance to outfit their roster of characters with any of the 32 official NFL jerseys and helmets and compete in Super Bowl-themed game levels as well as in-game competitions.
On top of this, 32 new NFL characters were introduced, while the ‘Oinktagon’ in PVP has been given a makeover to look like a football field.
But it’s not just about these partnerships, new characters and the headline events that might make the press.
“Also we have shorter story-based events that focus on different backstories - mostly birds fighting against pigs,” says Tams.
“All of these events are heavily based on clan collaboration and social interaction. The calendar for all of the these events is always a surprise for the players.
“Then we have events running daily during which, for example, users have a chance to get more of certain resources - coins, evolution material etcetera - or, for example, a certain coloured bird is more powerful on that particular day. These are the same every week, so players can build their weekly calendar of play over the same patterns.
“One of the events is the weekly running tournament in the PvP arena. We are also constantly investigating and adding new features [to bring] more event-based action to the game.”
Rovio has high hopes for Angry Birds Evolution after what it claims has been a strong start for the game. And with a focus on regular in-game events to keep players engaged, it could be one of those titles that sticks around for a long time.