Comment & Opinion

Why good legacy mobile games deserve a new lease of life

SuperScale’s Ivan Trancik discusses legacy game management and how publishers have revived old games through new methods

Why good legacy mobile games deserve a new lease of life

Developing a video game is challenging work but creating one that's likely to turn a profit is even more complicated. The mobile market in particular, can be difficult to navigate as players have so many games to choose from, therefore it's inevitable that sooner or later a dev has to kill a game and move on.

But could it be that you're killing your game too soon? Are there other options to consider before taking your hard work to the chopping block?

In this guest post, CEO and founder at SuperScale, Ivan Trancik, shares his insight on legacy game management, detailing how games that seemingly have seen their best days come and go could still be returned to peak performance.

The term “murder your darlings” was coined by the English writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, advising writers to critically assess their own work without sentiment. It’s a concept the mobile games industry has had to adopt, as Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen said himself in a blog post earlier this year, stating that his teams are “truly the darling killers”.

Such a term is typically reserved for games early in design or those in soft launch that aren’t quite hitting target KPIs. It’s time to kill them and move on, however emotionally attached you may be. But publishers can be equally cold-blooded when sending live games into ‘maintenance mode’ - when they stop receiving substantial updates and little to no marketing - or even pulling the plug entirely if they are no longer profitable enough.

When the decision is made to take the servers offline, it can leave a particularly sour taste in the mouth for a core community of dedicated players.
Ivan Trancik

Who can blame them? Running games for the long term is a hugely challenging endeavour. Maintaining LiveOps and keeping the experience fresh for years is a significant task that requires planning, consistency and constant innovation.

While some titles stay at the top of the charts for years - King’s Candy Crush Saga continues to find ways to grow revenue over a decade after launch - others gradually fade before being put out to pasture. And when the decision is made to take the servers offline, it can leave a particularly sour taste in the mouth for a core community of dedicated players.

A new legacy

But with launching new games more challenging than ever, are developers missing a trick in not keeping some of these games updated and even reinvigorating their old games with more efficient LiveOps tactics and UA, monetisation and design practices?

Legacy Game Management is the process of reviewing games that seemingly have their best days behind them and perhaps no longer receive significant UA and updates. They still have an audience and paying users, but they are either experiencing a long-term downward revenue trend or the developer has chosen to focus resources on other, potentially more profitable or exciting projects.

There’s an opportunity to reassess these legacy games to see if new learnings, modern monetisation approaches, profitable UA and new game design innovations can bring these games back to peak performance. The right data-driven evaluation platform can help identify opportunities for renewed growth, and with efficient processes to unlock this, more games can deliver on their undoubted potential.

Supercell’s Hay Day, first released in June 2012, saw a new lease of life with the integration of a Season Pass in December 2020. Eights years on from its initial launch, Sensor Tower estimates that monthly revenue rose by 62% month-on-month to more than $14 million following the Season Pass’ introduction.

InnerSloth’s Among Us, a unique example perhaps resuscitated by the pandemic lockdowns, became a global hit years after launch. Its popularity suddenly surged after gaining the attention of content creators on Twitch, morphing into one of the most notable games of the year. But it could have turned out differently, as InnerSloth was about to halt development altogether before its rise to fame and hundreds of millions of players.

NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower, meanwhile, tripled its revenue and broke all-time revenue records multiple times more than a decade after its launch. The growth strategy included a new events system, in-game data tracking, delivering custom-built special offers and evaluation of user acquisition performance to optimise marketing campaigns when scaling in Tier 1 countries. Fingersoft’s Hill Climb Racing and Imangi’s Temple Run franchises also grew thanks to updated LiveOps strategies and Apple Arcade launches of their original titles.

It’s a strategy that can work for the world’s biggest publishers and smallest indie developers alike.

It’s not just about creating the next big thing, it’s about getting more out of what you have and not writing off your existing titles.
Ivan Trancik

Top-grossing stalwarts

Consumers often stick with older games they know and love. The current top-grossing titles in the market are ones that have been around for years. Sensor Tower data shows that from 2019 to 2022, the top 10-grossing games each year were often the same set of titles that typically hadn’t been released in the same year. The only exception is Uma Musume Pretty Derby from Cygames, which was released in 2021 and ranked No.9 for revenue that year. Genshin Impact from miHoYo was released in late September 2020, just before topping the annual charts in 2021.

A stalwart in the top 10-grossing charts since 2020, Coin Master was first released in 2010 and was barely noticeable on the market. It took years before it surged in popularity and saw significant user acquisition spend. In February 2021, Sensor Tower estimated the title had accumulated more than $2 billion worldwide in player spending.

So, it’s not just about creating the next big thing, it’s about getting more out of what you have and not writing off your existing titles. Reviewing these games and seeing what positive changes you can make can be very good for business, offering massive upside from an investment that pales in comparison to what’s required to launch new games. If you can better harness data and new learnings to reverse a downward revenue trend to improve your bottom line, there’s considerable money left to be made. While murdering your darlings is unavoidable, your good old games might just deserve to be given a new lease of life.

Edited by Paige Cook regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.