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.
In this entry, we speak to Angry Birds 2's Lead Game Designer and Product Manager Måns Wide about Rovio Stockholm's 2015 sequel to one of the biggest mobile games of all time.
PocketGamer.biz: With Angry Birds 2 now more than a year old, how do you reflect on its performance from launch to the mature title it is now?
Måns Wide: Angry Birds 2 is one of the most successful games in Rovio’s portfolio.
The game performs even better now than it did right after the launch, due to the constant improvements of the game and the adding of several more features, such as a PvP Arena, Daily Challenges and collectible hat sets.
After the global launch, late summer 2015, we realised almost immediately that the game needed more depth to attract the audience we wanted.
We realised almost immediately after launch that the game needed more depth.Måns Wide
Basically, trying to take the game from being a light and cheerful puzzle game and transform it into a light RPG game with less focus on saga map progression and a lot more focus on upgrading and optimising your birds.
Concentrating on the characters really makes sense to us; what other mobile game has the kind of heroes (and villains) you can actually build a blockbuster movie around?
How big is the team currently handling live ops on Angry Birds 2?
The core team consists of around 15 people at this point, including code, art, design and production.
We are all based in the Rovio Stockholm studio.
How important do you consider customer support to be? What's been the approach to game updates?
It's super important! Since launch we've released ten updates to the game and we put a lot of effort into analysing the customer tickets we get and resolving all issues ASAP.
The team really cares a lot about the players and many of them actively participate in discussions about the game on forums and engaging with our fans on the Angry Birds 2 Facebook page.
At Rovio we believe very strongly in live ops support and we keep our fans constantly engaged with frequent content updates to our games.
That is one reason Rovio games have been downloaded more than 3.5 billion times.
Since the launch of Angry Birds 2, there's been an Angry Birds movie and several new takes on the series across various genres. How have these impacted upon the game?
When The Angry Birds Movie was released we saw a positive impact on games as well, with an increase on the DAU and MAU numbers.
When The Angry Birds Movie was released we saw a positive impact on DAU and MAU.Måns Wide
With The Angry Birds Movie and very well performing games, the Angry Birds brand is even stronger now.
What steps have you taken to ensure that Angry Birds 2 maintains a sizeable and active player base years after its launch?
We've focused a lot on making the game more competitive and social, and we definitely plan to keep going in that direction.
We really want this game to stay relevant for many years and for that to happen we need the players to be able to interact more with each other within the game.
We want them to compete, collaborate and laugh together. Angry Birds 2 is evolving all the time, with many key events. For instance, just last month it had a massive Halloween overhaul.
What lessons have you/are you still learning from Angry Birds 2? Is there anything about the game that, in hindsight, you'd now handle differently?
Since the other Angry Birds games had three billion downloads at the time when we released Angry Birds 2, we expected everybody - like everybody in the world - to know the basics of the Angry Birds game, and we were very scared of fan reactions if we made big changes in the gameplay.
These assumptions led to the launch version being a bit too vanilla, and a some of the early players left the game.
We've now learnt that Angry Birds 2 requires skill and, no matter how easy we try to make the levels, you can always shoot in the wrong direction or forget to trigger the bird abilities, whereas in a super casual game like Candy Crush you can't really fail unless the game wants you to.
So in hindsight, we should have done what we're doing now from the very beginning: accept that the game is a bit more demanding than most casual games out there and try to optimise it for players who love the genre and want a deeper and more varied experience from the game.
Finally, how has your experience with Angry Birds 2 informed where you are and what you're working on now?
On a personal level, the amount of surprises along the way have turned me into a humbler man.
My experience with this game has taught me the importance of knowing exactly what kind of game I'm doing (and to ensure that my vision goes along with what the players want).
It is important to know for whom you are developing the game.
I'm still working with Angry Birds 2, preparing some more additions for the next year and by now I'm very confident that the things we do will make the game even better in all aspects, from a player and a business perspective.
We know the game very well by now, and we love it! As do its 130 million fans.