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 Madfinger Games CEO Marek Rabas about the 2013 first-person shooter Dead Trigger 2.
With Dead Trigger 2 now more than three years old, how do you reflect on its performance - from launch to the mature title it is now?
Marek Rabas: Dead Trigger 2 was a game changer for us and the game still remains Madfinger's favourite. Even after three years it remains our most successful game to date.
Most of the success was achieved because the game was something mobile players have never experienced at the time: console quality graphics, smooth controls, reluctance to go pay-to-win and so on.
The other part of the success was gradual fine-tuning of what we offered the player and the introduction of more and more retention mechanics. It took some hard work but today I am happy with the result.
How big is the team currently handling live ops on Dead Trigger 2?
We still consider ourselves as indie studio and therefore we try to be as effective as possible.
That is why we have managed to automate the process to run the live ops for the entire game with a small team of people.
How important do you consider customer support and updates to be? What has been your approach to this?
We approach all our games as player-driven and that’s why customer support has become incredibly important.
The players must know that we are constantly improving a game where they have spent time and money.Marek Rabas
Not only does it help the player in case of technical issues, but the customer support collects feedback from the community and based on that feedback, we decide where to go from there in the upcoming updates.
Those are extremely important too. The players must know that we are constantly improving a game where they have spent a considerable amount of time and money.
Even though it is a three-year-old game and we now focus more on our upcoming project, Shadowgun Legends, we have small dedicated teams focused on bringing new content to our older games.
How have significant updates been responded to by players?
We tried to introduce updates that are fun for the player and serve as a solid retention tool for us. That’s why we have come up with Weekly Tournaments and an Arena with global leaderboards.
Players loved it! We could then focus on bringing more weapons into the game which is something the community always appreciates.
As one of Madfinger's earlier free-to-play efforts, has the monetisation in Dead Trigger 2 evolved at all?
Naturally. For sure we made mistakes in the past, but we are in a constant learning and enhancement process with Dead Trigger 2.
The whole F2P model is a constant development process. We first introduced IAPs that were focused on the major bulk of our players.
We soon realised however, that we need to add more to satisfy the needs of many different player types. So we added IAPs on both sides of the spectrum. Now, everyone can find something they fancy.
How have you gone about ensuring that Dead Trigger 2 maintains a sizeable and active player base long after its launch?
We have put a lot of effort into creating a fun environment for players to be in. Intraconnected leaderboards with world chat, weekly and seasonal events, and so on.
We are not some distant corporation making games based on analytics. We listen to players and make games tailored to their needs.Marek Rabas
All that supported by social media and forums where the community can interact with each other - and with the devs, as well.
We always want to achieve a state where we are not some distant corporation that makes games based on their analytics, but instead to be there for the players, listen to them and make games tailored to their needs.
I think we have managed just that and the testament to that is that we still have a strong player base in Dead Trigger 2 even three years after launch.
How do you strike the balance between maintaining appeal for older titles like Dead Trigger 2 while attempting to grow an audience for newer releases such as Unkilled?
The fact that we have cutting-edge graphics is great because it serves as a user acquisition tool over a long period. In other words, the game has aged very well and is still attractive to new players.
That gives us the opportunity to try something else like Unkilled, which was more focused on casual gamers, or the upcoming Shadowgun Legends which is different than anything we have yet to see on a mobile devices.
Of course, you cannot just abandon the older titles and have to keep introducing new content and technical support.
Any KPIs such as downloads, DAU or retention you’re willing to share?
While I can’t give you specific numbers, I can share with you that hundreds of thousands of players play Dead Trigger 2 every day.
I am also very happy with the amount of downloads and player retention we get without actually spending a dollar on user acquisition.
That being said, there is always a space for improvement and that’s why we put a lot of thought into ASO and the building of a healthy community around our games.
What lessons have you learned/are you still learning from Dead Trigger 2? Is there anything about the game that, in hindsight, you'd now handle differently?
We learned that hardcore FPS free-to-play games have their place in the mobile market.
We learned that hardcore FPS free-to-play games have their place in the mobile market.Marek Rabas
When we tried a more casual approach in Unkilled, it turned out that the majority of the players prefer a true challenge.
That’s why we focused much more on developing a true triple-A title that will offer the player a challenge and a strong sense of accomplishment.
You could say that Shadowgun Legends is a result of what we have learned over the years developing not only Dead Trigger, but all our games.
What's next for Dead Trigger 2 in 2017 and beyond?
We plan on supporting the game for years to come. Now, that may not mean introducing features like multiplayer, but rather technical support and occasionally new content.
For example, this Easter we launched an update with exciting new Easter-themed events and three new weapons.