With Halloween having just passed, anyone who plays free-to-play games will likely have interacted with some kind of timed in-game event very recently.
More than just an opportunity for developers to chuck a few pumpkins around in October and drizzle on some snow in December, stats suggest that these timed events can have a big impact on a live game's revenues.
A recent high-profile example is Pokemon GO. Niantic's Halloween update saw the title's daily revenues rise by 133%.
And more broadly, mobile game analytics firm GameRefinery has found that 45.8% of the top grossing 100 iOS games in the US use in-game events, compared to only 15.5% outside.
But is this correlation between timed events and higher revenues something that is being seen across the board? And how should developers best implement them?
To find out, we asked our Mobile Mavens:
- How big an impact can in-game events have on player engagement?
- When are the best times to run in-game events and how often should developers run them?
Well, obviously holiday tie-ins can be effective. We have had success with themed DLC in our poker title, using holiday items like Christmas ornaments, Superbowl-related items etc.
In our crossword-puzzle-trivia game Crickler, we routinely do themed puzzles (Halloween etc.) and they do get played (this game uses a consumption model).
So sure, it can work. But I think the stat is an example of “correlation doesn’t imply causation”.
The top grossing apps are doing this because they can. Sure, being responsive to user wishes is going to help your game succeed, but I don’t think holiday events are driving that success.
Players love events and they’re extremely effective in raising retention and revenue (if well designed).
If your mechanics support variety, you should have events running 24/7.Will Luton
I’ve seen factor revenue increases on events I’ve implemented, so a +133% impact is not unexpected.
However, you also see sessions per day and, to a lesser extent, DAU increase drastically too.
If your mechanics support enough variety, you should have events running 24/7 and even have them overlap.
Game of War has an automated events system which runs events back-to-back with up to four occurring at one time and it’s probably the biggest driver of player behaviour.
There's nothing that I could say about the power of seasonal in-game events that the brilliant My Tran hasn't already said.
If you haven't seen it already, I highly recommend you all check out her recent talk on the topic, Christmas In July.
Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.
My Tran is incredibly savvy and that is a great talk. For me, events are the lifeblood of any service.
It's really challenging for smaller teams to pull off as you have to invest in tools that allow you to support great communcation, reskinning, new mechanics, fresh content, great rewards and all the other elements that make your game special.
But it's so worth it.
Events are the lifeblood of any service.Oscar Clark
One lesson I learnt way back in the early days of Java was to find a way to balance the mechanical delivery of those experiences with the need to keep them fresh.
When events started to feel like carbon copies, they stopped working and we had to go back to the drawing board.
Another invaluable aspect was the value of predictable uncertainty. Knowing that an event is coming, but still feeling surprised by the value it offers, works wonders.
There is nothing more effective to building anticipation than to have your audience start speculating.
I wouldn't stop with holidays, however. We found that it was possible to have different levels and cycles of event.
Having a specific day for one activity each week, for instance, or having a theme for a given week all the way up to a monthly or seasonal event like the Holidays.
We did, I'm sorry to say, have a May The Fourth event one year... I know...
All in all, events are great, but to do them well you have to treat them seriously, plan and build the tools for them.
But more than that, events have to be meaningful and bring extra value to players; otherwise your player will tire of them.
Events are such strong drivers of player engagement that in Japan, Korea and China most games are pretty much engines built to run events.
The impact on DAUs, sessions per day and ARPDAU can be huge. On our little RPG Dungeon Monsters, we've seen ARPDAU go up to nearly $1 gross during some events.
Conversely, I've also seen long-term retention and DAUs drop slowly but steadily on games that started to run events less frequently than they used to, or to re-run the same set of events too many times.
In Japan, Korea and China, most games are engines built to run events.Nicolas Godement-Berline
Holidays and the four seasons are certainly great times to run events, so they are a good place to start.
However, as has been pointed out, more mature games go much deeper and can have several events run simultaneously at any given time of the year.
We try to always have at least a fortnight-long event running, sometimes two simultaneously, and run "gacha events" every weekend.
There are a few key considerations to have when planning to run events. First, how do they fit into the game design and the game economy?
I love designing game systems with interdependences, e.g. players need to play a regular campaign mode to be successful at the events, and they need to play the events to be successful at the campaign mode.
Throw in a PvP feature and a guild system with their own interdependences into the other game loops, and you are on you way to building a very strong F2P game engine.
Second, as a developer, budget a large chunk of development time into building your content delivery system.
Have a way to release events server-side through a content upload, and to re-run older events with just the flip of a button.
At Mana Cube, we have a nifty calendar that lets us schedule events, spot offers, gifts and push notifications.
Of course, don't underestimate the development time it will take to produce each event. It can easily be somewhere between two weeks and two months, so plan ahead accordingly.
One thing I've noted over the years is that the most produced, content-heavy events are not necesarily the most successful ones.
So it's worth sometimes time-boxing production to a short sprint or even a few days, and seeing what creative solutions the team comes up with to make the most of that time.
Finally, analyse the performance of each event. This is often overlooked but some basic KPIs can be extremely insightful when planning the next set of events: participation rate, ARPDAU for players that engaged with the event, etc.
Also, I like to simply ask our most engaged players what they thought of each event and get their suggestions for future events.