What is LiveOps, why it is important and what you should pay attention to when working with it, — experts of the Balancy service Julia Iljuk and Andrey Apanasik told.
Julia Iljuk, Head of Growth at Balancy, and Andrey Apanasik, CTO at Balancy
At the beginning of 2023, at least one thing we know for sure: mobile game developers will launch LiveOps at a hitherto unprecedented speed.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to monetize projects. This forces us to focus on the quality of content and personalization instead of focusing on attracting new users (to be honest, we don’t see the light at the end of the user aquisition tunnel, at least this year).
Against this background, success will depend, among other things, on whether the studio infrastructure and the team can:
- provide an endless stream of tests;
- offer a high level of personalization of the user experience.
In this article, we will first look at the current definition of LiveOps, and then discuss the new challenges of the industry, as well as how marketing teams adapt to them.
Along the way, we will describe nine main elements that the product team must integrate into the LiveOps strategy to ensure success this year.
What kind of beast is this LiveOps?
You’ve heard about LiveOps more than once and probably think you know everything about this topic. But stop for a second and try to at least define the term.
Have you tried it?
It turns out that everything is not so simple. LiveOps includes a lot of things: from in-game events and promotions to support and work with the community.
LiveOps strategies help games become like living, developing organisms, for which the release is just the beginning of a long journey.
Like a real organism, the game evolves and evolves. Without this, players will not constantly return to it.
Let’s define LiveOps as follows: these are changes and updates that are made to the game after launch in order to attract players, create long-term relationships with them and improve LTV.
LiveOps maximize the value and value of the game.
Here are some examples of what LiveOps includes (and does not include):
✅ adding a skimming pricing strategy* to the store;
✅ adding new decorations and skins for the holidays;
✅ regulation of the frequency of advertising for different segments of players;
✅ promotion of an in-game tournament on social networks where the community gathers;
❌ error correction and optimization of application performance.
*The strategy of skimming pricing consists in the initial setting of a relatively high price for an offer with its subsequent reduction. Thus, first the cream is “skimmed off”, and then those segments of users who are more sensitive to the cost of the product are attracted to the purchase.
The most common and proven LiveOps approach is one-time work with game events and sales. Usually sales are accompanied by events to create a sense of urgency and the need to buy. For example, they often hold a limited-time sale in honor of Black Friday, and by Christmas they start selling new skins as part of a seasonal event.
There are a lot of approaches. They are limited only by imagination and resources (employees and tools).
It is worth noting that new technologies for launching no-code content updates and LiveOps allow you to bypass some of the restrictions.
Thanks to these technological developments and the uncertainty prevailing in the market, this year we will see the birth of many new creative tactics.
A little later in this article, we’ll look at custom FTUE** as an example of a new tactic that helps marketers improve player retention.
** FTUE (First-Time User Experience) — the player’s first experience of interacting with the product.
Why is LiveOps so important today?
On the one hand, LiveOps activities help projects to be attractive to new players who are spoiled by a huge selection of games on the market. On the other hand, they help to entertain and retain the old loyal audience.
Monetization of games has never been as difficult as it is now. Consumers save on everything, and games are no exception. In 2022, games faced a 16% decrease in the number of in-game purchases.
Monetization through advertising also does not look like a reliable alternative to increase revenue. It constantly shows a negative trend in most countries, forcing studios that rely heavily on advertising (hello, hyper-casuals!) to reconsider their strategy and turn to LiveOps.
According to the latest Sensor Tower report, LiveOps is the main element of monetization and retention of players in leading games, which helps them retain players and increase revenue. By the end of 2022, all the games from the box office ten resorted to LiveOps
Do not forget about another challenge that absolutely all mobile studios have faced: user acquisition in crisis. In response to the decline in IAP revenue and advertising revenue, marketing budgets are shrinking, while CPI continues to grow. Studios are increasingly focused on organics and on working on retention (monetization of a loyal player is cheaper than attracting a new one).
According to a recent Unity report, attracting users is the most difficult aspect of operating a game for studios
According to Eric Seufert’s forecast, in 2023, “personalization at the user level will create a competitive advantage and will bypass UA in terms of [resources allocated to the direction] and [significance] in the internal infrastructure of the studio.” Gaming companies will compete on the quality and personalization of the user experience, not on attracting new players.
This does not mean that UA is no longer relevant. Rather, it means that marketers will use new methods. The idea of a personalized first user experience may become decisive in the future. Let’s try to consider it in more detail.
Custom FTUE is a possible lifeline for marketing teams
To date, game stores allow you to create many customizable pages with different display of information on the game, and advertising sources make it possible to attract people not only to default pages. The next logical step would be to provide a personalized experience for new players already inside the game — a custom first user experience.
It’s time for marketers to remember that they are not just leadogens. Product and marketing teams should work together from the earliest stages of development. In the end, they will have to guide different users along different paths within the game.
Imagine that players from your creative or campaign can be automatically directed to one of several game scenarios that best suits them.
For example, users can be met by a character they saw in the creative, or receive bonus diamonds promised in your advertising campaign. There can be countless ideas — the main thing is that they should work to retain the newly attracted players.
Nine elements of an effective LiveOps strategy
Now we are moving from market trends and concepts to more practical implementation. Let’s look at several important elements on which a LiveOps strategy should be built. This list will be especially useful if you are planning your strategy from scratch or need to revise an existing one.
1. System for storing and managing game balance
Example of tables for storing game balance
Surely there are a lot of items in your game that you can buy, use, win, find, wear, and so on. There may also be other components in the game, such as quests, tutorials, dialogues. One of the most common ways to launch LiveOps is to update content. You can add new weapons/boosters/skins or change their parameters, experiment with prices or remove unpopular items from your store.
To do this, you need a system for storing and managing game content. At the very beginning of development, ordinary Google tables will do a good job. But with the growth of content, you will quickly notice that they slow down the workflow, do not give flexibility and make it impossible to navigate through hundreds or thousands of elements. In addition, spreadsheets carry risks associated with human error. As a result, when scaling LiveOps and running several updates per week, you will encounter problems such as application crashes and game logic violations.
To effectively manage game content, you need to develop a user-friendly interface for working with balance, which would keep up with the pace of content creation and provide easy navigation and data validation. It will be ideal if the balance is also seamlessly connected to remote setup — the next necessary component of your technical stack.
2. Remote configs
Here we are talking about technology that helps developers change the appearance or functionality of their games remotely (without the need to rebuild the build, and, as a result, without the need for users to update the game).
How it works in most cases: the game designer updates the game balance data in the tables and gives the go-ahead to programmers to throw a new balance into the game. Programmers do a little magic with JSON — and voila — changes have been made to the game without releasing a new version.
There are solutions on the market that allow you to change the game without working with the code, thereby reducing the burden on programmers. Imagine that your game designers can fully control the game economy, hold events and sales remotely – this is the workflow that you need to strive for.
To increase LTV, it is advisable to consider each user individually. Of course, it makes no sense to granulate the audience to the level of a specific user and create millions of unique pieces of content and offers. Therefore, segmentation comes to the rescue. It is more convenient to group users into segments based on criteria (for example, beginners/veterans, paying/non-paying, whales/dolphins/fry), and then target these segments with a specific message and value proposition.
You might want to offer a discount for paying players who haven’t bought anything in the last month to reactivate them. Or maybe you want to reward the whales with free exclusive skins to work on their retention and stimulate the subsequent purchase of such content.
Recently, more and more studios have been experimenting with segmentation based on ad viewing activity. A typical scenario that we learned from customers: developers take old players who have watched hundreds of promotional videos, but have never bought anything, and offer them a 70-90% discount. Thus, they increase the share of paying users and transfer their monetization from advertising to IAP. And this is an economic transition that we will observe more and more often this year in the context of the negative eCPM trend.
4. Special offers
We have already mentioned special offers several times in this article, because this is an important element of LiveOps aimed at improving monetization. Unlike user retention and engagement tactics, sales results are easily measurable and visible almost immediately. You show the offer in the in-game store or at the right moment of the game, the players make purchases, and then you evaluate the sales metrics.
There are different types of special offers: bonuses for the first purchase, time-limited offers, chains of offers, free gifts, daily bonuses, etc.
You will have to conduct a lot of experiments and find combinations of content and placement of offers that work best for your game. In this situation, hardcoding offers or using raw JSON does not look like a sustainable solution if you plan to scale LiveOps and conduct many parallel experiments.
Example of a chain of offers from Homescapes. The player must buy two offers with an increasing price in order to open a free reward
5. A/B testing
When a cool new idea appears, you can be 100% sure of its success. But still, before rolling out the change to the entire audience, do not forget to test it. Whether it’s a new onboarding, a special offer, flexible pricing or in—game challenges – take your time and compare its results with a control group of users who play the old version.
Think about A/B testing without additional programming, where you can select segments of players and change their gaming experience remotely, as well as quickly roll back the change made if the test did not reach the desired indicators (which is a very common situation that you need to be prepared for). You should be able to quickly switch between different versions of your game, as if you have a remote control.
When it comes to LiveOps, you can’t get far without data and their analysis. When launching a new special offer or event, it is necessary to analyze the results obtained to determine its effectiveness. Analytics provides information about how many players participated, what revenue was received and whether the offer or event was profitable. Do not forget also about the evaluation of the “hangover” after the completion of sales.
In addition, analytics is critically important when conducting A/B tests. Analyzing the data, you can decide which version to release to increase the targets. According to many developers, proper analytics and summing up A/B testing is the most difficult and time-consuming part of LiveOps.
7. Calendar of events
Events are a great way to refresh the project, increase the involvement of loyal players and attract new ones. For inspiration, you can turn to real holidays (for example, Easter, Christmas and Halloween), major world events (sports championships, celebrity concerts and movie releases) or create your own events (for example, seasonal challenges or tournaments among players).
A good example of an event is Call of Duty Season 10: World Class, launched for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. During this in-game event, users could play for such football legends as Neymar Jr. (Neymar Junior), Lionel Messi (Lionel Messi) and Paul Pogba (Paul Pogba). To unlock stars, players had to spend premium currency.
To plan events, promotions and tests, you will need a calendar. For this purpose, you can use Google tables or some ready-made tools. The main thing here is to be able to synchronize your calendar with remote configuration and A/B testing systems in order to instantly display new events and changes in your calendar. This will save a lot of time that is usually spent on constantly updating spreadsheets manually.
An example of a game calendar with events, offers and tests.
When working with LiveOps, you need to inform the audience about changes (announce new tasks and events, share studio news, offer special offers, conduct surveys or send gifts to players who are inactive). The most popular notification channels are in-game messages, push notifications and emails.
Personalization is a key factor here, as it allows you to customize messages to suit the individual preferences and interests of each player, which leads to higher engagement and conversion rates. In addition, when analyzing data and segmentation, you can target certain groups of players and improve your strategy.
Quite intensive communication via pushy from Royal Match developers
Support teams and the community play an important role in operating the game, acting as links between the product and the players. These teams are responsible for covering updates, organizing surveys, collecting feedback, and creating a strong community that players may want to become a part of.
When you launch a new tournament, your community manager should promote it on social networks and explain the rules to the players. And if players don’t like something at the launch, managers who process reviews in stores and feedback from players are the first to notice the problem and sound the alarm.
It is important to remember that the human aspect is just as important as the technical one, so strong support and community teams are an integral part of the success of the project.
Monetization of games in 2023 is not the easiest task, but that is why it opens up great prospects for professional growth of specialists.
Together with the spread of LiveOps, the focus of developers will increasingly be on providing high-quality, thoughtful and personalized content. What is not a joy for players and the industry?
LiveOps will become a key factor of competitiveness in the market and will be able to ensure victory in the race for LTV.
Important: success will be achieved not only with the help of special offers and events, but, first of all, thanks to the rapid creation and adaptation of content for different user segments.
Simply put, the main competitive advantage in the market will be the personalization of experience and the speed of updates.