/Blog: An essential guide to live ops – Part 3

Blog: An essential guide to live ops – Part 3

Image 2021-03-31 at 8.49.38 AM

 

Welcome back, game connoisseurs. I’m excited to have you.

Today, we’re going to be diving into a continuation of where we left off last, giving you a clear rundown for how to understand the nuances of your LiveOps cadence and actually affect process change for optimal results.

In our Part II series breakdown, we got into the cadence specifics: the design, the implementation, the operations — we looked at all of it. And I hope it’s still fresh in your memory. But now, we’re leaving those pillars behind for something more personal. Something more actionable. Something more fun.

In other words? We’re getting into the observation — and the adjustments.

This is where the magic happens.

It’s where you learn, grow, and improve. It’s where you get your team aligned and rolling in the same direction, and it’s where you give your thinking caps the wear and tear they deserve. It is, for all intents and purposes, the place where your designing and implementing truly pay off.

Observing and adjusting. It sounds so simple. But the truth? The truth is that these pillars carry a lot of weight — and if you don’t have a roadmap for delineating where you should pause, when you should reflect, and how you should improve, it can be daunting.

Today, I’m going to be your roadmap through all things Part III. We’re going to get into the nitty-gritty, unravel the mystical, and zero in on the elements that really matter. And we’re even going to have some fun doing it.

Ready to go? Great — hop on board. First stop: the basics.

If you’ll recall from our past meeting, I’ve given you a couple of examples for when time for observing and adjusting needs to be built into the cadence schedule:

  • When it’s ‘fixing day’ immediately after a new release
  • When you’re plotting out how long tasks will take
  • When it’s been a couple of sprints, and it’s time for your team to reflect

But now, let’s expand our sights and think bigger. Not just inside your internal operations, but how your internal operations are actually impacting your game — and the people who love it.

How do you know if your LiveOps cadence is actually working?

If your playerbase is engaged? If the new content is exciting? If your audience is motivated to come back day after day, week after week — without getting bored, annoyed, or overwhelmed?

Simple: you observe.

You track engagement levels. You analyze behaviors. You make sense of which player segments are responding to what content, and you make absolutely certain that you’re paying attention to what your people are telling you.

No, they won’t be telling you with their words. They’ll be telling you with their actions. And it’ll be those actions that enable you to understand what’s working and what isn’t — and to adjust until you get it right. Or, at the very least, closer to right.

So how do you observe? Not just broadly, but effectively?

It all starts with the right KPIs. Sure, it’s a common tendency to look at the big guns of metrics — the metrics that feel splashy, or vast, or grandiose. But these metrics — namely, the DAU and ARPU — leave much to be desired in the realm of LiveOps observation.

Observation gives you key insights into the big-picture of your game.

Because while the Daily Active User and Average Revenue Per User numbers might lend some insight into the big-picture business of your game, they won’t give you any enlightenment into the LiveOps themselves. They won’t give you the details — the substance — you need to authentically improve your cadence strategy.

So that’s where the rest of the metrics come in. And I’ll be frank with you: there’s a lot of them. But before diving into these KPIs, there are a couple of factors you need to take into account first:

Time: This first factor is more than just a trivial variable — it’s absolutely crucial to gleaning the insight you’re hoping to glean. Because you can look at any metric, at any number, and try to find insight. But you won’t secure it unless you’re giving your observation the context it needs to shine.

Here’s a basic example: using one of the KPIs I mentioned above, you observe that your DAU is currently at 3,000. So what does that tell you? Without comparing it to what your DAU was a month ago, or a year ago, or in 2019 — you have no ability to understand where your game’s headed. Are you gaining traction? Losing it?

Time is the ingredient you need to make sense of your analytic efforts. You’ll want to compare the same KPI against itself at different times in order to figure out what it’s really telling you. Before an event, and then again after. At the beginning of the month, and then again at the end. Before a major marketing campaign, and then again after it’s wrapped up.

Time gives your analytics the frame they need to empower your decision-making. So when you’re pinpointing which KPI’s you’ll be looking at, make sure you have access to previous data — and that you’re planning to take stock of that same data at the next interval.

Population: The second factor to consider when you’re gearing up to get into your analytic mindset is population — which means, who of your players you’ll be analyzing. With the power of audience segmentation, you can divide your player-base into groups and analyze each individually.

This gives you the control you need when you’re looking to observe trends — so that you can further personalize your LiveOps for specific subsets of your audience. Whether you divide your population up by region, game history, or skill level, you’ll be able to discern which engagement tactics and offerings compel which players. And that insight is not only actionable, but massively significant to keeping your churn rate low.

Do you have to split your KPIs into more segmented data pools for your analytics to be effective? No. But it is a useful technique to keep close by — for whenever you do want a more focused understanding of what’s happening.

And why.

User Growth

As the name tells you, this vertical of observation looks at whether people are coming into your game as new players or leaving after having played. Aside from the obvious significance of being able to prove that your game is growing in appeal — or losing traction — user growth can also help you determine which content is responsible for increasing or decreasing your success. When you pick the right times to read the metric — i.e. right before and right after a specific event — you’re able to absorb contextually-significant results. And make further decisions based on them.

There are a variety of KPI’s that make up this category, including straightforward metrics like installations and uninstallations, registrations and upgrades, and, of course, the User Growth Rate itself. Interested in tracking the User Growth Rate for your game? Follow this formula:

UGR = [(Present # Users — Past # Users) / (Past # Users)] x 100

User Growth Rate formula for your game

Engagement

This category is going to be your team’s focus as you ascend the rocky terrain of long-term LiveOps. KPIs under the engagement umbrella don’t just tell you whether people are accessing your game or not — they actually tell you how they’re interacting with it.

Are they opening the app by accident and quickly clicking back to the home screen? Are they spending hours, multiple times a week, pursuing game progress? Are they getting frustrated by a certain level — or are they only coming into the game when there’s a community-based event going on?

The lifeblood of successful LiveOps is understanding your audience. With engagement-centered metrics, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing.

So which KPIs are involved here? There’s the Retention Rate, for starters, where you can quantify how many of your players are still around past a certain time threshold (of your choosing). This gives you the power to track how ‘sticky’ — or compelling — your game is at the beginning, and how much more engaging each dose of fresh content helps it become. It’s more of a generalized look, but it’s useful nonetheless. To find the Retention Rate, use this formula:

RR = [(# Customers at End — # Customers Acquired During) / # Customers at Start)] x 100

To find the Retention Rate, use this formula

Aside from the Retention Rate, you can look at metrics like the App Open Rate, Session Length, Session Integral, and Session Depth. With that data, you’ll be able to see how many times the average player opens the game, how long their play session is, how long they go between play sessions, and how many interactions they have with the game during each session.

Tracking all of these things is always illuminating, but tracking them before and after new content releases is especially fruitful for figuring out what works.

Marketing

While I haven’t gone into much detail (yet) about the importance of marketing as it relates to your LiveOps efforts, I’m going to give you the lowdown on the marketing metrics you’re going to want to observe anyway.

The backbone to remember here is that, without the meat of a captivating, engaging, and enduring game, your marketing can’t issue real results. Sure, it can bring about quick flashes of new players — but if there’s nothing to keep them interested, they won’t stay around for long. To get your players engaged for a long time, you need a remarkable LiveOps cadence. And to get your players advocating for your game on your behalf, you need an extraordinary one.

That’s what our marketing KPIs look at: whether your audience is engaged enough with your game to do more than just play it — but spread it. The first KPI we’ll look at is Social Shares, which enables you to pinpoint how many times your game has been shared on your players’ social media. By being able to glean just how frequently your players are telling their networks about the game, you’ll have a deeper understanding of how many players are serious fans — and the points at which they became them.

The second metric — that’s a little bit more open to interpretation in terms of approach — is Brand Awareness. Where does your game come up in search results, and how many times is it there? Are there thousands of posts on social media mentioning it, or just a handful? If it has social accounts of its own: how many followers does it have? How many interactions a day, or a week? With Brand Awareness, you get a better read on how visible your game is — and with that context in mind, you’ll be able to better assess your markers for growth and engagement. (Because obviously, if you have massive visibility and a barely-moving growth lever, you need to do some reassessing.)

💡Marketing 101 Tip: There’s a big difference between awareness and affinity. Awareness can grow, but something magical happens when people love something and get to affinity status.

 

Brand awareness turned into affinity (oversimplified)

That just about covers the observation breakdown. Now onto the execution.

Once you’ve put in the strides to observe, you likely have a whole host of data — and a good sense of where and how you need to tweak your LiveOps. Whether the findings are obvious, like a substantial number of players uninstalling the game after a specific event, or whether they’re a little bit more cloudy — the insight is there.

But, your findings aren’t the be all and end all. They’ll give you the right frame to work in — but then, it’s time for you to work.

Let’s take a look at two structural systems for smooth, productive, and fruitful adjustments:

System 1: Predefined Autonomy

For the simple tweaks (like changing the number of offers in an event, the rewards being allocated, or the maximum number of prestige attempts), you can rely on a predefined system — where different team members are responsible for different things. Taking note of a ‘group’ framework, where your team is divided into groups and each group is responsible for a different sprint/series of tasks, you can continue that theme through to the observation and adjustment phase.

Maybe that same group observes the efficacy of their release by tracking the results (through KPIs) after the fact. Maybe they’re then in charge of brainstorming fixes, choosing the best ones, and implementing them for the sprint coming up next week. When there are possible adjustments that won’t necessarily impact the overall framework of the event or its audience, the stakes are lower — so testing them out can be done frequently.

By empowering your team to take those adjustments on (through making educated predictions, based on the metrics), you’re streamlining your process for potential improvement. And leaving room to be surprised at how slight tweaks can make a world of difference.

System 2: Group Effort

But then there’s the insight that tells you the event framework, release cadence, or marketing effort isn’t strong enough. Your audience isn’t growing — or if it is, the uninstall numbers are way too high. Engagement metrics are low. Nobody’s talking about the game at all.

For bigger issues, you want more brains. Sure, the numbers can point you in a direction — but it’ll be the people on your team, the people who live and breathe your game, that’ll come up with the exact destination. Or, at the very least, a closer one. So bring those creative minds together and ask big-picture questions.

Given what we’ve learned with our data thus far, what’s our top problem? Getting users to the game? Keeping them engaged? Keeping them active in the community? Zero in on what needs fixing, and then fuel your team to start reimagining the content and cadence. Maybe a scheduled individual event turns into a guild vs. guild event, to up intensity. Maybe you incorporate a new reward system, where participation in a quick series of three events earns players a special item.

The options are endless. And fostering a dialogue that encourages big thoughts, creative ideas, and unique solutions? It’s never a bad idea.

Also, Sophie Vo at Voodoo has some great thoughts on fostering a community of trust at her studio. Listen to full episode here. ðŸ”Š

No More Fear: When it comes to the trial-and-error mentality, you need to approach things from a very specific standpoint. That standpoint? Confidence, composure, and care. Rather than letting a worst-case scenario limit the scope of your adjustments, be confident that you’ve done your research (that is, if you have done your research) and that your team’s decisions are well-informed. Be composed as you input the fixes, ensuring that the tweaks are being made with precision (rather than the flummoxed urgency of a rushed tax). And then, when all is said and done, take in the new numbers with care. Don’t let your expectations or hopes cloud your analysis, and don’t let your nerves or apprehensions slow your next steps.

You have the tools, the knowledge-base, and the team you need to operate your LiveOps in a results-driven way. So don’t let fear hold you back.

Leave the Box at the Door: If there’s one thing our industry knows to be true, it’s that creativity — and unrestrained imagination — get rewarded. Repetitive features and the same old challenges don’t get people talking; it’s the wildly new content details, the first-of-its-kind event series structures, and the pushing-the-boundaries releases that get remembered. And when audiences are driven enough to remember, they’re driven enough to engage.

So this is where I tell you to go big or go home. Does that mean revamping your LiveOps strategy every other week? No. It means using your metrics to figure out what needs adjusting, and then getting creative with said adjusting. Really creative. Limitlessly creative. The more you think outside the box, the more your players will take notice. The more they’ll tell their friends, the more they’ll post about the madness, and the more they’ll do your marketing outreach for you.

It all starts with the right content released at the right times. Learn from your past tactics, then create new ones that stand out. Try, fix — simple as that.

Copycats Never Win: Just like creativity is crucial for adjustments that impact, so too is originality. If there’s an event framework that’s causing a big splash in the industry today or a new game with a kick-ass feature that has everyone talking, copying it for your game will not guarantee you the same results.

Sure, sometimes riding on the coattails of a proven trend pays off. But you know what pays off even more? Using the unique core of your game, the unique needs of your audience, and the unique ideas of your team to generate something new. So if you’ve determined that a content release wasn’t successful — or that it wasn’t successful enough — don’t immediately jump to a copycat mindset.

Don’t assume that imitation is a sturdy fallback option. Your players will notice what you’re doing — and even if they’re engaged by the trend, they’ll be less excited and moved than if it were something your game had brought to the table for the first time. And the goal is to impress them, isn’t it?

Shame Loses Games: When it comes to your adjustments, the right perspective is everything — and if you’re caught up with focusing on the fact that your team was wrong with their expectations, then you’re losing sight of what’s really important. The learning — and the growing.

There is absolutely no shame in delivering a release cadence you think will work, and then backtracking to adjust based on your audience’s response. There’s no shame in tweaking your backend processes to try for better efficiency, and there’s no shame in admitting an idea didn’t pan out as planned — and finding where the pitfalls were. But where there is shame? In being bullish with your approach.

Rigid LiveOps don’t leave your game room to flourish. They don’t leave room to listen to your players’ wants and needs, and they don’t leave room to grow into a strong — and sustainable — force in the market.

If the shame of not seeing the results you expected compels you to keep doing the same thing over and over again, prepare for your game to suffer. Shame loses games. The more willing you are to listen, learn, and grow, the more you will.

You did it. You made it to the end of the third installment of our LiveOps Essentials series, and you lived to tell the tale.

Together, we moved through the choppy rapids 🌊 of understanding how to observe effectively, using the right thinking frameworks and metrics to set the stage. Together, we hiked up the demanding mountains â›°ï¸Â of analytics, zeroing in on how to mold the right in-house approach while setting team members up for success at every turn.

You put in the time and you put in the effort. But now? Now it’s up to you to turn this whole roadmap into something real. Something impactful for you. For your game. Because the true merit of this wisdom isn’t limited to a few hundred words on a page — its power comes from when those words are read, absorbed, and acted on.

So act.

Set up the operations that arm you with the right insight. Lead the brainstorms that couple passion with ingenuity and result in novel approaches. Keep learning about lesser-known practices and keep motivating your people to trial their way to new wins.

LiveOps is a fast-moving, always-evolving, innovation-first strategy. It requires diligence, determination, and creativity to thrive.

Take the words, ignite the process, and guide your game to its fullest potential. And if you need some extra insight to keep you on-track throughout the LiveOps obstacle course? Well, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have a wealth of lived experience to offer.

LiveOps Essentials Part IV, The Components is coming up next. I’ll take you on a tour through every aspect of your could-be operational framework.

The content calendar. The monetization tactics. The digital tools.

Until next time. 👋