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Written by Mike Moran on February 18, 2021, LinkedIn
In Part I, I weaved you through some of the most crucial -- and least talked about pieces of liveops -- content essentials. So if you haven’t taken yourself through that insight yet, now’s the time. Because you’re going to need it here.
Feel free to take this moment to catch up on Part 1. I'll wait here for you.
*Hold music plays.*
Otherwise, if you are ready to dive into the next phase -- into the cadence (and all of its high-impact glory) -- then I’m happy to have you. And trust me: this article is going to be the illuminator you’ve been waiting for.
It’s time for a change in our industry. It’s time to prioritize the spreading of new information, of new strategies and new techniques, so games big and small can gain a piece of the pie.
It’s time to make LiveOps accessible. To everyone.
I hope to help here. My hope is that creating this guide to LiveOps can empower you to create a better game and keep your players around longer. I hope this post gives you insights to create a game that has the wherewithal to stay a game. For years and years.
So, with that said: let’s get to work.
Stop 2 of this train is the cadence -- it’s sizable, it’s flexible, and it can be pretty damn intimidating if you don’t have a mentor by your side. But guess what? Now you do have a mentor.
So buckle up. Because we’re getting into it.
Let's do this.
My last article on liveops content walked you through the events, their components, and the strategies you need to create them intentionally. But cadence? Cadence looks at something a whole lot less concrete.
Don’t get me wrong -- I have actionable steps, clear instructions, and quite a few tips coming your way. It’s just that, underneath all of those tidbits, there’s an ocean of malleability. The waves are swelling and crashing, the wind is changing speed and directions, and you -- with a calm sense of confidence -- are letting the variables guide you.
So with that image in mind, I’d like to introduce you to cadence. The thing that’ll decide when you implement which events, how you plan your overall strategy, and why you’re adjusting the way you’ll be adjusting.
And yes, there will be plenty of adjusting.
Cadence requires you to be easygoing, astute, and curious. It demands that you observe, ask questions, and learn. And in order for it to give you what you want it to give you, it absolutely needs you to be as flexible as it is.
In the land of cadence, there is no certainty. There is no promise, and there is no guarantee. There’s only your game, your events, and your audience. So watch it all closely -- and empower your cadence success to grow.
Since I gave you an objectively killer overview of the big-picture theory stuff relating to cadence planning, today’s breakdown is going to be zeroing in on practice. Which means I’m going to take you from kinda-sorta understanding what a LiveOps cadence is to actually being able to design one for yourself.
But first, a recap of basics. With your LiveOps cadence, what you’re always looking to find is the perfect release schedule for the two things that comprise your LiveOps strategy: your game client and your content.
Nothing short of magic.
So we know there will be trial and error, but how do you choose the right trial first? How do you know where to start, and how do you know what to take into account when?
The best jumping-off point is getting these factors nailed down:
1. Know Thy Capabilities:
First thing’s first -- it’s one thing to dream up a crowded content calendar with a release cadence that’s bordering on insane, but it’s quite another to be able to actually implement it. Before you let your ambitious plans carry you up into space, you’ve got to make sure you have the support you need to execute.
Do you have the digital tools you need to create the content in the timespan you’ve allotted?
Do you have the horse power for content production on top of everything else your game needs to function day-to-day?
Do you have the team members on standby the day after release to make sure all bugs are zapped before they become a real problem?
Before you get to drawing up your plans, make sure you know what you can do. That’ll give you a benchmark to start from -- and it’ll show you where the gaps that you need to fill in are sitting pretty. And before you ask: no -- I’m not saying you’re forever limited by the types of tools, the number of team members, or the amount of time you have. I’m saying you need to take stock of all of that first -- and then, once you pinpoint your goals, figure out what needs to change to turn them into reality.
2. Know Thy Audience:
The point of developing the perfect cadence isn’t to impress yourself or your team. It’s to impress your audience. And the only way you’ll ever be able to do that is by knowing your audience. How frequently are they playing? What are the other games fighting for their attention, and how often are they releasing their new content? Find out your audience’s expectations, find out their behaviors, and you’ll be closing in on what you need to be doing much faster.
But general expectations and general behaviors aren’t enough. Not really, anyway. If you want to truly carve out your place in the market, you’ve got to step it up. That means looking at which days of the week your audience engages the most, and planning your cadence around them. It means researching the most popular games in different regions and making sure your release cadence is offering your region-specific playerbase the same -- if not more -- excitement.
Some examples to ask yourself:
Do you know when your players get paid?
Do you have regional holidays on a calendar somewhere?
Do you consider bathroom break times?
The more details you acquire, the better positioned you’ll be to design a cadence that works. But, like we said: where there’s failure, there’s room to grow. A key way you’ll learn about what your audience desires is by giving them something and observing their reactions. We’ll get into analytics something heavy later on, but for now -- mental-bookmark it. Observation leads to better execution. Always.
3. Know Thy Game:
Just like when it comes to developing content, when it comes to developing your cadence -- the strategy lies within. What does that mean? That your game -- its framework, its reach, its distinctive traits -- will help you dictate your release schedule. Or at the very least point it in a specific direction.
Let’s look at an example: if your game is oriented around skiing the slopes of the biggest mountains, you’ll likely want to tie your content schedule to the Winter Olympics, the X Games, and other notable winter sporting competitions. Not only does this approach make for ‘stickier’ marketing efforts, but it’ll also give you a great way to further connect your audience’s real-world lives to your game (and connect your community to each other).
Another example? The game Marvel Strikeforce planned its cadence with the releases of Marvel movies in mind, so they can cross-promote and lean into the momentum of an already-excited audience.
While holiday content (like Christmas & Easter) is always great, going the extra mile and finding unique places for your cadence to distinguish itself in a real-world context can lead to some pretty fantastic results. For the big guys and for the smaller ones.
The final tip for cadence design I’ll leave you with is this: you’re the captain. You’re the mastermind orchestrating the operation, and you’re responsible for making sure you’re actively taking your audience’s needs into account. At every checkpoint.
In order to do that sufficiently, you must be mindful of two distinctly important variables:
This is where your team has its time to shine. When it comes to the implementation of your LiveOps cadence, coordination is king. You have to be pushing towards the same goal in-sync, you have to be aware of what each and every moving part is up to, and you have to be able to rely on your teammates actually executing.
Because implementation is a team sport. And if things aren’t happening on time, to expected quality, or at all -- then your whole LiveOps strategy may be out the window. And with the importance of LiveOps in today’s games model, that’s a situation you don’t want to have to deal with.
So: implementation. What sort of operations should be running? What sort of scheduling should you enact? What sort of problems should you be keeping an eye out for?
Let’s get your well-warranted curiosity some answers.
Once you have the foresight of your design, implementing your cadence is a three-step process: Creating, Releasing, and Fixing.
Your team produces all of the content needed for the planned event(s), transforming your plans into something real.
Based on an intentionally-designed release schedule, your team sends the content live -- opening it up for players to engage.
Immediately after the content is released, your team is on standby -- ready to fix any bug or disruption as soon as it comes up.
Simple enough, right? Well, let’s get into the details.
Because you’ve heeded my advice from earlier and not bit off more than you can chew as it relates to your design -- namely, that you have the digital tools you need to be able to actually create what you’ve intended to create -- the creation phase should be fairly straightforward.
What I will say is, make sure you’re keeping track of how long each task takes to complete. Not in theory, but in practice. And once you’ve created a couple of events, circle back and see if those times are accounted for in your future scheduling plans. Is your team finishing tasks quicker than planned? Slower? Is there room for tweaks? For increased productivity? Tracking this phase will enable you to streamline your backend processes -- and improve them -- without any sort of major complexity or expense. So why not do it?
Now onto the releasing. Drumroll please.
Assuming you’ve done your research into the behavior of your audience, you know when they’re engaging the most. Whether that’s at the beginning of the week at 10am or late at night on Fridays, your content releases should be oriented around their behavior. But they should also take backend logistics into account.
The popular method of orchestrating releases ensures that there’s a full day for finding and reacting to live issues immediately after. So, if you release your content on a Thursday, your day of fixing is the Friday.
Like with any team sport, LiveOps requires that all involved parties are motivated, dialed in, and purposeful with their actions. And that requires that their working environment is someplace they feel excited to be a part of.
Tips for making sure every member of your team is locked and loaded to give the release cadence’s implementation their all? Don’t worry -- I’ve compiled my favorites right here.
The more determined you are to implement your LiveOps strategically, and the more open you are to thinking critically about how it’s going, the better your results will be. Building the right foundation, sticking to the aims you’ve established, and creating an environment where your team is motivated to kill it every day is the only way for your cadence to work sustainably.
Because this isn’t just a sprint. LiveOps is a marathon, and it’ll continue for as long as your game does. So implement it the right way. And then, once you’ve done that, you’re ready for this...
This is where the magic happens. This is where you learn, grow, and improve -- and this is where your hard work with the designing and the implementing truly pays off.
I’ve already given you a couple of examples for when time for observing and adjusting needs to be built into the cadence schedule:
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.
Oh by the way - you're at the 75% completion mark in this article. Well done. 👏 Feel free to stretch or grab another cup of green tea.
Wait. You don't drink green tea? You should. It's great for you.
Oh, you drink macha. My bad.
Okay let's keep going.
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.
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 that’s not a bad thing. Because you have such a diverse buffet of analytic possibilities before you, you have the power to pick and choose when you’ll be looking at what -- and to what end.
I’ve broken down the categories of your KPI buffet, so you can familiarize yourself with the main areas of insight and determine the right direction (or directions!) for your purposes. But before we get to those categories, there are a couple of factors you need to take into account first:
Okay, with those factors spoken for, let’s get into the main event: the KPI category buffet.
Brand awareness turned into affinity (oversimplified)
So… that just about covers the observation breakdown. It was dense, but let me assure you -- your time was not wasted. It was invested in a regimen that has the power to overcome any missteps, enlighten any unknowns, and progress through any stagnation.
Because: where there’s observation, there’s better execution.
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.
Use your industry expertise. Rely on your game and audience knowledge. And rigorously mold the right adjustments with confidence.
And if they don’t bring the immediate success you expected?
Then you need to try - fix - try - fix - repeat. You’ll recall from earlier: that pattern is your new best friend.
Now, enough with setting the scene. Let’s take a look at two systems for smooth, productive, and fruitful adjustments:
Also, Sophie Vo has some great thoughts to share on fostering a community of trust at her studio. Listen to full episode here.
Now that you have an idea about structural options for the adjustment period, I want to share some of my own tips & tricks with you -- to make the whole process that much more effective. Some may be obvious, some may be philosophical. I often believe there's connective tissue between the philosophical and practical, so I'll share both.
These tips work, so try not to roll your eyes. Don’t wave them away. Read them, engrain them in your methodology, and implore your team to do the same. Without further ado…
Pinpointing the right cadence for your game’s LiveOps isn’t a quick endeavor. It can’t be executed once and forgotten about, and it can’t be thought of as a one-size-fits-all formula.
Because your cadence -- the cadence that will drive the biggest results for your game -- won’t have existed ever before. It won’t be identical to any schedule used by games in the past, and it won’t work for any of them in the future. Hell, it likely won’t even work for your game in the future. And that’s because your cadence is hyper-specific.
To your game, to your audience, and to the market today. To your team, to your tools, and to your capabilities today.
Like I said at the beginning: this is an always-in-flux process. It’s based on your commitment to observe, analyze, and adjust -- and if you do those three things again and again, you’ll be rewarded.
Use the tactics I’ve laid out. Let your team in on the tips & tricks I’ve divulged. And then find the right system for your people. There’s no easy answer to LiveOps cadences, but there is a right one: leave your expectations at the door, and get to work
But don’t worry -- this mentorship isn’t over. Not yet, anyway. In the third part of this Essentials series, I get into some LiveOps details we haven’t flushed out yet. That means more analytics insight, more marketing insight, and a whole lot more tools insight -- including the beloved LiveOps calendar.
So, if you’ve still got questions that need answers -- or any lingering curiosity at all -- then you’re going to want to meet me there. As always, I’ll bring the good stuff.
All of it.
So you can take your reading and turn it into effective practice on your own terms.
Oh, also - we started a community where game creators can learn and openly chat about what it's like to create and maintain a successful game.
We'd love to have you join. It's a private community, so try not to tell too many people please. 🤫
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