Article Icon Article

LiveOps Essentials Part 2: The Cadence

Mike Moran

Written by Mike Moran on February 18, 2021, LinkedIn

26 minute read

Table of contents

    Mobile game liveops essentials article | UserWise

    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. 

    Meet Your Cadence

    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.

    Step 1: Proactive Design

    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.

    • Your Game Client: The application that needs to be installed in order to make sure your players are experiencing the most up-to-date (and high-functioning) version of your game possible, the game client requires its own release schedule. How often will you issue new bug fixes? How frequently will you put out new content that requires tweaks in the client? These are the questions you need to be asking yourself -- and before you pick a cadence, make sure you’ve done your research into what other games are doing.

      Server Game Client Illustration

      Why is this cadence so integral? Because if you lag on updating your game client, not amending it often enough, the quality of the gameplay you’re offering will undoubtedly go downhill. Rampant bugs and unchanging content will leave your audience frustrated, annoyed, or worse: bored. But, if you go update-crazy and force your players to update their apps too frequently, you might be looking down the barrel at frustration and annoyance all the same.

      So what’s a game to do?

      I don’t want to overrun you with the “B’ word, but I’m going to say it anyway: like all things LiveOps-related, you’re aiming for b-b-balance here. The right balance. Prioritizing gameplay quality and freshness while being mindful of not overwhelming your players with actions-required. It’s delicate to determine, but when you do? 

    Nothing short of magic. 

    Add magic to your mobile game

    • Your Content: This one doesn’t require as much of an introduction since, if you followed instructions and took notes on Part I of this series, you’re already well acquainted. What I will say is this: where your game client needs to be installed with active updates, your content -- that is, the fresh features, events, and tweaks that don’t require any tweaking in the client -- can be delivered to your players through internet connection. Which means to have the latest content at their fingertips, all they need is wifi or cell signal.

      Obviously, this gives you the freedom to release content on a more frequent basis, since it requires no intentional action from the players. This is your key to LiveOps: a steady stream of content that is waiting there for your players -- ready to surprise them, excite them, and keep them coming back.

      So, with all of that said, how often should you be releasing new content? How frequent is too frequent? What’s going on in the backend during every release?

      I’ll give you two preliminary answers.

      First, pinpointing the correct cadence for any game isn’t a one-and-done effort. You can’t possibly know what your audience wants, when they’ll want it again, and when they’ll be sick of getting it -- because your audience doesn’t even have that information yet. So get ready to learn and grow together.

      And second? The way you figure out the best cadence schedule for your content is by... implementing the wrong ones first. Try, fix, try, fix -- this pattern will be your new best friend.   

    The Planning

    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:

    Three aphorisms to live by:

     

    1. Know Thy Capabilities:

    Mobile Game Aphorism | 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:

    Mobile Game Aphorism | Know thy audienceThe 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:

    Mobile Game Aphorism | 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.

    You’re The Captain

    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:

    • Event Intensity: The degree of engagement (marked by effort) required by the players for any expanse of time, the intensity of your events needs to be carefully identified -- and tracked. Throwing your audience 10 high-intesity events consecutively has a high likelihood of being too much for the average player, while implementing 10 minimal-intensity events in a row can seem… lame. (And don’t underestimate the deterrent power of lameness.)

      Examples of high-intensity events: long-lasting totalizers, grinding leaderboard challenges, and week-long tournaments, to name a few. Essentially, any content that requires the total, uninterrupted focus of a player -- with a lot on the line. For that reason, group events tend to be more intense than individual events, because there’s more pressure on the individual players to do their part. And where there’s pressure, there’s intensity.

      But remember: your players only have a finite amount of time, money, and stamina. If you push them too hard with too many high-intensity events, even your most dedicated fans can get exhausted -- and turned off from the game altogether. But high-intensity events are still important to integrate into your cadence because they tend to lead to higher rates of engagement. So how do you balance the intensity of sequential games out? How do you make sure you’re exciting players without overwhelming them?
    • Player Burnout: The dire consequence of hitting your playerbase with too many demanding, high-intensity events, this is what you’re always looking to avoid. In order to hit the right balance I recommend ranking an event intensity on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is assigned to casual and relaxed individual events (where participation is seen as optional), and 10 represents group-based efforts with high levels of competition and peer-pressure.

      With that ranking system in mind, you want to plan your cadence by strategizing the right sequence of events, based on intensity. By figuring out the pattern of your event intensity early on, you’ll be better equipped to intentionally craft the events’ designs -- and make sure consecutive events are still fresh for your audience.

      Here’s an example intensity curve we recommend as a starting point. It spans 10 weeks, with one event per week -- and while it doesn’t give you the event details, it does let you know where each should fall on the intensity scale:

      1 - 2 - 5 - 7 - 9 - 5 - 3 - 8 - 10 - 7


      Mobile game liveops calendar spreadsheet template
      TIP: Add an intensity column to your spreadsheet for your events like this (or steal our template here)

      Notice that the sequence starts slow, building to higher-intensity events before decreasing back down. This modulation helps to keep events exciting for players, as they have enough time between higher-intensity challenges to recharge their energy -- and actually miss the intenseness. Plus, this pattern leaves room for multiple event formats, so you can keep your content refreshing throughout the ten weeks.

      Obviously, proactive design gives your LiveOps cadence the sturdy foundation it needs to be truly impactful. But once you have the design, what comes next?

    Step 2: Strategic Implementation 

    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.

    The Basics

    Once you have the foresight of your design, implementing your cadence is a three-step process: Creating, Releasing, and Fixing.

    1. Creating:

    Your team produces all of the content needed for the planned event(s), transforming your plans into something real.

    2. Releasing:

    Based on an intentionally-designed release schedule, your team sends the content live -- opening it up for players to engage.

    3. Fixing:

    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. 

    Your Operations

    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.

    • Avoid unnecessary “crunches”: Crunches are, according to long-time game producer Grant Shonkwiller:

      "Working more than 40 hours for a maximum of two weeks -- voluntarily."

      So, if a major release is coming up and the tasks are taking longer than expected to complete, or if there’s a major issue that’s surfaced and it requires all hands on deck to solve, then crunch time is likely going to happen.

      But the key word in Shonkwiller’s definition is "voluntary." The producer, who’s had stints at Epic, id Software, and Megatouch, is adamant about avoiding staff burnout -- which tends to happen when crunches turn into a more constant ‘overworking’ scenario, and become the expectation rather than the exception.

      Not only is forced overworking (or peer-pressured overworking) terrible for morale, but it also leads to sloppier work, decreased motivation to hit goals, and a much reduced ability to think big-picture. (If your team’s always stressed about hitting the next four tasks on their list, they don’t have the time to think critically about broader issues. It’s time to lessen their load -- and consider hiring more support.)

      So, to ensure morale runs high and critical thought runs rampant, try to mitigate frequent or long-lasting crunches. Let your people work for the amount of time they expected to be working, and encourage them to meet goals and prioritize their energy in equal parts.
    • Allocate time strategically: This is a twofold strategy. On the one hand, it ensures that the operations unfolding in-house are unfolding intentionally; instead of there being a free-for-all of tasks, your team is divided up into groups, with each group being responsible for a different set of tasks (and having different dates for turnaround).

      By making sure you have different people hustling at different times -- and everyone fully locked into their group’s responsibilities -- you’re helping a constant state of productivity to flourish. While giving your team space to rest when their tasks are up.

      On the other hand, you need to be determining your overall timelines strategically too. Planning tasks -- in terms of releases and sprints -- in advance is crucial to your team’s functioning, but planning them too far in advance can be detrimental. So what’s too far? Anything beyond 3 months.

      Given what we know about LiveOps cadence strategies -- namely, that they’re bound to change -- you can’t possibly know what content you’ll need 90 days in the future. Nor can you know what changes in scheduling, people, or tools you’ll need to account for. So why waste your time trying? Time is your scarcest resource, so make sure that everything that takes it from you is worth the investment. 
    • Enact the right positions: The key to getting your operational power harnessed is creating a system that only allows for success -- and that comes down to determining the right jobs for your people. By pinpointing which roles will be responsible for which tasks early on, you’re streamlining focus and eradicating any sense of confusion or chaos.

      I already mentioned dividing your team into groups with alternating sprint/rest schedules, but that’s just one example of configuring the right framework. You also need to think about splitting your people between being ‘support’ for the players interacting with your game and being responsible for putting out new content.

      Support is its own battlefield. It’s a 24/7 gig because you’ll (hopefully) have players playing all around the world, at all hours of the day, which means you need to orchestrate the correct shift schedule for your support team. Having at least one person on-call at all times means that bugs, grievances, and issues can be handled as soon (or as close to soon) as they surface, which is what your retention rate relies on to stay solid.

      And then there’s your content team: the people who are responsible for ensuring the requisite tasks are completed on time so your content release cadence can go off as planned. Splitting this team into groups allows for different groups to tackle different pieces of content with clarity, always hyper-aware of what they’re working on, what their deadlines are, and when they get to rest (or slow it down).

      The key? Empowering each group to be self-sufficient, so they can handle the tasks they’te allocated without much outside help. That’ll streamline the operations and make sure you’re not experiencing lags from Group 2 needing to help Group 1 with something, throwing off your overall cadence as a result.

      The bottom line? When you have faith in your framework, everything will flow.
    • Build in time for improvement: LiveOps is a constant game of self-improvement, where the self in question is your operational team. So make sure that, at every checkpoint, you’re leaving room for discovery -- and improvement.

      Obviously, this means that you should be building in scheduled time for bugs and iteration -- because that’s never time wasted. (And it’s going to require your people’s attention regardless of whether it’s been scheduled in.) But aside from leaving room for urgent fixes, you should also be leaving room for your team to improve their own capabilities.

      Maybe that means you track the operational flow for a couple of sprints, and then examine where there’s space for better productivity. Is there a task that’s taking longer than it should be, and can you determine the reason why? Is there a tool on the market that can better help your team complete a task quickly, and does it make sense to invest?

      Are the processes efficient? Are the tools working? Does everyone have the knowledge they need to be executing perfectly (or close to it)?

      Ask for your team’s input. See the spots they’re identifying as less than ideal, or complicated, or frustrating, and pool your heads together to come up with creative solutions. By building in time for reflection, analysis, and change, you’re not just checking a task off a list -- but you’re actually making the entire foundation of your operations more solid. And that’s better for your team, your game, and your community in the long term.

     

    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...

    Step 3: Observation & Adjustments

    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: 

    • 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. 

    ---

    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.

    Green tea animation gif

    Okay let's keep going.

    The Observation

    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: 

    • 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 KPI’s 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 KPI’s 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. 

    Okay, with those factors spoken for, let’s get into the main event: the KPI category buffet.

    • 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
    • Engagement: This category is going to be your team’s focus as you ascend the rocky terrain of long-term LiveOps. KPI’s 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?

      As I’ve recanted again and again, the lifeblood of successful LiveOps is understanding your audience. With engagement-centered metrics, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing.

      So which KPI’s 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

      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. So that when you do get a glimpse of the power of the right marketing tactics, you’ll be poised and ready to capture every morsel of it.

      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 KPI’s 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 for a game. Awareness can grow, but something magical happens when people love something.

    Brand awareness and affinity animation

    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.

    Now what?

    Onto the execution. 

    The Adjustments

    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:

    • 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 the ‘group’ framework I talked about earlier, 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 KPI’s) 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.
    • 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. Truly. And fostering a dialogue that encourages big thoughts, creative ideas, and unique solutions? It’s never a bad idea. 

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

    Episode 18 - Video Clip - trust (Made by Headliner) (3)

     

    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…

    • 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.

      Repeat that. Copying something that’s doing well does not mean you will automatically benefit from the same success.

      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. 

    In Conclusion…

    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. 🤫

    Join the private community for game creators | UserWise Academy