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LiveOps Essentials Part 4: The Components

Mike Moran

Written by Mike Moran on April 08, 2021, LinkedIn

18 minute read

Table of contents

    LiveOps Essentials Part IV: The Components

    Old friends, new friends -- welcome back. This is the fourth installment of my LiveOps Essentials series, where I bring you the ins, the outs, and the everywhere-in-betweens of what it takes to implement a LiveOps strategy that works.

    Because the whole point is to get you results. Right?

    Whether you’ve been integrating LiveOps tactics for months to no avail or whether you’re jumping into the possibility pond for the first time; whether you’re on the fence about proceeding or you’re experienced but hungry for something better -- this is the place for you. 

    It’s not just vague advice and it’s not just technical ideas. It’s everything. Part I showed you the content; Part II pulled back the curtain on the cadence. Part III held your hand through Observation & Adjustments.

    And today? Well today we’re getting into the rest of it.

    What are these components you speak of?

    So what do I mean when I say components?

    I'll try to sum it up.

    They are the elements that don’t fit squarely into a box, but are important for success. They are the details that don’t come perfectly divided into equal bite-sized pieces, but need digested all the same.

    It’s easy to see these messy, variant, imperfect pieces as less-than. It’s easy to tally them up and forget them, to convince yourself they’re ancillary, and to lose sight of them when you’re compiling your overall strategy.

    But I’m here to remind you to stop, and give these guys, these little components, some credit.

    Let them support you, guide you, and fuel your operations. Because if you do all that and you harness the power of the content and cadence and observation/adjustment chunks at the same time?

    You’ll be well on your way to greatness. 

    These components aren’t just added fluff. They’re not just filler, and they’re not just extra. They’re the key. So don’t hesitate -- take them under your wing. And soar.

    The Content Calendar

    If you’ll recall from this article, we discussed the value content calendars have and their ability to organize what you deliver. 

    I’m all for planning. I’m all for productivity. And you better believe that I’m all in on convenience.

    It’s pretty obvious that in order to have a working content calendar, you need to be inputting your content and cadence deliverables -- when you’re planning to create what, when you’re planning to release what -- on a regular basis. You need to be able to rely on those dates, and you need to be able to rely on those goals.

    But beyond just the content what’s and the release when’s, in order to truly make the calendar a thing of holy magnificence, you need to be getting specific. Specific -- and creative.

    How?

    I’m glad you asked -- because I’ve got one heck of a breakdown waiting.


    Recap: Calendar Basics

    Before I throw you into the deep-end of calendar intricacies, let’s make sure we all have a solid handle on the core needs. Sing it with me:

    The Right Future:

    Before you pick up your paint brush, you need a sturdy canvas -- and that’s what this nails down. The foundation of your calendar is the amount of future it takes into account; we know that one month isn’t enough, and we know that seven months is much too many.

    So what’s the happy medium? Easy: three months of specificity, and another three months of open-to-interpretation planning. The first three you’re looking for clear-cut aims, and the latter three you’re looking for ambition mixed with flexibility. That’s your canvas -- is your paintbrush in hand?

    Image 2021-04-08 at 10.08.46 AM

    Try to plan at least 3 months out

     

    The Right Content:

    Looking at verticals like real-world holidays, real-world major events and happenings, and already established game-world events (and adjacent releases, like movies of the same universe), you’ll need to pick the what of your content.

    Christmas is approaching -- are you doing a game-wide Christmas special tournament? The summer Olympics are coming up -- are you throwing in cosmetic updates and some new character options (showcasing local celebrity athletes)? The Avengers just released a new movie in theaters -- did you host a totalizer with storylines from the movie referenced?

    You need to know, on a timed basis, what type of content you’ll be giving your audience. And you need to know it well in advance, so you can get the wheels turning for delivery. The calendar is how you do that.

    The Right Rhythm:

    Ah yes, the cadence -- we meet again. Staple #3 in your content calendar prowess is ensuring you have the right release rhythm for the content you’ve worked hard getting into place. The obvious rationale is that, for the real-world and game-world happenings, your related content needs to come at relevant times -- but what about all of the other content?

    What about the untethered events, cosmetic tweaks, and new offers? What about the fresh marketing campaigns, the extra special celebrity tie-ins, and the game crossovers that generate audience expansion at scale?

    If you need a reminder about the salience of modulating event intensity to avoid player burnout, I recommend heading back here -- but if you’re good to move forward, I’ll say one thing simply: timing is everything. Planning out your releases isn’t just a boon for efficiency; it’s actually the only way to get things done at all. So establish the right rhythm, keep it flowing, and make it something your team and your playerbase can depend on. (No, it’s not easy. But it is always, always worth it.)

    So that’s the rudimentary framework we’re working with. Ready for the big leagues?

    Yeah, you are. Let’s go.

    Calendar Big Leagues

    Alright, so you know you’ve got to nail down the what and the when. But when it comes to the calendar, what else do you need to consider? What else do you need to actually carve into the planner, and what else do you need to be on top of in order to ensure its success?

    Great questions. Let’s get into the insight. 

    If you want to make sure you’re approaching the content calendar with a holistic, ready-for-anything, success-is-inevitable lens, then these are the steps you should be following:

    Examine the Whole Iceberg:

    Acknowledging the what and the when behind your LiveOps content is crucial -- but it’s also the absolute smallest fragment of your overall strategy. The what and the when, in succinct and final terms, are the tip of the iceberg. They give you the bullseye you have to meet -- what they don’t give you is any sort of plan for how to get your hard-to-control arrow over there.



    So you’ve got to put in the work yourself. Identify your target and work backwards: if you have a prestiging totalizer (read more about those here in part 1) coming up and it requires a new arena, new rewards, and its own marketing efforts to get the word out, what needs to happen from your team to make it all possible?

    Which team members are involved, and what are they responsible for? Do their tasks run the length of the content creation sprint, or do they tap out for rest before the life-cycle’s complete? Are your developers in talks with your marketing people to ensure every moving part is heading in the same direction, and do you have someone in charge of oversight to make sure the whole event is aligned strategically?

    When can you expect each task to be finished? Where should you keep an eye out for potential pitfalls and bottlenecks? Who are you assigning to stay on for bug fixes the day after release, and how are you maintaining morale (and a normal work schedule) throughout the chaos?

    It’s a big iceberg. There’s a ton of space to cover. But taking it all in -- getting your eyes on every inch and every crevice -- is the only way to tackle your calendar with the confidence of a focused mind. So get examining before you do anything else.

    Put It in Writing:

    So, continuing with our totalizer example -- you’ve figured out the required development time. You know that with the updates called for, it’ll take your team a week to get everything in order. What comes next? We continue to do my two very favorite things: get more specific -- and work backwards.

    Armed with the development time numbers, you’re ready to nail down the most important backend dates of your event: the SP (Start Planning) date and the SD (Start Developing) date.

    Here’s how:

    Take the date of your desired release day. Subtract the number of days you’ve allocated to development time -- and maybe a little buffer. The result? That’s your SD date. Okay, so you know when you’re beginning development. But now you need to figure out the planning: how many tasks are there to plan? How many people need to be involved with each task? How many days will the whole stage take?

    Remember: here’s where you’ll be producing the mock-ups, planning the code, and delineating the project’s tasks into smaller tasks for streamlined processing. You want to be thorough, but you also want to be reasonable -- if you pinpoint a PD date that’s too early, your team might be sitting around with nothing to do; if you give them one that’s too late, you might be dealing with missed deadlines and subpar work.

    Pick your dates -- and then put them into the calendar. Give them the integrity they deserve by putting them in ink (or, you know, a spreadsheet), and make sure your whole team knows where they’re looking should they need a reminder.

    The bottom line? Plans only work when they’re of the concrete variety.

    Weigh the Failures:

    Once the event has come and gone, it’s time for reflection. And analysis. You want to know whether the content was a hit for your audience from the big-picture perspective, but you also need to know whether your planning and implementing processes were up to snuff.

    Did you allocate too much time to a task? Too little? Was your team aligned and confident, or was there confusion and inconsistency? Were there big bugs that there shouldn’t have been, and how did they get there? Were there missed steps or lazy attempts, and why were they able to happen? Are your people happy with their work? Is the work flourishing under the hands of its people?

    This is the step where you get into it, unraveling the errors and the flaws so that you can plan -- yes, plan -- better for the next time. And the time after that. Because remember: these three steps need to be rinsed and repeated. For every piece of content, and for every release. So get comfortable with the process -- and let it help your whole strategy shine.

    So there you have it: the 1-2-3 of the calendar big leagues, laid out for your viewing purposes.

    But wait -- we’re not done learning yet. The bell hasn't rung.

    Those are just the steps, but they’re not the complete package -- and I’d be remiss if I sent you out on your own without mentioning the two power-packed variables that’ll help you truly take flight.

    The two power-packed variables

    Analytics:

    Your LiveOps calendar is more than just the holy grail of your planning -- it’s also the loud, constant voice of reminder for what your team should be focusing on. So, in order for it to be working optimally, it needs to be filled with the details. The directions. (Because your LiveOps aren’t going to drive themselves.)

    What I’m trying to say is: pinpoint your KPI’s in your calendar. With every bout of content, with every planned release -- articulate which goals are being prioritized when, and which metrics will be tracked as a result. If your team sees that engagement rates for the totalizer are top priority, they’ll be aligned in their focus to make sure engagement rates are high. But if the push is for reach on social media, their focus will be on creating sticky, shareable moments instead.

    When you integrate the analytic pieces into your calendar, you give your team a purpose-built way to progress towards something clear. It won’t just streamline your organization as a department -- it’ll actually manifest in your results. (See? The magic of the calendar is real.)

    Monetization:

    With your LiveOps, you want to check off two boxes: 1) excite your players enough to keep them coming back, and 2) excite them enough to get them spending.

    Profitability is a huge (and obvious) factor when judging the staying power of a game, so you should be inserting your monetization strategy into any and all facets of your operations. Including -- you guessed it -- the planning. (And ding, ding, ding -- that means into the calendar it goes.)

    It’s not enough to indicate which releases will have which content -- you also need to specify where, inside of that content, your pockets of monetization will go. In the upcoming totalizer, will there be limited time costumes or weapons available for purchase? In next month’s knockout challenge, will there be tickets for re-entry? In the annual game-wide leaderboard tournament, will there be sponsorship opportunities for outside brands?

    Those are just a few ideas, but you get the point: the earlier you start thinking (and get your team thinking) about the particulars, the more effort you’ll be able to put towards them. And we know that heightened effort leads to heightened pay-offs, if you’ll pardon the pun. So put the specific monetization ideas into the calendar, exert the effort to bring them to life efficiently, and get ready for the fruits of your labors to roll in. 

    There it is: the wonder of the LiveOps calendar, explained. It’ll help guide your team, plan your goals, and bring what you’re looking for to the table.

     

    Oh I completely forgot to mention this earlier, but here are some free liveops calendar templates. Take them. They're yours.

    New call-to-action

     

    But it won’t do all that in a vacuum -- which takes us to the next portion of our component run-through. 

    The Analytics

    We’ve gone in and out of the analytics realm together a few times thus far, but friend, let me tell you: we’re nowhere near finished yet. This is the place where I explain more than just how important they are -- and more than just how much they can do for your LiveOps. This is the place where I make their processes real.

    As in, if you’ve been wondering how to use them at every stage of your operations, then it’s your time. Because that insight is cometh. 

    When to use it. How to use it. And what end to use it to. 

    That’s the wisdom trifecta we’re on our way to hitting, and if you look away for just a moment -- you might miss it. So keep your eyes peeled and your pen poised.

    Let’s go.

    Analytics: The When

    So you’re well aware that you should be integrating KPI’s into your calendar, and you’re smart enough to know you should be setting up metrics to track for your content releases -- but when else should you have your mind on analytics? At what stages in your operations should your team be noticing them, and how frequently should they be a topic of conversation, reflection, and action?

    I could answer each of those questions individually, or I could just give you a blanket statement and save us all some time: analytics should be on your mind always.

    When you’re brainstorming new doses of content. When you’re adjusting your release cadence. When you’re bringing new people onto the team, and when you’re targeting new audiences. Throughout every step of harnessing your LiveOps strategy -- throughout all of the planning and all of the tweaks -- there should be a backbone of analytic awareness.

    Because when you have that backbone, you’re not just shooting wildly in the dark. 

    Your actions are held up by a clear starting point. Your ambitions are carved out in a field of intention. And your results can be measured without ambiguity -- you’re either hitting the beats of success or you’re not. And if you’re not, you have the insight you need to pivot and try again.

    See what I’m saying? In today’s world of game operations, analytics are a ubiquity. They’re a force -- an inimitable source of power that you can either leverage or waste.

    Yes, you should lean on them when you’re filling out your content calendar. Are this month’s releases focused on user acquisition KPI’s or monetization KPI’s? 

    Yes, you should draw from them when you’re building out the intricacies of your events. Should our next leaderboard challenge be more intense for higher engagement rates, or boast a special “Bring a Friend” offer for expanded reach?

    And yes, you should be hyper-aware of them as you adjust your content down the road. What about our last month of LiveOps led to decreased install rates and poor reviews in the App store?

    Have I made it clear yet? Analytics give you your roadmap. But they only work if you’re intentional with them. Because you can’t have your eye on every KPI available at once, and you can’t be shooting for boosting everything concurrently.

    Omniscience never pans out, and over-zealous goals almost always lead to disappointment. 

    So? Pick your shooter. Identify your game’s problem areas -- and from those, articulate your specific aims. Low acquisition rates? Create more engaging events, market them, and track your acquisition metrics. High churn rates? Issue more rewards for loyalty and up the frequency of your content releases -- and keep your eyes on those numbers. 

    When you know what you’re looking for -- and you have something sturdy to compare your findings to -- you’re able to make real progress. So that’s the when.

    Analytics: The How

    Alright, so you know when to be thinking about your metrics (always). Now you need to know how to be thinking about them. Weighing all of the many, many KPI’s can be rightly overwhelming. It can be easy to shrug your shoulders and just choose the most popular metrics to analyze, and it can be easy to stay within your comfort-area KPI’s once you have your analytic system down.

    I’m here to tell you that those ‘easy’ routes will not take you where you want to go. 

    You need to feel the fear and do it anyway.

    Take the steps to expand your analytics knowledge so you can point out which KPI’s are really the ones your game should be watching. Take the leap to refocus your analysis when you have new problems to think about or new goals to reach. When you steer yourself over the learning curve, you’re not just serving your own know-how. You’re getting a better handle on your game. 

    I gave you a list of KPI categories in Part III of this series, but if you’re looking for more specific call-outs -- I’ll give you a selection of some of my favorites now. (I told you I had your back, didn’t I?) 

    My Favorite KPIs

    This list is by no means exhaustive, but it will demonstrate to you just how vast -- and customizable -- your analytics can be. Without further ado, some of my favorite KPI’s:

    • User Experience: Load Time, Devices (downloaded on), Screen Dimensions/Resolution (downloaded on), Permissions Granted
    • Monetization: Average Revenue per User, Lifetime Value, Time to First Purchase, Customer Acquisition Cost, ROI, Daily Conversion Rate
    • Marketing: Install Source, Virality & K-Factor, Geo-Metrics, Demographics
    • App Store Optimization: Key Words, Category Ranking, Views to Installs, Reviews, Ratings

    Use those as your jumping-off point for getting creative. You know your game best: what it needs, what it’s aiming for, and where it is right now. Pinpoint the best options for moving forward with intention -- and then stay on your toes, with your eyes wide open, as they illuminate your next steps.

    Three actions to make darned sure you’re doing throughout your analytics journey?

    Organize:

    Just like with anything else in your operations, prioritizing organization means you’re prioritizing productivity. In order to get the most out of your analytics, you should be streamlining your methods -- so they’re less of an inconvenience and more of a given. 

    Articulate who’s responsible for what. Schedule time for observation and analysis. Have a clear system for compiling data and showcasing findings. The more you organize, the more the process will work with you -- instead of it being an uphill battle.

    Vet:

    It’s not (and it’s never) enough to believe numbers blindly -- you’ve got to take an active role when it comes to your analysis. Whether you’re using a game-specific analytic software or reading metrics from Facebook, it’s crucial to know where the data is coming from, how it’s being monitored, and whether it’s reliable.

    Has the source been used by many in the industry -- and are the reviews positive? Do the numbers seem logical from interval to interval, based on your content/release changes? Do you have team members doing more than just jotting down metrics, but actually taking the time to verify they look solid?

    I’ll say it once, I’ll say it a million times: vet your sources. Vet your data. Vet your insight. Because if something’s askew, it’s on you to take notice.

    Filter:

    And to continue that last sentiment -- it’s on you to take notice when your findings aren’t adding up. Not because of an error from the recording side, but because of a burst of inordinary behavior on the audience side.

    Was there a steady month-long climb in your engagement rates -- with one or two days showing dips? Were your uninstall rates low for the quarter, with a couple of acute peaks that you can attribute to known (and solved) bugs? Was brand awareness on social media tracking high -- until real-world events caught your posters’ attention and took your game’s name out of their mouth (er, keyboards)?

    Part of the analytics game is being able to filter out the data that doesn’t contribute to the big-picture. The above outliers are examples of findings that don’t prove the actual reality of your game’s performance; sure, they’re useful to acknowledge and help you build deeper understanding, but their worth shouldn’t be overestimated.

    Outliers are the exception -- not the rule. So treat them like it.

    Analytics: To What End

    You’ve been thinking about your analytics -- planning for them, tracking them, understanding them -- day in and day out. You’ve put in the work to stay organized and malleable, and your team views analysis as an essential in the whole LiveOps package. 

    Well done.

    But now… what do you do with it? Where does all of the insight go? What do all of the findings mean?

    If you’re asking these questions, you’re not alone. The front end of the analytics journey -- that is, the collecting -- is oftentimes the easiest to get behind. It’s the after, the okay... but now what? that becomes the murky part. The good news is, now you’ve got me. And we’re going to clear up that confusion together.

    See, it all comes down to the analytics report.

    The what? You heard me: the analytics report.

    Think of it like a bible of your game’s insight. When done right, it’s everything: the facts, the figures, the aims, and the failures. It’s a big-picture glimpse with the proof to back it up. It’s the hard numbers with a compelling narrative behind them. 

    It’s a story. It’s your game’s story. And whether you’re showing it off to new hires, long-time team members, or potential investors -- it’s 100% important. Here are the steps for getting it right:

    Read, Brainstorm, Decide:

    Putting together your analytics report -- your game’s real-life story -- is involved work. There’s no room for coasting, and there’s no room for half-assed guesses. What there is room for? Getting knee-deep in your data. Understanding the nuances of your metrics, and determining where your game is in the grand scheme of games as a result. And once you have that knowledge, once you’ve done your reading and digested your findings, it’s time to get active.

    Brainstorm. Based on what you know, what are your game’s blindspots? Where is it heading right now, and how fast will it get there? It’s your time to define the trajectory. Using the insight, it’s your time to decide. Once you do, you’re on to...



    Build The Narrative:

    The one thing all humans -- of all industries, ages, and regions -- are drawn to? Compelling stories. And, since your staff, partners, and investors will always (or, at least, for the foreseeable future) be human, the way to engage them and make them care is through… you got it. A compelling story.

    Throwing numbers against a wall and hoping at least a couple stick is not a well thought-out plan. Building a distinctive narrative that includes a beginning, middle, and end, on the other hand? That’s what fuels your game standing out.

    Beginning: here’s the data we started with at the beginning of this analytic interval -- let’s say on Day 1. We had sturdy growth, but we weren’t happy with our engagement. Our aim? To get our players coming back more often, staying for longer periods of time, and spending more inside the game-verse.

    Middle: here’s what we did to make that happen. We revamped our release cadence. We tweaked our content, adding these new events into the mix. And when we stepped back to observe how it worked, this is the data we found.

    End: we’re in a better place now -- but we’re still not perfect. Here are our new aims, and here’s how we’re going to go about reaching them...



    Articulate Next Steps:

    Just like with any great story, your analytics report -- your game’s narrative -- needs a strong finish. The last notes you hit will be the notes your audience takes home with them. If they’re weak, confusing, or inconclusive? That means your game’s potential might fade into the background. So make them bold. Make them powerful. Make them memorable.

    Easier said than done, right? Wrong. The key to finishing strong is articulating your next steps with authority. And yes, if you’ve done the first two steps justice, you already have what it takes to do that.

    Pick your aim. Make it actionable with succinct, data-driven tasks. Explain why you hypothesize those tasks will generate that aim. Put every ounce of determination, expertise, and optimism you have behind the words -- and leave your audience feeling confident that you know what you’re doing. And that, if they want to see how it all turns out, they better stay involved.

    Leave Emotions Out -- Unless They’re Pride:

    By nature, analytics are dry. They’re the numbers, the facts, the formulas and the equations. But they’re also the proof. The substance. The foundation of your story that allows your game’s journey to truly mean something. To certainly mean something.

    Whatever your numbers are saying -- good or bad, exciting or disappointing -- they should be treated with the same earnestness. The same respect. It’s your job to build an analytics report that’s reputable, thorough, and transparent. And in order to do that, you’ve got to leave your emotions at the door.

    Had a bad quarter? Embarrassed by your acquisition rates? Ashamed by your last adjustments’ lack of success? Your audience doesn’t care. Because in this story, your team isn’t the hero. Your game is. And we care less about how you feel about the hardships -- and more about what your game is doing to combat them.

    So no emotions -- except pride. Pride in your game’s potential. Pride in your work. Pride in your ability to contrive next steps from the chaos, to manifest new paths forward from the failures. You shouldn’t be boasting, and you shouldn’t be filling the air with baseless promises. What you should be doing is evoking a sense of confidence. Of authority. Of just watch -- we’ll get it done.

    Leave your emotions at the door, but pull on the emotions of your readers. Inspire them to stay interested. Inspire them to root for the underdog, for the hero, for the game. Because when you give them an analytics report they want to read, they’ll read it. And they’ll come back for more.

    The final thing I’ll say about analytics reports is this: while it can be tempting to throw all of your knowledge, all of your insight, and all of your expertise at the project -- don’t. Hold yourself back. Refrain from trying to prove your own merits. 

    Pushing everything onto the page at once doesn’t let you build a clean strategy. It doesn’t let you try out one path before moving onto the next, and it doesn’t give you a leg up when it comes to figuring out what actually works.

    When you exhibit control, patience, and judiciousness, you exhibit confidence. And so too does your report. Use what you can to back up your narrative -- and save the rest for when you need it down the road.

    In Conclusion

    There you have it: our in-depth exploration of the LiveOps component parts, and our intentional trip down the beautiful countryside of content calendars and analytics. 

    We stopped to take pictures by the river of preparation. We paused for lunch at the implementation cafe. We ventured into the museum of actionable analysis midway through the afternoon. 

    We learned about proper set-ups for productive operations, we dove into the options for wrangling a multifaceted team into one forward-moving direction, and we covered the importance of building a story -- the right story -- for the game you love. 

    The KPI’s and the month-by-month planning. The analytics report and the basis for full team cohesion. We looked at the facts, we looked at the systems, and we looked at some of my favorite tactics for making the world of LiveOps your own.

    Because that’s the truth: this strategy is for you. It’s upheld by some basic tenets, sure, but it’s designed for you to take them and mold. Pick and choose your pieces. Customize and personalize until you’re proud. Try something, reflect, and then lean in a new direction. It’s all totally, assuredly, and wonderfully up to you.

    It’s your hard work, your tenacity, and your innovation. It’s your team, your goals, and your power.

    But most importantly, it’s your LiveOps. With the help of these components, you can craft the holistic strategy that arms your game with what it needs to keep up in today’s market. But before you take them and walk out the door -- I have something else for you.

    A ticket. To the next stop on our adventure.

    Today was the components, but soon we’re heading straight to the finishing touches. The two ‘M’s that’ll leave you amazed, moved, and ready to impact. 

    Monetization and Marketing, we’re coming for you.

    And if you have any curious bone in your body, you’ll join me on the ride. Same time, same place -- bring your love of the game and I’ll see you there.