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Here's Why Your Mobile Game Needs LiveOps

In this article, we set the record straight on LiveOps: what it is, what it looks like in action, and why it matters. Not just for your game, but for the whole industry.

Mike Moran by Mike Moran

Table of Contents

In this article, we set the record straight on LiveOps: what it is, what it looks like in action, and why it matters. Not just for your game, but for the whole industry.

If you’re involved with today’s gaming industry – or even just a devoted player of games – the term LiveOps has almost certainly crossed your path. It seems to be everywhere: in internal discussions on strategy, blogs written by developers, industry forums, job descriptions, and on and on. But what is it?

I mean really, broken down into its simplest definition, what is it?

For as much as it’s referred to in the current epoch of games, you’d be hard-pressed to find an explanation – with the details you want and nothing else – available at your command. Sure, there are dense analytic reports and lofty thought pieces. There are exhaustingly comprehensive big-picture looks (I’m guilty of penning one or two) and podcasts arguing over the best approach. But there isn’t one reliable, clear, concise summary.

Which is why we’re here today. To look at the what of it without getting lost. To understand its impact without scouring through endless tidbits and tangents. To get to the point – efficiently.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wrote this LiveOps piece for the people who want precision. For the people who deserve it. We’re about to break down LiveOps – with an eye on simplicity – once and for all. 

Ready? Let’s get into it. 

Life Before LiveOps 

In the times before social media and high-speed internet, we were all faced with a different realm of systems: landlines. Snail-mail. Games As a Product.

Before the early 2000’s, games were developed and released as one-off console goods. They were marketed to an audience, they were sold, and then publishers went back to the drawing board for the next big thing. 

If there was a bug? A missed opportunity? A continuity error? Publishers shrugged and moved on – because the game was already out there. They simply kept that insight for the next big hit. 

How games and players were seen BEFORE liveops

LiveOps Enters the Scene

But then, amid the big boom of the mid 2000’s, consoles were no longer “it” for the gaming industry. With digital technology at their fingertips – and in the hands of their consumers – publishers turned to mobile. 

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And that’s when they were faced with a new concept. LiveOps

Let's first define liveops together: LiveOps is any game change that doesn’t require a new version of the game to be released.

LiveOps is any game change that doesn’t require a new version of the game to be released.

Instead of releasing a game and immediately turning to the next one, LiveOps meant bugs could be fixed and stories could be malleable. It meant fresh events could pop up again and again, and players could be excited to play not just for the first days or weeks – but ad infinitum. 

The effect was seismic. As the potential of games shifted from one-off product to ongoing service, developers felt more ownership and players felt more loyalty. It was no longer a make/release framework where both sides engaged, threw to the side, and forgot – it was a framework oriented around continual evolution, backed by digital technology that made it all possible.

And that change drove the gaming industry into a new chapter.

So…

What are LiveOps?

I promised precision, so let’s get precise. 

When we’re talking about LiveOps, what is it we’re really talking about? What are the types of action that developers take – and the types of output that players see?  

To understand the details, let’s first reiterate what we know about LiveOps as a concept: LiveOps is about making games as compelling on Day 1000 as they are on Day 1. It’s about engaging and retaining – over time.

LiveOps is about making games as compelling on Day 1000 as they are on Day 1. It’s about engaging and retaining – over time.

How do games engage and retain over time? By constantly evolving. Which means the journey of a game doesn’t come to a halt at release – it starts at release. 

With a backbone of consistent iteration, a LiveOps-enabled game matures only as quickly as its team can experiment, evaluate, and improve. Developers will try new updates, assess their impact, and then mold the best game experiences possible for their players – on a continually rolling basis

That’s the big picture. So now for those action- and output-points you were promised. What do developers actually produce when they’re crafting LiveOps? What are the practical elements players actually see that compel them to come back again and again?

Well, here are a few examples:

  • New Features: a new level, new mode (i.e. multiplayer), new arena
  • Fresh Content: seasonal costumes, never-before-seen rewards, a new character after beating a challenge
  • Live Events: individual, group v. group, faction-wide, server-wide, player v. player (AI-generated or real player, real-time)
  • Targeted Bundles: relevant offers at relevant price-points based on player demographics, play history, purchase history

In addition to those examples, remember that LiveOps also grants developers the ability to go in and fix bugs, continuity problems, and other speedbumps as they arise. The result? The unprecedented power to craft experiences that improve over the long-term. 

Now, imagine how exciting that is for the player if the game elements they’re seeing on D30, D60, D120 aren’t the same old game elements they started with on D1. They’re persistently new, surprising, and exhilarating… and what’s more is the game as a whole is learning as it goes. So the more the player engages, the more personalized their experience becomes. 

That’s Liveops.

The Community Explosion

As the industry changed from viewing games as a product to viewing them as a service, the overall goal of each game changed too. The objective was no longer just about locking customers in for long enough to make a sale – with the emergence of LiveOps, it became about locking them in as an eternal customers. For years to come. 

Predictably, that came with a heavy burden on developers and studios. Why? Because for every game they launched, they had to prove to their players that that ‘eternal customer’ mentality – that loyalty – would pay-off. If they stuck around, continuing to come back and play, they’d get the opportunity to experience new captivating content, exclusive events, tailor-made offers, and thrilling new features. 

Mobile game liveops gives your players a voice.

That’s a hard pitch to walk away from. So, the elements of LiveOps, when done right, cultivated a deep-seated loyalty – the likes of which the gaming industry had never seen. And the result? Well, it was something more intense, demanding, and opportunistic than anyone could have anticipated.

LiveOps allows players to have a voice.

Think about it like this: as a player’s experience with a game becomes more personal, they stay engaged for longer – and become more devoted. They want more: more game-play, more freshness, more interaction. And with the explosion of LiveOps coinciding with the explosion of virtual social platforms, they can have it.

There are events to join. Forums to read. Social media groups to be a part of.

LiveOps-enabled games build dynamic, loyal, social player-bases – and that in itself becomes another layer of engagement: the more connected to the community players are, the less likely they’ll churn. So long as the game’s LiveOps are running steadily, they’ll have no reason to leave their network behind.

How mobile games were seen after liveops is introduced

To games, aside from just being another engagement tactic, that loyalty means players stop being mere “recipients" of a product and start having an active voice in development. 

What do they like? What do they hate? What other titles out there are stealing their focus? 

The community aspect empowers players to join a dialogue – making their critiques, opinions, and ideas feel welcomed. And for the smart games keeping watch on their community’s events, forums, and groups? They use that dialogue to craft the content their audience wants to see.  

Ultimately creating a more and more personal experience for their devoted players.

Revenue Emerges

But now, let’s veer away from the qualitative experience and look at the numbers. Before LiveOps, when it came to earned revenue, games that hit the shelves had two options: become successful or fall flat on their face. 

For the winners, success meant an avalanche of popularity – revenue, interest, and applause. For the losers, their lack of traction meant a whole lot of nothing: that their investment wouldn’t (couldn’t, shouldn’t) pay off. 

But forget about the losers. Let’s focus on the titles that hit the bullseye, garnering the attention (and expendable income) of their audience. With their games launched, and complimentary word-of-mouth spreading, their revenue could seemingly grow and grow. But the thing is, there was always a threshold. 

Because remember: this is before LiveOps. When games were finite. When they didn’t have the ability to evolve.

Inevitably, that avalanche of popularity would dwindle. Potential players would get distracted by the next hot thing. The title would become a vestige of the past: unequivocally obsolete. That meant that even when a game did strike gold, its revenue was bound to dry up. 

Until the adoption of LiveOps. 

Used by publishers to stretch the longevity of a game by consistently – and effectively – bringing more revenue into its pockets, LiveOps changed their operational capacity in three ways:

  • Pulling in players: with the ability to infuse a title with fresh content, exclusive features, and infinite excitement, games could stay relevant – and alluring – to new audiences across weeks, months, and years.
  • Extracting sales: with an eye on sales over the course of a (limitless) lifetime, revenue could be milked from an ever-expanding series of touchpoints – rather than a mere one or two.
  • Leveraging insight: with the real-time data accrued from players engaging, games could evolve to fit the needs (and wants) of their audience, helping them stay relevant – and continue to earn revenue – for longer.

So LiveOps wasn’t just a way to engross and excite players for longer, and it wasn’t just a concept that granted developers more creative ownership over time. It was, in actual fact, the singular lifeline to sustainable revenue in an industry notorious for leaving its winners behind.

Behind the Scenes

With that much potential on the table, today’s publishers set out like each and every game is an opportunity for long-term, sustainable, community-oriented success – not just a title they release and move on from. But having the right mindset isn’t enough to earn high-powered retention. Games need the right setup. 

Here’s what that setup includes:

  • Data collection & analysis tools: the goal of LiveOps is to iterate, but if games don’t have the tools to understand how their iterations are going…they may as well be operating in the dark. In addition to tracking key performance indicators before and after game tweaks, developers can also lean on A/B testing to pinpoint which ideas shine the most.
  • Community dialogue tactics: from direct channels of communication (like picking the brains of high-scorers or first-time spenders in exchange for rewards) to indirect channels (like managing online forums or groups), having consistent, honest dialogue with players is crucial to advancing a game. And while it’s invaluable insight straight from the source, it’s also a way to make players feel important – and tied to the game. (In-game surveys are another stand-out way to glean player sentiment.)
  • Segmentation & personalization tools: in the LiveOps era, games that don’t mold content targeting each individual player can hardly compete. Why? Because segmentation and personalization aren’t just key for monetization – they’re necessary for sustained engagement too. Evolving with players is the cornerstone of retention.

LiveOps in Action

Every game will handle its LiveOps differently. From its game type to its age, its reach (global? regional?) to its resources, its core markers will determine its setup – that is, the tools, staff, and time it has access to. 

A bootstrapped operation might have one developer wearing the LiveOps hat for certain tasks and outsourcing the others. A well-funded, long-running game might have an entire LiveOps team dedicated to the creation and execution of its strategy. 

Despite that variance, one thing is certain. 

All mobile games entering the arena today
require some version of LiveOps to be competitive. 

Let’s take a look at how LiveOps has benefited games in the real world:

Idle Inn Tycoon mobile game liveops examples seasonal promotion holiday special offers black friday

Empires and puzzles mobile game liveops vip asses example

The Takeaway

LiveOps can look like a lot of different things – both in the developers’ corner and in the players’ hands. It can look like one guy and outsourcing, or it can look like a fully equipped and devoted team. It can look like a quick bug fix, or it can look like a major server-wide event.

What it offers games today, point-blank, is infinite opportunity. 

Infinite opportunity to excite and engage. Infinite opportunity to evolve with players. Infinite opportunity to cultivate earned loyalty: to put creative minds to work and retain audiences, and revenue, for years.

Those aren’t pipedreams – we have proof that it works. The only prerequisite to that abyss of opportunity? A LiveOps strategy (and the tools required to hit it home).

Without it, games can’t learn or grow in real-time, surprising players with content that lands. Without it, they can’t offer freshness on an ongoing basis – or personalize offers to optimize returns. The truth of it is, without LiveOps, a mobile game just can’t compete. 

Because success and staying power today aren’t just built on being bug-free. They’re built on the ability to glean insight, adapt, and evolve. They’re built on the ability to personalize. They’re built on the ability to wow – again and again.

From D1 to D60 to D240 and beyond, LiveOps is the propellant that ensures games have what they need to stay relevant. But more than that? It’s the propellant that’s changing the way games are developed – and played.

LiveOps isn’t just a concept or a chapter. It’s an era. And if you’re not leaning into it, you will get left behind.

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For more practical insight into LiveOps strategy development, check out my LiveOps Essentials series.