So you’ve made your game.
Countless hours spent coding, drawing, compiling, then testing. Finding a bug, and doing it all again. You and your team are tired but elated as you hit the final ‘submit build’ button. Off it goes into the big wide world. You crack open a beer to celebrate.
In days gone by, this would have been the end for everyone but the marketers and accountants. The ‘finished’ game would be sent to market, a fixed thing. A finalized piece of software, complete with its flaws, left to the whims of its players and disturbed only by the occasional much-demanded patch or essential fix required by some unforeseen show stopper. Meanwhile, the dev team would move on to the next challenge, the next title, the next dream.
How times change.
As the medium has matured, and certainly with the advent of mobile gaming, any game brought to market now needs, nay demands, that its creators continue to nurture it beyond release. In many ways, the life of a game is only just beginning once it is in the hands of your players. In PC, Console, and Mobile alike games have become an ongoing service for players, with regular updates, events, and fresh content to keep them entertained and coming back for more.
Put that beer down, you’ve a lot more work ahead of you.
What I’m talking about is live-ops: the management and balancing of a game that is currently in the market. This means taking a game that is already available to players, studying how players are (or aren’t) engaging with the game features, then making adjustments or scheduling in-game events to keep them interested. Typically these changes are to things like enemy difficulty, loot drops, and in-app-purchase prices – and in every case live-ops aims to make these changes without a new release of the game. This of course, means that when the game is released, the ability to make these adjustments needs to be built in.
Pixel Toys’ mobile game Freeblade uses in-game events to drive player engagement, and provide variety to gameplay
The goals of live-ops may change depending on the title, or even over time as a title evolves! Perhaps the aim is to get players to play the game more frequently, or for longer sessions, or (much more commonly) to get them to spend more money in-game. Or maybe players have begun to get tired of the regular content, and need a new event or challenge to spice things up a little. Whatever the drive behind it, live-ops is a role that touches on many disciplines – community management, monetization, marketing, and game design.
Using player leaderboards to scale rewards can deepen engagement while maintaining balance in the in-game economy
Those of you who are frequent MMO or MOBA players will be well familiar with the occasional ‘server updates’ which alter in-game prices and change the stats of those game elements considered to be over, or under-powered. Many mobile players among you will be familiar with ‘Special events’ and ‘flash sales’ in the free-to-play titles you have enjoyed – anyone who’s played Game of War or Clash of Kings will certainly have seen these. All of these are examples of live-ops teams tweaking and pulling levers in the background to optimize the games performance.
However, it is important to note that live-ops is not the same as feature development. While the findings and needs of the live-ops team may inform the priority list on new features, the aim of the live-ops team is always the same – make the existing game the best it can be. Using live-ops tools and engagement engines (such as GameSparks #humblebrag) teams can make changes and optimise flows without having to release costly and time consuming updates to the client code.