The soft launch is the most crucial stage in the lifecycle of your mobile gaming app. It's the phase that determines if you are on track to deliver a game that has commercial potential. And it’s when you double-down to validate your product and double-check if your assumptions about your target audience — and how to market to them — are correct. But what do you do when the data you observe throws you a curveball? Some, like Janos Perei, Chief Marketing Officer at HYPERVSN, hit it out of the park with the help of ideas and inspiration that came from way out of left field. Janos calls the approach the “wildcard,” and it’s the “joker” he pulls to clear the hurdles and push the boundaries in the creative testing process.
According to Janos, who draws from his experience managing 30+ soft launches to date, your game is ready for soft launch if — and only if — you have cleared the Entry Gate, a detailed checklist of mission-critical must-haves (nine in total) that include a supply of content (at least seven days’ worth), a development roadmap that is locked down for at least the next two quarters, and a plan of A/B testing for retention, engagement and monetization (with at least three tests ready to go live as soon as the initial baseline testing starts).
Beyond this, he points out, it’s important to ensure that your marketing team has developed a test plan it can use to “verify key hypotheses around the audience you are addressing and the creative that will engage them.”
Now the adventure can start
You’ve done your research, completed your testing and your concepts are live. Now imagine a scenario where results for your game don’t add up? It happens, and Janos points out that it could be linked to any number of factors — including the look of the storefront and the flow of the onboarding process. (This is incidentally why Janos, as a rule, always has back-ups — at least three, to be precise). “That way, if we see in the live setting that the storefront is not working, we can swap it right away,” he explains.
It’s a similar contingency plan for onboarding tutorials, which is why Janos recommends you create three versions. One should be very concise, the other can go into more depth and the one in the middle can be moderately explanatory. “If you don’t have alternative tutorial concepts prepared, then you will have to make them under pressure,” Janos says. “That’s maybe two months of time gone by and two months of financing the company, financing the project and financing the soft launch.”
Tackling creative challenges
Your aim is to have “the best product and the best marketing and packaging around it to sell it,” Janos explains. It’s an ongoing effort that requires constant iteration and development. It’s also the stage where quick-fixes to your creatives can mislead your users — and your company — producing what Janos calls a “suboptimal launch product” that is “neither aligned with the marketing commitment nor is it in line with the product promise to the users.”
To avoid this, Janos recommends a systematic approach to identify high-level creative concepts with huge potential. To be clear, your work to craft the winning creative is never done. That’s an ongoing task where you must continue to iterate based on live data, Janos explains. However, the exercise below helps you narrow down your choices and significantly increase your chances of developing creatives that motivate and activate your audience.
More is better
Start with at least 10 different creative ideas with roughly the same level of polish. It’s ok if they are in a semi-finished state. Do your homework (and your market research) to ensure these creative concepts resonate with your audience and reflect your brand.
Test — and test again
Test concepts against each other in order to arrive at a shortlist of 5 top concepts. This will allow you to hone the winning creatives to a “final level of polish,” Janos says. It’s also a stage where he points out that tools such as Pick Fu, which allows quick polling with qualitative feedback, can be a huge help. You can also draw from data and results around how users interact with the game using tools such as Playtest Cloud Surveys, which allow you to perform gaming audience surveys for qualitative enquiries, to test a number of your marketing hypotheses in the process.
Monitor the funnel
The next steps in the process require attention to detail so you want to be sure to define your concepts with the help of clear creative tagging and uniform campaign specifications (partner, bid, budget, audience, device) from the start, Janos explains. Then you want to monitor the results — and ask the right questions. Is there a solid CTR? Is retention in-app hitting the targets you set as acceptable? The questions you pose will depend on your game and your goals. But one thing is a constant: your objective is to pick the high-level creatives with the best performing funnel.
Getting unstuck and going wild
In some cases, even following this exercise doesn’t deliver the high-level concepts that will allow you to achieve high performance. In this case, the solution isn’t about making incremental changes. (As Janos sees it: “From incremental changes, you only receive incremental results.”) It’s about starting a revolution.
“This is where you just really need to pull out a wildcard,” Janos explains. Here it’s all about “getting out the hammer to break a couple of things and making sure that you actually come up with something new.” But this creative ideation phase shouldn’t degrade into disjointed brainstorming or a session of throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. Janos highlights some hard and fast rules to follow — even when the objective is to break all the rules.
#1 Stick to the product vision
At the end of the day, Janos says, remember there is a product strategy and don’t deviate from it. “There is game design documentation and a clear vision of what you are building, so you really don’t need to look outside of that scope.” But you should reach outside of your team for new people and new perspectives. “In reality, you need a fresh pair of eyes and someone to ask, ‘Okay, so why did you do that?’ Be transparent and honest with yourself and your team. Essentially, you went down the rabbit hole following Alice and now you really need to come up with an idea that is really fresh and really novel—but all within the context of the higher-level product strategy and vision.”
#2 Keep it fresh
Limber up and keep fresh with activities that will flex your team’s creative muscle. “It can be anything from mood boarding to creative brainstorming,” Janos says. That way, when you need to pull a wildcard, the team will be ready. It’s also a good idea to practice on small tasks where fresh ideas make a massive difference, such as finding a cool name for the product. “Coming up with a good title for a mobile game is always a challenge, and this is where we like to get everyone together and get wild,” he explains. “We start with a long list of names, and start matching them together or connecting other words or phrases to see how it works out.”
#3 Don’t limit your options
There are times in the soft launch when things just aren’t going according to plan — even though you did everything by the book. “You’ve done your homework, you’ve done your research, you’ve done your testing and you’ve eaten your vegetables, and somehow the product still does not move,” Janos muses. What are your options? For one, you can conclude there isn’t a good market product fit and start the search for elements and mechanics you can recycle in an effort to recoup some of the investments you made and use certain elements and aspects of the investment that we have made. But a better alternative is to use a creative ideation approach to shed new light on the problem and discover new answers in the process. Rather than wonder why the product isn’t working in the market you’re testing with the segments you identified, you want to strike out in new territories or target new audiences.
In this scenario, Janos explains, you’re asking if there is a way to twist or tweak the product to make it appealing to other audiences and other people. “And this is where creative ideation — and using the wildcard — can be an immense help.”
Janos is just one of many amazing Mobile Spree speakers to grace our stage over the years. With our upcoming San Francisco event weeks away, you won’t want to miss who we have lined up. Sign up for Spree on our dedicated website here. You can also discover what Janos had to say about Adjust in a testimonial video here.
Peggy Anne Salz, contributor of this article, is named a Top 30 Mobile Marketing Influencer, is a mobile analyst, frequent Forbes contributor and guest contributor for a variety of leading media outlets, including the Harvard Business Review, where she shares her insights on mobile marketing, mobile apps, customer engagement and business innovation.