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What are live-ops and how do they work? Your guide to live operations for mobile games

Live-ops are a customer-centric approach to updating your mobile game and improving metrics that are critical to profitability. In his Think with Google talk, Google Play Partner Development Manager Romain Mardot describes live-ops as “running games-as-a-service.” He explains that they are the “strategic distribution of content and various interactions with players that are limited in time […] designed to augment engagement and monetization. They help to reduce players’ churn or win them back.” In this guide, we define live-ops, how they work for mobile games and how to identify which changes should be implemented.

What are live-ops (live operations)?

Live-ops, a portmanteau of live operations, is any change to your mobile app that is made while the game is live rather than releasing an updated version of the entire app. Live-ops are particularly useful for mobile game developers. In addition to fixing bugs and glitches within the app, updates can incentivize users to continue playing even if they have completed the game. Mobile game live-ops can boost retention rates and engagement due to a better user experience and by enabling data-driven changes to your app to improve those metrics.

Five types of live-ops you need to know

  • Promotional offers: You can use live-ops to update in-app purchases and make changes to your in-game economy. This ability is useful when you want to make limited-time offers, discounts and promotional deals without updating the entire app. Live-ops allows you to provide exclusive content such as cosmetics and maps – either as a loyalty- or performance-based reward, or available for an additional fee.
  • New content: Live-ops can be used to implement new content you have produced, retaining users for longer and creating a more engaging user experience. For example, this could be a new level or new modes in your mobile game, such as enabling multiplayer.
  • Limited-time events: Live-ops can also update an app for limited-time events to increase engagement, retention and revenue. This covers everything from holiday-themed events to special competitions for your users. Limited-time events can also engage users by giving them new leaderboards for which they can compete.
  • Bundles: Offering bundles to your users is a great way to boost revenue. Bundles may consist of in-app purchases, maps, and other new content introduced into your game. You can incentivize users to buy bundles instead of individual items by including exclusive content, such as unique cosmetics.
  • Support: You can use mobile game live-ops to offer better customer support and community management. For example, you may want to implement an easier way to contact your team and report bugs. This will help you fix issues faster and provide a better user experience.
  • A/B testing: Live-ops enables you to improve your app over time by A/B testing different elements, gathering feedback and spotting behavioral trends in your analytics.

Why are live-ops important for mobile games?

Mobile gaming accounts for almost 50% of video gaming revenue worldwide, with global revenue tracking to exceed $100 billion by 2023. With widespread interest and a competitive industry, it is more important than ever to constantly improve your mobile game and make changes based on your users’ needs. Live-ops give developers increased control and flexibility, making it possible to optimize and get ahead of the competition. This also provides a way to make fast changes as a response to user feedback.

Live-ops for free-to-play mobile games

Live-ops are especially important for free-to-play mobile games because they rely on retention rates and in-app purchases to become profitable. The game is only monetized by having a large audience who are active and engaged. This is why practically all free-to-play mobile games use live-ops to make changes according to user preferences and data-driven insights.

How to use live-ops to be customer-centric

Mobile game live-ops offer countless opportunities to tweak your mobile game, so it is essential to consider all the ways you can use this method to benefit you and your players. Your audience won’t stay the same over time, as some players from your community churn while others play your game for the first time. Fortunately, live-ops can help you keep users engaged with long-term motivations. For some gamers, simply knowing that a game will develop over time and provide something new is an incentive to keep the app installed. It is important to keep this in mind when identifying the best ways to use your mobile app’s live-ops. Live-ops can also be useful for developing design elements for your game. By testing for user preferences, you can use live-ops to deliver a customer-centric approach.

A/B testing for best results

Live-ops is about identifying what needs to change in your app and fine-tuning for optimal results. Being responsive to feedback and building a strong community is essential to optimizing live-ops. The more you understand your users and what they want from your mobile game, the better your updates can be. All updates should be tested to discover the overall impact on your key metrics, allowing you to make further changes or amend an update that did not have the desired result. Live-ops is about identifying what needs to change in your app and fine-tuning for optimal results. Here’s how you can perform A/B tests to identify which changes would be most beneficial to improving your key metrics.

Performing an A/B test for live-ops

A/B testing requires you to segment an audience into two or more groups and test variants to see which delivers the desired results. For example, does creating a bundle for your game’s in-app purchases boost the lifetime value (LTV) of your users? There are four stages to A/B testing.

  1. Develop a hypothesis: In the first step to making positive changes to your mobile game, you should develop a hypothesis that defines what you plan to change and the expected result. For live-ops, behavioral trends in your data and user feedback inform your hypothesis. Generating your theory is a critical step because a clearly defined hypothesis gives you confidence in the results of your A/B test. Ensure that you know what you want to test, your target audience and what changes will be made if your hypothesis is proven.
  2. Segment your audience: Segment your audience into testing groups, ensuring that they have similar user behavior. The more similar your groups are the more confident in your results you can be further down the line. If there are too many variables, it may be difficult to know your variants’ true impact.
  3. Test: With your hypothesis and segmented audiences in place, you are ready to run your test. Expose each group to variants of your app. For example, Group A gets a new bundle available to purchase with exclusive content, while Group B can only make those purchases individually.
  4. Analyze: Once you have run your test, you can use analytics to identify which variant is better for your KPIs. For example, what impact did your new bundle have on boosting revenue? You should look at how each variant affected every critical metric for the best results. If a change didn’t increase revenue as you hoped but significantly increased session time and retention, this is another consideration when pushing changes to a larger audience.
  5. Implement your changes: Based on how each variant produced results, you can identify what you would like to expose to a broader audience. A proven hypothesis gives you the confidence to move forward with your changes as planned, while unexpected results give you the needed insights for further A/B testing. However, developers should continually A/B test for the most up to date results.
  6. Adapt your hypothesis and repeat: You can use the data gathered in your A/B test to fine-tune your hypothesis and perform more tests. This is the best way to ensure that you are always looking for improvements and making data-driven decisions.

Live-ops for mobile games: Best practices for optimal results

Gamers love variety

One of the most critical elements impacting the retention rates of free-to-play mobile games is variety. Even with similar levels and the same mechanics, you can engage players longer by finding creative ways to provide variety to their experience. This is why special holiday events can be so effective, but you don’t need to wait for a special occasion to provide variety: this can be as simple as offering XP boots and discounts on in-app purchases to your audience for a set period.

Optimize community management and feedback forms

The more accessible your community management team is to gamers, the more you will receive valuable insights from your users. Feedback is critical to know which changes should be tested and implemented. So ensure that users can easily get in touch with your team in-game and across your social media channels. You should also observe online forums related to your game to stay in touch with your community.

Cost vs. value: Utilize recyclable elements

While live-ops enables you to make all kinds of changes to your game, it is vital to identify which changes generate worthwhile value. In addition to the impact this will have on your KPIs, you should also consider the work needed to create and implement these changes. You should create a system that prioritizes the changes with the most significant impact at the lowest cost. A great way to do this is by identifying which content can be recycled over time. For example, you can reuse an XP boost without creating new design elements, while new cosmetics and in-app purchases need additional work for every update. This a balancing act can be optimized over time.

Avoid cannibalization

While it is essential to keep your mobile game updated and exciting for players, too many updates at once overwhelm users and diminish the impact of your changes. Moreover, poorly pacing updates means you run the risk of cannibalizing your traffic. This is something you can test for the best results, learning the optimal frequency and quantity of your updates.

If you found this guide useful, you may also be interested in our resource for playable ads – covering the popular ad format’s key advantages and how they are developed. We also have resources for a mobile-first strategy and everything you need to know about social games.

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