You don’t need to have your game completely done to know how it is going to behave. After validating the idea of the game through the MPV, you can also do a soft-launch.
Soft-launch means launching your games to a limited audience to gather information before doing the official and/or global launch. Usually game developers choose a specific country. Many choose Canada for having a similar profile than United States or choose their own country because of the proximity.
The most important metric in a soft-launch is retention. Some games stayed in soft-launch for more than a year before reaching the numbers desired by the team. It’s also important to measure how the monetization of the game is doing to make sure that is worth the investment with the official launch.
Cupcake games are always launched first on Facebook as a soft-launch, because measuring the information on web is much faster than mobile. In mobile you need the user to update the game in his device, which won’t always happen, as well as a longer review time. Updates on web are immediate and it is possible to have numbers the next day. We develop for mobile when the game reach the quality that the team desires. Nowadays we are doing this with Numbers of Gold, that was launched in the end of March on Facebook.
We talked before about the importance of validating your game through MVP. You can lose a lot of time discussing ideas that can be tested directly with final users and validated through metrics. If you are not sure if something is gonna work, it’s not up to you to guess what the user is gonna think. Put the game in front of your users and use metrics to be able to measure if things are working or not. This also works for improvements to your game. You’ll notice that what you think is gonna work doesn’t, and what you think it is not gonna work actually does. Seeing the impact in retention of the changes made is a good way to check how things are going.
Before launching Numbers of Gold, we had a lot of doubts about things that could work or not. We decided not to waste time with philosophic discussions and launched the game with these doubts. After a few days we had enough data to see what was working and not working. This saved us a lot of time and allowed us to work in other important stuff.
However, I’ve noticed that many game developers lack focus on a target audience for their business. First game is a Mario clone for males under 25 yo (Marcio Broz); second is a puzzle for women over 35; third is a shooter for males over 25; and forth is an adventure for males over 25 who don’t shooters. That’s a problem! Why?
To clarify the issue, let me talk about the benefits of working with a specific target audience:
Creates a community of people who play all of your games;
Reusing knowledge acquired in previous games;
Cross promotion among your games, lowering UA costs;
Keeps high quality players circling around your games and spending in all of them (71% of Installs and 78% of Numbers of Gold’s revenue comes from our other two games);
People playing all of your games makes revenue grow for all of them;
Increases retention of your games.
The three larger mobile games companies all have very specific target audiences. King is casual, Supercell is midcore and Machine Zone is Hardcore. Cupcake is focused on Casual Brain Puzzles, where all of our current and future games fit. Not as casual as King, as all of the games of Golddemand higher brain effort than it’s necessary to shuffle candy.
If you think Candy Crush has lives to push you into spend money on the game, you are wrong. Having lives in a game is a strategy that influences the retetion of a game.
Imagine that you have a whole cake to eat and you can eat as much as you want. If you eat half of the cake right away today, you are not gonna want eat more tomorrow. However, if you eat just a slice today, you will want to eat more tomorrow. After a few days you ate the whole cake.
This metaphor is a good example of the use of lives/energy system in a game. Running out of lives makes you stop playing making you want to play more. This has a great positive impact on retention. Work balancing your game so that the player don’t play continuously without stopping. That’s right! Make the player go away, but with a good reason to come back.
Having lives is something that works very well on Cupcake games. Spending money to recover lives is a very small piece of our revenue. And it shouldn’t be different.
This article will give you a high level strategy about how games make money, including ours. I’ll touch base in some key aspects that impact your game’s ability to make money.
Defining your demographic: No game can make money without users. Also, no game can make money without the RIGHT users, so get to know your target demographics upfront as it will impact many key points of your gameplay and art. Are they casual or hardcore players? Male or female? Age?
Acquiring users: Now you must let them know about your game. There are several ways to acquire users, both paid and free. Advertisement, app store organic and featuring, cross promotion and PR (not very effective) through blogs and youtubers. Free users are free, which is good, but high quality users are more escarce. Games that depend on purchases also depend on high quality users, usually from ads.
Monetizing: The good $tuff. There are three major ways to monetize nowadays. Ads, in app purchases and premium. Crossy Road developer Hipster Whale made $10M from ads in 90 days, which is a lot of money. Or is it? When you compare to Supercell’s whopping $6.3M a day, it doesn’t look that way. And that’s before Clash Royale.
It is clear that IAPs are the way to make big money in mobile, but they are indeed more difficult than making money from ads, as IAPs need to make sense in the overall game design and offer true value to the user. Premium model is dying in mobile, as you can see in the app store’s top grossing charts. Minecraft is the only game to show up in the top grossing charts and it is only 43rd. It is still a thing in PC and console for now.
What about Cupcake? Our demographic is women over 35 years old who like to play games that keep their brains active. Most of our users come from organic, but the top users come from profitable Facebook Ads campaigns. Just like Supercell, we make money from In App Purchases in a model that has proven to be successful, very similar to Candy Crush.
How does your strategy compares to this? Let us know!
We already passed the time where one of the first things to be done was to write the GDD (Game Design Document). In this document, the game designer writes everything that the game is gonna have. From that on, the rest of the team (programmers, artists, etc) did the rest. However, how the game designer can be so sure that the game will be a success?
Nowadays, GDDs, especially in F2P games, are used to document information (at least it should) of everything that worked and didn’t work. The GDD is something that evolves with the game. We’ll talk more about how to measure what it’s working and not working in a future post.
At Cupcake we always start with a prototype of an idea that can come from anyone. The game designer has an important role evaluating if the idea should go ahead or not. If the idea doesn’t go on, it’s necessary to understand why. Same if it does. Do an MPV to help. Killing an idea is not something bad, on the opposite, it’s a learning opportunity. You should have a lot of ideas and learn with all of them, just don’t write a GDD before having a game.
A lof of people talk about UX but few talk about FTUX. Products care a lot about user experience inside the game, but what is the point of having a good overall experience if the first one is not good? Hence term First Time User Experience (FTUX), the first experience of the user with your product/game.
Nowadays with F2P players give up on a game in seconds and move to the next. You have a few seconds to convince the player that your game is worth to be played. Don’t waste time showing cutscenes, menus and maps before the game really starts. Make the player go right to the gameplay. If the player doesn’t understand how to play they will leave. That’s it.
Make the first experience with the game easy and fast. If the first interaction with the game takes too much time to end, the user will get bored and leave. If the game is level-based, make sure the first level is a fast winning. It will make the player liberate dopamine fast. The time spent by each player can be different but the experience needs to be good for everyone.
On Cupcake games, like Numbers of Gold, we do exactly that. The first levels are fast and give a feeling of fast progression. Play them to understand how it is done. If you already played them, play them again, but this time with an analytic view.
MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is a very popular term around startups. It is a way to test a product with the miminum amount of features. Instead of waiting a year to launch a product full of features and find out what is wrong, you can launch the product in a few months with a few core features and find out what needs to be improved. How to do the same with games?
First, it’s important for you to understand what are the key parts of your game. What is the main mechanic of your game? That’s what you need to validate. If the main mechanic is not fun, it doesn’t matter how many extra features you put in your games. After validating the main mechanic, you need to validate every new feature. Looks like something that takes work, but in the end you are saving time by not developing things you don’t need.
Cupcake launched its first two games (Letters of Gold and Words of Gold) with 20 levels each. The mechanic used on Letters of Gold was validated in games in English, but not in Portuguese. That was our validation goal. In Words of Gold the goal was to validate if the mechanic from scrabble would also work in single player mode.
Retention is the single most important metric for free-to-play. In fact, any game developer who cares about the quality and life time of their games should track retention. Steam/console premium developers included. So what is retention?
Basically, it measures how many people who started playing your game on a given date are still playing it after some time. For 1000 people who started playing Letters of Gold today (with actual numbers):
530 people are still playing it tomorrow, it means the game has a 53% Day 1 retention;
350 people are still playing after a week, Day 7 retention is 35%;
200 people are still playing after a month, Day 30 retention is 20%.
Industry standard for F2P games is 40-20-10 for the periods mentioned above. If your game is below that, it still needs some work. If it is above, it can also be improved. If you have a low short term retention, you should work on your gameplay, tutorial and overall first time user experience of your game. If your long term retention is low, then you need to work on your meta game.
Letters of Gold and Words of Gold both started with numbers that were worse than those mentioned above and were improved over time, achieving numbers higher than the industry standards. Numbers of Gold however started with excellent numbers (D1 62% – D7 40%).
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