The issue of soft launching mobile games or applications is becoming increasingly popular on many websites and is discussed by many marketing specialists. In this article, we will try to answer questions related to soft launch models, the processes involved, and whether there is one universal system that should be adopted when preparing for the process mentioned here. Focusing directly on discussing the soft launch of a mobile game, we will base our conclusions on our experience, since as a startup we are going through the process of preparing for this stage ourselves. We will also highlight measurable indicators that may be most important in the early days of a soft launch. This article is also based on the valuable experiences of people from the game industry and articles written by specialists dealing with education in the field of product promotion.
Game development from the manager's perspective
Research - Soft Launch - Hard Launch
In one of the interviews of the podcast Escola Mobile. Business in your pocket., Jędrzej Paulus and Krzysztof Wojewodzic talked with Aleksandra Sikorska from Vivid Games - a game producer, who briefly presented the interesting background of the process of preparing a product for soft launch. She also talked about the problematic issues of such a process, which game devs face, and explained what the so-called buying players really is.
At the beginning, it's worth pointing out that every studio has its own, different development process, but some steps should at least frame the work and steps.
Firstly, it is worth considering an idea supported by market research. The marketing team determines, on the basis of gained knowledge and experience, whether it is worthwhile to hit a particular niche or take up a populist topic. Also, it is necessary to know whether people are searching for this type of game. In short, we first look for need and then adjust the target to it. It is important to remember that everything related to this choice depends not only on the marketing team, but also on the CEO and other people involved in the project.
The team must answer such major questions and analyse such important matters as:
- Who should the game go to?
- What will bring in the money?
- What should the plan for the budget look like? (not only production)
- Creating an analysis of sales forecasts
Then there should be pre-production testing, and during the sprint a concept has to be created that answers the main question - does the idea meet expectations? However, it should be the smallest element that decides that the game will pass, and it should be the most important one, which will be responsible for engaging the player in the game. An example of such a test could be releasing 2-3 mechanics with one control, to find out which of them will have the greatest success.
If the game does not appeal, you need to iterate - make appropriate transformations. There is also a very useful tool where you can plug in analytics and, without involving additional people and getting feedback, see exactly what is not working.
For subsequent activities like allowing the product to enter the soft launch process, it is important not to generate costs, so the model of making it available at launch in one market works best.
It should also be noted that the product ready for soft launch does not have to be beautiful, which literally means that we should not pay so much attention to details, but to what is most important in mobile games - first of all, functionality. Only later can we talk about visual areas or refining the details of the game.
Soft launch happens on very different levels, for example monetisation, gameplay or technical (for this last there should be answers to questions related to functionality - is the game adapted for mobile?).
Further work is going into the hard launch process, for which it is necessary to carry out ASO (App Store Optimisation) - optimising the visibility of the game in the app by improving its ranking position. A higher position in search engines means more popularity, so it is an important element that determines progress and profit. You could say that ASO for games and mobile apps is as important as SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for websites.
Marketing issues in the context of a soft launch
Marketing makes its own way of testing a product, and then the game just starts to speak for itself, which is why research is so important in this whole process. Competition on the market means that even a good game may not be found later if the ASO process is carried out improperly. It is also worth mentioning here that it is impossible to ensure a high number of downloads without buying users. So what is user acquisition? In a nutshell, it is the expansion of a game's reach to ensure that it reaches as many users as possible. This can be done by paying for advertising, so that Google Ads or other tools show our product, and there are different types of user acquisition, and their choice depends on the studio, but such activities are necessary for the product to exist in the market space.
Playstrict, as a platform dedicated to carrying out soft launches, can do this process for you in selected markets and for the chosen number of users you want to acquire.
Production stages - what has to happen after what?
The work to develop a product starts with the product owner creating a backlog, which includes all the features about the product itself. The product owner can also add new features during the development process, which, in his or her opinion, can increase the value of the product. Subsequently, the interdisciplinary teams meet and their respective competences decide what they do in a particular sprint and what new content they deliver. It should be remembered that it is also possible to outsource this type of work and the choice of cooperation model depends on the preferences of a given studio, but usually everything works best when there is one team that can consult with each other on an ongoing basis through daily meetings and planning. The whole process is managed by a scrum master, whose tasks are:
- Ensuring that tasks are carried out according to the scrum concept
- Removing barriers to project execution
- Supporting and motivating the team
- Solving day-to-day problems
In addition to the above roles, an important one is that of game designer, who is responsible for maintaining the process - making sure that from the idea the team moves on to work on design, graphics, through programming to testing.
Indicators for analysis during soft launch
Based on a blog post by Vasily Sabirov - chief analyst at devtodev, below we describe the most important, in his opinion, indicators needed for analysis when it comes to the soft launch process. These are the indicators that can be analysed in the first days and weeks after the release of the product.
Indicators of the first day
It can be said that the main initial indicator is Day 1 Retention, which is shown in any analytical tool that may be available. It provides information on what proportion of users return to the game or application the day after installation. However, a more interesting indicator, which is rarely mentioned (but it is worth), is Day 0 Retention, because contrary to appearances, it usually never equals 100%. It determines the number of players who returned to the game within 24 hours from installation. In a situation where there is a need for a very quick overview of the current state of the soft launch, such an indicator is extremely useful.
Within the soft launch process there are also some 3 indicators directly related to each other. The first of them, and at the same time a very good one in the context of estimating the effectiveness of new versions of the game in the future, is the Tutorial Retention. It shows how many people, after reading the instructions (regardless of the duration of reading), decided to actually play our game. This metric is very important from the point of view of introducing subsequent, improved versions of games. There is also a Tutorial Conversion, which determines the difficulty of the instructions and gives feedback on potential improvements. It gives us an insight into how many people have clicked the "skip" option. The third indicator from the tutorial category is the Completion Speed Indicator. It is important to remember that in this case the belief that the faster the tutorial is completed the better is not valid. The speed indicator is especially useful for the analysis of tutorial dynamics. You can use it to determine how players react to changes in the instructional space and thus work on it to make it more accessible.
Indicators of the first week
In this metrics group, the issue of game monetisation already comes up. At this stage one of the basic indicators is ARPU - or ARPDAU - Average Revenue Per Daily Active User, but it is worth using it in a collective way, taking into account N days. Then this indicator will show how much profit one user brings on average during the first days after installing the game. ARPU is a good way to measure the monetization potential of a product.
Another factor is the conversion of the first payment. This is calculated using the payments from week one and shows how willing all current users are to make micropayments.
Considering that we are already talking about the indicators of the week, it is worth going back to the Day 7 Retention, which shows that to a large extent there are probably those players who have completed the tutorial and started playing. Mostly a good result for this indicator can be around 20%.
We should also mention an indicator called K-factor, which makes you realise how popular a game is just one week after its release. Considering the early buying traffic for the soft launch process, this indicator is very important, as it gives a comparison of how many people are able to pay and how many are not. However, it is important to remember that one week is the minimum period after which you can start calculating this indicator.
The metrics above are just some of those that can be examined in the early days of a soft launch. Based on your knowledge of your own game, you can select them individually to give the best light on the areas of your game that need to be worked on.
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