Many developers use a soft launch as a valuable way to test the waters and refine their game to see how well it performs, in front of an unbiased group, before launching it for wider distribution. It allows them to isolate and optimize successful factors and problem areas strategically. To ensure a successful soft launch, you need to use an analytics service to gather data, analyze, spot bugs, study and understand the players in detail before full distribution. We outline the key things to consider when looking to master a soft launch for your mobile game to make sure it is a resounding success.
1. Optimum length
Deciding on your soft-launch’s time frame will vary slightly depending on resources and cost, however the optimum length to soft launch is between two to three months. Our data shows that the longer the soft launch lasts, the higher the retention rate is; a 20% plus increase in D1 retention in fact, for games that spend longer than a month in soft launch. Timing can also have a positive impact on both your In App Purchases (IAP) and advertising strategy, a 24% boost in IAP if in beta for longer i.e. two to three months. However, timing is everything and there is such a thing as too much time spent. Therefore, strategically consider the best use of time and focus initially on early retention such as D1, then look towards monetization and finally late retention. This sequence will ramp up the number of players considerably.
2. Don’t launch on bad metrics
It’s always better to spend a few more weeks in soft launch to make sure your metrics are the best they can be. D1 and D7 are vital, so run multiple A/B tests, try out different messaging, segment players and devise funnels. To help maximize the time you have available, look at testing specific messages for a couple of hours or days to see what their impact is. Use your soft launch time wisely and find the most effective messaging variables for each segment with your A/B tests as there are correct actions for different type of players. For larger-scale soft launches, you can test in-app purchase offers to see if they are ready for monetization.
3. Segment your players
The threshold of engagement for players is between boredom and anxiety. If they cross the threshold, it will cause them to leave the game. The tricky thing for developers is keeping each player segment within the threshold by personalizing and adapting the gameplay. For instance, novice players may be anxious and unsure about what they must do, so they will need additional sign posting and support so they don’t leave the game. In regards to expert players, they can become bored as they have raced through the early levels, so they need to get to a stage where they can be challenged. Both types of player segments are playing the same game but require different player management. If there is an understanding of the different types of players, messaging can be tailored accordingly, the player difficulty can be adjusted correctly and A/B tests can be run. Understand the different behaviours and what sort of experience they require, to give them all an enjoyable and engaging player experience.
4. On-boarding is vital
The importance of on-boarding can’t be overlooked as there is a high correlation between initial on-boarding and retention. It needs to be clear and engaging so that players stick around, and easy to follow so they know what to do to be successful in the game. Make the most of valuable soft launch time to make sure that the on-boarding process is as engaging and informative as possible. To do this, combine gamification with analytics and personalization to create outstanding on-boarding. Consider what the player’s initial experience will be like and incentivize the tutorial, and help them to proceed to the first mission with ease and clarity. Key on-boarding questions developers should ask are, do players know what to do? are they given clear direction? and have they achieved something early on? Developers will know the game in-depth, however they will need to change their mindset to that of a novice player and ask if the player will find the tutorial fun and engaging. Once the tutorial is over, are players equipped to play the game and succeed (and if not is there help and support available)? It’s incredibly important to give players a good glimpse of the best gameplay at the beginning. On-boarding provides lots of opportunities to intervene with players. Providing messaging specific to them and getting it right can have a dramatic impact on retention.
5. Game difficulty
If a game is too difficult it will cause serious retention issues as more than half of the players joining any game are novices. Therefore, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and make your game a little easier rather than too difficult. Bear in mind, 48% of players leave gameplay because the difficulty is not balanced. Use data mining to segment players for targeting such as number of missions completed, resource levels etc. If novice players are running low on resources you can gift them or monetize them by showing them rewarded videos to get additional resources needed to complete the level, and in turn generate revenue. Create player segments that identify where players are content and progressing well, and where you need to intervene by tweaking the level difficulty. Novices can be set as a target group and given boosters. You can analyze and pinpoint player’s skills based on how successful they were completing levels and the time taken to complete them.
On average, 38% of players leave because there aren’t enough rewards, so if you can tap into this and offer incentivized rewards such as daily bonuses, it will give them a sense of achievement and they will be more likely to return as there is purpose. Additionally, some players return to repeat missions they enjoyed, even after completing the game, which leads to even more potential monetization opportunities and ways to incentivize these players. Send compelling personalized offers and rewards based on a player’s gameplay; for instance, weapons and ammo bundles for aggressive players in first person shooters, boosters for more strategic players and health potions and extra lives to novice players.
In summary, focus on retention first and foremost, especially in the first 60 seconds, as you can always monetize a fun game once you have them hooked. Make sure you create an environment that is fun for all players through segmentation, use a funnel tool to analyze progression and show which areas are acting as blockers and overlay best practice gamification and personalize strategy for each segment. Soft launch allows you to move on with confidence towards the full launch. However, once you have launched, don’t rest on your laurels, continue to tweak and adjust the game accordingly to retain current players and gain new ones. Test and test again!