The Art of LiveOps

Kolibri Games: Oliver Loffler

October 24, 2019 James Gwertzman and Crystin Cox Season 1 Episode 7
The Art of LiveOps
Kolibri Games: Oliver Loffler
Show Notes Transcript

In today’s episode we hear from Oliver Loffler, co-founder and CTO of Kolibri Games. Kolibri Games was founded 3 year ago and is considered one of the ultimate LiveOps success stories. We will hear about how he and his studio subscribed to an “Early LiveOps Integration” mentality as well as some advice to others looking to integrate LiveOps into their work. 

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Speaker 1:

Hello, I'm James Gortman . I'm Kristin Cox . Welcome to the art of live ops podcast. I've been making games for 16 years as a designer and a game director focused on live ops. I founded PlayFab five years ago because I saw a huge gap in the kinds of access to live ops technologies, games , videos needed to be successful. We've put this podcast together because a lot of the information on how to do live ops effectively just isn't out there. There's way more information about how to optimize your graphics pipeline or how to put together effective game design than there is on how to do effective live ops and since it's pretty tough to go around yourself and just find everyone that does live ops and ask them questions. We did it for you. We've picked together a list of some of the top practitioners in the industry, folks who we think are really pushing the boundaries and doing some cutting edge work and we interviewed a different one every week and ask them about their experiences running live games, doing live ops and even having live ops disasters. Trademarks are the best. That's where you really learn how to do things effectively. So tune in. We have another interview for you today.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible]

Speaker 1:

Hey Kristen . Hey James. So who are we talking to today? Okay, today is the CTO of Colibra games, a longtime PlayFab customer and one of the most exciting kind of a small studios growing up in the world of idle clicker games. Oliver Loffler

Speaker 3:

co founder and CTO of [inaudible] games. We started out a company for years ago out of college. We uh, decided to go more into this uh , idle game thing cause we saw that it's like a huge potential in the market. And yeah, that's why we built our first game iron , manta Kuhn

Speaker 1:

and Oliver. I've known for a long time, super sharp guy. I think we're gonna , he's a lot to say about how they started a very small studio and they are like the ultimate live off success story cause they started small, they shipped the product very quickly, eight weeks of development. They were alive . And then they've just been iterating and iterating, iterating, and we've watched their numbers climb over the years and it's super, it's super inspiring that a small studio can kind of achieve the success they've had. So I think we're gonna have some really good, good stories from them today. Yeah, that sounds exciting. Let's jump right in.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible]

Speaker 1:

so you've been, you've been practicing live ops techniques in your games from the very beginning. How old , why don't you talk a little bit, one of the things that's notable about your games is how quickly you launched your first game. So how long exactly did you work on idle miner tycoon before you launched it?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, so we only work like two months before we launched it. So for us this was very important to set a timeline of like a short time and to actually find out if this game is working, if players are looking for those kinds of games, if players are liking it and so on. So we don't want to invest a lot of time and energy and resources , uh , to develop a big game and then find out in the enteritis doesn't work out. So we wanted to test it very fast. So that's why we set the timeline. We actually also , um, blend a release party before actually starting to develop , uh , to the game itself. Um, so that we have like depression and really doing this and yeah, it worked out. We had to say no to a lot of things, so we all needed to focus on building like the call gameplay first. Uh, but I guess this was like the right decision and we could validate and very early to just the, the game to continue.

Speaker 4:

And then once you launched , uh , talk to us about how you, you updated the game . What was your update frequency like?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, so of course like after two months the game was like very basic, so didn't have like a lot of content and didn't have like a lot of futures . Basically the was on like core gameplay mechanics , uh, in inside the game. So we wanted to, to add more things. And very fast way. And uh , that's why I decided to do weekly updates , um, after releasing the game. And from us, it was also very important from the beginning that we get like a . Dot . A few . So feedback because we want to build games for the players and for ourselves. So we tried to get like a lot user feedback and try to get a feedback as fast as possible back into the game. And this one , the reasons why we decided for this weekly update schedule.

Speaker 4:

Cool. And so in terms of the updates you do client updates, what sort of updates or changes do you typically push from the backend? From the server directly?

Speaker 3:

Yeah , so from the , so directly we uh , scale you like a lot of like this live ops things. Um, so one thing is like the event mind , uh, so we have like a time limited content for players to play mostly during the weekend or something like that. And , uh , players can be , again , like certain rewards if they finish the , the event mind in a certain time and so on and just push us like engagement as well as like also monetization because players are really want to finish it. Um, so that's something we, we do from the backend side, so scheduling when the events happen, like , uh , how long they are and um, also like how um, are challenging and so forth . Um, so these are things we are doing from the back end. We also doing some segmentation on the backend side. So um , basically show some offers to, to play us. Um, in a certain segment. For example, one thing could be like we have like a very expensive offer. We don't want to show that the very beginning to non-payers . Um, so we don't, we segment payers from payers and show like they are different offers than something we can also configure from the backend side and um, to do awesome promotional offers. So same with event minds. Uh, we would sometimes want to have like a certain offer for, I don't know, a certain event like st Patrick's day or something like that where we can define on the server and schedule it as well so that , um, uh , we don't need to do like a client update or a more flexible around doing those kind of things.

Speaker 4:

What uh , yeah, I think your , your limited time events are especially compelling. I found myself as well. I frantically hurrying to finish it before your timeline cuts off. So I think right , that sense of urgency can be compelling. One thing we've noticed as a games are becoming more like communities. So you know, where, where the interactions between the players is a big part of the, the why they come back, why they're so sticky, you know, what have you done in terms of trying to think about her or make her games more, more, you know, to, to invest more in those kind of social features.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. So we think like of social features, like people get more engaged because like you'd only want to have like some competitive um , Mmm um , challenge going on with their friends. Like who is faster beatings have an event mind . So who's faster progressing in the game? Um, so cause after this engagement like , uh, I think it's like very useful to have those, those features to try [inaudible] and also like, I guess it's more likely that players invite other friends to the game as well. So it's basically um, um , also getting more people into the game. And um, yeah, that's why we think it's like super important to have like the social features in the game . We also want to invest more in the future. I'm doing that. Yeah .

Speaker 4:

Well w w D imagine other game studios come to you looking for advice. I mean your , you guys have are kind of the ultimate success story, you know, small team now your a hundred people, you've grown really fast. You know, when you give advice, especially on live offs , if people say to you, Hey, what, like this is really hard, you know , cause it can be overwhelming, you know, where do you suggest people get started? Like if you were going to do just one or two things from a live ops perspective where, where should people start?

Speaker 3:

[inaudible] yeah, so for us like the biggest impact I've had definitely liked this time, limited events. So these are like a big engagement and revenue driver. So it's like something which is changing , changing constantly in the game . So players, I guess like from my, my understanding is like players really want to have like see different things in the game and with like these events it's always something fresh, something new there the players can see. And um, that's why I guess they are also so super excited about us. So that's like for us like I guess like the biggest game changer on , on the life upside during this time. Limited content and also like I'm looking out for , for certain real world events. So we see like if we're doing like , um, I don't know, a Christmas event mine or a Valentine's event, mine and so on, like these, these are the events which drive actually more engagement from the users. Um , so looking out for those kinds of things and doing a lot of like great artwork I guess for especially those events helps a lot as well. Um, so that we have liked event minds are kind of similar from the gameplay perspective, but they always look different. So I think that's something that the players are looking for. Yeah .

Speaker 4:

And then , uh, okay, so start with events and then once you've got real world events, what would be the next, the next kind of layered add on top of that from the live offs ?

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Um, so I think like scheduling offers for example, also like during the events maybe , uh , can be very beneficial. But then also like , um , doing, going more into the segmentation for example, like , um, showing like you can imagine like showing different event minds to set different player base. For example, like the Eastern world. Do you have like different rewards event events? Which are important in the Western world. So you can basically try to define like different event minds for different players or player groups. And I'm going more into this direction and for us , um, also help to automate like a lot of things to do this life ops. Um , I think so it's like easy to, to do them. So in the past we had like, I guess like one event might every four months because uh , now every month. So because like , um, it, it , uh , was some effort and doing this and we also wanted to focus on other things. So we automated a lot around it. So now it takes like one day development time to integrate a new event and it's why we can now have like weekly event minds .

Speaker 4:

Yeah, tools are really important so that your non-programmers can, can, can get in there and, and , and run a lot of these, these opportunities. What about data and analytics? And so that comes up a lot, you know, and , and I know you've, you've done case studies in the past, we've talked about all of the analytics capabilities you guys have done. And all the data you're storing. But let's talk about how do you actually use that data. So it's one thing to store a lot of data. It's another thing to actually use the data to, to improve a player experience or make your game better. Can you give me an examples of places where you've actually made changes to the game based on, on the data that you've, that you've gathered and how you've used it?

Speaker 3:

Yeah . Yeah. So, so we are gathering like a lot of data about like the event minds for example. So we are looking into them like when to , um, do or like when they went, mine should start. So it's beneficial to have it on over the weekend. This is beneficial to have like one week. Um, and also like on which like on, on what time, is it better in the morning or in the evening when they start and, and, and support . So I looked a lot about those kinds of things. And also like about the duration. It would be like free day , should it be like one week, should it be two weeks and so on. So we um, took a lot into that and , and tried to optimize , um , um, those, those event plans. Yeah . What about , um,

Speaker 4:

my boss goes wrong. So one of the things I've been asking everyone is part of this podcast is to tell their, their best train wreck story. Like , like, cause cause you can, you can really mess things up sometimes with live ops. So have you, have you ever had any situations where something's gone wrong with something on the backend side?

Speaker 3:

Yeah. So , um, one thing could a was like that we basically , um, um, put in some wrong numb or like wrong times into the, into the back end and then they went, mine ended earlier for example, or like things were changing. So that then players who fall like, okay the event goes one or two more days. I ended early. Um , cause it was like easy for us to fix because it was on the backend so we could adjust the times 10 , but like first like players were complaining and so on. Uh, I guess like at some point we also, when we, I guess like introduced to first event mine , um, there was like huge load on the servers. Um, so that , uh, I took the adequate service has scaling as good part , but it took like five minutes till to the server scaled and then a lot of players couldn't enter the first event. Man we ever launched four for five minutes and he send a push notifications to everyone at the same time. And then everyone looked in and wanted to play. They went [inaudible] and half of them couldn't. And then we got like a lot of complaints of course, cause uh , they were so excited about it. Um, but that's something , um, uh , which is working out now much better. Um, also like we are not sending push notifications to all the players anymore at the same time, but rather like do it like , um , um, on different times so that we don't get like this very huge load , uh, on , on the service.

Speaker 4:

I'm sure those five minutes felt like an eternity that you're sitting there watching complaints and you're like, no, please. Yeah. Yeah. What about academies ? Academies can be hard to balance. Some times I'm, have you, have, you, have you had to do much to sort of try to balance out, you know, or have ever had situations where you've maybe purchased things that are overpowered or you felt that you've sort of messed up your, your, your, your balance.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Yeah, of course. So, so we have like this weekly we update, so we changing a lot in the game and , um, for example, if we are adding more and more things to it sometimes, so we're getting, giving out some premium currency. For example, if she complete certain things and if you add more and more things to do, you get more and more premium currency. So , um, that's for example why we needed to choose it at some point because like players had so much of this premium currency, they would never buy the , uh , these, these currency anymore. So that's something which we sometimes need to nerve. Uh, again, and also , um, like for example, if the event mines , so we added, we're adding more content in the main game, which could progress. Like mine's in general like faster. And this was also applying for this event minds . So because we integrated so much more content , um, players will like, like in the back or like at the end of the content could finish the event. Mine's like really fast. I can in one or two hours and that's not, it's not something we want to have. We want to have like players need some time to finish event minds , so we need to rebalance things. There also like big challenges to , to balance DC event minds for the players who are very at the very beginning as well as some of the players are going to be . And so they both have like a good experience in the game. So we are constantly changing and so on. And sometimes players don't like it that much, but then actually , um, they get to use it in the end. They find that actually that's, that's a good change. Um, but yeah, we , that's something we constantly do.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. Balances , bounces hard to get right. Yeah. What kind of tools do you use? I mean, do you guys use like Google sheets or Excel? Like what , what do you, what tools do your designers use to , to manage all that other content? Yeah,

Speaker 3:

so we are using Excel files, so we have like a big number of tables where we also like build on some crafts and so on. So of like the game designers can see like, okay , um, how are the levels or like the costs of the levels are crowing compared to like the income of, of , um, of the game. And so we doing, they're a lot of things and then we export those , um, what those exo files into unity, our game engine, which we are using and from down , um , um, basically the programmers take care of integrating all those numbers.

Speaker 4:

Gotcha . Totally. So you have Excel basically built into your content pipeline essentially.

Speaker 3:

So we all do a lot of things so that we can integrate it very fast. Um, and yeah, I think it's a good tool for, for the game designers, so they don't need to get to know unity and so on. And it's also like , um, they , they're like big numbers. And a lot of of things happening and they can get like a good overview about like what, what is like the balancing in the game and can I trust it also

Speaker 4:

easily . But it is fascinating how games have changed. I mean it used to be games were just art and code and now art code and date data, you know, Excel data is just as important as in terms of in fact for game a years , arguably the, the Excel data's from the most important data for the game that really affects the whole game experience. So that's kind of fascinating to see how that all fits together.

Speaker 3:

Especially like with our games on Island games and channel. I think like the data behind this, this is like the most important part because um, it needs to feel the right pays , duh duh . Um, can't be too fast, can be too slow, must find the right fit. And it's something like , uh , which is really challenging and that's why I need like good tools to support it. And, and we think excellence , like actually like

Speaker 4:

what good tool to do that . And your, your games are available globally, I believe. So how do you, how did you, how did you decide when to start localizing? I mean where you localizing from the beginning or did you add languages over time? So at the very beginning it was only in , um,

Speaker 3:

because also we both liked the same P uh , we don't want to, we didn't want to focus so much on localization, but we started quite early with localization. Uh , we thought that this was important in a lot of players were also writing as a, I want to have like this language and this language and this language. So I guess like after a couple of months after releasing it , we were localizing it and also on the play stores and app stores while we saw it. And also like that , uh , the , um , download numbers increased as well.

Speaker 4:

Well , so it had an impact. You see, you see it in print . But now in the localizations especially hard with live ops because when you're launching an event, you , you know, you, you have to not just localize the game, you've got to localize all of the communications and push notifications around that event.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Right? Yeah. So we need to plan a little ahead to get like all the translations and so on. And sometimes if we pushing new features and in translation and not ready, we just push it with, with English content and then later at the translation. Um, but yeah, of course like , um, it, it takes some time to translate things. We are lucky that we don't have so many like texts inside the game. There are other games with stories. For example, Jeff , like a lot of texts and where the quality's also super important for us, it's more easy because we don't have so much. And um, that's why we can, can actually release things still very fast.

Speaker 4:

And how many languages do you support it? Not totally person . Sure. But something about 28. That's actually , that's actually a lot. It used to be just a handful, but now it's growing . What about user acquisition? So I know we talked earlier, I mean your, your games are in live almost three years now. I think it's as far as you can tell, it seems to be doing as you know, better now than it didn't ever, you know, so your, your success has been growing continuously over that period of time. But getting new players in can be really challenging for, of game developers, you know , or organic installs are hard to get some times. And so what, what, what percentage of your plate , if you can share this , what percentage of your players are coming in via said it was paid, you know, kind of user acquisition and uh , and talk a little bit about what, cause that can be really hard to do. And so you know, what your own kind of experience has been starting up pages are acquisition.

Speaker 3:

Mm . Yeah. So at the beginning, like our game was , um , totally driven by organic downloads. So , um, as we started out, we didn't net that money too to end . Also not like the abilities and resources to do , um, a user acquisition. So at the beginning it was like a lot of organic downloads . I think for us, we were there with the Fila games that ARIDE time where the market was looking for , for idle games. Um, and that's why you got like a lot of chronic Donald's , but we saw the deck can be like potential with buying users as well. So we tried it out. Um, um, like I guess only after one year. Um, and with a very small scale, tried to do some tests. He like what we like are to use this, we are buying, are we getting the money back and with like not much money. And then , uh , when we saw that two positive results, we scaled and scaled it. And um, and so like till when we could, could scale it. Um, so that's, that's something or like how we approached us things. Um, and yeah ,

Speaker 4:

ask the questions . It's hard. I mean, you is hard, you know, and figuring out how to make it profitable is especially hard. You can , you can waste a lot of money trying to show ads and acquire users and , and , and not have a good return on it. So any lessons you've learned about how to, how to do that effectively? Yeah, so we ,

Speaker 3:

cause in front of me , I've been getting a lot on the data side, like looking really after users we are buying if like this court's actually returning the money and which time also. So we set ourselves like goals for, for , um, for the use acquisition, like , uh , how big demarche and should be like, how , um, uh , when we want to have our money back again and so on. So I think like, especially UAE and mobile is like very data driven, at least one from our side. And this has helped us a lot to optimize and , um, to, to continue scaling the TGA conveyance ,

Speaker 4:

which if I can ask, which channels have you found most effective? Have you found that some channels are a lot more effective than others for finding the right kinds of players?

Speaker 3:

Um , so we tried out a lot of different , um , um, channels. And I think it also depends on like what scale you are. Um, for us , uh, we, we were using like a lot of different EDP networks . I'm also now looking more into Facebook and um , also like , um , DSPs like cross and stall . Um, so yeah, we like during the lifetime of argue you a , um, um, life things change a lot and um, thing , it always depends on like what's , what scale you are , which try to Ms. Jones ,

Speaker 4:

thank you so much for chatting with us. Thanks as well for having me. Yeah , I'm such a huge fan of idle miner and in fact, half our team are huge fans. You know, it's not often all the teams , so it's one of the games as he played in the office most often. Cool . Crazy . Thank you. [inaudible]

Speaker 2:

[inaudible]

Speaker 1:

thanks for listening to the art of live ops podcast. If you'd like to, you heard, remember to rate, review and subscribe so others can find us and visit playfab.com for more information on solutions for all your live ops needs. Thanks for tuning in.