The Art of LiveOps

Double Loop Games: Emily Greer

November 14, 2019 James Gwertzman and Crystin Cox Season 1 Episode 10
The Art of LiveOps
Double Loop Games: Emily Greer
Chapters
The Art of LiveOps
Double Loop Games: Emily Greer
Nov 14, 2019 Season 1 Episode 10
James Gwertzman and Crystin Cox

Today we are joined by Emily Greer.  She is the founder and CEO of Double Loop Games, a new mobile studio currently in stealth mode, and also the former CEO of Kongregate.  She will share some insights into how to build a successful LiveOps strategy and talk about the evolution games and studios must go through to be successful with LiveOps. 

Support the show (http://microsoftgamestack.com)

Show Notes Transcript

Today we are joined by Emily Greer.  She is the founder and CEO of Double Loop Games, a new mobile studio currently in stealth mode, and also the former CEO of Kongregate.  She will share some insights into how to build a successful LiveOps strategy and talk about the evolution games and studios must go through to be successful with LiveOps. 

Support the show (http://microsoftgamestack.com)

Speaker 1:

Hello, I'm James Gortman . I'm Kristin Cox . Welcome to the art of live ops podcast.

Speaker 2:

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 game studios 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 interview 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 he really learned how to do things effectively. So tune in. We have another interview for you today.

Speaker 3:

[inaudible]

Speaker 1:

hi James. Hey Kristen, how are you? Doing well, how are you doing? Good. Well I can't wait to get started today. We have Emily Greer on a show.

Speaker 4:

Hi, I'm Emily Greer and I'm the co founder and CEO of congregate. We are a platform and publisher of games. Um , we have a browser platform called [inaudible] dot com a new PC platform called cartridge. And then we've published more than 60 games on mobile, including a venture capitalist animation, Throwdown ,

Speaker 1:

burrito , bison and many others. She's now left congregate and is starting her own studio, which is super exciting. I also know her PR, full disclosure, she was on the board of PlayFab prior to its acquisition by Microsoft, one of absolutely my best board members. Super insightful, always had good advice. And because of her experience at congregate, she's really been there for the entire transition of gaming from a box product through live ops. And she's also recently had a lot of experience with mobile game publishing, free to play. So lots of really good insights for both how to build a successful live ops strategy as well as the kind of evolution studios and games go through to be successful. Yeah, I'm really excited about this one. I've always really respected Emily. Like I've seen her speak many times and she's always got something really interesting to say. So great to, let's jump right into it.

Speaker 3:

Yeah . [inaudible] so

Speaker 4:

I came into games as cofounder of congregate and my previous experience was in the uh, catalog e-commerce , um , retail side, which was essentially data science and you user acquisition, old school style , um , where databases, databases sometimes use COBOL , um, things like that. Uh, which I, when I , um, my brother had the idea for congregate, I jumped in his co-founder , I thought I was going to be doing something different, but it turns out live operations for games and retail have a lot, a lot in common.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So I actually fascinated by this interaction between, or the overlap between retail and games because I think we often talk at PlayFab a lot about how the kinds of systems we're providing for games are no different than what you need to power an amazon.com or some, you know, website on and so forth. And so, but I also think that the game developers don't often take enough learnings from retail. So maybe can you share a little bit about your thoughts on how lessons from retail can apply to games and or places where maybe developers might go to look for new insights and being more successful?

Speaker 4:

I think one of the things that , um, retail does and really understands is , uh, is that the relationship with the customer is not about one purchase. Um , and it's not about one event. It's not about just coming into the stores. It's about , um , building a brand and building a trusted relationship and building something so that a customer whenever they need something defaults to coming to you. So I think that , uh, retailers really understand lifetime value and I've been thinking about it for a long time. They also have spent a lot of time thinking about how do they thinking about play about a customer's needs and what they're gonna need at a particular season or particular time of year or particular time of their life. And that is another thing that I think , um, uh, games could really benefit benefit from is understanding the different segments of their customers, the different motivations and um, and uh, making offerings , um, that are right and appealing to just that player. So we're getting into the customization kind of stuff. So we have a game animation throw down collectible card game. A lot of people have been playing it for two years, three years. And then we have a lot of people who are coming in day one, the cards that are appealing, the pack that's appealing between those two groups are completely different. And if our store is identical, we're not serving either group very well.

Speaker 1:

And I think retail is also very good at driving excitement through seasonal events and special events that, you know, a sale is a , you know, almost kind of cliche example of a special event, but they're effective.

Speaker 4:

Yes. Um, and , uh, they're also something that they can build up excitement, I think, and , and, and make an event. So something like the Nordstrom , uh, where they have, you know, just two sales per year and you know where they're going to be. Like, that's something that has created a lot of sort of special meaning to a lot of people and becomes something that you get on your calendar. And, but that didn't happen in one year. That happened over decades. And I think that's a diff , another thing that games could learn from retailers is retailers think on a much, much longer horizon. Um, and they're , they're thinking , um, you know, they care very much about their current inventory and their current sales numbers. But , um, they expect to be around for 10 years. They expect to be around for 30 years. Um, I worked for a company that was a , um, 150 years old that dated back to the San Francisco gold rush. And that's it . Just a different, totally different view on the world than games have because its video games are such a relatively new industry. They will last that long but we don't, we haven't yet internalized that games are that lasting in that meaningful, but you know , um, you know, Ultima online, EverQuest , um, a world of Warcraft , um, the Mario franchise, these are now things that have lasted for decades and I , we have every expectation that they'll last for decades and we should internalize that and operate that way.

Speaker 2:

I really wish I could get developers to understand price protection, price protection, the phone of mine. Yes. One of my pet peeves in video games talk about price protection. So in games we are very ready to lower the price of everything we put out immediately. We're just, we can't wait to discount. We can't wait to lower the price. We just, the cycle is actually kind of insane. It is totally disabled games. It's really insane. Like no other retailer, like no other industry has this cycle where they say like the best, like the closest you could say is, is film in the box office situation. Although it's not a direct one to one, this idea that a game should come out and then in a month it should be cheaper. Is it at least a craziness? Yeah , the idea that something would be more valuable three days before, like before, like three days later would be less valuable is something that has just really kind of nuts. And um, it was something that I really want to , when I went to arena that I really respected them. They're very into price , uh , protection, right? They're like, we don't lower the price of our games. Like, you know, seven years later you're going to pay 60 bucks for Dell Wars two because to go worse, two is still worth 60 bucks and fast. It's probably worth more. Yeah. Cause there's, there's, there's six years in it. So if it's something that's very like alien to a lot of the games that just treat their dislike and then they do the, like the , they do the crazy thing where they're like, let's have a sale in the, even the free to play games, let's have a sale every,

Speaker 4:

yeah . Oh no. Yeah . So that's the thing that I, that I focused on. You're , you're training players, you're devaluing that. And I think that's , that gets to a lot of what is the , the, the, the problem, the mentality with games is because the big cost is just making the game that initial game. And so they don't have any, and this is the difference with retailers, retailers, they're there is it cost something to make each unit and so you, you, you never, you're always trying to avoid, you want me to say you always want to cover at least the cost of manufacturing, but because there's no incremental cost to each unit sale. That's why I think games get so crazy. I mean, but , but is there , it's just hidden. Yes. It's , no, it totally is the wrong, but I think that's part of how things, and then I think also people like just have a different sense of value around nonphysical items. Right ? And so that changes how people , um, price, I'd say as a publisher, the single single thing that we spend most of our time doing besides user acquisition , uh , is getting, getting developers to not underprice . Um, and to think about things of, you know, don't lower the price, increased value, increased value, right. Um, um, you know, sometimes lower the price, but generally, you know, thing think , um, you know, think through, be thoughtful about the strategy and think, think about and really have conviction that what you're selling has value. Right. And I think that sometimes game developers get tricked , get tripped up , um, in thinking, well, I'm this little, this expansion took two weeks. It's not worth anything. Or I , and I think there's a, there's a , almost a reticence to charge money that is kind of odd, but it is, you know, I think, and it's obviously much stronger in the indie industry than the AAA industry. Um, but then that's when the pricing is being controlled by business people and not by people who are making the games. I think when, when pricing is being controlled by people who are making the games, they have a lot more sort of emotional resistance to charging for it. And I, and it's a, it's just an interesting dynamic

Speaker 2:

and pricing is hard, right ? Cause hard to teach someone how to do pricing. I did a GDC talk where I get into it a little bit about how to do demand curves and it was , the thing I got the most questions about after that talk was for like, okay, but like can you help me really like understand how to build a demand curve? And it's like, well it's not easy. Like a lot of people spend many, many, many years learning to do this. And in other industries there's an entire group of people who have a finance department, right? You have a business department that's just worried about like cogs and ROI and penal who do this all day every day. Like they think about this all the time. And so I don't want to undercut that, but I think a lot of developers don't understand the value of the thing they make.

Speaker 4:

And it's an echo chamber too, because it's hard. They don't know what they're doing. So they look at other games, Oh, that game successful. I'm gonna , I'm gonna adopt their pricing strategy. And sometimes that works, but you're, you're, you're just, it's button mashing, right ? Right. It's how many people that are take that game to make and how many people does it take to maintain that ? And how, you know, how massively popular is that game? So when you know, you, you know, I think it was six years ago or so , um, when league of legends really took fire, I had all the, you know, all of these, you know, league of legends , competitors coming out and saying, Oh, we're going to do fair amount of ization. We're going to do it just like league of legends. And I was like, well, you know, that's the kind of thing that works when you are a mass phenomenon. Um , the, so the analogy I use is , um, a movie merchandising, right? Um , so you can, you can, Disney makes a tremendous amount off of merchandising and uh, for frozen, right? But for a average movie, they don't sell anything. So you , you have to, you know, when you're , um, when you are something that is an incredible mass phenomenon, league of legends Fortnite angry birds, then that's a strategy that can work. And, but when you're your somebody , somebody more ordinary than it doesn't work. And understanding the, these kind of differences exist. Um, but

Speaker 2:

I mean, it's about, to me when I tried to talk to devs about designing for community, right? Like it isn't really about, I think the reason you see us chase trends like this and we do things we can say league of legends is really popular. So what are we going to do? We're going to clone their gameplay, but their gameplay is not the thing that made them a giant cultural phenomenon. Their gameplay is great, but there's a lot of great game play . There's like, at this point, just thousands and thousands of games get released every week. And a lot of them have really great game play . You really want to be thinking about, okay, who's my audience? What do they want? How do I design towards them? And then how do I get them in and keep them happy and grow them and maintain them and feed them and all these things. And yeah, league does that on a giant scale. And you're probably not going to be league, you know, getting to the point where you're like, I'm aiming for, I'm gonna build a community that is the largest one of the largest video game. Communities in the world is hard. But I still think that approach is the appropriate approach, right? Like looking at them and saying, Oh, the key to that success, I worry about the battle rail stuff as well. Oh, the key is a hundred players I'm at , eh , it's not, and we can get a hundred. I mean, anyone can get a hundred players on a map at this point, even though like, you know , 15 years ago that would have been amazing. But ,

Speaker 4:

um, understanding games as hobbies that should be supported over an extended period and , uh, and get away from the just launched, launched launch. And that's, and then you're done and then you move on. It's been a total shift in the industry that I think better serves a very large segment of players who really, who really just want to play one main game like all the time. They don't want to try 10 new games per month, they want to play one game, but the industry really wasn't serving those customers for a very long time outside of MMOs, which is a particular type of of game that's great but isn't the right game for everybody.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, very niche actually. Right. Like , um , in my , my audiences haven't really changed that much honestly and like the last 25 years. Um, I think there's also something very there that I know I saw when I was at next on where traditionally the publishing industry in the West really focuses on a really specific type of demographic and leaves a lot of people out is basically like, if you can't rate , if you can't afford hardware, right, and keeping up with hardware and you can't afford to regularly go drop $60 on a game before you've played it, you're not really in the demographic for a lot of AAA publishers.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. And I think it , it was , um, you know, the , the way it had to do with a lack of live ops in the lack of monetization after purchase. So the only thing that we're, the only customer that was interesting was the customer who wanted to play all the new games. And so publishing organized itself around serving, launching games, serving the people who would buy, who were very focused on having whatever was newest, playing that game, moving onto the next. And so the whole industry sort of sort of twisted itself around a particular type of player that reflected the kind of monetization that existed. But what's really happened in the last decade is people , um, whether you're in a console game and looking at, you know, GTA five online, you know, some extending the life of one great game for , for , for so long or you're in free to play and you're looking at, you know, clash of clans or candy crush, which had been, you know, top four , um, of the charts for a long time. People really understanding that games are a service and that publishers need to organize, you know, need to organize themselves around that and serving, you know, one co , one customer for a long time as opposed to sort of churning through and building a deeper relationship.

Speaker 2:

I'm sort of interested to hear what you think too about the role of the publisher in the West. Yes . As this has changed , um, how do you see that changing? Because I think that congregate was offering some services and sort of advice and, and um, support for developers is very different than what we think of a publisher.

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. So , um, you know, congregate in a lot of ways. Um, was founded out of my brother's experience with publishing. He started a small studio in the mid nineties. Um, a big publisher that will , will , shall remain nameless , um, um, picked up the game, but then decided to really push a different, different game and the same in the same category that Christmas. And so the game that they built , uh , later got named by CNET , um , as the number one game of all time that nobody bought , um , because it had the equivalent of like a high eighties, 90 Metacritic and less than 10,000 in sales. And a lot of it was because, you know, just sort of the publisher decision sort of sealed the fate for that game. So a lot of shelf space in a shares and there and , um , and the, the, the game that was favored over theirs was a massive success, is a major , uh, series that everyone would have heard of in the, in the strategy genre. So, but , um, the game that they made, which is called net storm , um, still has a , they open source the servers in like 1998 and there's still a fan community that's running the servers , um , that's built around it. They let the community essentially continue this game that hadn't gotten that support. So , um, you know, back in those days though, you know, the, the, the, the role of the publisher was to, first of all to, to choose what was going to be made and fund it , um, and , um, then , um, get it into retail, do the marketing. I think essentially those were the three things that they, they, they were there to do. Um, and they did , uh , the first two and not the third. Um, and , um, but that was out of the studio's hands. So , um, you know, we started congregate, it was with a mission to help independent developers , um, uh , connect , um, uh, connect to audience, monetize and distribute their games in a fair way. Um, and so we started first as a platform on the web and then , um, eventually it became also a publisher on mobile. And , um, what we're doing on mobile bears very little resemblance to what , um, uh, what that unnamed publisher was doing for my brother back in the mid nineties. Um, we do, we generally will put in some money, but we're not funding the game. We tend to come in late. We S we see what we're bringing as helping the game. Um, get to launch and then grow after launch. Launch is like, you know, in a successful game and a successful relationship, the launch of the game, we are maybe, you know, 2% into our relationship. Um, so for example, one of our biggest hits is , um, a game called adventure capitalists. Um, they , uh, originally , um, uh , uh, came on congregate.com with like a demo, like almost a demo of the game that had been built by one person in six weeks. And we, we saw our community really embrace it. We saw , um, the, the really like a really great retention. And so we went in and suggested, why don't you try putting something to buy in the game? Why don't you , um, put in a speed up? Why don't you put in, you know, these things. And then, you know, next thing we know they do that their top 10 revenue on our site and then we start talking about, Oh we think it would be great on mobile. Here's the things, you know, that Apple and Google would need to see to get a feature in terms of the appearance. Um , we think that a rewarded video ad video would work really well. And we made that recommendation. Um, I don't think we put any money in the game was game was already making money. They didn't need that. What they needed was our advice, our expertise, our ability to do QA. And then once it launched our ability to do user acquisition. So , um, you know, in, and then we keep, you know, the game of all the , the industry evolves. We keep making recommendations based on things that we're seeing. Um, you know, we think, you know, you should adjust the pricing. We think this kind of ad unit would be helpful. So it's about that expertise. That's the continuing Lee continually optimizing and improving the game. And that's our role as a publisher along with , um, um, sort of continuous user acquisition. So , um, at venture capitalist launched on mobile I think in February of 2015 , um , and we are , um , doing as much or more user acquisition , um, on that game as we did in the first year now , um , um, into its fifth year. That is a, you know , really longterm success story for both the developer and for us. And you can see that our role has been about growing the game, not about making it, not being the gatekeeper, deciding should again be made, but how do we get this, get this to the largest possible audience. So you mentioned just now , uh, the importance of user acquisition. One of the big things you do for your developers is user acquisition. Yes. We've talked a little bit about what that process looks like and like what are the ingredients of a successful user acquisition campaign? Uh , so you know, their , first of all, you have to have a game that people want to play. That's, I mean, that's the , the, the, the, the basic thing. Um, but that can be either a niche game or a broadly appealing game. The way user acquisition works is different in those different cases. Um, with a game that that's broadly appealing than likely. You're also gonna find advertising that's appealing. You're going to see low CPIs , um, and a lot of virality and , um, uh, um, things work in one way. If you're , if it's a more niche game, you can still find an audience, but generally you're gonna have to pay , um , a lot more per player. And then live ops becomes really crucial , um , to sort of maximizing the player value. But it's important both cases. Um, when we , um, uh, you know, the, what's user acquisition is actually kind of a hard question to answer because it's a whole process. But you know, it starts with us running ads on ad networks, whether it's, you know, on Facebook or a video ad network. Um, we have , um, a technology that tracks , um, and attributes those players into the game, watches their analytics , um, um, as they mature, predicts what their lifetime value is. And then we're constantly deciding, is this network, is this campaign, is this source, is this creative, is this working, is it profitable within whatever our goals are? Know that can depend on the game. Is it return in six weeks and 12 weeks and 52 weeks. All of these are , um , can make sense, but it depends on your goal. Um, does that answer that question? Yeah. And just to kind of go back live offs , so user acquisition one Oh one. So you mentioned CPI for example. What are the key metrics you use to kind of , what are the ingredients of , of the, of, of CP ? Yeah, so, so a CPI stands for cost per install. And um, the, the way that , um, user acquisition works is you've got an ad network and somebody who has ad inventory and they want to get a certain amount of money per ad they show. So they are always selling on what's called CPN cost per impression. Um, as a advertiser, I don't care what their CPM is, I want , um , to pay a certain amount per player that I get into the game that I know will back out to a particular lifetime value and will get me to a particular return. So I'm in between us is , um , on various ad networks and ad exchanges that sort of marry up the two different goals and figure out what ad to , um, to show to what player , um, uh , and at what cost. Um, the, the, there are two different things that , um , um, are very important. So one is , um, what percentage of players that CNET click through it. So that's called click through rate. Um, but then , um, what , uh, when they get to the store and they see the page , um , and they see a little bit more about the game, do they still want to install it? That's called , um, a CVR or conversion rate. And you need the combination , um, um, plus the amount that you're bidding , um, um, to come together. And that turns into what's called an IPM. And so this is how you rank ads against each other. And so if you have a really high click through rate and really high conversion rate, you can um, bid , um, a much lower CPI and have a competitive IPM. If you have , uh , um, hot low click through rates and low conversion rates, then you need to bet a lot more. So you see situations, if you're watching , seeing a lot of ads in games, you'll see , um, ads for hyper casual games and they're probably only bidding 50 cents per player, they get installed. But if you're seeing, you know, a , a, a big MMO, they're probably bidding, you know, 10 or $15 and they're competing against each other in equal ways. So every part of this , um, adds together to can you compete in, in the ad market , um, the base appealing us of your game, how appealing it is to a mass audience. Um, how attractive and interesting your creative is, how good your store page is at converting people. All of these things come together. All of these things matter. And then the final one is , um, how valuable our players once they get into your games. And that's when live ops is really important because , um, uh, that's w it's people spending a long time in your game investing in it in a , as a continual hobby that gets you to the point where you can, you know, bid $10 per customer and be competitive even if your creative is not as appealing.

Speaker 1:

You mentioned a return just now it's the return is ultimately that cost to acquire the customer over basically the , the , the lifetime value of that customer. Yes.

Speaker 4:

Um, and , uh, um , uh, the term we mostly use is Roe R O a S. um , return on ad spend. Um , and , uh, most companies that are S H will decide internally what their expected return on capital is. Um , and then , um, in what timing and then , uh, you know, then it becomes a simple equation. Um , w what did I pay per install and how much did I get back? And then it's just a ratio. Um, the, there's no exact right answer about what the right , um, um, uh , number is on return. That's it. That's a thing. That's your overall financials and um, are gonna tr determine, but you know, everybody wants it to be positive.

Speaker 1:

And what's also interesting is you mentioned earlier , uh , putting ads in again themselves. So you're not only an ad buyer, your games are often typically ad sellers as well.

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. Um, and uh, there's entire genres of games that are essentially making all of their money from advertising. So hyper casual that I mentioned before , uh, they're probably getting 95% or even a hundred percent of their revenue from ads. Ads can be very lucrative and ads are part of live operations as well. Um, the , uh, um, there's something that you , uh, introduced , you think about, you tweak, you think about what's going to be valuable in to a player at a particular moment, and then you can tie up a add watched to a particular award that they won . And that's not the same , um , on day one as it is on day five or day 30. Um, one of the things that we do a lot of is looking at , um, uh, what is the ad engagement rate based on the player life cycle. Um, and we see quite a, quite a few differences and you need to think about and tune what kinds of adding ad engagements you're showing based on where, what is valuable to play or at that point in the game. Shifting gears just a little bit. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Um, so something I've seen a lot in the West , um, and I did most of my early work in Asia was this idea that I see sort of about a lot

Speaker 2:

that only one to 2% of players ever pay. And that has not been my experience in, in, in games that I've worked on. So I'm curious where you think some of the biggest misinformations are and some of the things you wish developers understood about live ops.

Speaker 4:

Um, I mean, I'd say, you know, only one to 2% will ever pay is not accurate, but it's not totally inaccurate. That, I mean our , our experience is that , um, you know , uh, you know, lifetime maybe at the top end, maybe 5% will convert. It's not it, but the longer as somebody who has been playing a game a long time, if you look at somebody who's been playing the game for six months, then it'll be a 50% payer rate or 60% payer rate, then that as over time , um, it will be , um, people who keep playing will likely convert into spenders. Um, I , I'd be very interested to hear about about the, the, the, that, that higher level of conversion cause we've, we've got quite a lot of data across congregate.com and the games that we've totally off record. Yeah. Um, so one thing is that maybe genres and I, and I do think that like , uh , culture, cultural expectations around paying for games , um, affects it. So , uh, I,

Speaker 2:

I know it's crazy, but then I , when I was at arena net, our pain rate was ridiculous. The other thing I would say is that like

Speaker 4:

those are, and those are big downloadable games where like,

Speaker 2:

yeah, well yeah, it was also paid to get in, but it was 60 bucks in the door. So [inaudible] better be real good. Those players should be able to over the wall . But yes . But yeah, next on it was, it was really, really high. We aimed very, very high and I actually, one of the reasons I often talk to people about it, even if we can't get into those numbers, is I do worry that sometimes, especially when you're dealing with a genre that we know is a high retention Shondra and like a big chance to turn into hobbies that you scare away potential spenders by focusing too much on this idea that, well, I need my 2% to pay me $10,000 a week, so I'm going to monetize towards $10,000 spends per player when you're actually going to probably drive away a lot of authors who would be perfectly happy to have a lifetime value of a a hundred dollars .

Speaker 4:

Yeah. And I, so the way we think about it in the way we talk about it is that we want , um , the, we , we want players spending 20 bucks per month, 20 to 50 bucks per month and then, and then , um, what matters. So when we, when we, I did a sort of correlation and like study of , uh , of, of, okay . Um, uh , between lifetime value and the most important , um, and overall monetization and game success. And the biggest, the most important stat was , um, uh , um, average number of purchases provider and that, and because it's , um, does the game make you wanna stay? Does the game make you want to continue investing that the average that the average purchase , um, w had no correlation at all. What it was, is do people want to keep investing? So I'm , I'm completely on board with, I, we completely agree with you. I just haven't seen, seen, seen a 30% numbers or , yeah, but we don't really see that. You don't really see those numbers and, but that's something that that may change over time. Right. That , um, that as you, you sort of like the fortnight generation who bought skins and in a free game when they're 17, they probably are gonna have a different expectation going into other games in the future. Like, like I think there is something to that that first purchase that first getting, getting into a game being this is worth it to me. And then if it is worth it to you then afterwards it's easier probably in other games I think, I think I certainly experienced that myself. Um , what we focused on a lot is um, uh , repurchase rate. So , um, less on, on initial purchase rate. It does not matter. We, we like we don't try to optimize is that we we try to focus on focus on and focus developers on is how many go on to make a second purchase because that reflects, you know, was it a good value? You can, you can sort of artificially boost initial conversion by putting together a super good deal that tanks your economy and , or, or, or some other thing. Um, what we want is sort of sustained investment and , um, the , uh , signs that a player's really perceived value in what they purchased. So , um, like I, we consider it , um, absolute minimum that there's at least a 50% repurchase rate. And , um , in our best games we'll see 60 or 70% purchase rate. And that's then that's one of the numbers, sort of hidden numbers that we like to focus on.

Speaker 1:

So I think some of the early social and mobile games that came out, you know, had a very almost , um, they almost saw their players like walking wallets, you know, there's this sort of, and , and an emphasis on monetization, you know, as a, as a system. And the game was really sort of artificially, I think , uh, give, give the whole free to play space, a kind of bad taste in people's mouth early on. And I think that's starting to shift now, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on a , how that's shifting and sort of what advice you give your game developers to avoid some of those negative , uh, longterm repercussions.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. So , uh , um , like I've been preaching about this for a long time. I did a , did a GDC talk called building games for the longterm back, I think in 2014 w um, which is , um, you know, we really tried to highlight that what matters the most is the longterm engagement of players. Are they continuing to enjoy and love your game , um, for a long time. And that is , uh , and the anything that is that that social mobile stuff where there were Gates and really punishing things and sort of pushing it people in was not inviting them to make a game, a hobby. In fact, it was inviting them to, to leave. And even if they spent, they probably resented, you know, feeling forced into it. You want, you want people to be, you know, running to the store and being excited to spend because I want to do this thing not to feel coerced. Um, and, and I think that , um, you know, the longer free to play has existed in a Broadway and the West, the long , the more that people have come to understand that it is about that longterm relationship. And sort of eased up on the initial monetization and focused on that longterm engagement. Um, I think that , um, in the last few years, another thing that's helped actually is the ride of ride is of ad monetization because then you, you , you don't have to get that $5 out of, out of , um, a particular person who doesn't necessarily want to spend or isn't comfortable spending. You can , um, you know , uh, add up , um , um, you know, sort of , uh, drips and drabs of monetization. But I think people often sort of underestimate how, you know, how effective ads can be. Um, the CPM is quite good people in engage and it's , um , one of the things I really kind of enjoy is that , um, I'm seeing customer service emails , um, uh, coming in complaining that ads have broken, right. Um, and , uh, w you know, because people really want to get their rewards and they're upset that the ad isn't working. Okay . Then that's, that, that's a, that's a great side of it , um, of , of engagement. And I, and it, I think it , um , um, has helped support a more balanced monetization. Um, and, and get us away from that idea that you, that you have to be designing for. Um , um, players who spend 10,000, I think $10,000. I think adventure capitalist is a great example of a game that's been very successful over a long time. Um, where , um, you know, you, I think spending tends to cap out at, you know, maybe a hundred dollars, right? Like not, not very deep investment. Um, but there's, it's balanced with , um, good ad monetization and longterm retention and we're able to do profitable UAE . Um, it's not just one way of thinking , um, on , um, you know, but the, we also shouldn't be afraid of people who want to invest a certain amount. Um, um, uh, cause games are hobbies. And if we think about people, most hobbies that exist , um, there tends to be some percentage of very passionate people who will invest quite a bit. Um, and , um, I personally do that. Um , I'm a amateur figure skater and I once added up, you know, when I added up how much I spend on competitive figure skating per year and I'm a big spender. Um, I , uh, and I completely understand , um, that this is not how quite a few other people would spend their money, but it's worth it to me. I'm passionate about it. And , um, I think that is , uh, the thing that people should understand about , um , um, people spending in games. It's not, you know , uh, it's not kids. It's generally , um, um, older adults who love something. Um , and often our trade, you know, have more money than time and are trading that off. And so , uh, if there's nothing wrong with the game making that available to somebody who wants to spend , um, but there is something wrong with a a game, sort of forcing that path on everybody and making it , um, sort of , uh , unfeasible to compete unless you're doing that. So it's, again, it's about, it's about balance and understanding player types and I'm designing for them .

Speaker 2:

One of the things that I think has been most challenging for me to help developers understand, especially developers coming from more traditional games as product or AAA, is satisfaction and how to measure satisfaction. Because when you're in a live ops game, a game that's dependent on live ops, it almost doesn't matter that much. If people are excited for something, it only really matters if after they've done it, they're happy and the same as spending. It only really matters if after they spent, they're happy with the thing they bought because they have to do it again later. And that's where like we focus on the repurchase helps show satisfaction. Yeah . Really cool. Do you have any other stats you guys use? Cause I find sad especially can be difficult to measure. Yeah.

Speaker 4:

Um, so one that we look at quite a bit is , um, and I don't know that there's an official , uh, like industry term for this, but it's our daily return rate after day 30. So you don't wanna that first month is a sort of a special time where, you know, most people players are engaging and , and, and after a certain point they drop off. But if you've been playing a game for a full month, then you've created it created a real relationship. Um, so we look at how, what percentage of players are returning who are over a day 30 are returning the next day. Um, and um, we like to see that at a minimum, around 80%. Um, and , um, um, between in the, in the range, the range is generally 80 to 90%. Uh, and that's a, that is, it's not a complete picture. Right. Um, and especially certain kinds of games are going to have, you know, weekend, weekday types of spikes. It's pretty common to , to see, you know , um, you know, it drops on Monday, it's on Friday, things like that. Um, but it, it's another picture of, of satisfaction and also really helps us to keep an eye on when you push an update, have you screwed things up in a major way, right? Like , um, or in some cases , um, when you push an update, have you really made it more engaging? Um, um, the , uh, hyper hippo team , um, did a really big , uh , uh, revamp on it on a game adventure , communist . And one of the things that quickly showed me that this has been a good thing was that, that that percentage , um, re went up dramatically. And , um, uh, and so you keep an eye on that. I think , um, you know, it's, there's never one stat that shows you the full picture. You need to look at a, you know, five or six to kind of sort of sort of graph a, a fuller, more 3d picture of what's going on. Um, but you know, number of sessions, session times , um, you know, other types of retention metrics , um, are really valuable. Um, uh, repeat purchase rates. It's also really important to never look at your stats , um, um, or only look at your stats in aggregate. It's really important to understand. Um, okay , how does it look D zero to D one, how does it look? D D two, D D seven D seven to [inaudible] like understand where, what the points in your game, where the game , uh, game experience changes and make sure that you're breaking out, you know, both retention revenue and return rate , um , by those. So you can see , um, what's happening. A lot of times you can make, you can make a change that is good for one group and bad for another group and , um, and lose that in the aggregate.

Speaker 2:

So how does that, do you think if you had advice for game developers, how can they better design to make it possible for them to do that? Cause I think that sometimes it can also be really challenging for them to know how do I make a game that, you know, their , their primary goal is make it fun. But then how do I make sure as a game that I can keep working on and I can keep making more satisfying, I can measure correctly.

Speaker 4:

Um, uh, I think that's a hard question. I think , um, but I do think it's important to think about when you build systems is , um, uh, is think about , uh, what interesting choices that could lead to, right? Like , um, there something may have interesting choices the first five times you do it and not thereafter. Um, and , uh, ultimately to have a game be extensible and , um, and for a longterm, you want to be able to introduce new interesting choices, not overwhelming them, but , um, and that's an important thing to consider in , in the design spaces. Um, there's, there are certain mechanics which are just incredibly fun for a shorter period of time and can't be , uh, um, but you, you can't go that deep on and that's a great hyper casual game. Right? Um, and so, so some of it is, you know, is designing for interesting choices and launch and accessibility , but some of it is saying, okay, this is fun, but it's only fun for this time and I'm going to , uh, um, um, either make it a mini game and a game or I'm going to , um , make it a hyper casual game and , and, and just ex ex ex except something for what it is. Right. Well, what's an example?

Speaker 2:

Looking a little closer on that, you know, example of a system that is more of a D zero system versus like a D two through seven system versus maybe D 30 plus type system.

Speaker 4:

Um, let's see. Uh, so I think you can see that quite a bit in idle games where like the, like the first day is just, I'm the, what you're trying to do is unlock , um, the next business, the next business, the next business. But that gets a little unlocking the next business and having numbers go up. It does get a little boring , um, after, after a few days. But yeah , it's really interesting for the, for the first few days then , um, you know, a system that uh, could come in is, so , um, you might have a character system where a character, one character boosts a particular type of output versus another. And then now you have all of your, your, your purchasing decisions, but you can choose from some limited set, do I invest more into a character that's gonna boost this part of the economy or another character that's gonna boost that. So you've added, you've added some layers to that. Um, then , um, you know, keep going with that. You can add new currencies, new characters that interact in different ways. And that could be, say a D 30. Um, and then maybe a D 90, what you need is a competitive events , something that's limited time where you're competing with other players and you're sort of starting from scratch. Um, or uh , it's a, it's a, it's a particular guilt mode. So , um, or you're creating guilds . So those are different things that you can interact with once you've really mastered something, how can you make it interesting again, but you also don't want to make something that somebody invested in useless and that's the balance. Um, but um , that's the , the adding on, adding on, adding on. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

It really depends on your goals , right? We used to have a rule of thumb that was power progression last two years max. So if you want to make a game about power progression where like you just get more and more powerful, it goes about two years and then you hit a wall and sometimes that's great. Yeah. Sometimes you're like, yes, I want to run cycle for two years. And then that's the length of the game and the, you know, the community they build up around it is super happy with it. And we'll move on to another ones . You never know.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. Yeah. And um, you know, a certain kinds of genres have a longer lifespan . Um, and uh, I think , uh, the , um, but they can, or they have , um, they have a lifespan that's dependent on new content pushes. So where you need new levels, you need new design and as long as you keep feeding that people will keep staying. Right. But that's quite a content treadmill. So , um, you know, ideally it's , uh, you can um, add , um, interest and new challenges without it always being new content, new content

Speaker 2:

you'd hope. And a lot of times, traditionally game designers think that the Holy grail, there's other players, right? So you get a lot of this sort of conventional wisdom that the way that you make a game stay fresh as you add other players into it. Do you, do you think that that is still true and do you think that will continue to be true?

Speaker 4:

Um , I think it's true for some players. Um, but , uh, uh, some, I think they're , you know, there's great models of player motivation. Um, and , uh, some people are motivated by competition and some people are alienated by competition. And so what works for, for some players is not gonna work for others. If you have a broad audience game, then you need to think about more than just competition. And I think there's great examples of games that have continued to extend without relying on , on competition. But you can also think about it. Um, but you know, other players do matter a lot and players can matter. Other players can matter in different ways. So sometimes it's competition, but sometimes it's cooperation. Sometimes it's , um, it's just community and the sense of , um, of appreciation for what you've built.

Speaker 3:

[inaudible]

Speaker 2:

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.