The Art of LiveOps

Create Win-Win Scenarios w/ Bryan Mashinter: The Art of LiveOps S2E11

October 22, 2020 James Gwertzman and Crystin Cox Season 2 Episode 11
The Art of LiveOps
Create Win-Win Scenarios w/ Bryan Mashinter: The Art of LiveOps S2E11
Show Notes Transcript

Bryan Mashinter, a true LiveOps expert, packs so much actionable wisdom into this episode it’s practically bursting at the seams. Listen to learn why you should be focused on creating win-win scenarios, why you need more content than you think you do, how many events in a row is too many, and so much more! 

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James Gwertzman (00:05):

Hello, I'm James Gwertzman.

Crystin Cox (00:06):

I'm Crystin Cox. Welcome to The Art of LiveOps podcast. Hey, James.

James Gwertzman (00:16):

Hey, Crystin.

Crystin Cox (00:16):

How's it going?

James Gwertzman (00:19):

It's going pretty good.

Crystin Cox (00:20):

Yeah, good. Me too. Today we have an issue ... I'm sorry. Okay, we can start that over.

James Gwertzman (00:28):

No, I was going to answer your question. I was like, "Well, you know, COVID, this, and-"

Crystin Cox (00:31):

I know, I know, right?

James Gwertzman (00:32):

It's all good.

Crystin Cox (00:33):

Hey, James. How's it going?

James Gwertzman (00:34):

It's going pretty good, Crystin. I'm a little cooped up at home, but otherwise excited to have these virtual conversations to give me some virtual space.

Crystin Cox (00:42):

Yeah, it's nice to be able to get to talk to all these interesting people, and today we have another interesting person that I believe you invited on.

James Gwertzman (00:50):

We do. Yeah, I've known Bryan for a long time, and Bryan is fun because he was at the forefront of mobile games, and LiveOps and mobile games. And he was there in the early days of DragonVale and some really cool stuff from Backflip.

Bryan Mashinter (01:06):

I'm Bryan Mashinter. I'm the VP of Live Games at Wooga in Berlin, Germany. I've been here for about three years. Actually, three years this week. Before that, I was at Backflip Studios in Boulder, Colorado for about six years. That studio made games like Paper Toss, NinJump, Ragdoll Blaster, DragonVale, and before that, a couple of other studios. And then, before that, a whole other career as a wrestling coach, and an algebra teacher, and a licensed minister. Not just the internet kind. So I've done a bunch of different things, but my games career has all been mobile.

James Gwertzman (01:38):

And now he is at Wooga from Berlin, another cutting-edge mobile game company with a lot of advanced LiveOps. And Bryan's really, I think, a master practitioner, nowadays, of the art of LiveOps. And so I think we're going to get some really meaty, fun, deep discussions. And I think there's going to be a lot of really good value on today's interview, so I can't wait to get this conversation going.

Crystin Cox (02:01):

Yeah, me too. I'm excited to hear what he has to say. Let's get to it.

James Gwertzman (02:03):

All right. Well, and DragonVale was a really notable title. I remember DragonVale as one of the first, right around the same time as Smurf Village, if I remember correctly.

Bryan Mashinter (02:18):

Yep, it was right around the same time, because I remember there was the Smurfberries controversy, about how much they cost. And they sort of stepped into that and tread some of those waters right before us, which we appreciated, because they taught us some things to do and some things not to do. So yeah, DragonVale was 2011, I think it was maybe the number four top-grossing app on the iPhone, number one on the iPad. It was back when there was not universal SKUs for everything. So yeah, that was a while ago, and then it's actually still running today.

James Gwertzman (02:56):

Wow. Yeah, Backflip was bought by Hasbro, if I'm not mistaken?

Bryan Mashinter (03:01):

Correct. They were bought by Hasbro and then they actually just shut down about roughly a year ago. I don't know, I'm sort of not great at time. I'm awesome at the last two weeks, and anything beyond that is a bit of a mystery to me. So I always tell people I've got a lot of RAM and terrible hard drive space.

James Gwertzman (03:26):

Right, right. You're over the [crosstalk 00:03:27]-

Crystin Cox (03:26):

Nice metaphor. But yeah, I think it's interesting to think back at that time, though, because when you guys were making DragonVale, mobile gaming that we think of today really was not anywhere in the same space, right? Things were changing really rapidly, we hadn't really settled into the kind of ubiquitous access that we have now. What were you guys aiming for? When you guys were conceiving of DragonVale, what were your thoughts and aspirations?

Bryan Mashinter (03:59):

So it's two things: I can tell you about some of the inspiration, but I can tell you just from a studio standpoint, we actually released a game called Army of Darkness: Defense, and it was a castle defense game based on the IP of Army of Darkness, the old movie.

Crystin Cox (04:15):

Oh, cool.

Bryan Mashinter (04:16):

And it was a premium title and we put IAP in it. So it was not free-to-play or pay-to-play. And at the time, the market was, they weren't sure how they felt about in-app purchase. And we designed it so that you could play the game, never spend a dime. But if you were impatient or wanted the chainsaw hand early, you could spend money. And we realized we were making so much more money via IAP than we were the premium sales.

Bryan Mashinter (04:44):

And then on Apple, we had to have a free app of the week, I think it was. And we did that for one week, and all of the sudden our user base and our revenue just skyrocketed. And we thought, "You know, that next game should be really IAP focused."

Bryan Mashinter (05:01):

So we were looking at what was out there, what inspired us, and then we saw ... Sometimes you're looking for a hole in the market and sometimes you're just looking for somebody who's making money almost in spite of themselves. And so we saw a couple of games on the market that we thought, "How is this doing so well?" We didn't really understand it, so Tap Zoo and Pocket Frogs. So Pocket Frogs is this genome-splicing, breeding of your frogs, and collection game. And then Pocket ... Not Pocket Zoo, what was it called? Tap Zoo. Tap Zoo, it was just build a virtual zoo, but the animals just stood there, but you still wanted to collect it and you still wanted to build it.

Bryan Mashinter (05:48):

And we thought if we could combine those things, where you could have ... Imagine if those things could live and breathe; imagine if they were more magical than a giraffe, but a dragon. And then, also, the mixture of what happens when you mixed a fire dragon and an ice dragon, and what are the combinations that can happen there? So that was kind of our inspiration for the game itself.

Bryan Mashinter (06:15):

An then I would say I really kind of cut my LiveOps teeth on that game as well, because it was both a bit of a content treadmill, like releasing new dragons, and new island space, and that kind of stuff. But then it was also how do you run an event? How do you think about events? How do you think about engagement? How do you measure? It was kind of like as big data moved into, I think, mobile games, I was there for most of that, on that one title. \

James Gwertzman (06:45):

So-

Crystin Cox (06:49):

Was that an ... Oh, sorry. Go ahead.

James Gwertzman (06:50):

No, go ahead, go ahead. Do go ahead.

Crystin Cox (06:52):

Was that what you had intended? Did you guys know you were getting on a content treadmill? Did you know you were going to be doing all these LiveOps activities when you launched the game?

Bryan Mashinter (07:03):

No, I would say we were wholly unprepared for our own success. And so I think I remember having a meeting about how much content did we have when we went to soft launch. And then our soft launch numbers were so good, we decided to push up the release date without really thinking through, "How much content do we actually have and how fast do we need to produce it in order to keep people happy?"

Bryan Mashinter (07:34):

So we jumped on a treadmill moving much faster than we expected. I think, and then, whatever you think, and this is just advice to anybody planning LiveOps or content production, however fast you think somebody is going to go through your content, you are wrong and they will go faster, especially because in a free-to-play economy you are literally selling them the ability to move faster, usually. And so people are going to move a little bit faster than you think, and I think we thought we had 30 days of content and it ended up being like nine.

James Gwertzman (08:16):

Wow, yeah. I was going to ask about the technology, because if you were just getting started, the early days, you mentioned big data moving into mobile, that tells me also you probably were building all of your infrastructure yourselves. And I'd love to hear a little bit about what you built and in what order, and how you decided what you needed to be successful.

Bryan Mashinter (08:38):

Oh, wow. That is a good question. I would like to reference my earlier comment about my memory. So for anybody who has a better memory than me and who was on my team, please forgive me for butchering this if I do. But from a tools perspective, first it was like, "What are we even tracking? What are we even paying attention to? What's the important data? Is it the dragons that they buy? Is it the currency that they have on hand? How fast do they go through something? How fast can we actually make it?"

Bryan Mashinter (09:17):

So I think a lot of our tools early were pipeline, "How do we get dragons faster? How do we build content faster?" And then when it comes to what we decided to build, I also think we listened a lot to the community. What was the things that we thought was going to interest and excite them, whether it was a day-night cycle or even just item storage and those types of things.

Bryan Mashinter (09:41):

So I think we listened to them a lot, so a lot of the tools were pipeline-related. And then it was hooking up the data to having a tableau dashboard, to paying attention to our day-to-day retention, being able to pay attention to our monetization and understand what was a high day, what was a low day, what were people buying, what were they interested in? And then trying to suss out what was the event cadence?

Bryan Mashinter (10:09):

This was an interesting thing that we needed to figure out, which was if we ran an event, was it high engagement or low engagement? How did we build the design of that? Was it meant to be challenging or was it meant to be pretty easy? How many people got through that? What percentage of people? How did they feel about that? And then when we designed the next events, and then what was the ...

Bryan Mashinter (10:34):

Because we wanted to avoid sounding like a mattress salesman, which was every weekend, every weekend was, "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday." And also just recognizing that people have a finite amount of time, energy, and money they're willing to invest, and finding a cadence that felt good for them and for us.

James Gwertzman (10:52):

Actually, let's talk about that, because now that I think about it, Crystin, we actually haven't talked much about the cadences on this podcast yet. And I know that, for example, talking to the folks at Super-Ape, in London, I know they talked a lot about managing their event calendar, so you never have really big events back to back. You have a really big event, where it's super intensive; then, you have a bunch of small events that are much lighter weight, to give people kind of a recovery time, not unlike pacing the tempo of an action movie: We have the big chase scene and then you have a recharge period. [crosstalk 00:11:25]-

Bryan Mashinter (11:25):

Absolutely.

Crystin Cox (11:28):

Yeah, so-

Bryan Mashinter (11:29):

Go ahead.

Crystin Cox (11:30):

I would be curious to hear, especially, we're talking a lot about your experience the first time you ever did this, but maybe talk a little bit about how you approach it now. Now that you've had some experience, when you are going in to do event planning for games now, what are you thinking about? What are you doing?

Bryan Mashinter (11:50):

I would say it's actually a really similar approach, I just now have much more informed hypotheses. But each game is different, each audience is different, their capacity and their fatigue is a little bit different. But I would say it's a very similar methodology, and one of them is just be willing to break it. And this is just good advice for LiveOps, hopefully not in a catastrophic way, but you kind of have to be willing to push to understand where is the line?

Bryan Mashinter (12:20):

I remember, specifically on DragonVale, we did back-to-back-to-back events. So we did a two-week event, a two-week event, and a two-week event with no ... And this was maybe our seventh, eighth, and ninth event or something. But we did that on purpose because we tried back-to-back and we saw lower numbers in the second event, but they were still better than our everyday numbers, our non-event numbers. And then when we looked at the recovery time from just a single event, and then when we did back-to-back, the recovery time was actually very similar.

Bryan Mashinter (12:55):

So whether you did back-to-back or just one big event, the recovery time was roughly a week to 10 days. So then we tried three and, by the way, that's a bad idea. So in general, that's a bad idea if it's the same type of event or it requires kind of the same thing. And so I've always thought of events as requiring, usually, high engagement or ... It's usually high engagement, higher reward; low engagement, lower reward. But in either case, it's meant to be something that's kind of delightful, and sometimes it's just nice to come in.

Bryan Mashinter (13:39):

I always think of the levels in Mario or the levels where it's just a "run through the treasure" level. Occasionally you need that. It's like, "Man, that was intense. I just want to run through some gold coins for a second." And if you can design an event, even, that feels that way, where it's just a day, you show up for a day and it's just "run through a field of coins", that feels awesome to players, and it feels like you've rewarded them for the hard work that they've been done.

Bryan Mashinter (14:08):

So for instance, like right now, on June's Journey, we have time-limited events that have, maybe it's a weekly or biweekly cadence. It kind of also depends ... It's so much more sophisticated now, like when does it start, when does it end, how long is it, what is the investment required, what are the prizes? There's so much more personalization involved in LiveOps nowadays as well. So it has really shifted. But the overall high-level what is your audience's threshold for engagement? How much time and energy are they willing to put in before you start to break them, or before they just think it feels like a chore?

Bryan Mashinter (14:54):

I remember playing EverQuest II, and I used to love crafting. But then I remember, I would come home from work, I would sit down, I would start crafting on EverQuest and realize that I left work to go to work, and so I quit. So it was no longer delightful. Now it was just, "How many wolf pelts do I need today?" So yeah, I think what delights us today is required tomorrow, right? And that, I think, is something that I always think about with events.

James Gwertzman (15:29):

I would love to jump in and expand on two points you made just now: the personalization point, and I'd love to know more about how you personalize and what that looks like, in terms of how narrowly do you segment and is it a one-on-one basis or is it a handful of segments that you target differently? I'd love to learn more about that.

James Gwertzman (15:49):

And I'd also like to know about your forecasting for events. As you're planning your event calendar, how accurately do you try to forecast what's going to happen, and how on or off are you, typically? And when you're off, what does that teach you? Because I'm very interested in this notion of ... I'm amazed at how well certain teams can predict their events, how it's going to perform.

Bryan Mashinter (16:12):

Yeah. Now we're getting into the dangerous ... I hope I don't say something I'm going to get in trouble for, James.

James Gwertzman (16:18):

Oh, yeah. Sure, sure.

Bryan Mashinter (16:20):

I'm going to do my best to not give too much away here.

James Gwertzman (16:23):

Of course.

Bryan Mashinter (16:24):

I can hear the lawyers behind me. You can see they're not, but I can feel them. So when it comes to personalization, what I can say is specifically, I'm speaking for Wooga. Obviously, we're part of the Playtika group. But this is specifically about Wooga, and I would say one of the reasons we actually really liked Playtika as a partner is, I would say, that they're a bit more sophisticated than we are, and we're kind of catching up.

Bryan Mashinter (16:53):

But from a personalization standpoint, there's in-game behaviors, right? So there's session length and that kind of stuff that you can know to segment people by. But there's also some psychographic details: What type of player are they? Are they a decorator? Are they somebody ... So it's also player style as well. So you can kind of understand the type of player they are based on their behavior. And then one of the things that I'm really proud of is we did this in-game survey. This was kind of like marketing and product really working together, where we did an in-game survey to understand our players.

Bryan Mashinter (17:31):

So it came in their inbox and said, "Hey, would you be willing to take a survey to help us understand what you want and who you are?" And it was not a short survey. And then at the bottom of that was like, "Hey, would you allow us to attach this to your in-game stuff?" And a significant portion of folks said, "Yeah, go ahead. We don't care." And that helped us, we handed that over to our data science team to be able to create these five different segments of players: The story-driven, non-competitive; the highly competitive player; the social competitive; the social cooperative.

Bryan Mashinter (18:16):

And we had these different segments of players, and then we were able to tailor some in-game stuff, either messaging or even advertising, looking for those folks. So even at the other end of the funnel, trying to create ads that get those types of players into our game, and then deliver them hopefully things that are useful to them. So a decorator might want a bundle that has a decoration in it as an isometric item, or somebody who's not much of a decorator, for them it might be a five-star box or some other kind of ... So I would say it's a relatively rudimentary application of a pretty good amount of understanding.

Crystin Cox (18:56):

Man, I'm fascinated by this. So this was people self-identifying as these things-

Bryan Mashinter (19:02):

Right, absolutely.

Crystin Cox (19:02):

Through a survey. And this might be getting too deep, but have you gone back to see if people who self-identified the same way actually act similarly in game?

Bryan Mashinter (19:14):

Yep.

Crystin Cox (19:16):

Do they?

Bryan Mashinter (19:18):

Most of the time, yes, actually. Most of the time, people, when they say they're going to be, "Oh, I really am motivated by this ..." But then again, it's kind of like when you look at the Bartle types, very few people go, "I'm a killer," especially 50-year-old women who's a really large portion of our June's Journey audience. They're not the like, "I'm the killer," but some of them, fiercely competitive, and that's kind of the same thing. So sometimes the verbage gets in the way, but in general people are pretty good at that, about being able to understand why they play a game.

Crystin Cox (20:02):

That's really fascinating, because I think that there's this [inaudible 00:20:05] idea that people are very bad at self-identifying themselves, so much so that I've actually seen ... And I love surveys, I'm a big fan of in-game surveys, but I'm surprised at how often I hear developers push back and say, "Well, but we can't really trust anything that players say in a survey." So this is an interesting data point.

Bryan Mashinter (20:30):

I think it's one of these things, it's "trust but verify", which again, it's one of the credos of all things LiveOps, "Trust but verify," because it is also their ability to self-identify maybe in the ways that you are thinking and the ways that they're thinking aren't the same. And then specifically with our audience, they're a bunch of people who don't consider themselves gamers, and so it's trying to help them understand why they play something. So yeah, I would say I understand where developers are coming from, because also, all surveys are pre-biased for people who will take a survey.

James Gwertzman (21:11):

Right.

Crystin Cox (21:11):

Right.

James Gwertzman (21:12):

Well, one question I've got of one of the things I've seen some games do is ... I'll call it the "micro survey", where you take a survey, but instead of making them sit through a 20-question survey all at once, you split it up and you ask one question. I think Riot does this sometimes, they have a whole player assessment team that asks one question at the end of a level, and then they aggregate that over time, where they add questions up over time and they actually get a pretty good composite view. I don't know if you've ever done that or ...

Bryan Mashinter (21:40):

We have not. We've talked about some shorter versions or maybe trying to find out specific things. We have run shorter surveys than this more deep psychographic survey to find out specific things, but I would say I would not be surprised if Riot is doing something to a degree of sophistication that maybe I am not.

James Gwertzman (22:02):

Well, yeah. The other question I have is about machine learning, and I know some game developers are starting to apply machine learning to try and, "Ah, let the computer figure out the personalization. Let the computer figure out who my clusters are," and I'm curious if, without giving anything away you can't talk about, if you've looked at that at all yet?

Bryan Mashinter (22:22):

I would say that our data science team clearly created some models to train, but as far as the depth of the machine learning, that's probably a step beyond my ability to speak about intelligently. That's where I just look at Vlad, who is our head of data science, and just recognize that dude is smarter than I am. And I ask him questions, and he kind of will [inaudible 00:22:46].

James Gwertzman (22:45):

Yeah, okay.

Crystin Cox (22:48):

I'd love to get back to James' other question though, so we don't lose them in the shuffle-

Bryan Mashinter (22:52):

Of forecasting?

Crystin Cox (22:53):

How much forecasting do you do? Do you find it useful, is it a part of your process?

Bryan Mashinter (23:00):

Yes, so forecasting is a part of our process. I think it sort of has to be, especially, again, in free-to-play, in a mobile ... User acquisition is such an important part, and knowing who your audience is, knowing what your revenue is going to be, knowing what those things are going to look like, and being able to forecast that with some degree of accuracy is really important to be able to understand and set your budgets. But specifically when it comes to the events, we built a dashboard, so we have a dashboard that says, "Here's what's going on today."

Bryan Mashinter (23:36):

Maybe there's a life cycle offer, and for us a life cycle offer is if you hit a certain point of your life cycle, like maybe you hit a certain level, or maybe you hit a certain point in the story, or maybe you hit a certain point in your diamonds or whatever, and we go, "Hey, here's a thing." So we have some of those things that are happening, and we have a dashboard that tracks what's going on from our LiveOps. So is there a limited-time event? Is there a life cycle offer? Are we being promoted? Do we have a 2x2 or a 1x1 sale?

Bryan Mashinter (24:08):

Did we introduce a new isometric item? We have these monthly sets and these seasonal sets that come with things. So we have a dashboard that tracks everything that is happening on a day-by-day basis. That gets trained over time, and then when we plan the month ahead, you take a look at that and go, "Okay, here's kind of what we think it will be." So it's never pure science, but we're trying to get better at it.

Crystin Cox (24:36):

Nice. Do you set specific goals for your events? You definitely talked about, early on, a lot of the events are about experimentation and trying to figure out where your rhythm is. Does that carry on? Does that change over time?

Bryan Mashinter (24:50):

So I would say that you hopefully get to a cadence where you understand what you're doing, and why you're doing it, and trying to find that optimal for a while. But like I said, anything that delights your players today will bore them soon. So you're always looking to find, whether it's a new event type, whether it's a new feature, a new cadence, a way to surprise them. So I would say there's always kind of one level of solid planning, and then there's always kind of an experimental track.

Crystin Cox (25:20):

Yeah, that's another universal LiveOps truth you're saying there.

Bryan Mashinter (25:25):

Absolutely. Even on the UA side, our UA people have an experimental budget to try a new channel, to try a new constellation of an ad package. They have an experimental budget, because these people are so numbers driven, and so ROI kind of focused that we almost had to section off a portion of the budget to say, "Please experiment," because if we just do the same thing over and over again, we're never going to innovate and we're never going to get ahead of the competition.

Crystin Cox (26:01):

Yeah, you just reach these local maximums, right? And I think that speaks to, as you said, this interesting cycle that happens in LiveOps, where you're optimizing, optimizing, optimizing, but even that, you can't just go down that road. You also have to leave that time for iteration and experimentation.

Bryan Mashinter (26:20):

Yeah, I always think of ... There's kind of three phases of development: There's the ideation, the iteration, and the implementation or the optimization. So you always have to be trying to think of the next big idea. It's important that you look at the ideas you've already implemented and see ways to improve them, and then sometimes it's just the implementation work, the bottom line, "Got to get some stuff done."

Crystin Cox (26:44):

"Got to get it done."

Bryan Mashinter (26:44):

Yeah.

Crystin Cox (26:46):

So shifting gears a little, you talked about the longevity of something like DragonVale, and this always fascinates me about mobile, because I came from more of an MMO background, to get that kind of longevity, traditionally the game has to, at some point, start thinking about the community, right?

Crystin Cox (27:05):

Not just what's happening at that moment that you're playing the game, but how does the community exist for the game? How do you tackle that, especially having had such a success with something like DragonVale? How do you approach that when you're putting new things together or managing the games you have at Wooga now? How do you think about community on mobile?

Bryan Mashinter (27:27):

Good question. So again, with DragonVale, I cannot state enough that we were so unprepared for our own success that the community, there was a wikia that jumped up about DragonVale, about the content, the releases, the dragons, the breeding combinations. We didn't create it, fans did. And at one point, it was a more useful resource than anything we had internally.

James Gwertzman (27:53):

Not uncommon.

Crystin Cox (27:55):

Yeah, not uncommon.

Bryan Mashinter (27:56):

So eventually we're like ... And then we get some crazy fan theories, and then it was like writers for Lost, just started listening to them too much. Anyway, now I can say much more thoughtful about it. So, and we had the advantage for June's Journey because we had Pearl's Peril as well, so we had a built-in community. And because Wooga really started on Facebook, I would say community minded and knowing where they were was kind of inherent in the genesis of the company.

Bryan Mashinter (28:32):

So we've got ... We call them "cabbies", but we've got our own groups and sub-groups, kind of almost some of the psychographic sub-groups exist on Facebook. There's a decorators group, there's a Captain's Challenge for Pearl's Peril. There's a bunch of communities and groups that have grown up around how they play the game, and then I would say we're pretty active as well in our community. In fact, something that I did at both places was we flew members of the community and our fans to our offices. So it was Fanfare, Backflip, and then for June's Journey we flew out some of our fans.

Bryan Mashinter (29:18):

They had to put together a video about why they were the biggest June's fan. We were able to contact them, and we pulled them from all over the world. They all came to Berlin, we showed them around, we took them to Museum Island, to a nice dinner. We got the composer of the music of the game to come show up and play music for them live. They got to meet the team and do some Q&A, they got to see one of our new games in development. And so I think one of the core values at Wooga is being close to our players.

Bryan Mashinter (29:49):

And so for us, I think community is super important. When it comes to tools, I would say we're mostly, right now, it's mostly, I would say, social media, Facebook and Twitter. We're not really on Discord because our audience isn't on Discord. So, but I think it's Supercell, I went to Supercell, to a community event that they had, like a community experience event, and how different it is for each of their games, how they really work with their community, because they kind of just meet them where they are.

Crystin Cox (30:25):

Right.

James Gwertzman (30:27):

Well, I would ... Oh, sorry. Go ahead, Crystin. I was going to ask about community events, and when you think about your event calendar, what's an example of an event that might be more community minded or cooperative, versus an event that might be more competitive or individual related? Or do you even think about events that are designed to boost a community versus individual player engagement?

Bryan Mashinter (30:48):

So in Pearl, we had the Captain's Challenge. In June's, we just put in clubs and competitions, and then coming soon, another thing there. Almost said something, almost got myself in trouble there. And so I would say some of those are kind of like miniature communities but not full communities. I would say some of the things that we have done is we've done ... It's not in-game, but we have done an anniversary. So we had a big anniversary event. So we kept releasing a new video each day on our Facebook, but we also released a new item or thing in an event in the game every day as well.

Bryan Mashinter (31:31):

And so we did those things in tandem to kind of let those things become a feedback chamber for itself. So we have done some of things for major feature releases or anniversaries. But in general I would say the most recent thing we did was actually with the WHO, the Play Apart Together. We were one of the companies with the Play Apart Together with the COVID-19 lockdown to say, "Hey, it's okay to play together while you're at home by yourself."

Crystin Cox (32:04):

Nice. So I think a lot of smaller developers tend to be a bit intimidated by community, and they tend to leave it because they're not really sure how to tackle it. Do you have any advice, especially for teams that might not have as much history? How do you get started?

Bryan Mashinter (32:28):

I can say that we got started, again, when we had to do this Backflip, we got started because we had a community, but they were just kind of off on their own. And so for me, it was, I think, make yourself available, and also manage expectations. I think sometimes when the community has access to the developer, it can quickly sour in one direction or the other. So I think you can just be clear with folks, "Hey, here's what we're going to be doing, here's how we're going to communicate with you, here's our goal, and we want to hear what you have to say. We will always listen.

Bryan Mashinter (33:12):

We won't always do everything that you want." And I think that's actually, it's an important thing to say to people. And then for me, I think it's also, one of the scary things about community is either not knowing how much the time involvement is going to be, or I think for us when we released [inaudible 00:33:33] was also legal. We were terrified of if somebody draws a dragon and it looks anything like a dragon we were already working on, are we going to get sued?

Bryan Mashinter (33:43):

So I think we sort of operated out of a position of fear, because we were ignorant. And so if I was going to start community at a small studio tomorrow, I would say if you can, maybe talk to somebody either at a bigger company to get some advice, or if you can, schedule a session with somebody like IP, like legal IP stuff, and just understand where your risks are. If you don't have a legal person on your staff, maybe you can find someone.

Bryan Mashinter (34:20):

There are some great games lawyers out there. I'm not going to plug anybody's name, but I'm just saying, for me, I think you can get over some of those fears just with some information, and then being as clear as you can. And then one of the things that we did early is we actually stuck with the other platforms on purpose, because if we controlled the forum or we controlled everything else, we thought we were owning the liability. Whereas, if we used the existing platforms, that kind of solved a bunch of the problems for us, whether that be Facebook or the Twitter, like the end user license agreement, that kind of stuff. We knew that we were protected by a layer of other.

Crystin Cox (35:02):

Yeah, that's a good point. I think overall in the games industry, we've seen community become more distributed and more player championed over time, right? I think the days of if you're going to launch a game you have to have your own forums are kind of over.

James Gwertzman (35:18):

Yeah, I remember people were afraid of Discord. They were like, "Oh no, it's a forum I don't control," and now I see bigger and bigger games saying, "Oh no, Discord is our forum solution. That is our channel, that is our community solution."

Bryan Mashinter (35:30):

Yeah.

James Gwertzman (35:30):

And is embracing it. You mentioned tools, and you mentioned social media tools, and you mentioned Facebook and so on. I want to talk about tools, but more internal tools such as ... And again, let's not talk about anything you can't talk about, but if you could imagine a wishlist of the ideal tools you don't have today, what would be on that wishlist? What are some things you wish you could do that maybe you can't do, or that if you're designing a new game from scratch, you'd want to have in place to help you be more successful with operating your game?

Bryan Mashinter (36:01):

That is a good question. I mean-

Crystin Cox (36:08):

[crosstalk 00:36:08] the future of LiveOps.

James Gwertzman (36:09):

Yeah, exactly. Where are we all going? Yeah.

Bryan Mashinter (36:13):

For me, the future of LiveOps, I can think of features or things, but when it comes to the tooling, I would say I feel like I have ... This is going to sound like a cop-out, so if you feel like it's too much of a cop-out, tell me, James. I invite it. But I think most of the tools, most of the things that I want, I have, and if I don't have it, it's probably because of legal or privacy reasons, meaning I wish I could know some things, not because I want to be an A-hole about it, because I think I could actually design a better experience or I could do some of those things, but for very good reasons, I don't know a bunch of stuff.

Bryan Mashinter (36:58):

And then I guess if I could wave a magic wand, it would be for all of the different platforms to magically play nicer from a tools perspective. So even, yeah, just trying to design, whether it's somebody log-in system versus somebody else's log-in system that has to be on the same level, and the same page, and the same priority, and then it just becomes ... As the platforms themselves get into a little bit of a "use our stuff" contest, I would say for developers, it means we just have to fragment the experience for our players, and that becomes, I think, frustrating.

Bryan Mashinter (37:47):

So I know that that is a big vague, but from a specific tools, there's nothing jumps to mind, like I think, "Oh, if only I had X," because I've got a pretty good toolkit and a hell of a team. But I think if I could fix something, it would be the fragmentation of the inputs and outputs for a whole pile of stuff.

James Gwertzman (38:11):

So I'm not going to call you out, because I think that was a fine answer, but you tantalized us when Crystin asked you about the future of LiveOps and you said, "Okay, look, I can think of a bunch of things that are features," but then you went to tools. Okay, I'll call you out on that: What are the features of the future of LiveOps? What are happening in games from the player perspective you think that are going to be bigger trends in the future?

Bryan Mashinter (38:38):

Oh, man.

James Gwertzman (38:38):

That you can talk about without ...

Bryan Mashinter (38:40):

No, no, no. It's not even that I can't talk about it, it's like, "I've got some ideas, man," but it's also any time you try to predict the future, I can just ... I'm going to have this recording on my machine, I'm going to listen to it six months from now. Just, I won't remember what I said six months from now, and then I'm going to have to listen to it and realize how stupid I sound. But I think you're going to see sort of the battle pass system that only exists in kind of highly-competitive games.

Bryan Mashinter (39:11):

I think you're going to see versions of that move more towards casual, because I just completed the Battle Pass season for Warzone myself, and one of the things that that does really well is it rewards both engagement and purchases. It rewards both of those things really well, and it also kind of drove me forward, where I was altering my behavior to get to the next thing, or I would fire up the game just to log in, to get a thing. So I think you'll see casual games find ways to take lessons from a battle pass and apply them to a non-competitive game. I think that that will happen.

Bryan Mashinter (39:57):

Two other things: One of them already exists, but I'm surprised it hasn't become more proliferated, which is kind of the piggy bank system, which is rewarding by behavior, throwing coins in a piggy bank, and then making me feel clever about breaking open that piggy bank and handing you three bucks, because I can make that thing worth $20 or $50 according to your own tools. I feel smart about breaking it open and giving you five bucks, and I think that to me is sort like that win-win scenario.

Bryan Mashinter (40:34):

And then one of the things that I think I would like to see us get to is gift giving as a monetization, as a real monetization thing, because my mother would never spend $5 on a game for herself, but she would for me in a heartbeat, and I think that that's a lot of people who play games. And they might not pay for something for themselves but they would do that for somebody else, for kind of that community. You talked about that community event and that community mindset.

Bryan Mashinter (41:10):

If I can spend money to help everyone benefit, people would do that. The problem is the moment you allow somebody to do that, you're just opening yourself to hackers and cheaters, and ruining your economy. But that, to me, it is a purchase psychology that exists in the world that does not exist very well digitally.

James Gwertzman (41:31):

We certainly see that, I think, in certain Korean multiplayer games, where you have, for example, guilds, where there's so much guild versus guild competition, and I almost think of it like in the bad news [inaudible 00:41:42], you always have the rich kid team, and some kid's father bought all the uniforms for the team. It's sort of the same thing, it's sort of like, "I've got the money and I'm willing to buy the uniforms for the rest of the team so we're collectively more competitive." I think that's a mechanic I think you do see in a lot of Asian games, riffing on [crosstalk 00:41:58]-

Bryan Mashinter (41:58):

Yeah, and I agree, you see it in some kind of guild competitive games. I actually went to the GamesBeat Summit a couple of years ago, and one of the sessions was with a self-identifying whale, his term, who had spent six figures in a mobile game, and his session was, "Ask me questions."

James Gwertzman (42:21):

Right, I love it.

Bryan Mashinter (42:23):

It was awesome.

James Gwertzman (42:24):

You've just given us an idea for a new podcast. Crystin, we've got to do that.

Bryan Mashinter (42:28):

It's awesome, just asking, "What could ever get you to play a different game? What could ever ..." Ask Dean Takahashi about it, I'm sure he's got it somewhere. It was awesome. But yeah, I think, so that exists at a competitive level, but I think that that could also exist in a non-competitive way, just in a ... To be able to send your friend a birthday gift is something that-

Crystin Cox (42:57):

Yeah, also, I've worked on several MMOs with that feature in it, and it was really nice. Really nice to be able to just open the store, and say, "I want to buy this but I just want to buy it for somebody else." It's very pro-social, as you said, and it is kind of a shame that it doesn't really exist on mobile, because it seems like the interface for that, and the networks, the social networks are so connected.

Bryan Mashinter (43:20):

[crosstalk 00:43:20] fragmented.

James Gwertzman (43:20):

Well, I know that Jenova Chen, and it was Sky, Jenova Chen was talking about having items in the game that you could only buy as gifts for people, that there is this notion of mechanics where you are not allowed to buy something for yourself.

Crystin Cox (43:33):

Yeah, which is a whole nother level of gifting psychology. Well, I know that we're starting to wrap up here, so we have to make sure we ask our favorite question.

James Gwertzman (43:45):

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Best part of the show.

Bryan Mashinter (43:47):

My favorite question?

James Gwertzman (43:49):

No, our favorite question.

Crystin Cox (43:50):

Our favorite question is can you share with us a LiveOps disaster from your history, please? What was your train wreck story?

Bryan Mashinter (44:01):

I literally have a few of these.

James Gwertzman (44:04):

Great.

Bryan Mashinter (44:05):

You can't be doing LiveOps for a decade and not have more than one of these.

James Gwertzman (44:07):

Exactly, that's why it's our favorite topic.

Crystin Cox (44:10):

Yep, and that's kind of the point, right? Especially for people who are starting out. Everyone's got this story, so ...

Bryan Mashinter (44:18):

It's also the sign of you can see a LiveOps veteran when the fecal matter hits the fan, and a pro's like, "Ah, this is fine. We're fine, we got this." And the new people are freaking out, like, "What are we going to do?" And you're like, "It's going to be fine," and that's when the old war stories come out.

James Gwertzman (44:37):

Right, right, right. Exactly.

Bryan Mashinter (44:39):

So this happened ... We had something go wrong recently, that's not the story I will tell. I will tell you the war story I told to calm those people down. So a bit of context: Again, in DragonVale, it was kind of Wild West-y for a little bit, but we had an event, and when the event was over, we gave away an item. It was this little iso item that was gold. It had a particle effect on it, we were very proud of it. We were so proud of it, we didn't let you sell it. You couldn't sell this item, and we did this for a couple of events.

Bryan Mashinter (45:18):

There was a thing that you could get that you couldn't even sell. That's how valuable we thought it was. But our players were like, "I don't want this anymore," some of them. And then we realized, "You know what, the agency to be able to sell that is fine. It's fine. Maybe it's going to increase our tickets when somebody accidentally sells something and they didn't mean to, but if this is what the people want, then we should do that."

Bryan Mashinter (45:44):

So we had previously unsellable items now needed a sale price, and we had a few currencies in the game, and DragonCash was this abundant resource that scaled exponentially with you, as you leveled up. And if you spent $1 early in the game and spent a $1 late in the game, the amount of DragonCash you got was wildly different. This was not true for gems. Gems was linear, they were a constant. They were our hard currency, and 4,000 gems was like 100 bucks.

Crystin Cox (46:20):

Wow, okay.

Bryan Mashinter (46:21):

And so you can see where this is going.

James Gwertzman (46:24):

I can see where this is going, yeah.

Bryan Mashinter (46:25):

Yeah, of course. So one of my designers accidentally set the sale price in gems, not DragonCash. And so it was like for thousands of gems, and so with one typo, we gave away $3.4 million worth of hard currency.

Crystin Cox (46:48):

Ooh.

James Gwertzman (46:48):

Wow.

Bryan Mashinter (46:49):

And then I had to go take it away. So we had to go into all of the game states, remove it from all the people that had sold that item, but we didn't if they sold the item, got the gems, and used the gems. They were faster than we were, and we just took that on the chin. But the look, the ashen look of terror in that guy's face when he realized he accidentally gave away over $3 million was pretty spectacular for a simple typo. And then speaking of tools, James, we then put in a tool to make sure that any sale, there was a banding system. So nothing could sell above a certain amount without triggering a warning, "Did you mean to do this?"

James Gwertzman (47:38):

Right, right, right.

Crystin Cox (47:39):

Nice.

James Gwertzman (47:39):

Right, I love that. That's cool.

Crystin Cox (47:42):

Nice, that's a good one. That's a very expensive typo. That may be the most expensive typo we've ever had on the show.

Bryan Mashinter (47:52):

It was impressive, and I remember him. He's ready to pack up his desk. He's like, "I'm assuming [crosstalk 00:47:54]," and I was like, "No, no, no. Do you have any idea how expensive it was to train you?"

James Gwertzman (47:59):

Exactly, yeah, yeah. "I just paid $3.4 million on your education."

Bryan Mashinter (48:03):

"You will never make this mistake again. You will tell this story to anyone who comes after you, you will make sure no one else makes this mistake again."

James Gwertzman (48:09):

Totally.

Bryan Mashinter (48:13):

And then eventually we took it away anyway, so ...

James Gwertzman (48:14):

Yeah.

Crystin Cox (48:15):

Yeah.

James Gwertzman (48:17):

Wow. Well, cool.

Crystin Cox (48:18):

That's great.

James Gwertzman (48:19):

Any final words of wisdom, any last thoughts?

Bryan Mashinter (48:24):

Yeah. I would say I think of LiveOps as, at a super high level, is my job is to create win-win scenarios. And I think more people would benefit from understanding if we can create a win-win scenario where both the player and the developer are happy with our LiveOps, happy with the event, happy with our prices, happy with the purchasing ... A happy customer is a return customer, a return customer makes a happy corporate.

Bryan Mashinter (48:59):

So I just think if you can think of LiveOps as an opportunity to create win-win scenarios and you can consider monetization like a promise, "If you spend five bucks, I promise you're going to feel like it was worth it," if that's how you think about those things, then I think you will design and implement better systems for your players for the longevity of your games.

Crystin Cox (49:22):

That's a great message, that's awesome.

James Gwertzman (49:26):

I love that, thank you. Perfect way to close.

Crystin Cox (49:26):

Yeah, thank you so much.

James Gwertzman (49:26):

Thank you. That was really, Bryan. Really appreciate your time.

Bryan Mashinter (49:28):

Bye.

Crystin Cox (49:29):

Yeah, thank you so much.

Bryan Mashinter (49:30):

Thank you, James. Thank you, Crystin.

Crystin Cox (49:38):

Thanks for listening to The Art of LiveOps podcast.

Bryan Mashinter (49:40):

If you liked what you heard, remember to rate, review, and subscribe so others can find us.

Crystin Cox (49:45):

And visit playfab.com for more information on solutions for all your LiveOps needs.

Bryan Mashinter (49:50):

Thanks for tuning it.