Perceived as a chore to enter data, a project management science, a perpetual search for optimization, a sales catalogue or a complex construction of activities’ campaigns, the Live Ops activity is in constant evolution.
Defined as the set of events that animate the life of an online game, whether an exclusive game mode, time-limited content or special offers, Live Ops keeps generating an ever-increasing proportion of our games’ revenues.
Since I have been working on Live Ops throughout my career in game economy design at Ludia since 2012, I am happy to share a testimony of my learnings and how my perception evolved along the projects.
Jurassic Park Builder : Where it all started
When Jurassic Park Builder was released in 2012, we were far from thinking that the game would still be active 7 years later! Its success definitively placed us among the successful developers at the time. The principle was simple: the player builds his park by collecting buildings, decorations and unlocked dinosaurs along the way with the possibility of buying exclusive ones using premium currency.
It quickly became a priority to animate the game with events. And to do so, only few possibilities were available at the time: giving discounts on virtual currencies and dinosaurs, activating exclusive dinosaurs in the market… and that was pretty much it! Other possibilities came much later but having to deal with those few tools at first taught us to improvise and be resourceful. As a designer focused on monetization (the term “game economy designer” was not yet really used at that time), I was involved in many aspects of the implementation, such as setting the schedule with marketing, making sure that everything was running smoothly with production, evaluating and proposing combinations of offers with the analysts…
And the results were there! The game was progressing relatively slowly, thus the special offers had a lot of appeal. So much actually that this lead to an abuse on our side sometimes but taught us to better manage the offers’ timing in order to create envy and stimulating events for our players. Thanks to this experience, we gathered knowledge around content management for collectible games, which was useful for all our future productions, such as our famous How to Train Your Dragon: Rise of Berk released two years later…
Jurassic World The Game: the evolution
It’s 2015, and Jurassic World The Game is in its last gestation moments. Thanks to successful testing on other games, it benefited from a whole set of improvements and features: dinosaurs combats and different creatures’ environments had been successfully introduced in Jurassic Park Builder, and will therefore be an integral part of the Jurassic World The Game experience.
The game also looked very promising using its introduction of card packages to distribute dinosaurs, which would no longer be unlocked as single entities, but as creatures that the player would help evolve using duplicate copies: this may seem obvious today, but at that time, we were still operating with direct sales. To be able to give the duplicates functionalities reinforced the depth of the collection we could offer.
We wanted to create an impressive visual experience around combat where the central plot of the game would be built around it. The genius part of it was to develop tools that would also create events around these combats, which means that we could create special events to vary the experience and guide players to the unique dinosaurs’ collection!
When the game was released, we had access to a real arsenal to create interesting gameplay events and a virtually unlimited variety of offers to support them. This is how our first campaigns were born! We also made use of all the experience we gained from previous games to rigorously monitor public feedback, around sales performance or special events.
But over time, we fell into some misfortunes. We kept multiplying gameplay and offer events without necessarily seeking synergies beyond a specific moment, which led us to organizational difficulties and a wearisome overproduction… but ultimately it pushed us to be more inventive, more precise and more innovative in the approach. So, more than a year and a half after the game’s release, we launched a new Live Ops approach introducing monthly themes, and a series of events better structured around the evolution of the player’s collection. This brand new methodology was well thought out as a team and enabled us to give more meaning to our approaches. Instead of simply trying to build the most profitable event at a given moment, Live Ops is now a tool that concretely creates rendez-vous and keeps an audience on the edge until the desired climax!
Today, a great community of dedicated fans still follows Jurassic World The Game and remains on the lookout for each live event. It is also a complex machine to maintain, but an invaluable source of learning for Ludia to understand the needs in order to optimize Live Ops’s management.
Jurassic World Alive: reaching maturity?
While we were getting ready for Jurassic World Alive, Ludia had already experimented the following in terms of Live Ops:
– The advanced articulation of game events and sales on Jurassic World The Game.
– The systematization of offers on How To Train Your Dragon Rise Of Berk.
– The creation and automation of game event cycles and offers on TMNT Legends.
– The segmentation, dynamization and remote management of the offers for Buzzr Casino and the Price is Right Slots.
– Numerous experiments and revenue optimization campaigns on all projects.
It would have been a shame not to take advantage of that legacy! So naturally, Live Ops was already part of the game’s conception. This time though, the objective was to offer events right after the release of this ambitious experience, such as a mix of geolocated dinosaurs hunting game to attract the public, a deep combat system to engage our players in the competition and fun augmented reality photo features to enjoy the collection. We really made good progress in the vision of the experience we wanted to offer, and Live Ops just had to embellish this approach.
To do so, we benefited from the development of an internal tool called Dazzle, our online content and planning manager, which eases our events management and their activation in the game. We also adapted our organization and built a Live Ops cell within the development team. Which meant that any interesting feature would be considered for an event!
Our experience enabled us to better understand how to build our event inventories and how to standardize them in order to quickly create interesting routines. This gave us much more time to focus on the calendar highlights and, on top of that, geolocalization opened new opportunities for varieties: the Toronto Raptors are in the NBA finals? Quick, let’s organize a raptor hunt in Canada to honor them!
We also have been very lucky to work with our community management teams. Thanks to them we never miss an opportunity to understand, inspire and stimulate the passion and expectations of our fans. This relationship grows stronger over time, and gives a whole new dimension to the surprises we launch: for example, if fans create a support group for the Lythronax, an unloved dinosaur, we will pay tribute to them by creating a boss fight with the great Lord Lythronax, a super-powerful creature specially created for the occasion!
Today, we are extremely proud of what we have achieved with Jurassic World Alive. Its success encourages us to venture even further. There is still a lot to learn, and we look forward to creating new, more fun and engaging events!
It’s not an easy exercise to list all our progress on Live Ops over the years. There is a reason why we build our business strategy around our ability to run our games over a long period of time. In today’s market, fresh content and regular, interesting events offered to players are key in guaranteeing the health of our audiences and our ability to monetize them.
It was always our choice to develop at our own pace. Our priorities above all are to optimize our approaches, wisely use the tools at our disposal, and keep learning from our operations, with challenges ranging from service management to organizational corporate strategy.
Through experimentation, we learnt that each game will be different depending on its Live Ops, and that its audiences will have completely different needs and wants depending on the license and game type.
In fact, we learnt a lot of things. But most importantly, we learnt that we still have a lot to learn.
Thinking about it, the most important question to you today is: are you ready to learn with us?