Imagine you manage a gym. You’ve purchased the essential equipment, hired PTs, built changing rooms, made decisions on décor, installed some TVs and mirrors. You start selling memberships, maybe you offer free trial visits to lure new customers…
How will you make sure your gym stands out from the myriad of similar establishments? And how do you plan to keep your patrons coming back, boosting their motivation to train at your place?
Ah, if only gym owners could wield a set of tools that the app world has in mobile LiveOps!
As a gym manager wishing to maximize profit, you could monitor which equipment is most popular, and which machines are faulty or too complicated to operate. You may offer discounts on membership, new classes, or bundles to convince your customers to invite friends. You can also introduce special events or new features—like a fitness contest or a protein bar vending machine—to keep attendance consistent and make sure membership grows, while your revenue increases.
In the world of mobile apps, and especially games, these goals are accomplished by a machinery called live operations, commonly referred to as LiveOps. And, if LiveOps is to work, it needs to be equally complex, nuanced, and invariably focused on customer satisfaction.
Novelty is an attraction in itself. Particularly in the case of free-to-play (F2P) games and apps, the very launch of a new mobile product will generate interest, likely culminating in installs. After that, the key issue is retention.
In a market as huge as gaming apps, keeping users active, engaged and excited requires a lot of work, typically performed by a whole team of experts and based on a close monitoring of user behavior. Through monitoring and analytics, app developers and their LiveOps teams come to understand what drives users not just to install but to continue to go back to the app.
**In short, LiveOps is about making apps part of users’ lives, and making users part of a community. **
From a business perspective, by evaluating the initial revenue funnel, or how in-app purchases and ads generate profit, we establish the Average Revenue Per User, or ARPU. This, in turn, allows us to get a good picture of the profits that are achievable through a steady, well-researched development of the app, and to draw a roadmap of its growth, based upon the users’ needs and preferences, as well as on the developer’s marketing budget and goals. The LiveOps team is there to map out the content releases and feature updates that will ensure desired retention and revenue levels.
Let us return to the clunky gym metaphor once again, as it helps visualize the importance of LiveOps for app development.
Once your gym is open to the paying members, you don’t want to close it down for renovation or maintenance every time something needs improving or changing. If you overhear gym members criticizing the lack of an ironing board in the changing room, for example, you put one in.
Similarly, you want to keep your app running while you fix glitches or respond to user feedback, rather than updating the entire app—hence the live component of LiveOps.
The most basic—primordial, if you will—use of LiveOps is eliminating bugs and fixing glitches. It was conceived to keep an eye on those and eradicate them without disrupting user experience. LiveOps can also indicate game levels that are too difficult or app features that are hard to access, and render progress or access easier, preventing user frustration.
2. New content and offers
LiveOps serves to coordinate the releases of new app content and introduce offers and bundles to maintain or boost user engagement. Based on user behavior data, and timed according to holiday calendars and time zones in different regions, LiveOps manages in-app purchases and new feature releases. In a gaming app, this could mean releasing a new map or character skin, or a well-priced bundle of multiple items.
3. Customer support and responding to feedback
If LiveOps is about maximizing LTV (each user’s lifetime value), it has to monitor the user’s relationship with the app from start to finish. This is to say, it doesn’t just study the progression from install to consistent use, but also the processes of graduate withdrawal and churn, which is when the user stops using the app. By analyzing these processes and the reasons for disengagement with your mobile product, LiveOps helps reignite the user’s interest and rebuild the relationship anew.
At the same time, it is not just the in-app behavior that points to the dissatisfaction with your app. Game forums, online ratings, and social media discussions need to be considered and in fact continually studied by your LiveOps team. Monitoring feedback allows them to respond and make due improvements, ensuring that your users feel catered for.
4. Multiplayer and community management
If you run a multiplayer app or your game has an optional multiplayer mode, LiveOps will take care of match-making, and manage tournaments, simultaneously moderating user interactions. If there is a disruptive or toxic community member, it’s LiveOps’s job to detect their rule-breaking behavior and eliminate it, making sure the rest of the community enjoy the environment you have created. As outlined in the previous point, responding to community feedback and buzz is also handled by LiveOps.
5. Strategizing in-app advertising, purchase promotions, and cross-marketing.
Based on analytics and user feedback, LiveOps will manage your means of monetizing user engagement. The LiveOps team takes care of the integration and management of AdNetworks and decides where to integrate each AdNetwork. You can also offer churned or lapsed users exclusive in-app content to rekindle their investment in your product. If you have another partner game, LiveOps will facilitate cross-marketing by showing users areas of overlap between two or more of your mobile products.
6. A/B Testing
As it has become clear by now, LiveOps relies heavily on analytics to keep retention rates where you want them. It can deploy A/B testing to evaluate new items or features, allowing you to implement the desired changes and disinvest in others. Equally, it might detect areas worthy of outsourcing more specialized ads and promotions, such as 3D videos.
Your LiveOps team will also analyze trends in user behavior and test potential new options against specific metrics. Segmenting users according to region and other factors allows you to tailor your mobile app to the needs of different user groups.
As the mobile app industry keeps growing and evolving, mobile users are increasingly treated as community members, as living and breathing beings—and not simply as one-time customers.
Unsurprisingly, they're getting used to this treatment. App developers now integrate LiveOps more and more deeply into the development process, keen to keep up with the pace of the app economy and user demands.
As this Microsoft Game Stack blog explains, if “LiveOps is the future,” it needs to be attuned to the user’s needs and listen to their feedback; it must understand their relationship both with the game itself and with other users.
This approach is, as ever, a balancing act. You want to keep the user excited about what’s new, you need to respond to feedback and provide variety, but you also try to stay true to the spirit of your product. While all of this sounds hard and perhaps even intimidating, that’s exactly what LiveOps is for.