As an F2P game developer or designer, you know the importance of releasing regular content to engage your players, win back old ones, convert more players into customers, and ultimately drive more revenue.
But if you fail to plan ahead and organize your content releases, you could end up wasting time and money on promotions and events that never pan out.
In this article, I’ll explain the basics of a live ops content calendar, why you need one, and how you can get the most value out of it.
What is a Live Ops Content Calendar?
Live ops are updates, enhancements, and fresh content you introduce to your game to expand its lifespan, improve retention, convert more customers, and entice your players to make more purchases. They might include short-term events, special deals or sales, limited time purchases, cosmetics, etc.
Your live ops does not include changes that are important to the game’s overall functionality. For instance, bug fixes, lag optimizations, or tweaks to the in-game economy are not live ops. If you’re changing the source code or building new mechanics, you’re not doing live ops.
Live ops is especially important to F2P games because monetization happens after the download. Your work isn’t done just because they’re in the game. You have to keep working to keep players paying.
Simon Hade, CEO of Space Ape games, says live ops primarily serves to retain users and increase engagement. "It does not necessarily guarantee downloads,” he says. “What it ensures is that if you get some traction with your game, you're able to more safely and predictably turn that into a sustainable business."
So what’s your live ops content calendar?
Ideally, your live ops should run continuously throughout the lifespan of your game. You should have a plan in place to produce fresh content from the moment you launch your game. This continuous plan is your live ops content calendar - a carefully mapped sequence of live ops that keeps you on track.
An effective live ops content calendar plans your content at least three months into the future at any given time. Games with the best live ops systems plan up to a year ahead. They also keep their calendars updated regularly so they never reach the end.
That isn’t to say that your live ops calendar should be a brutal grind of new updates. Too many updates can actually burn out your players and your team. But you should also have a clear view of not only what’s immediately next, but also what’s coming down the pipe.
How to Drive Sales with a Live Ops Content Calendar
Now that you understand what a live ops calendar does for you and why you need one, let’s talk about how you can use it drive sales.
1. Build Live Ops Into Your Design
You’ll get the most value out of your live ops calendar if you design your game with it in mind.
Build your game in a way that gives you as much control as possible over its operation once it’s published. Create tools to make any kind of adjustment, no matter how simple or meaningless it seems at the time.
For instance, let’s say your game doles out diamonds after a player completes certain tasks (defeating monsters, completing levels, defeating other players, whatever). If you ever want to host a double rewards weekend, you would need an easy way to boost the diamond output. It should be as simple as switching a toggle in a live ops toolset.
But if your game lacks that kind of functionality, you may have to make some big changes to your game if you want to put on that event. The new development time could cost more than you earn from the promotion.
In this example, a double rewards weekend would be easy if you thought ahead and gave yourself that kind of control back during your original development.
2. Put Everything on an Actual Calendar
Your live ops content calendar isn’t just a clever term. You need a real calendar with all of your live ops promotions, events, and releases mapped out. This will focus your development and keep you on track so you don’t waste time or work.
Consider how long it takes to design and build an event, then look backwards on the calendar. Designate a day where you should start designing and a day where you should start building. Make sure your design is complete before you start to build. If you don’t have the design finished by build time, you won’t release on schedule.
Many games make the mistake of designing too long, even into the development process. When we work clients, we always advise them to complete their design by the time they start developing. If they have to make a design change or additional, we recommend they make another feature smaller (to make up for the lost time) or push out their release date.
While holidays are popular times for new content, that isn’t the only method. Marvel Strikeforce, for instance, releases new content in conjunction with new Marvel movies.
Place your calendar in a centralized location so your entire team knows what you’re working on, how much time is left, and what’s coming next.
3. Monetize Your Events Well
Every event you create is also a promotion, so it’s important to design events that sell.
Whenever you design new content, consider how you’ll monetize it. Ask yourself how you’ll use the new content to convert players into customers and how you’ll further monetize existing customers.
Look to your general monetization strategy as you design your updates. If prompting a player to buy a “re-do” after defeat has worked in the past, reinforce that loop in your new content. Not only will it continue to work, but you’ll maintain the integrity of your game loop.
Here are some more smart monetization strategies for events and promotions:
Limited time offers
Holiday themed items
Holiday themed bundles/packages
Rather than offering discounts, find ways to add more value without dropping prices. For example, instead of having a 50% off sale for your in-game currency, give something extra along with the currency for the same price. This prevents you from devaluing your currency.
4. Tie Your Live Ops to Your Marketing
It’s important to build hype outside of the game as well. Your marketing team should work in tandem with your live ops content calendar to prepare campaigns that bring in new players and re-engage old ones.
Sometimes this is as simple as sending an email to your list announcing the new content. You could be more aggressive, too, by investing in paid ads, cross promoting with other games, or giving reviewers early access.
Keep in mind, however, that great content is the best marketing you’ll ever manage. If players find your new content engaging, they’ll do all your marketing for you. Don’t skimp on development to buy Facebook ads.
Need inspiration for promotions? Look to ecommerce and brick-and-mortar stores. The techniques retail businesses use to win back old customers and drive new revenue are quite similar to what works well in F2P games.
5. Be a Little Bit Different… But Kind of the Same
Your new content needs to be enough like your old stuff so players don’t have to learn a new game, but just different enough so it feels fresh and new. Admittedly, this requires a careful balance.
For instance, new content from the Angry Birds series always includes a new kind of bird to throw or a new kind of structure to break. You still shoot birds at pigs and blocks, but there’s enough difference for the player to feel like they’re getting something new.
If you simply release five new levels that are more of the same, or a new boss that’s just a reskinned version of the last one, you won’t create enough value for players to stick around.
6. Segment Based on Player Location and Behavior
Your players should be able to act on anything available to them in the game, but that doesn’t mean you have to offer the same content to everyone.
For example, a Christmas-themed holiday event with Santa Claus and elves may make sense in the United States, but players in India may not understand or enjoy it (because only a tiny fraction of the population celebrates Christmas).
Instead of releasing your Christmas event to everyone, it would be smart to release it in the places where the holiday is culturally dominant (or at least understood). In India, you might release an event celebrating Diwali, one of the country’s largest national holidays.
Furthermore, you can tweak what your players experience based on their past behavior. If you have a whale whose average purchase hovers around $20, the “featured items” he sees in your store should be higher value items. A new player who has never purchased before should be shown your 99-cent products.
7. Make Data-Based Decisions
Your analytics should be key to any live ops decision you make. It’s the most powerful tool in your toolbox and, arguably, the secret to success for F2P games.
Which metrics matter? DAU or ARPU are great for investors, but you need the deeper, more actionable stuff that tells you how your players really engage with the game.
For instance, what percentage of players scroll through your store before hitting the X button? Are they looking for something in particular? Maybe you aren’t offering something they want.
What do players do just before they buy your “experience boost?” How many times do they attempt level 34 before they become receptive to offers? Do they interact with one kind of event more than another? Do they interact with one kind of event feature more than another?
Truthfully, the analytics you gather will depend on your game. Focus on the ones that give you data on player behavior. Use your insights from that data to inspire new content.
Don’t Build Without Planning
Your live ops content calendar is your map. It tells you where to go and when you need to get there. Just like you wouldn’t embark on a road trip without a map (or your map app - you get the idea), you shouldn’t begin development without a plan.