Sponsored By
Richard Rouse, Blogger

November 18, 2015

6 Min Read

Persevere & Pivot - New Direction For Mutt Runners

Many startups and game studios can relate to our current predicament.

That feeling when you ship your latest set of optimisations and features, bracing for quantitative and qualitative scrutiny.

You’ve put a ton of thoughtful work in delivering what you think players want based on the information you have at hand.   

Then...


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Fuck.

That Feeling

So here’s the thing.

This feeling is something that we are familiar with. It’s something that we actually embrace as a company.

Mutt Runners has been in soft launch for 18 months. During this time, we’ve updated the game with 12 modules (see Blueprints).  And it was 24 months ago today that we brought on our awesome artist, Damo.

Our prolonged soft launch has meant that the game a ton of awesome content, features, mechanics, metagame, enhanced aesthetics... plus hundreds of Mutts. Yet, our KPIs are not where we want them for global launch.

In the latest module we altered our strategy. Instead of building and testing each client side feature individually to get granularity on KPIs, we decided to build out the remaining features that were inevitably going in. Rational was the time required to rebalance the campaign, rebuild the tutorial and Apple’s approval window.

So here we had Breeding, Fusing, PvP Stadium, Crafting, Hard Mode and tons of enhanced aesthetics. We were stoked with what we produced.

Riding the wave of excitement after Apple approved the build, we were itching to see what our KPIs had improved to. And march forward to global launch...

D1 retention dropped back to 37% and D7 to 10%. The metrics don't lie.

This time though, it hurt. This time, we felt winded.


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After picking ourselves off the canvas, we divided deeper into the data to learn where we went wrong...

The Problem

A whopping 40% of players are only playing the first 4 levels (we have 60). This makes is it near impossible to hit our retention targets of 50% (D1) and 25% (D7).

It’s important to note that 4 of the 5 core features added are unlocked to the player after node 4.


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There are, however, signs that Mutt Runners would be missed if it were gone. Some green shoots continue to appear...

Players that make it through the first 4 levels are quite engaged, with each daily active user (DAU) playing 8 sessions per day at 6.5 mins per session.

Net promoter score is 58.

Players are also spending despite little emphasis on Monetisation at this point.

Qualitative feedback has also been encouraging...

“Best game ever” - Guest_13344 & Dilligaf2u88

“The new version is great...  Keep up the good work! Ooooo!! Got my first 100% stat dog yesterday! Just need 100% speed n enduro and ima breed the perfect dog :)” - Katalystnine

“This is a great game i have'nt played games for a while this is definately my most played game on my phone!!” - Haveago

“Mutt runners is the best dog game that i have ever played on iphone it is awesome.” - Sgamba36

This ego stroking might feel good, but it doesn’t help us solve the problem. We want to hear from the players that leave.

When you look at the data and couple it with UX testing, it’s glaringly obvious...

All of these updates and “improvements”, yet we are missing the most important ingredient...

FUN!

The race was designed for a casual audience. Therefore, the core mechanic was intentionally super basic. Early in soft launch, the player would simply enter their Mutt into a race, and cheer it to the finish line with no controls whatsoever.

Later, we added a very basic sprint mechanic.

The sprint mechanic reduced the amount of races per session. Makes sense - you could be completely engaged in work, a conversation or TV and check back occasionally to see if you won.

Is a player really engaged if they are watching TV while playing? And does this matter? (Interested in your thoughts…)

The advice we received early on was “don't make a game that you want to play. Make a game for your players.”

Well, what if what we want to play is fucking awesome?

Answer: make it.

The Solution

Moving forward, our focus is twofold: fun and simplicity.

The next module being developed is purely focused on fun, while keeping other independent variables constant.

With over 500 games being released every day on the App Store, it is no secret that if the core mechanic isn’t kickass, we’re toast.

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Mutts can now change lanes with an intuitive swipe gesture. Each track will have obstacles to dodge and weave.

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Mutts collect power ups as they race, giving each Mutt a unique ability.

Mutts no longer fall down… unless you get hit by an ability or an obstacle.

Here is a brief snippet of Abe’s (our design guru) thoughts on the design…

This is design 1.0. The possibilities with this mechanic are endless. But for now, it’s about testing our hypothesis as quickly as possible.

That Winded Feeling?

Gone.

I wouldn’t blame you if you for thinking we are nuts for persisting this long.

But we know that if we can create a kickass core loop that is fun and addictive, we have the infrastructure to support the rest.

To tell you the truth, I have never been more certain about Crackerjack.

There is a long way to go.

But I just know.

For those that care to follow our journey towards global launch, we have committed to a development diary to share this roller coaster with you.

We're always keen to hear from our players, fellow developers, partners and investors. Or if you simply want to stay updated on our journey, get in touch - rich[at]crackerjackgames.com.

Cheers… Rich

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