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Why having a Live Service team is important!

If you want to succeed in video games today with a multimillion dollar franchise, you need to have some type of Live Service that enables you to monitor and react to your customer’s behavior.

Overwatch will get new modes in 2016 and they will surely do new paid and free maps and heroes.

Overwatch will get new modes in 2016 and they will surely do new paid and free maps and heroes. 

 
There is an evolution happening in the gaming industry that people are actually very silent about. We keep talking about new technology and how we can make video games better. Remember the 3D-TV fad that came and went away even faster? Or motion controls? And everyone is currently talking about VR, it might become a success, who knows (I do believe in this one though, it’s freaking cool). We definitely shouldn’t stop innovating or creating new ways to experience gaming. However, more importantly we currently do have technology to be able to make the player experience much better than it currently is. There is so much data to collect and read it is impossible to fathom. Yet, this is an untapped area of video games that even big companies are not paying much attention to (Free 2 Play games, mobile games, MMO’s have been doing it for years though). 
 
Here is the deal, if you want to succeed in video games today with a multimillion dollar franchise, you need to have some type of live service that enables you to monitor and react to your customer’s behavior. I am not saying that singleplayer games are dying or that they are becoming extinct. Neither am I saying that every multiplayer game out there needs to be a Destiny or The Division. To the contrary, single player games are appreciated today more than ever due to the scarcity of them. But fact of the matter is, AAA games coming out these days all rely on some type of live service to a certain degree. Yes, that also includes singleplayer games. If you are an indie dev, then this should be more important to you since you will need to fight tooth and nail to keep players engaged and entertained inside your echo system (actually a lot of smart startups are incorporating live services in their games today).
 

Payday 2 has a cool thing going on with masks.

Payday 2 has a cool thing going on with masks.

 
Making your game for years, releasing it in to the wild and forgetting about it does not cut it anymore. People have higher demands and expectations of gaming products. So you need to make sure that offline or online, the player needs to be thinking of your game. We as humans also like to think that we are special these days, which means the shotgun method of talking to your users is out the door. You have to start thinking about segmenting your customer base and targeting them with appropriate messaging.
 
So why is live services such a big deal? Well for starters, you need to understand consumer behavior. Let’s look at supermarkets, we all know why they have chocolate bars so close to the cashier and why milk is always the furthest away from there. Well, the digital side of things is not much different. After working in video games for several years and daily monitoring data, I can tell you that humans are proud to be numbers on an excel sheet. That means you need to look for the trends and make sure you can offer your players the services they want or are willing to purchase. Digital consumer behavior basically equates to KPI’s such as sales, engagement, retention, NPS etc. Video game consumers also have a life time value. People who played Super Mario Brothers when they were very young, most likely do play Mario games with their kids today. Making sure the consumer sticks with you equates to a life time value. All of this equates to money and you need money to stay afloat. So to summarize this part, live services will enable you to not only sell your product once, but also twice and many times over as long as you deliver the value to the player.
 

Massive announced that they are working on a year’s worth of post-release content for The Division, including free content.

Massive announced that they are working on a year’s worth of post-release content for The Division, including free content. 

 
So what do I need to run a live service? It all essentially boils down to three things, the people, the tools and the desire to accept, change and adapt.
 
The desire: This one is all about being truthful yo yourself. You have to accept that we live in a data based world where everything counts. So either you change and adapt to modern gaming principles or you perish like THQ (but I say this again, that there is room for quality singleplayer games if executed correctly). Even if you do not have the people or the tools below, you need to find ways to entertain your customers and keep them engaged (hacks work to a certain extent).
 
The People: Usually a Community Manager, an Engagement Manager, a Store Manager and a Data Analyst if applicable. If you are lucky, you might find people who can fill multiple roles. 
 
The Tools: User-friendly back-end tools, I can’t stress this enough. Don’t make tools as an afterthought, be sure to include them in your game design from day one. Enabling your live service team powerful tools will make them react faster to trends and rely less on operation teams to help them with code.  
 
Once you got these in place, you will have to ask yourself, what can I do to make sure my player base is happy and healthy?
 
Here is what most of us are accustomed to see on today’s gaming scene: 
  • A game is released.

  • Paid DLC is released in year 1-2.

  • Occasional game update to fix bugs.

  • Game is done, move on to the next thing.

The last bit is the sad part of how some companies are dealing with their games. Why they are happy with lettings thousands of players loose only to try and reel them back with a brand new product is beyond me. We need to ask, what else can we offer the player to make sure we are covering all their needs and then some? Because ultimately, once we decide to work on that sequel, we will have better success if we take care of the players that are currently with us.
 

So think about things like:

  • Are you entertaining players with events (real life or digital)?

  • Are you actively changing aspects of the game during seasonal periods (real life or fiction)?

  • Are you improving the experience?

  • Are you adding free content?

  • Are you engaging directly with your community?

  • Are you curating user generated content?

  • Are you offering any kind of MTX based products?

  • Are you engaging your users on other platforms? Mobile?

  • And the list goes on…

A decent live service will extend not only the current products life cycle but also the franchise for years to come. We all know how people’s attention span is getting smaller and smaller, as life and the internet is getting faster. That is why it is crucial to have rigid and dynamic systems in place that can entertain your player, both inside and outside of the game.
 
What you need to do is create a plan on how you are going to take care of your player base for years to come. Because if you don’t, someone else will. This business is not built on sprints anymore, it’s all about the marathons. That is why you should include live services as part of your game design.
 
Bungie recently introduced an MTX system in Destiny.
Bungie recently introduced an MTX system in Destiny.

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