9 Dec 2020
Improving revenue in a long-running game can be a bit of a high-wire act for developers.
On one hand, there are legions of veteran players who passionately love the game just the way it is. On the other hand, there are the new users coming in who find themselves lost in the labyrinth of all the features that have cropped up over the years. Any new feature must walk a careful balance between these two groups.
The TerraGenesis team found itself walking this tightrope earlier this year as ARPDAU had hit a plateau. Long-term players were running out of reasons to spend in the game, and new users were churning because they couldn’t reach new content quickly enough.
We needed to find a way to balance these demands, showing new users the depth of content available before they churned, while giving long-term players reasons to spend again. And we needed to do all of this with a team of three people and only one engineer.
One of the ways that we tackled this challenge is by focusing on limited time events to improve ARPDAU without placing an undue burden on our team or jeopardizing our long term feature plans.
In this blog, I’ll break down three key approaches the TerraGenesis team took in order to successfully implement the game’s new Limited Time Event strategy.
We knew that the core gameplay loop inside TerraGenesis was solid. Players loved transforming planets from a hostile environment into a habitable paradise with tools based in hard science. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we wanted to utilize what we had already within the game.
We created altered versions of our existing planet assets, tweaking the goals from simply creating a paradise planet to a more interesting challenge that would test a player in specific ways. One week it might be to reduce the pressure on Venus to zero, the next it might be to overflow a world with lava, then next it would be to reverse a botched terraforming job on Mercury, returning the world to a barren wasteland.
As a result, we’ve seen strong downstream retention increases, with an 8% increase in retaining users from D7 to D14 and 10% from D14 to D30.
So the increased variety of gameplay through these events solved the problem of our newer users not seeing the depth of TerraGenesis; however, we also needed to see a return on our investment in the feature. Here we get to the Limited Time part of limited time events.
We knew that players typically take between 96 and 168 hours to terraform a planet, allowed to perform at their own pace. Thus, in our live events, we challenge players to complete their planets in just 48 hours, perfectly occupying the weekend when we see the most engagement.
Not only did we institute an actual time restriction that’s far more aggressive than leisurely play, we ramped up the difficulty of the events as well. We’d set the goals based on our most engaged paying users’ behaviours in the base version of the planets. With each iteration, we’d fine tune the balancing based on the fresh round of data, till we had each event perfected.
Some events are incredibly challenging and encourage players to spend, while others are softballs designed to give the players a treat. Since players never know which type of challenge they’re going to get, they’re more inclined to jump into an event and find out where it lands on the difficulty scale. And we always make certain to have a well placed IAP offer specifically tailored to the current event and previous player spending behaviour.
Through this increased pressure and carefully curated batch of IAPs, we saw in-app purchases increase 25 percent, and a 15 percent increase in overall ARPDAU, helping the game hit its highest revenue peaks in nearly three years.
At the end of the day, however, none of these increases would have been possible without the right tools. Our modest team can only accomplish so much in a limited timeframe.
The iOS update system provides a particular challenge when it comes to new build submissions. If each event required a client update, it would take around four hours of engineering time, eight hours of QA, 24 hours waiting for Apple to approve the newly submitted build, and finally 72 hours for a progressive rollout of the build. Thus, it would take us a full 108 hours to release or fix a bug in an event.
We solved this by building a robust server-side tool that enables us to create a myriad of events by simply changing the variables which control all aspects of the event, from the start and end conditions to the rewards for each milestone completed. Thus, we were able to circumvent the engineering bottleneck, placing the burden solely on our writing and design team. This tool-based approach has allowed us to double our event production rate, and to adapt our existing events based on player feedback in real time.
Limited time events can breathe new life into long-running games, drive player engagement, and ultimately have an oversized impact on revenue when managed correctly. Do you have an established game that needs an ARPDAU boost? The team at Tilting Point is here to help. Send us an email at email@example.com and let’s get started!
Want to experience the live event challenges in TerraGenesis for yourself? Download the game here.
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As Product Manager at Tilting Point, Hunter Bulkeley has led all aspects of TerraGenesis development and marketing for the past two years. He is also responsible for Live Ops on SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off and previously led the soft launch of Warhammer: Chaos & Conquest. Prior to Tilting Point, Hunter worked as a Game Designer at Outplay while pursuing a degree from the University of Saint Andrews.