GamesBeat Summit 2024: Ensuring a successful live-service game launch

“Running live services for your games these days, it’s table stakes,” said Amy Jo Kim, founder at Game Thinking. “Certainly every social game has that. But even single player games are either shifting to live services or thinking about it.”

But the success of live games depends on a variety of factors, from the tech under the hood to the whole player experience. At GamesBeat Summit 2024, Kim welcomed Carter Huffman, CTO of Modulate, Stefan Ideler, CIO and co-founder at and Jeremy Joiner, head of business development at Pragma to talk about how to ensure a successful live game service launch, and creating the kind of live game environment that keeps players coming back.

First things first: What to prioritize

“When I talk to game developers, they sometimes have the mindset that they need to get the game out and then do the live services part afterward, [but] the true battle starts when your game launches,” Ideler said. “You only have one real chance to get it right, during the launch. You need to be very sure that your backend is in order, your hosting is in order, and your costs are in order. The choices that you make while developing a game can have significant impact on the actual cost per player per month that the game is going to produce.”

Choosing the backend framework and hosting should be done as early as possible in game development.

“You’re really getting into a long-term relationship with the technology partners you’re making,” Joiner adds. “We often see folks taking a knee-jerk reaction, because they’re very heads down on getting from milestone to milestone in order to hit the next round of funding or whatever it is, which is obviously super important. But sometimes these decisions can be not as well thought out as they should be.”

The same is true of community management, safety and building healthy game communities, Huffman said.

“The first thing you should be thinking about, as you’re building up your game, is what are the ways that players are going to be interacting with each other,” he explained. “Anywhere a user can create media that other players consume, you have an implicit code of conduct on that media. Think a bit about what code of conduct you want, and then think about how you’re going to implement that and make that happen.”

Creating the player experience from day one

If you don’t enforce a code of conduct, then you’re not in control of it, Hoffman added. And if you wait to enforce it at launch, instead of the moment players are allowed in, it’s too late — players have already established their own code of conduct. And if it’s a toxic morass, not only is that a problem for players in the game, its reputation will become a bottom line issue.

“You have really exciting titles, really exciting games, really great communities that encourage other players to come in, have fun, bring their friends and so on. Or you have communities where people are just getting sweaty all the time, getting really toxic,” he said. “You build up a reputation for, hey, this is the most toxic game live right now. And that keeps players from even trying it out. It shocks me, how many studios we go talk to and they say, we have no idea what players are doing in our game.”

It’s also critical to have a stable backend that doesn’t crap out while players are immersed in the game, Ideler said. Part of that is understanding the regional makeup of your player base, and thus the connectivity and experience you can present to every region on a latency level — and knowing how well the game plays, whether they’re all located in one area or playing with friends across the world. Cross connectivity between regions is also critical, because servers that are full across time zones attract more players, as is coming down hard on cheating, which can make or break a game just because of the costs involved.

Keep your costs and your game from exploding

Success comes down to costs both for player experience and for the foundation of your game, Ideler added.

“Before launch, ideally you want to work with a partner where you have a base layer of commitment that you’re 100 percent sure of,” he said. “Then work with a flexible hosting provider where you can pay per hour for your resources. Then on top, if all else fails, you will want to use your own cloud accounts with an Amazon or Google and so forth to profit from the extreme flexibility that these providers bring. But what many people forget is that ultimate flexibility comes with a price. Nowadays, the notion of going hybrid and what you can do for the future of your game and your player experience is key to many organizations.”

And if the backend fails, then everything else is moot, Joiner says. Making sure your game isn’t going to explode when you launch means choosing a partner based on two important factors: Is the company just dabbling in the technology, and could pivot away at any time? Or is it an established provider that will support you live (especially at launch).

Ensuring success: Data and content are king

“In our experience, one of the things that surprises us most is how little visibility people really get into how their game is evolving over time,” Huffman said.

You can see how many players are playing each day, and when they log on — but do you know why players are showing up, or why their numbers are dropping off? It requires looking for lag spikes or frame drops, average latency and how it coincides with player behavior, whether players are talking to each other or not connecting at all.

“I find it shocking how many game studios, even sophisticated game studios, have no idea how to answer that question. A little bit of monitoring and a little bit of preparation to try to assign different factors to that kind of retention can go a long way,” he added.

“As a game studio, if you have a dashboard correlating all these things together, you can immediately give a response through a community manager,” Ideler said. “Instead of just saying, go fight the fire, go fight the war, you can give them the tools to inform players and win it for your game. It comes down to, are your partners people who understand what gaming is, what the pain of players is, what the player experience actually is? During a launch, you don’t want to be talking to five ticket systems, waiting for hours to get a response. You need partners to be there, either physically or remotely, with your engineers during those most critical weeks to make sure the game is a success.”

Ideally you’re outsourcing all of this to save time to market, save on costs, and de-risk, Joiner said, but you need to ensure you’re choosing flexible solutions that actually save time and free up resources for the most important part of any game’s long term success.

“The number-one thing around retention is the content pipeline,” Joiner explained. “The reason that you’re outsourcing anything for a live service game in the first place, making those decisions, is so you can then reinvest your resources toward making the game better, more profitable and increasing retention.”

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