與時俱進:開發者關於手遊測試和發行的五大建議

原文作者:Emily Putze 譯者:Megan Shieh

手遊發行的開銷和風險與日俱增,而近幾年的手遊市場也發生了不少重大變化;但在這樣的背景下,仍有許多開發商堅持使用三、四年前的測試和發行流程。

在Google Play,我有幸參與了上百款遊戲的推出,爲了降低風險,許多開發商改進了他們的研發和發行策略。根據這些經驗,我整理出了一些內容,希望這些分析和建議能夠幫助你找到適合自己的發行策略。

什麼是傳統的發行流程?

在項目研發的早期階段進行大量內部測試,然後在正式發行前進行不同階段的外部測試,比如技術測試、留存和盈利模式測試。開發者進行外部測試時,通常會在研發過程中的多個階段在某些特定區域進行測試發行(與公測不同)。

這類開發商大多選擇在菲律賓進行技術測試、在北歐進行留存測試、在澳大利亞或加拿大進行盈利模式測試。一款新遊戲的測試國家一般不會超過5-7個,考慮到穩定性和評分方面的因素,測試用戶一般持有較爲高端的移動智能設備。一般而言,留存和盈利模式測試會持續2-3個月的時間。在這段時間裏,開發團隊會不斷調整遊戲以達到公司期望的KPI。

當然,這種發行策略也不一定是壞事,因爲這個流程對於許多人而言還是很有效。但遊戲領域發展迅速,我們認爲開發商需要不斷評估這個流程,並在必要時將它進行改進,以更好地適應市場趨勢。

手遊開發者目前面臨的三大難題

手遊行業幾年前剛剛起步,當時這個市場的利潤空間非常大。然而在2010至2014年間,由於較低的門檻和海量潛在用戶,成千上萬的開發人員紛紛進入了這一領域。當時,手遊開發週期短、成本低、營銷預算合理、發行流程也沒那麼複雜。開發者可以先推出遊戲,看看它是否賺錢,然後再決定要不要進一步投資。

快進到今天,整個市場看起來大不相同,因此將多年前的發行策略帶入到今天的手遊市場中,自然會有些格格不入。

Ultima in its original packaging(from pcgamer)

Ultima in its original packaging(from pcgamer)

下面,讓我們快速回顧一下手遊市場近幾年的特點。

(一)競爭更激烈

要想在如今這個更爲擁擠和成熟的市場中發行一款手遊是非常具有挑戰性的。

光是在Googly Play上就有100多萬款遊戲,消費者們面臨的選項比以往任何時候都多。與此同時,要想讓玩家更換遊戲也更難了 ,由於參與度的提高,玩家們很難放下自己日積夜累的遊戲進度、角色、卡組、聯盟成員等各類資源。因此新遊戲越來越難取得成功,而營收榜上的流動率也變得越來越低(遊戲邦注:至少在包括美國在內的大多數西方市場是這麼個情況)。

(二)開發成本更高

在今天的遊戲市場中,測試和推出一款新遊戲所需的資源比以往多了很多。

消費者對移動產品的期望和需求比以往任何時候都高,如果你的遊戲不能滿足他們的需求,他們會毫不猶豫地離開,這也意味着開發者們不能先推出遊戲,然後再決定要不要繼續投資。再加上較長的開發週期所需的成本,以及日益複雜的技術需求——保持文件大小不能過大、能夠快速匹配,同時還得跟得上PVP和實時聊天翻譯等趨勢,這些因素都在不知不覺間提高了開發成本。

(三)營銷成本更高

如今,手遊的營銷預算都快趕上主機遊戲了。在這個高度飽和的市場中,有機用戶不僅更難生成,而且用戶獲取成本仍舊很高。

這些轉變所帶來的結果是,開發商發行新遊戲時所面臨的風險與日俱增,而最近幾年,手遊市場上的新遊戲數量也因此出現了下跌。

五大建議

在一個快速變化的市場中,過度依賴規範化流程會帶來一定的風險,因爲你會產生一種虛假的安全感,甚至可能沒有意識到自己已經落後了。

有些開發團隊會將傳統發行流程看作是一種達到目標的手段,他們更在乎的是“我們想要實現哪些目標”;而另外一些開發團隊則更關心“我們該如何實現這些目標”,這些團隊通常更靈活、懂得變通,也更容易成功。

儘管有許多開發商仍在採用傳統發行流程,但也有越來越多的人正在慢慢轉換觀念,還有一些人意圖在測試和推出新遊戲的方式上實現創新。不久前,我主持了一場關於“降低新遊戲發行風險”的小組討論,在那裏,我們與來自EA、Wooga、Miniclip、Playrix、King、和 Big Fish Games的開發人員一起深入討論了這個問題,並分享了這方面的經驗:

建議一:不斷評估新遊戲,必要時需忍痛割愛

爲了降低發行新遊戲的風險,許多開發商和發行商在投資遊戲時變得更爲謹慎、遵循“更少、更好”的原則。爲了實現這一點,他們調整了新遊戲的內部審查流程,並在遊戲開發中的不同階段採用了更爲嚴苛的評估手段。

幾年前,新遊戲大多是先通過內部審覈再開始研發,通過這一次審覈就意味着它們獲得了發行的批准。而現在,多數開發商採用的是“先開發後評估”的手段,新遊戲必須在開發流程中的多個階段接受評估,開發商也會進行更多的失敗和反饋測試。例如,某些新遊戲必須通過5次內部審覈纔能有機會上市;有些新遊戲可能已經開發了一年多,或者已經到了最後的留存和盈利模式測試階段,但是由於它們的測試表現沒有達到預期標準,於是開發者最終選擇砍掉這些項目。

然而,要想真正實現這種做法是非常困難的。首先你必須在工作室中創造出一種內部文化和氛圍,上至高管,下至開發人員都必須要做好隨時接受失敗的準備,因爲在開發週期中的任何階段你們都有可能砍掉一款“不符合標準”的遊戲。儘管在實踐中很難做到這一點,但考慮到當前的市場背景,許多開發商始終認爲“長痛不如短痛”——寧願咬牙砍掉項目,也不願在接下來的幾年裏承擔發行和維護一款平庸遊戲的成本。

建議二:採用公開測試的方式在項目初期獲得外部反饋

由於發行成本不斷上升,開發者不得不盡早測試外界對新遊戲的反應。因此許多頂級開發商都在改進它們的傳統測試方案,爭取儘早將新產品推向市場,以獲得外部反饋(有時甚至連原型都還沒開發完整就這麼做了)。他們認爲這麼做不僅能夠儘早知道創意好壞(收集反饋、測量KPI並決定是否要繼續做這款遊戲),而且還有助於構建壽命較長的遊戲。爲了實現這一點,許多開發商正在改進它們的測試流程——在測試發行之前,先推出公測版本(重點做技術和留存測試)。

開發者可以利用公測(Beta)版本對安裝包的大小設置一個上限、收集初期反饋,同時還可以對遊戲進行訪問設限,例如設備類型或用戶地理位置設限。公測和測試發行的不同之處在於,公測版的評分和評論都不是公開的,這是一個很大的優勢,因爲你可以在早期測試階段找出問題並解決它們,甚至可以進行大膽的A/B測試,看看哪些方案能真正推動KPI。

Big Fish Games(大魚工作室)之前就對《Cooking Craze》做了公測,在體驗到公測的好處之後,現在大魚要求所有新遊戲都必須在正式發行前先在安卓平臺上進行公測。這樣一來,他們不僅可以從玩家那裏收集到第一手反饋,而且還能更早、更大膽地測試它們的新遊戲。“大膽”的意思是,嘗試風險更大的美術風格、遊戲機制、營銷方案等,並在更多地區和設備類型上測試這款新遊戲。

由此帶來的好處包括:知道該遊戲在哪些市場能有強勁表現、找出更多未知的技術問題、準確地評估已知問題可能帶來的影響。這樣一來,正式發行時獲得差評的可能性也會小很多。

無論你的預算高低、團隊規模大小,公測絕對是測試新遊戲的好主意。此外,Google Play的全新測試功能允許開發者同時在多個地區推出公測版本和測試發行的apk。

建議三:酌情延長測試周期,利用長期測試所得數據來預測遊戲表現

最近幾年,我們眼看着遊戲研發的重點從下載量和盈利模式轉向了留存和參與度這種能夠延長遊戲壽命的KPI。正因如此,許多開發商也都延長了它們的測試周期。

雖說在測試周期方面並不存在“通用”模型,不過一款遊戲的測試周期至少得在30天以上。雖然爲期30天的測試是預測長期留存率的關鍵指標,但若想真正瞭解用戶,你需要更長的測試周期。這就意味着即使這款遊戲是完美的,你至少還是得進行2-3個月的測試。平均而言,我和大多數開發商合作的測試周期是6個月,比較大型的遊戲通常是10-12個月。拿大型IP來舉個例子,開發商必須瞭解30天后,用戶會作出什麼反應,因爲對於IP類遊戲而言,短期數據的準確度很低。人們一開始會玩這款遊戲可能是因爲它們喜歡IP中的人物/角色,但這並不等同於好的留存,也不代表他們會長期玩下去。

建議四:轉換觀念,將遊戲看作是長期投資

五年前,很少有開發者會認爲一款手遊能夠持續熱門五年,將遊戲推出以後,他們通常會直接尋找下一個項目。而現在,像《糖果粉碎傳奇》和《霹靂八球》這樣的遊戲證明了一款手遊的壽命可以長達5-10年,因此許多開發者開始將遊戲看作是一種長期投資。以前,這些開發者總是在尋找新的遊戲來投資,而現在,他們更原意在一款現有的熱門手遊中加倍投資。

這不僅意味着日復一日地維護這些遊戲,開發者們還得投入大量時間和資源來推出新內容,確保在線運營的順暢,跟上最新趨勢等。對於現在的許多開發商而言,“重大更新”其實就等同於是推出了一款“新遊戲”。

手遊市場競爭激烈,用戶獲取成本又非常高,所以也難怪許多開發商會選擇繼續維護和改善現有遊戲,而不是重新推出一款新遊戲。出於類似原因,我們看到許多大型開發商不再每年發佈一款系列遊戲,而是在長期熱門的遊戲中推出重大的季節性更新。

所以,如果你已經有一款帶有大量用戶的遊戲,其實可以考慮通過在線運營和頻繁的內容更新來使其獲得成功,而不是隻想着怎麼把下一款遊戲做成熱門。

建議五:正式發行前要優化留存

正式發行不再意味着研發工作的結束,從這天開始,開發者就需要真正想盡辦法留住玩家,因此許多開發人員都會在正式發行前將留存率調整到最大化。

在確保高留存的過程中,許多開發商都選擇了以下幾個部分作爲正式發行前的優化重點:

遊戲質量和性能——性能是決定留存和評分的關鍵,因此許多開發者會在正式發行前,在儘可能多的設備上測試這款遊戲。

確保有足夠的內容可供玩家消耗,以防止過早的用戶流失——Ps. 你可以通過遊戲內活動來重複利用現有內容。

在遊戲上線前就加入社交功能——對於任何遊戲而言,社交功能永遠是吸引和留住用戶的關鍵。用戶參與度越高,就越不會離開遊戲。

在正式發行前做一次模擬演練——在正式發行《June’s Journey》的一個月前,Wooga對這款遊戲做了一次完整的“上線演練”,從中找出了開發團隊在在線運營方面的不足之處並對其進行改善,進而爲正式發行做足了準備。

本文由遊戲邦編譯,轉載請註明來源,或諮詢微信zhengjintiao

Launching a successful new mobile game is increasingly risky and expensive. Yet, despite significant industry changes in recent years, most developers continue to test and launch new games in largely the same way as they did three to four years ago.

At Google Play I’ve had the chance to work with mobile developers on hundreds of game launches. I’ve seen first-hand how developers are evolving their development and go-to-market strategies in an effort to “de-risk” new launches (and where they’re not, but probably should be). I hope that by sharing some of these insights you’ll find ways to adapt and evolve your go-to-market playbook to make your next launch more successful.

Traditional launch playbook

First, what do I mean when I say that most developers continue testing and launching new games as they did in years past? Many developers today follow what I call the “traditional launch playbook”.

A more traditional launch playbook usually involves extensive internal testing in early development phases, followed by various stages of external testing prior to full launch (e.g. technical, retention and monetization testing). Most often, external testing consists of releasing a production version of a new game (vs a beta version) in specific geographies at various stages.

For instance, many developers with a more traditional playbook do technical testing in the Philippines, retention testing in the Nordics, and monetization testing in Australia or Canada. While the countries may differ here or there, these new games are usually tested in no more than five to seven countries in total, with deployment limited to higher-end device types due to stability and rating concerns. In general, retention and monetization testing lasts about two to three months, with game teams focused on tweaking the game to reach certain KPIs they believe offer insights into how their game might perform on a global scale at launch.

Does this sound familiar? If so, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as this process still works great for many. However, at Google Play, we believe that it’s important to continuously evaluate processes as a means to an end and iterate where necessary, especially in a rapidly changing environment.

A new era

A few years ago, the mobile games industry was in its nascency and really taking off in terms of profitability. Between 2010-2014, low barriers to entry and the size of the potential install base drove thousands of developers to enter the mobile gaming space. During these “gold rush” years, games could be made and launched quickly with relatively fast development cycles, low development costs, and reasonable marketing budgets. You could launch a new game, see if it made any money in the market and then decide if it was worth investing in further.

Fast forward to the present day and the market looks very different, as does launching a top new game. Let’s quickly review some of what’s changed in recent years:

1. More competition. Launching a hit in today’s more mature and crowded ecosystem can be very challenging. With more than 1M games offered on Google Play alone, consumers have more choices than ever. At the same time switching costs for players are high. As players become more deeply engaged and invested in the games they play–building up progression, characters, decks, alliances, resources, etc.–they are less likely to switch games and abandon their hard work (not to mention time and money invested). As a result it is getting harder and harder for new games to break through, and we’re seeing lower turnover in the top grossing charts for games (at least in most Western markets, including the US).

2. Higher development costs. The resources required to properly test and launch a new game in today’s market are significant. Not only are development cycles longer, but consumer expectations and demands of mobile products are also higher than ever, and they churn extremely fast if not satisfied (i.e. no more minimally viable product launches). Add this to the cost of longer title cycles and the need for increasingly sophisticated tech–to keep file sizes small, matchmaking quick, and keep up with trends like synchronous PvP and real-time chat translation–and the resulting costs to create a new game can be considerable.

3. Higher marketing costs. Today the marketing budgets for top new mobile game launches look more and more like those of console game launch budgets. Not only is organic discovery more difficult in a highly saturated market, but user acquisition continues to be extremely expensive, and the cost of the high quality tools, tech, and analytics needed earlier in a game’s development cycle add up quickly for developers.

As a result of many of these shifts, we are seeing fewer new mobile game launches than in years past and more risk aversion from developers across the board (opting for safer bets versus moonshot bets).

Process as a “means to an end”

With so many changes occurring in the mobile games market, it’s interesting that many developers continue to test and launch new games as they have in years past, but it’s not surprising.
Process is an area where it’s easy to stay static when other parts of the business change. That said, in a rapidly changing market, over reliance on process can be dangerous, as it can create a false sense of security (e.g., you might not even realize you’re behind or that you have developed blind spots). In general, I’ve seen that teams who focus on process as a means to an end–where they are more focused onwhat they are trying to achieve versus how they exactly achieve it–are generally more adaptive, and ultimately, successful.

Evolving your playbook

While many developers continue to rely on the more “traditional playbook,” more and more are evolving their mindsets toward releasing new games and innovating on the way they test and launch. I recently led a panel on “de-risking new game launches” at one of our Google events, where, together with developers from Electronic Arts, Wooga, Miniclip, Playrix, King, and Big Fish Games, we dove into this topic of process evolution and shared some best practices.

Here are five ways top developers are evolving their testing and launch processes in order to de-risk new game launches in today’s market.

1. Continuously evaluating new games (and not being reluctant to pull the plug)

To mitigate many of the inherent risks around launching a new title, many game developers and publishers have shifted their focus toward investing in “fewer, better” games. To achieve this, they’ve evolved their internal processes around greenlighting new games and implemented more rigorous evaluation at multiple stages of development.

“Many developers are taking a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach to greenlighting new games”

A few years ago, it was common for there to be one early, internal greenlight for a new game before a game team had permission to take it to market (launching after that point was a given). Today, many developers are taking a “guilty until proven innocent” approach to greenlighting new games, requiring that they undergo critical evaluations at multiple stages and creating more opportunities for failure and feedback (launching is no longer a given at any point). For color, I’ve worked with game teams that have had to secure as many as five internal greenlights before bringing a new game to market. I’ve also worked with developers who have killed games that have been in development for a year–or in the late stages of retention and monetization testing–because their titles were performing below expected metrics.

While this process evolution seems relatively straightforward, implementing it successfully is difficult. It means creating an internal culture and climate, from the top executives down to the game teams, where it is OK to fail (faster the better) and where pulling the plug on a game that is not “up to snuff” is the norm, at any stage of the development cycle. Although this is hard to do in practice, against the backdrop of the current market, many developers believe it is better than absorbing the cost of launching (and maintaining) a mediocre game for years to come.

2. Getting external feedback earlier in development using open (or closed) beta

Due to the rising costs associated with launching new games, identifying bad ideas as early as possible has become critical for developers (again, if you’re going to fail, fail fast). As such, many top developers are evolving their typical testing playbooks to get new titles to market for external feedback much earlier in the development cycle than in years past, sometimes even before full prototyping. Not only do they believe this is critical to identifying bad ideas early (allowing them to collect feedback, measure KPIs and make a call on whether to invest further or pull the plug), but many developers also believe that this early market feedback is critical to building titles with longer end games.

To test new games externally earlier, many developers are evolving their technical approach to testing– moving away from only testing production versions of their games to testing beta versions first, especially for tech and retention testing. One of the main reasons for this shift is that beta testing (open or closed) allows for more distribution control than a geo-locked production soft launch.

For instance, with open beta you can actually put a cap on a beta’s size, allowing developers to collect early market feedback on a new game while also limiting public access to it at such an early stage. Plus, unlike with a production soft launch, testing via open beta means no public ratings or reviews–user feedback is private–which is a big advantage while you are ironing out issues in early stages of your game or doing bold A/B tests to see what really moves the needle for your KPIs.

While I’ve seen a huge uptick in the number of developers utilizing open beta for external testing, I’ve also seen developers dealing with big IP or well-established consumer brands relying more on closed beta for early external testing (due to license issues, etc). Today, these developers often set up external sites where interested users can apply for access to their closed beta test, before moving on to more traditional geo-locked soft-launch testing closer to launch.

After seeing the advantages open beta testing offered their game Cooking Craze,Big Fish Games now requires all new titles to run Android open betas before launch. Not only does this allow them to gather direct feedback from players, but it also allows them to test their new games earlier, bolder, and broader than they would have in a production soft launch. This means taking bigger risks with art style, gameplay mechanics, promotions, etc., and testing new games in more geographies and on more device types. The resulting benefits range from discovering strong performance in various markets, to exposing more unknown technical issues (and more accurately estimating impact of known issues), to fewer 1-star reviews at launch. For Big Fish Games, testing via open beta means minimizing the risk and mystery of how new titles will perform at launch, allowing them to better prioritize QA resources, optimize global UA channels and budgets ahead of launch, and release more confidently all around (with fewer surprises!)

No matter your budget or size, testing new games via open beta is definitely a process evolution to consider. Plus, Google Play’s new country targeting for beta releases feature allows developers to distribute their beta and production APKs to different markets at the same time, so you can test a beta version of your game in most geographies and move to a production soft launch in select markets before launch to confirm KPIs and build up a solid ratings pad.

3. Focusing on long-term metrics as predictors of success (and testing longer)

In recent years we’ve seen a shift in game development from a focus on driving downloads and monetization, to a world where engagement is the true KPI of sustainable business success (especially long-term retention and LTV). As a result, many developers are evolving their playbook to build in time and budget for much longer testing periods than in years past.

While there certainly isn’t a “one size fits all” model when it comes to testing duration–depends on what you’re testing, how much you need to optimize, etc–at a minimum, developers should be testing beyond day 30 metrics. Although D30 metrics are key indicators of longer term retention, to understand true user value you need to understand long term engagement and retention patterns (LTV is the long game). This means that even if your game is perfect, you should be testing for at least two to three months. On average most developers I work with test new games for six months, but often as long as 10 or 12 months for bigger titles (if not more). For games with big IP, it’s especially important for developers to understand what happens to their users after D30 as IP can often mask bad metrics in the short term. People may stick around in the early game because they like the characters, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have good retention.

4. Shifting mindsets towards games as long-term investments

Five years ago, few developers thought a mobile game could be successful for five years. Instead they’d launch a game and start thinking about the next big thing. Today, games like Candy Crush and 8 Ball Pool have proven mobile games can have end games of five or 10 years. As a result, many developers are increasingly looking at games as a long-term investment and are shifting their focus from only investing in new titles to doubling down on existing hits. This means not only maintaining these titles day-to-day, but also significantly reinvesting in these titles to ensure that they are delivering new content, investing in Live Operations, staying fresh from a UI perspective, and keeping up with new trends. This not only helps engage and retain their existing players, but helps attract new ones as well. For many developers today, big updates are “the new launch.”

Considering how competitive today’s market is–and how expensive it is to acquire users–it’s no surprise that many developers are focusing on supporting existing titles with established users bases over taking on the risks of launching a new game altogether. For similar reasons, we’ve seen large developers and publishers move away from annualized releases for franchise titles, in exchange for rolling out evergreen titles with big seasonal updates. Electronic Arts, for instance, has done this with their sports titles such as Madden, NBA Live, and FIFA. This is a big shift considering that FIFA had multiple annualized mobile releases before they launched FIFA Mobile last year. Now, for EA and many other developers, the decision to launch a new game in an existing franchise is fundamentally driven by the need to improve the underlying game tech/engine (versus a desire to launch something new).

If you have an existing game with a strong user base, it is worth thinking about how you can invest in making that title more successful through live operations and frequent content updates instead of only thinking about your next big hit.

5. Optimizing for retention before launchDiscover more jobs in games

Launching isn’t just about the launch any more, it’s about retaining users from day one. As a result, many developers are evolving their development playbooks to focus on maximizing retention in their game prior to launch. Many believe that to be truly competitive as a top new game today–against other hit games in the market–means ensuring long-tail content pipelines, social features and event plans are lined up and resourced from the start (versus “MVP” launches that only have 25% of the features you’d hoped to have at launch). That said, upfront investment into these features prior to launch can have significant implications on budgets, headcount, and resources.

Here are the top areas where I see many developers evolving their processes when it comes to optimizing their games for optimal retention:

Focusing on quality and performance prior to launch. Strong app health and performance metrics (e.g., crash rates) are key to preventing early player churn and minimizing bad reviews at launch (50% of 1-star reviews mention stability and bugs). As a result, many developers are testing new game performance on a much wider range of devices prior to launch. This is particularly important for developers on Google Play as the Play Store algorithm is being tuned to promote quality and engagement, with key indicators of this being a game’s Android Vitals performance, retention, and ratings.

Making sure they have enough content at launch to sustain engagement and prevent churn. Rather than making levels harder to slow players down and risk churn, many developers actively test how quickly their players consume content and move through levels during their beta, and make enough content to sustain them. Remember, you can also recycle content with events!

Building social features into their games prior to launch. Social features are critical to engaging and retaining users in any game, including in a new game at launch. The more engaged users are, the less likely they are to churn. Alliances and alliance wars should be built in for day one, as should live services and events. This means investing in a team dedicated to LiveOps before launch.

Not being afraid to “waste” good events during beta. Developers need to know what KPIs their LiveOps move, how they impact their player behavior, and how their teams can stand up to a demanding LiveOps cadence. Often this means testing their LiveOps (and their team’s ability to deliver) before launch as if it’s the real deal. For instance, June’s Journey by Wooga is a game that was extremely demanding from a content production perspective. A month before launch–after a seven-month soft launch where they ironed out stability and KPIs–Wooga orchestrated a full “dress rehearsal” of their launch where they treated their game as if it was live (weekly releases, marketing reviews, social media, etc.). By not holding anything back in their “rehearsal,” they created critical opportunities for their teams to practice and understand the demands of their full LiveOps plan, and ultimately better prepared themselves for the real launch of their new game.

If you haven’t re-evaluated your go-to-market playbook in the past few years, it’s a great time to dust it off and look at the new trends and tools available. I encourage you to try some of the examples I have shared and see if you can identify areas to improve your process or avoid blind spots. (Source: gamesindustry.biz )