Space Ape Live Ops Boot Camp – Part 2 (GDC Edition)

(This is the second in our series of posts on Live Ops.  Part 1 can be found here:

Last week at the annual Games Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, Space Ape’s first product guy, Joe Raeburn, took to the stage to share what we’ve learned about Live Ops.

The full video will be available in the GDC Vault soon, but we thought we’d share a summary of the talk and annotated slides for those who can’t get access.

Apart from some quality trolling of Kiwis and puns of goats the point of the presentation was to help frame how studios should think about Live Ops.  Joe’s personal experience was formed at his previous company where he was a Product Manager on the hugely successful Sims Social.  That game rocketed to over 60m users in a matter of months but the studio paid a high price with 75% of the studio’s headcount consumed with running the game.  At Space Ape we nearly fell into the same trap with around the same number focussed on operating our live games in 2015.  

The solution:  we radically transformed how we develop and operate games to comply with Joe’s first commandment:

“LEAN COMMANDMENT 1: Thou Shalt Go Lean … or thine studio shalt be encumbered with unsustainable weight and die.”

Today, we are 100 people, with a little over one third of the studio working on live games that more than pay the bills, freeing up the majority of developers to work on new transformative games.

Joe’s talk shows how we quantify the impact of Lean Live Ops and how we designed systems to ensure that the most desirable content we wanted players to chase, was able to be produced cheaply without reliance on developers.   He also shows how we’ve carried this philosophy through to the design of our new games Super Karts and Fastlane: Road to Revenge.

The full slideshare presentation can be found here:

Space Ape Live Ops Boot Camp

We spend a lot of time swapping notes with other game developers about one thing or another, but by far, the most common questions we get are about Live Ops. How are our teams organised? What tools and tech did we build vs buy? How impactful is it really? How do we avoid cannibalisation screwing up an already successful game? What stats do we track? How transferable is what we do to other genres?

In three years our games have generated over $80m revenue.  Depending on how you account for it, Live Ops initiatives generated between one and two-thirds of that revenue. At Space Ape Live Ops is more of a pervasive philosophy than a discrete team or tool. We don’t really distinguish in our sprints or dev teams between game features and tools, or between community marketing and events because Live Ops underpins everything we do.  

I thought it would be nice to pull together some of the presentations we’ve shared on this topic over the years into one place.  Combined, they paint a good picture of how we manage our games over the long haul in a very efficient way, freeing up front line developers to work on new concepts.

Plan Now, Live Forever: Engineering Mobile Games for Live Ops from Day 1 

Download the slides here

Designing Successful Live Ops Systems in Free to Play Gacha Economises 

Live Ops Lead Andrew Munden (formerly Live Ops at Kabam and Aeria) shares the content strategies that work in gacha collection games as well as how to build a manageable content furnace and balance player fatigue in a sustainable way.

A Brief History of In-Game Targeting 

Analytics lead Fred Easy (ex Betfair, Playfish/EA) will share the evolution of his offer targeting technology from its belt and braces beginnings to sophisticated value based targeting and the transition to a dynamic in-session machine learning approach.

Under the Hood: Rival Kingdom’s CMS tools

Game changing content is introduced to Rival Kingdoms every month, with in-game events at least every week. Product Manager Mitchell Smallman (formerly Rovio, Next Games) and Steven Hsiao (competitive StarCraft player turned community manager turned Live Ops lead) will demonstrate the content management tools that allow them to keep the game fresh for players without developer support.

Games First Helsinki (April 2016) 

Product Owner Joe Raeburn and Game Designer John Collins talk to the Finnish gaming scene about how we transitioned Samurai Siege into Live Ops mode and laid the foundation of our current Live Ops platform. A good overview of the journey to Live Ops and introduction of the high-level concepts that underpin our approach: the Tools, the Toybox and the Treadmill.

GDC Europe  (June 2016)

Life After Launch: How to Grow Mobile Games with In-Game Events. COO Simon Hade talks generally about Live Ops, the impact it has had on the business and shares more detail about the Space Ape Toybox for in-game events.

The Great British Big Data Game Analytics Show & Tell (February 2015)

Space Ape Analytics Stack. A somewhat outdated but still relevant overview of the original data stack used in Samurai Siege.

I’d love to hear from studios who have used any of the content we shared, or have different approaches that could help us improve. We get inspired by the stories that come out of Finland about the gaming ecosystem’s willingness to share and collaborate and how that ultimately benefits everyone. Hopefully, this will inspire other London developers to do likewise.