By Angus Lovitt, Co-Founder of Ramp
Soft launching a mobile game is an exciting but stressful stage of game development.
Soft launch is the stage where we test a game’s user metrics and marketing strategy in a smaller audience prior to the audience of a wider one.
It should tell you whether your app is commercially viable or a complete dud.
There are two popular approaches for soft launch;
- The first is the “geo-lock approach” – fully launching in smaller grossing countries before a wider rolling out in larger grossing countries.
- Or the “play test approach” – testing your app under different names in the AppStore of larger grossing countries before taking them down again until it is ready to be hard launched.
Sidenote: I prefer the geo-lock approach. By analysing data points from a full launch in smaller countries, I can better predict the performance in larger ones.
As someone who has been through more soft launches than I can count, I wanted to take a moment to share some of the common mistakes I’ve seen, and offer some tips on how to avoid them.
In today’s market a game must be able to engage in ROI positive paid marketing.
Discovery on mobile is dead. Assuming a game is going to go viral in a business plan – “magic free installs”, is probably the most common mistake I have seen over the years.
Therefore the only right way to set target KPIs for your game is to;
- Aim for a revenue per install (RPI) that can sustain paid marketing for your genre
- Decompose this into a target retention curve and ARPDAU
You should not launch unless you hit those metrics. Period.
In the past I have seen reputable developers either skip a soft launch or, knowing their project has poor metrics, hard launch anyway. Essentially just crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.
Hot tip: A game that performs poorly in soft launch will never magically perform better at scale – usually it’s the opposite.
Developers get emotionally attached to their babies. However, you usually know whether a game is going to be viable a week or so into soft launch.
I have never seen a developer improve their RPI by more than 100% during a soft launch. So if the metrics are further than that off the pace then it’s time for some tough conversations about axing.
Avoid projects dragging on endlessly for “just one more sprint”.
The two key objectives in a soft launch are to test a) product metrics and b) your marketing metrics. Just don’t do both at once.
You should not be chopping and changing your marketing campaigns while the product team is trying to optimise the player experience.
Make sure to choose a different country for testing or exclude marketing testing from your soft launch results.
Good product metrics – check!
Low CPI – check!
However, will your marketing metrics hold at scale? We live in a world where marketing platform algorithms are increasingly adept at finding the right audience for your game.
The unfortunate flipside is that CPI is highly correlated with install volume.
Too often I have seen games fail because the metrics in soft launch did not hold at scale.
You can prevent this by running multiple vendors at high volume for just a few days to see if the assumptions of your business plan hold.
The cost of marketing has been increasing exponentially over the years representing a high barrier to entry.
A soft launch done properly is likely to require a budget in the hundreds of thousands for a single player experience and potentially millions for a multiplayer title where player liquidity is required.
Minimise costs as much as possible by testing key assumptions in low monetisation countries and then inferring performance.
Consider working with Ramp
Our solution makes it easy to create business plans / game forecasts that are grounded in reality. Ramp’s experienced team will be on hand to help you through the process from soft launch to hard launch.