Warren Woodward is the Director of User Acquisition at NEXON M, the San Francisco division of Korea’s largest mobile gaming company and one of the ten largest gaming companies in the world. Their hugely popular games include DomiNations, Titanfall: Assault, and Battlejack.

In mobile gaming, the soft launch is critical – especially with oversaturated app stores and high user acquisition costs today. It tells you how well your game will be received by users in a larger worldwide launch, giving you a rough estimate of how much you should invest in marketing it.

Still, the soft launch can be an overwhelming process, and it’s not always clear what should or shouldn’t be done. In 2017 alone, Nexon will soft launch about a dozen games, and we’ve learned through trial and error what works best for our games. Here are a few of our best practices.

What is a soft launch?

The soft launch is everything that comes before the official worldwide launch. App developers pre-launch their game in markets similar to their target market, so they can make sure that the official launch goes as smoothly as possible. Think of it as a practice run.

Recommended Reading
How to Use Rewarded Ads to Improve User Acquisition
3 Tips for Executing the Perfect Soft Launch for Your App
How Playable Ads Help Publishers and Advertisers
How to Create Playable Ads: 7 Tips and Best Practices

Your soft launch checklist

Outline main goals

It’s important to understand that soft launches are purely a learning experience. During this time, you’re prioritizing speed and clean data over ROI, which you’ll focus on later during the worldwide launch. Your main goal as a marketer is to gather quick and clean data so you can make the right business decisions later on. This data will help you figure out your bid strategy, and map out the LTV curve of the game.

Determine traffic sources

In terms of traffic sources, you should use just 3 to 5 that you’ve already had a lot of experience with and have proven to work for you. The objective for traffic at this stage is to minimize variance and get a good read on typical user behavior. Traffic sources with fraud or low quality installs will warp your data.

Higher CPIs

Be aware you may need to pay higher CPIs at this stage. There are two reasons for this. First, you need to compensate potentially weaker creative performance by overbidding. Second, time is of the essence, and since you only have just a few days or weeks per phase o soft launch, you may need to overbid to make sure you’re at the top of your network’s waterfall.

Less targeting

There shouldn’t be too much targeting at this point in your game launch. Of course, you can target gamers if you’re a game, but don’t exclude too much. Again, you want a read on average player behavior.

Words to live by

“Don’t launch bad games!” Be honest about improvements that can’t be made in the window between soft launch and release. Maintaining a mobile game as a service is incredibly expensive. If you don’t see indicators of a high LTV, you most likely won’t be able to compete with the top games in the UA ecosystems to profitably bring in users at scale.

The perfect soft launch creative strategy

During a soft launch I suggest using the 3+3 rule. That means minimum of 3 unique video ads and 3 static concepts (these can double as both ads and endcards).

nexon-mobile-battle-jack-battlejack-ironsource-banner-ad

If you have an in-house creative team, give them at least 6 weeks to produce the best creatives possible. If not, you can ask your ad network to help develop creative assets for you.

Since it’s just a soft launch, the creatives should be simple and straightforward, focusing primarily on gameplay.

Three phases to a soft launch

A typical soft launch is comprised of three phases.

Phase 1: Server stability

In the first phase, your goal is to check server stability. In other words, does your game crash?

You should have about 1,000 players for this sanity check. But don’t expose your game to key markets yet. If your target audience is the US, for example, you should stick to regions like Southeast Asia, where low CPIs can make for an affordable stability check.

Phase 2: Retention test

In the second stage, you’re testing retention. Look at Day 1, 7, and 30 retention – are your players sticking around?

Many companies test this stage in the Nordic countries. They have similar retention behavior to the US, but there’s less market exposure. That way, if the game still has major issues, you’re not jeopardizing your target markets. A good baseline for this phase is 3,000 – 5,000 users.

Phase 3: Monetization test

In the third and last stage, you’ll be testing your app’s monetization strategy. How are players engaging with the game economy and in-app purchases?

A good baseline is 10,000 players here. This is when you want to open your soft launch up to Canada or Australia, where players are most similar in behavior the US.  

How to work with an ad network during a soft launch

 

If you’re working with an ad network to launch your game, tell them about your strategy and KPIs from the get-go, so that you can work together to achieve them. Share best practices with each other. If you know something unique about your users from past experiences, let the ad network know about that as well. The more information you share, the better your campaign will perform.

In addition to helping you run the campaign, ad networks can help you develop your ad creatives at no cost. Just be sure to give the ad network as much of a head’s up as possible, and leave time for several iterations. You can also share an early build of the game with them, which they can use to develop creatives that match your game’s feel.

By working with an ad network, you can also leverage their historical data to predict what supply sources are best for your game. This will help you make sure that the engagement and install data you get from the campaign are clean as possible.

Wrapping up

By the end of your soft launch, you’ll have enough data on player engagement and behavior to tweak your app so that it’s ready for the worldwide launch. In Part 2, we’ll talk about best practices for tackling the worldwide launch and what you’ll need to look out for.

ironSource Blog

The Source

Predicting Trends for Mobile World Congress 2019

Mobile World Congress 2019 (aka MWC’19) is fast approaching. Here is everything you need to know. Let's take a peak at the big reveals, innovations, and industry predictions you can expect. What is MWC? MWC is the biggest and most..

IndustryChat

How to Monetize and Advertise Word Games

In this episode of LevelUp, Andrew Stone, President at Random Logic Games gives the lowdown on word games including best practices for monetization, user acquisition, and design. Read on for edited highlights from Stone’s podcast: Who is playing mobile word games? “While women 25-40 are the target audience, word games have mass appeal and viral..

IndustryChat

Best Conferences for Mobile App Developers in 2019

With 2019 off to an excellent start, we thought it would be great to give you a little heads-up at some of the developer conferences for mobile apps and games happening this year. Mobile App conferences are a great opportunity for developers to learn, network, create, and play your part in the app and mobile..

AdChat

설날 트랜드 리포트 2019

2019: 기해년 여름 트랜드 리포트와 겨울 트랜드 리포트를 따라, 설날을 맞이하는 시기에 맞춰 개발자들은 어떠한 일들을 예상해야 할지에 대한 리포트를 발표하였습니다. 설날은 전세계에서 가장 주목받는 명절 중 하나로, 전체 인구중 거의 20%정도가 기념 합니다. 음력으로 치는 명절이기 때문에 매년 날짜가 달라지기도 하지요. 이번 설날은 2월 5일이며, 년은 기해년 입니다. 설날을 맞이하며 한국의 인구는 휴식을 취할수..

AppChat

What app developers should expect during the Chinese New Year

Nitsan Regev is a BI analyst at ironSource. 2019: The year of the pig Following our end of summer trends report and our winter holiday report, we decided to take a look at what developers should expect during the Chinese New Year. The Chinese (or Lunar) New Year is one of the world’s most observed..

Ad Monetization and User Acquisition: Q&A with Tapps Games

Ad monetization and user acquisition are two sides of the same coin. For example, UA teams are dedicated to realizing true app growth, whereas ad monetization teams are driven to generate revenue. Taking this into account, it’s almost logical that gaming companies will have these teams separated. Each team has different goals that at face..

IndustryChat

What’s the Hype with Hyper-Casual Games? Part 3: Marketing

In our final chapter of LevelUp’s hyper-casual series, Ryan Davies, Digital Marketing Manager at Kwalee, shares his thoughts on running successful user acquisition campaigns for hyper-casual games. Read on for edited highlights from Davies’ podcast: Failing “Failing is critical, especially for hyper-casual games because you’re dealing with such a fast rate of content. You have..

Nordeus Talks Ad Monetization, Brands, and App Industry Trends

Nordeus, a Serbian mobile game studio, is far from being the new kid on the block. Their hit title Top Eleven has been live for nearly a decade and has 200 million registered users, across Facebook, iOS, and Android. While Nordeus’ games are more IAP focussed, in-game ads still provide a significant source of revenue..

IndustryChat

The Future of Programmatic Mediation

In this episode of LevelUp, Pieter Kooyman, Chief Advertising Officer at Miniclip, sets the record straight on ‘programmatic mediation’. He defines the term and predicts what the mobile industry can expect to see in the new year. Read on for edited highlights from Kooyman’s podcast: Many names “Let’s start by listing all the names surrounding..

IndustryChat

2018’s Most Popular Level Up Podcasts

2018 was quite the year for ironSource’s LevelUp Podcast. We launched the LevelUp podcast, produced 13 episodes (and 2 seasons!), generated thousands of listens, and made some awesome friends along the way. With the new year upon on us, we thought to curate a list of our most listened to LevelUp podcast episodes with some..

Interested in becoming an ironSource partner?

We’d love to hear from you.