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

IndustryChat

Balancing Ad Monetization with User Experience

In episode 8 of LevelUp, Jane Anderson, Head of Ad Monetization at Zeptolab, shares how she’s seen the game industry change over the last few years, provides insights on how to successfully balance user experience with ad monetization, and discusses the huge potential for brand advertisers in the gaming space. Read on for edited highlights..

IndustryChat

What is Ad Blocking on Mobile?

Have you ever experienced an aggressive ad while browsing the web? You’re not alone. With each passing day, more and more people are downloading ad blocking software. According to a recent report, there are some 615M devices blocking ads globally, 380M (or 62%) of them on mobile alone. As its name suggests, ad blocking is..

IndustryChat

An Insider’s Guide to the Russian Game Industry

The Russian mobile gaming industry is experiencing exponential growth. According to the most recent Newzoo report, the gaming industry in Russia is projected to hit $1.7 billion in revenue in 2018, with nearly 65 million gamers. Russian is also the third most common language on Steam, the world's largest online gaming platform. It all makes..

IndustryChat

Designing Idle Games for Active Players

In episode 7 of LevelUp, Nate Barker, Director of Business Development at Fluffy Fairy Games tells us all about idle games - from reviewing how the genre best fits in today’s gaming landscape, to discussing the benefits of employing a fast and iterative development process, to emphasizing the importance of player feedback on the monetization..

IndustryChat

7 Mobile User Acquisition Tips from 7 Top Industry Leaders

Want your game to make it to the Top Charts? Today, user acquisition plays a key role in any mobile marketing strategy. As the need for discoverability in the App and Google Play stores increases, the business of generating a user base for new games has erupted. So what’s the best UA strategy? And what’s..

AppChat

How to Create Retention in Playable Ads

In contrast to other ad formats, playable ads are unique in that they aren’t just one component in a larger user acquisition funnel - they’re a funnel in and of themselves. The goal is to push users down that funnel, getting them to progress past the ad’s tutorial all the way through to the call-to-action...

AppChat

App Economy Stats You Should Know Stat

The mobile app ecosystem has proven itself to be both a prosperous and lucrative industry. With more than 3.4 billion smartphone owners worldwide and 175 billion app downloads last year alone, this $950 billion industry serves consumers with all-encompassing abilities. We’ve compiled some of the top statistics in the mobile app ecosystem to highlight just..

IndustryChat

SDK Spoofing: The New Ad Fraud Scheme on the Block

Mobile fraud is on the rise. Compared to 2017, mobile ad fraud rates have almost doubled, and we currently reject around 10% of all paid installs as fraudulent, a sizeable amount indeed. This threat looms over an advertiser’s bottom line, and without the means to stop it, marketing budgets are left wide open to theft...

IndustryChat

Hyper-Casual Games: What Are They & How do You Monetize Them?

What are Hyper-Casual Games & How do you Monetize them? Since the App store surfaced 10 years ago, we have seen mid-core, casual, and (debatably) hard-core games take off in the mobile space, yet today a fourth category is dominating the app charts - hyper-casual. Over the past year, hyper-casual games have seen unprecedented growth,..

Interested in becoming an ironSource partner?

We’d love to hear from you.