One of the biggest thrills in any developer’s life is launching their game. There’s a huge amount of excitement and satisfaction in watching people enjoy the project you’re spent years making. What many developers don’t anticipate, however, is that your inbox goes from one email a day to over one hundred. User data is pours in, and that whiteboard you use to sketch out new enemy designs is now covered in post-it notes filled with to-do lists.
It’s time to switch from your game designer hat to your business hat.
War and Peace
Ben Horowitz, cofounder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, refers to these two modes as being a wartime CEO and a peacetime CEO.
When you’re designing, testing, and soft-launching, you’re a wartime CEO. You have one objective: get to launch. Nothing is as big a priority as launching. If you don’t launch, then there’s no business.
After you launch, you shift to a peacetime CEO. You’re supporting your game and looking for opportunities for growth. A peacetime CEO is your new role after you launch.
Once you’ve shifted your mindset from wartime to peacetime, here are three things to watch out for.
Watching Your Support Channels
The worst thing you can do is shut off your email and go on vacation after launch. Launching is exhausting already, so I recommend you move your R&R to one-month AFTER you launch. (Trust me, you’ll need to relax after that ramp up. Science explains why.)
Once you launch, your website traffic will go up. Sometimes, the visitors are journalists, YouTubers, and other game designers who want to connect. Other visitors may just be window shoppers, hoping to learn more about your game. But the remainder is looking for support. Their game doesn’t work. They want you to fix it!
Avoid hiding your email because of the fear of spam. This is a surefire way to miss valuable opportunities. During wartime, you’re laser-focused on getting to launch. But you’re a peacetime CEO now! A study done by MarketingSherpa reveals that 72% of people prefer communication via email. While a survey by PWR New Media shared that 91% of journalists prefer email. It’s vital to keep those lines of communication with your audience open so you don’t miss out.
To quickly get through support email, do the following:
• Use template emails
• Organize bug reports
• Develop a system to cut down on the emotional toll support emails bring.
Having a template email lets you quickly reply to the same repeat issues. Organizing your bug reports allows you to track what’s been fixed and what hasn’t so that you can email your audience with the news. Finally, to cut down on the emotional toll, use a system to formulate a reply. Something like a compliment sandwich, where you appreciate the user for reaching out, then you share your thoughts, and finally thank them again. When my personal clients receive an aggressive email, I advocate to kill them with kindness. Suddenly, those angry users settle down and may even become your biggest advocates.
If you’re also monitoring your support on Facebook and Twitter, set up a method to notify you when someone reaches out. During the first month of a launch, I recommend to my clients to send all notifications to email. That way, it keeps them off of the potential distraction of Facebook/Twitter and consolidates their messages in one place.
Watching Your Metrics
Watching your support channels will help you troubleshoot the obvious issues, but it won’t show the underlying problems. That’s where setting up proper analytics and watching over your key metrics is important.
While a wartime CEO needs to focus on the day-to-day details, a peacetime CEO thinks of the big picture. Your metrics will tell you if a game-breaking bug affects 1% of your audience or your whole audience, and you can prioritize resources to fix it.
Look for big advantages with your metrics. In the app Mind the Arrow, the developers, Thumbspire, played around with how many ads appeared in their game. When Thumbspire increased the ad frequency slightly – it increased conversion and retention, without impacting engagement.
Other metrics to watch for are your competitors. Tracking the rise and fall of their Rank History might help you discover new insights. Developer Amir Rajan carefully monitored his competitors, allowing him to have a better idea of which direction to use next. If your competitors are rising while you’re beginning to sink, that’s a red flag to start figuring out what they’re doing right to help you stay afloat.
Watching Your Brand
Peacetime CEOs keep an eye out for their brand to control the flow of information. Wartime CEOs are too busy generating that flow. During the first month of launch, it’s incredibly important to have a method to track every time someone mentions your game.
Tracking your game name allows you:
• Stomp out potential rumors by being the voice of authority
• Monitor feedback – both positive and negative
• Thank people for taking the time to give you a shoutout (which often increases their likelihood of shouting out to you again)
• Discover hidden communities
Watching mentions of your game also allows you to listen to your community – where-ever they may be. MOBAs and MMOs often have unofficial communities on Facebook, Reddit, and even forums on fansites. When community managers engage in forums, fans feel appreciated and like their concerns are being listened to.
By watching your brand, you might also discover hidden communities that form from your game. 2015’s indie-darling Undertales is huge on DeviantArt, where fans congregate to discuss lore and share their art. This community generates content, and Toby Fox, Undertale’s developers, can promote their fan’s work through their social channels, generating more attention to the brand while honoring this hidden community.
It’s Always Darkest Before Dawn
After you launch, the battle has evolved, and it’s time to shift to a more peaceful, abstract strategy. Step back, focus on providing fantastic support, understand the big picture, and find additional opportunities for growth. Once you’ve set the framework to support all your fans, that vacation you’ve been dreaming of will be very well-earned!