Success in the competitive world of mobile games is simple.
Find the largest possible audience for your game and then keep them playing for as long as possible.
Success in the competitive world of mobile games is hard.
Yet, while marketing dollars cleverly spent are key to ‘largest possible audience’ part of the equation, keeping your players for as long as possible - commonly known as LiveOps - is where the best developers shine.
And that’s the point of our Live and Kicking series, in which companies share (some of) their secrets when it comes to engaging and retaining their player base.
In this episode, we talk to D3 Go! VP of Publishing Brian Etheridge about the six years the company has spent running Marvel Puzzle Quest.
PocketGamer.biz: Looking back over six years of Marvel Puzzle Quest, what have been the most significant changes as it’s moved from launch to a mature title?
Brian Etheridge: MARVEL Puzzle Quest has stayed pretty true to its original core mechanic, but one thing we did not anticipate back in 2013 was how excited people would be to play this game as a competitive title.
We thought, at the time, “We’re doing Puzzle Quest… with Marvel!” That would have been perfectly awesome! When it came down to it, people turned out to be obsessed with really fine tuning their teams and optimizing their characters so they could get to the tops of those leaderboards.
So, a lot of development after the initial launch was trying to find ways to give those players what they want. It went from something mid-core to just shy of hardcore.
What’s your philosophy in terms of how you schedule and run in-game events and updates?
Consistency is key. We release a new character every two weeks and our event and season schedule runs like clockwork thanks to the development team at Demiurge.
We know that our players really dislike when something is out of place because some of our most hardcore players try to really maximize their play patterns to be competitive. When things run on time, they can get the most out of their play time.
Obviously there’s always lots going on in the Marvel world so how do you use that activity to your advantage, while also not being constrained by it?
Always! Marvel has helped us immensely by ensuring that we not only know what’s going on, but also have materials well in advance. We always know what’s coming down the track.
People turned out to be obsessed with optimizing their characters so they could get to the tops of those leaderboards.Brian Etheridge
At the same time, with our content cadence of a new character every 2 weeks, we always have time in our schedule to focus on non-film characters and events, so we bounce back and forth between things like the awesome new Captain America Worthy character we just released (Mjolnir-wielding Cap) and stuff like Spider-Man 2099… a character that’s been on our designer’s most wanted list for a long time.
How big is the live ops team and how do you stop your people burning out?
Between D3 Go! and Demiurge, it’s about 30 people. A lot of us have been on the game since launch and a few of us have left the team and come back, so there is some rotation.
When you have a game that players are genuinely excited for and you always have something happening, whether it’s a new film to focus on or a cool new feature, the team stays engaged.
So, I guess I would say always have something new happening!
What do you think are the biggest challenges developers have to face when it comes to sustaining a game for this length of time?
The ever-growing combination of abilities in a game like ours is a huge challenge. Having to make sure that stuff you made five years ago plays well with everything you’re doing now means constant testing, a massive matrix of possibilities to check, and an ever-growing set of assets to manage.
We’re very lucky to have a great QA team that knows where to look for problems. Without them, the consistency we value would be in jeopardy.
How do you ensure Marvel Puzzle Quest is accessible for new players, while also deep enough to retain players who may have been playing for years?
We have a great matchmaking system and a steady influx of new players that keeps the early level play fun and active. The team develops every event with all levels of play in mind.
Also, we have a really cool system for our events, S.H.I.E.L.D. Clearance Level, where players can choose to play more competitively or casually. This way, you’re able to fit your play style to every event.
Overall, I would say that just having that innate scalability built into your systems so new players can always climb up the experience ladder regardless of when they join your game is key.
More generally, how has your approach to community changed?
We’ve really tried to just be consistent and deliver the things that players want to know as early as possible.
Having to make sure that stuff you made five years ago plays well with everything you’re doing now means constant testing.Brian Etheridge
Specifically, our community really wants to know what events are on the calendar and what an upcoming character’s abilities and strengths look like at every level.
They want to take that information, digest it, and see if the character is worth putting in their team based on their play style.
I would also say that we could always do better, engage with the fans more and get out there with more content, but starting this game as a group with no forums and very little social media presence to speak of, we’ve come a long way!
Can you provide any performance metrics about the game?
Since launching over six years ago, MPQ has brought the Marvel universe to over 17 million players around the world!
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about liveops over the past six years?
We’ve learned that these games are hungry! The amount of content a group of dedicated players can go through is astounding.
We’ve had to dedicate more of our team to content development than we initially anticipated, so squeezing in feature development has been challenging. Our backlog of things we want to do is big and constantly growing, but we are taking steps to address that, even in our seventh year, so expect to see more awesome stuff coming soon.
What’s next for Marvel Puzzle Quest?
We have just celebrated our sixth anniversary and don’t have plans to slow down! We’re working on a really exciting new feature for later this year and also putting the finishing touches on our holiday plans!
We are super excited to bring players something fun to do when they unwrap that new phone!
You can find out more about Marvel Puzzle Quest via its website.