What is LiveOps? — interview with Vadim Bulatov

What should be understood by LiveOps, what tasks this discipline solves, why it is important not to confuse it with operating a game — the editors of App2Top talked about this and much more with Vadim Bulatov, the author of the course "LiveOps in games".

Alexander Semenov, App2Top: Vadim, hello! Let's start with the basics, by answering the question: what is LiveOps in game development?

Vadim Bulatov

Vadim Bulatov: Live Ops in Game Development is the organization of time—limited gaming activities to retain players and increase revenue.

Some gaming companies practice so-called advanced Live Ops. This is the management of a personalized player experience in real time.

Is it about setting up offers and prices depending on the pre-order behavior or something else?

Bulatov: Setting up offers and — importantly — events depending on the player's behavior.

For example, an active player gets more events. Paying — more expensive offers.

Organization, management, and setup are fairly general concepts. Specifically, what tasks are usually assigned to LiveOps specialists?

Bulatov: The task pool is really wide. I will list the main tasks:

  • creating an event schedule;
  • organization of A/B tests;
  • operational analysis of ongoing activities;
  • delivery of server config changes.

LiveOps managers also often manage monetization. Sometimes LiveOps includes game design functionality: the creation of features and the calculation of the balance of events.

So, is the work of a LiveOps specialist something at the junction of account management, analytics and product marketing with a light pinch of game design?

Bulatov: This is rather a game design of certain features with the addition of analytics and QA. Without marketing.

What components are commonly included in LiveOps, if we consider it as a discipline?

Bulatov: I usually view LiveOps through four prisms:

  • grocery;
  • game design;
  • analytical;
  • QA.

When I teach how to work with LiveOps, I divide the program into four blocks, respectively:

  • in the grocery store, I consider all activities in the game (events, offers, content updates) as revenue drivers;
  • in the game design section, I talk about the economic models of events, creating a balance of events and offers, and preparing documentation;
  • in the analytical section, I share how to conduct A/B tests and organize analytics;
  • The QA block is devoted to the technical aspects of work related to the management of northern configs.

When we talk about a LiveOps specialist, should he be able to work with all these components? Or are there no generalists in the niche and teams with specialists of various profiles are working on live operations?

Bulatov: The above prisms are usually reduced to the product (working with activities) and technical aspects of the work (configuration setup, testing and delivery of changes).

In the teams responsible for LiveOps, as a rule, some specialists are responsible for the product side, while others are responsible for the technical side.

Anyway, there are also universal specialists who are able to take over the maintenance of the entire LiveOps.

As far as I know, LiveOps periodically includes programmers who are responsible for the operation of servers, loads, and so on. Isn't that right? Or is this practice not very common?

Bulatov: It is more correct to refer them to the employees of the delivery unit.

What knowledge should those who want to do LiveOps have?

Bulatov: In the first place, I would put knowledge about product management and, in particular, experience in managing product changes. Such a person already has the basic competencies: game design, analytics, QA.

Are there any requirements at a lower level? Am I talking about the basic disciplines that are taught in higher education institutions?

Bulatov: Microeconomics, statistics, analytics, product management.

Developing the previous two questions a little: what kind of background do such specialists usually have, where do they come from in the niche?

Bulatov: Usually people come to LiveOps:

  • product managers who like to give a second wind to games in operation, rather than launch new ones;
  • game designers who agree to kill Kojima in themselves (that is, creative);
  • analysts or QA managers who actively play freeplay games and spend money in them.

Without experience in game development, people come here too. These are, as a rule, people with an economic education.

There is such a thing as GaAs, which is often reduced to the term operating. Is it possible to say that if we say "operation", we immediately mean live operations?

Bulatov: Operating is a much broader concept, which, in addition to LiveOps, includes: marketing, support and delivery.

In a successful game service, Live Ops will always be an important part of the operation, because that's where people go with the question: where is the money?

Despite the fact that live operations has existed since the days of the first MMOs, as a concept in the gaming industry, it became widespread only after 2019- 2020. Why was it needed, because before that, many of the tasks that the LiveOps specialist solves today were assigned to other departments.

Bulatov: Since 2011, Wargaming has had a structure clearly focused on operating. There was even an event department in the game client. I thought it was the rule at the time, but it was an exception ahead of its time. Back then, in most companies, game designers were engaged in online game activities, if they had time, and sometimes even programmers.

When the bulk of the teams making money from gaming services realized that the main income came from players who had been playing for several years, they began to separate LiveOps into separate divisions.

The developers of casual games realized that the main money-making update is not 100 levels at the end of the game, but, for example, a Halloween event, just in 2018-2019.

Plus, at the same time, the games technically became more advanced.

Another factor that has played an important role is the increasing role of UA analytics. Becoming a driver of gaming revenue growth in the first half of the tenth, it "dragged" data processing acceleration, increased opportunities for segmentation and personalization.

As a result, modern LiveOps is already managing the player's personalized experience directly in real time, and not just working with data for the last or the month before last.

By the way, I have come across the fact that many companies have their own understanding of LiveOps. Sometimes, even within the same company, it may differ from department to department. What is the reason for this confusion?

Bulatov: As I said before, there are two sides to LiveOps: product and technical. Sometimes LiveOps name only one of them, sometimes the other

LiveOps can also be attributed to different monetization structures. Monetization drives the supply of game values. Live Ops manages the demand for values by organizing time-limited activities.

However, if you see activity with a timer in the game that raises the demand for game values, then those people who come up with it, plan, launch, analyze and improve it are LiveOps specialists, whatever they are called in the company

And the last question, which is more about processes. At what stage does a LiveOps specialist appear in the project? After the release, or does he still have to think about the future pipeline of events with game designers at the production stage?

Bulatov: Of course, he comes to the project before the release.

Even before the early access release, it is necessary to design a future LiveOps change delivery system, leverage, A/B test system, segmentation work, an offer and event system. After the release, it will hurt to do this.

Super, thanks for the interview.

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