“If I build it, they will come.”

This is the flawed mentality of many app developers trying to get visibility for a new game; they expect that the content of the game itself will be enough to generate a significant user base.

Instead of relying on luck, experienced game developers leverage a soft launch strategy that allows them to test the waters, iron out any issues, and refine their product - ultimately maximizing their chances for wider market success.

The most consistently successful game developers treat a soft launch as a sampling of how a potentially massive audience in their target markets will react. Every piece of data gathered from this process can arm app developers in the battle to increase app store visibility and conquer the charts.

Below we’ve distilled three key elements to consider when approaching and implementing the perfect soft launch for your game.

1. UA optimization

Who is the ideal user for your game, and how well does your game answer the needs and desires of that ideal user? These two questions should be at the forefront for your initial user acquisition efforts.

It is essential to test the LTV and acquisition costs of users across various sampling groups, testing different geos and demographics, for example. A proven strategy at this stage is to advertise in countries that have similar characteristics to your ultimate target audience, but where users can be bought at a lower cost. For example, game developers looking to build a user base in the US traditionally do a soft launch in Australia or Canada. Not only will this first group of users help expose technical bugs and design flaws, but ideally they will also interact with your game in a similar way to the players in your ultimate target market, giving you reliable information which you can use for fine tuning and optimization.
At the same time, this initial push for user acquisition can also help you test and evaluate the ROI and effectiveness of your acquisition channels. Do social and search ads work best or do you get better results with cross-promotion? Answering these questions will help ensure maximum ROI and price efficiency when you scale up your UA efforts for the real launch. Keep in mind that platforms with extremely precise targeting capabilities can provide you a base price for a high quality user, which you can then use to compare against acquisition channels with lower costs and high scale.

2. Audience knowledge

A soft launch gives you a prime opportunity to study and understand your audience. Pay attention to where users show most and least engagement. Most importantly, where do they drop off - disappear or uninstall the app? Once you have a good sample size from your target regions and demographics, you should refine your funnels and features to reflect how your players engage.

Throughout the soft launch period, a critical measurement of your refinement efforts is player retention. Despite the fact that many - even the most popular - games experience massive drop-offs just a few days after download, building in features that promote extended engagement can be pivotal for your game’s success. Try testing out rewarded videos, for example, as a way of driving increased in-game engagement.

A good example of where to focus your retention efforts is within your game’s onboarding process. How long does it take before a player arrives at your main offering? How much do you need to explain for someone to be able to actively participate? A streamlined path to your game’s core functionalities will allow you to get more people engaged faster, and the soft launch period allows you to refine the onboarding process to maximum efficiency.  

As you narrow in on a version that’s ready for the official release, you should see less and less variance in your data for each adjustment and game version. This is a critical sign that your game is reaching a stage of maturity. Assuming that your data shows you are ROI positive, then this consistency should signal that it’s time to expand and move to the official launch.

3. Financial modeling

The third key consideration in your soft launch is how well you can balance monetization efforts with promoting game engagement and retention.

During a soft launch, game developers quickly realize that KPIs like ARPU and LTV are the result of a web of interrelated factors both inside and outside of the game itself. When trying to create an ROI positive game, everything from the prices in your in-app economy to your ad copy, should be tested.

In-app ads can be a source of player fatigue or, if used properly, can be a tool to elevate your retention and drive engagement as well as monetization. The soft launch is the time to test different ad formats and the effect they have on your novice audience. The games with the most earning power manage to integrate third-party advertising as a seamless part of their native game economy, functioning more like a channel for microtransactions than for advertising. Rewarded videos and offerwalls tied to in-game benefits or in-app currency can entice users to access more advanced features of your game, with minimal investment on their end.

Trying to test specific aspects of your game amidst many fluctuating variables can be a complex puzzle, which is why you should leverage the soft launch period to get as much clarity and understanding of your in-game economy as possible.

Preparing for the big stage

Even after the soft launch, a well-managed game is constantly being tweaked and adjusted. Think of the soft launch as a way to see the game through the eyes of a group of unbiased players. Will they open it a second time? Will they share it with their friends? You can only have an official release once. Invest in preparation, but remember that continuous iteration and A/B testing is a vital part of today’s evolving mobile industry, and you should constantly be on the lookout to optimize the app experience.

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