American Marketer


Why soft launches are becoming the game marketer’s best weapon

June 13, 2014

Craig Palli is chief strategy officer of Fiksu Craig Palli is chief strategy officer of Fiksu


By Craig Palli

Because of its ability to provide marketers unprecedented insight into problems that could hinder an application’s broader release, a soft launch is one of the most effective tools for maximizing an app’s potential while mitigating risk.

Although beneficial for every type of app, soft launches are of particular use to game developers.

So what is it about games?
Games are the most popular category in the United States app stores – and that should come as no surprise.

In 2013, mobile game usage grew by 66 percent. The most recent estimates suggest users spend 40 percent of their total in-app time playing with, among other things, birds of varying temperaments.

For game marketers, cracking the top 10 of the category requires approximately 65,000 daily downloads, more than ten times as many needed for more typical categories. This high degree of competiveness leaves little margin for error.

Not knowing whether users are getting stuck at a certain level, growing frustrated and forever ditching a game, for example, could be the deciding factor between sustained chart rank and obscurity.

Enter soft launches
Soft launches help game developers identify potential problems, but testing everything and anything – from the copy’s appeal to the value of a tutorial – can be time consuming and expensive. Therefore, before a soft launch, developers need to narrow their focus.

To cut down on potential testing points, you will need to understand what data needs to be collected to provide worthwhile feedback and determine how gained information will lead to tangible improvements.

Common questions usually fall among one of four categories: user experience, user retention, monetization and virality.

Sample questions include:

• How are users interacting with your game?

• Is there functionality that players are not using at all?

• What threshold do they have to reach to become long-term players?

• How long does it take players to make a purchase?

• Are IAPs priced correctly?

• Are people sharing your app?

• Do you have the right sharing tools in place?

Once a hypothesis and testing method is determined, the next step is to select a representative market.

Games for release in the U.S., for instance, will typically soft launch in English-speaking countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

Game developers then need to decide on a tracking partner; user acquisition (UA), user experience (UX), or both. UA tracking focuses on app marketing and ROI, telling you such information such as where new users come from, how much they cost, and how much revenue they generated.

UX tracking, on the other hand, details what users do in your app: where churn occurs, what features they do and do not use, and where they get stuck. It also provides information on user flow, session length, and social sharing.

Choosing a tracking partner is dependent on the prerequisite decisions.

Sweat the small stuff
All this work will be for naught, though, if you overlook key details when rushing your game out to launch.

For example, spending to acquire users is more or less useless if your registration page does not work. So, to get the best results, be mindful of the finer, but nevertheless important, details such as:

• Links are working and directing to the correct pages

• Font and image formatting is correct

• Rating tools and comments are operative

• Third-party integrations are active and working

• Images and content are in the correct sections

• Social sharing capabilities are working and directing to the correct link

• Servers can handle the weight of a large volume of users

WHEN DONE CORRECTLY, soft launches can collect data that will suggest improvements on everything from improving user flow to monetizing more effectively. It is a smart and strategic tool for app marketers looking to gain an advantage in an all-too competitive category.

Craig Palli is chief strategy officer of Fiksu, Boston. Reach him at