How to manage your first mobile game launch – Lunescape experience

Nevena Ristić,
Product Marketing Manager, Webelinx Games
Launching a mobile game is quite a quest, because it includes not only a vision, but also a firm belief that you’re doing the right thing. You need significant resources, but above all, precise planning, a well-structured team, and open communication. Also, you should be aware that things can go wrong at any stage. :) The stake is even higher when you embark on the adventure of developing and publishing a game for the first time. No matter how data-driven you are, there will always be many unknown and unexpected situations on your journey.

Webelinx Games team has created many games over the years, mostly in the casual genre, but the newest addition to our portfolio can be considered a big break for some of us. For me, it was an opportunity to go through all the preparatory and operational phases in product marketing, to make mistakes, and also learn a lot. For my colleagues, it was a chance to take over new roles and face new challenges. Since the target audience for the game is mostly female, and the team that conceived and designed the game almost entirely consists of women, the game development in this case has been a path of learning and empowerment. This is reflected in the storyline itself, and we believe it will inspire our players, regardless of their age or gender.

Detailed market research and competitive analysis indicated that the situation in our target niche - interactive storytelling - was changing

Lunescape  is a journey that Miljana Popovic bravely embarked on as a Product Manager with her own team. She already had vast experience in creating games, but now, for the first time, she got the opportunity to lead a project from the very beginning and decide on each and every phase of development. Although an economist by education, Miljana started her career in Webelinx Games back in 2016 as a level designer. However, being a book lover, Miljana soon became the writer of interactive stories that outperformed the top games in the category by the number of downloads and reader retention. After a couple of years of creative writing and a dozen of successful stories, she got the chance to guide and mentor new writers as their team lead. Before long, she overtook a new role. With her skills and determination, she was more than qualified to become the Product Manager of a brand new and authentic product.

While Miljana was immersed in product development, I was involved in promoting those products. The position of an ASO specialist and translator at Webelinx Games opened the door to the gaming industry for me in 2017, which was in a way an expected growth path for a linguist. Over the years, the structure and complexity of my role further developed, taking me to new heights. My new role is that of a Product Marketing Manager, a role that encompasses various, highly diverse activities included in building, developing, and implementing product marketing strategies.

Working in the gaming industry, both of us were able to approach our mutual love of fiction from a whole different perspective and put it into a contemporary frame of work. The Lunescape project allowed us to dive into game development and marketing, from the conception of an idea to publishing, and further along to live-ops phases.

 Detailed market research and competitive analysis indicated that the situation in our target niche – interactive storytelling – was changing. That oriented us to position our new game between two genres – storytelling and role-playing, and to undertake the development of a game that differs from everything else we have created so far.

The core gameplay of an interactive story needed to be intertwined with side mechanics that would provide additional options for customization and building relationships with other characters, as well as clearer progress throughout the game. From the marketing perspective, the key moment was defining the target audience and their motivations for playing games. After that, we needed to devise a game that would offer a fresh and more complete experience to the fans of interactive stories, but also to a wider audience in search of new mechanics and hybrid genres. Miljana points out that developing a new product resembles assembling a puzzle with friends:

You have a clear vision of how the final product should look like, you have a team directed towards a common goal, and all you need to do is fit the pieces together into a whole. A well-structured team and precise planning are essential to building up firm foundations for a product, which was our next step after doing the market research. Setting up an MVP scope means identifying minimal requirements of a product that are necessary to provide the defined KPIs and bring value to both the business and end users – our target audience. Once the acceptance criteria were defined, artists and developers were given all the information needed about the functionality we want to achieve. However, they had enough freedom to bring in their creativity and give their unique contribution to the product. Of course, sometimes the simplest task can contain a more complex structure that requires more time and effort than initially planned, and that is the moment when one has to be agile and revise the scope to find the solution that fits best with your budget and schedule. Good coordination inside the team is crucial, as well as between teams – above all, between the marketing and analytics team. The analytics team had an important role in defining the game economy and maintaining the balance between user engagement and monetization, thus setting up a core game loop.

9 out of 10 new games are bound to fail

In the beginning, it was a leap in the dark because, regardless of detailed research and other preparations for the game launch, there are no guarantees that the game would be a success. As a matter of fact, the statistics are rather cruel and show that 9 out of 10 new games are bound to fail. That’s why it was important to choose target markets carefully and assess available resources. Our experience with publishing over 10 interactive story games turned out to be an enormous advantage since our user base was quite large – players knew and loved our games. So, we decided to activate that community on social media in order to get the first insights regarding the theme and style of the new game. The reaction we got confirmed the conclusions of the market research phase and gave wings to the development team led by Miljana to continue in the direction they had chosen.

This user base played an even more important role after the game launch because they gave our game a significant boost and enabled us to get the first KPIs quickly. We continued with a soft launch, the ongoing phase of the product development an marketing, where we focused on particular markets and tested different ad networks in order to evaluate the marketability of the game – whether it was a good market fit and interesting enough for our target audience, and what opportunities and threats were entailed. Sometimes we missed the deadlines and needed to find ad hoc solutions, but with mutual support and help, we managed to stay on the right track with our go-to-market strategy and optimize resources.

By working together and coordinating our activities, we could overcome obstacles and embrace new challenges. It was crucial to remain data-driven and react timely, often doing so regardless of the plan and schedule. This experience demanded stepping out of our comfort zones, but opened many opportunities to learn and grow.

The Product Manager role gave me a completely new perspective. It enabled me to improve my organizational skills and remain persistent in chasing goals despite all the challenges I have faced, concludes Miljana.

The core values we are taking from this process are open and constant communication within the team and between teams, coordination of all activities, and confidence in the people you are working with. Of course, preserving a data-oriented approach in future planning and growth is the key to success. Our Lunescape adventure continues and we’re looking forward to seeing what it will bring.

More about phases and activities in a new game launch in the lecture Go-To-Market-Strategy held by Aleksandra Smiljkovic and Nevena Ristic from Webelinx Games during SGA Playing Narratives Bootcamp 2022.