A soft launch is the foundation of any well-performing indie game marketing campaign. It gives you significant insight into your audience and the impact of your user acquisition campaigns, at a relatively small financial risk.
So how do you plan a comprehensive soft launch? Let me show you.
What Exactly is a Soft Launch?
It’s a cycle of campaign planning with specific outcomes in mind, then testing to see if it performs as per expectations. If it doesn’t, you change a few elements to re-test, then rinse and repeat.
Similar to a marketing campaign, you test the viability of your game and user behavior with KPIs such as retention rates, LTV and engagement data. The most important data point is the Cost Per Install (CPI) for each demographic.
Once you understand these key data points and test the results for a sufficient time, you can plan your actual launch campaign and its budgets. Soft launches are low risk, reserving your budget for testing your actual game marketing campaign.
What’s more, soft launch offers the opportunity to test and tweak with a small group of users and budget, so you can base all your future marketing assumptions on meaningful Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Additionally, the soft launch offers a great way to beta test your indie game by real users and perfect your build based on the feedback.
Before you begin...
Before you begin any marketing campaign for a soft launch, make sure you test your tracking codes and necessary data APIs multiple times. You must ensure that you're generating data when users flow from your advertising or trailer to your app store pages, conversion and post-game download data.
Ideally, you should have tools like Flurry, Google Analytics or any of your favorite tracking tools installed within your game. Then you’ll be ready to track KPIs like the source of acquisition, session length, user retention data, cost per install and lifetime value.
The most basic thing you can do with almost no budget resources is App Store Optimization (ASO). Consider your app marketplace and how users naturally discover the game, do sufficient keyword research. Even though ASO alone is not enough to draw hundreds of players to your game, once your overall user base starts growing through soft launch, this optimization will attract organic users slowly and steadily without spending a dime.
So make sure you have the best possible ASO and learn from top downloaded games' pages on respective marketplaces.
Location-Based Player Targeting
As a game marketer, you must have a clear understanding of your players’ locations and their likelihood of trying out your game. If you’re unable to forecast correct audience data you’ll end up with unreliable marketing metrics. If your game is multiplayer, a large set of users from different parts of the world is a must, whereas a simple mobile game with a big user base from a single city or a big number of mobile gamers is good enough.
Determine how much testing and data generation your game demands, as well as what cities and countries may hold your ideal user base. More precise historical data analysis will help you determine a perfect set of users from a particular location for releasing your game for soft launch.
Correctly estimating ad spend also depends on a good historical analysis of games from a similar genre and scale as yours.
If your game needs at least 5000 users to successfully generate the right KPIs and get user feedback, you must plan for a budget that will acquire that many gamers. If your estimated CPI is $2 and user acquisition goal is 5000 users, you must go for a minimum $10,000 budget for the soft launch. Of course, this budget may vary drastically based on genre, location and trend, so make sure you research accordingly.
While a soft launch can take 6 months or longer, not all indie studios can afford to wait that long. Most successful indie games have a soft launch window of 40-45 days; sufficient enough to try multiple user acquisition campaigns from various mediums like video marketing, influencer marketing and direct advertising.
Based on your total budget for the campaign, start with a minimal per day spend. As you approach your target CPIs, gradually increase your daily spend.
Soft launch is also a great way to generate feedback from users. Perfect it through prolonged soft launches, as long as your budget allows for it.
Monitor and Modify to Achieve Your Goals
Once your soft launch campaign is going, it’s essential to monitor data on a regular basis. This includes not only the ad spend and cost per user acquisition (CPA), but also the KPIs that gives you insights into how users flow through your game.
A soft launch is not a 'set and forget' campaign but rather a 'reach your calculated goals' campaign. Only when your goals in the soft launch are well within your reach can you hope for a kick-ass hard launch for your game. So make sure you monitor your campaigns as well as user retention data, then refine them to achieve your goals.