How to Prepare a Mobile Game for Closure

Insights & Best Practices

November 10, 2016


min read

Even the biggest developers aren't afraid to kill a game if it doesn't work out, and this year has seen a number of large games closing their doors from Disney's Marvel: Avengers Alliance games to Kabam's Star Wars: Uprising.While it's never the goal, it's essential for developers of any size to be strategic about a shut down. When done right, it prevents fans of the game from being too disappointed and maintains a chance of capturing them for a future title.[caption id="attachment_21296" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]

Kabam Star Wars: Uprising mobile game

Image via Kabam[/caption]

What are the warning signs?

Knowing when a game is beyond help can be tough to gauge: performance is in the eye of the beholder. Supercell killed a game in soft launch even though the company believed it would have been in the top 25 grossing games?a raging success for some devs. For Supercell, it didn't hit the mark.There are a few signs to watch out for, but the most obvious is the failure of a game to recoup its marketing costs. As Eric Seufert of Heracles pointed out on MobileDevMemo, early cash flow is essential to the success of a mobile game?so if a game launches and fails to attract users who will return their investment over a lifetime, it becomes a candidate for closure. This means devs are closely watching the overall cost of marketing spend, retention, user spend and predicted lifetime values for problems. Elevated marketing cost, aligned with slipping user numbers and often shorter game session lengths and lower monetary returns, probably means it?s time to close the doors.[caption id="attachment_21297" align="aligncenter" width="990"]

Supercell Smash Land logo mobile game

Image via Supercell[/caption]

Close suddenly or gradually?

Rolling out a closure is a balancing act between the health of the company and the demands of the users. Shutting down a game immediately will likely save money but upset users, while the opposite is true of a long-tail closure.The first thing devs should consider is capital?how long their company can survive in the red. For devs in dire financial straits, the answer might be a couple of weeks, making a swift closure necessary. A longer shutdown is feasible for those more financially stable and/or if the game is dwindling rather than dying.Second, devs should assess the physical process of shuttering their game. An infinite runner generating most revenue from mobile game ad monetization will be relatively easy to shut off because it doesn't have complex networking (e.g. multiplayer servers) nor an extensive in-game economy in which players have invested. A server-intensive, multiplayer game, on the other hand, will be harder to close down. Though it might be tempting to rush the close of a server-intensive game to save time and money in upkeep, loyal players will be outraged by a sudden shutdown. Devs should take care to scale back games where possible to avoid ripping off fans.

How do we tell the players?

Closing a game is bound to upset players initially. But evident from responses to this sunsetting announcement (a subtle word for closure) from DeNA about Transformers: Battle Tactics, fans can be understanding. Use posts on forums, push notifications and press outreach to inform players of what is taking place, while also making sure to turn off advertising campaigns to a game to prevent wasting user acquisition funds.[caption id="attachment_21298" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]

DeNA Transforms: Battle Tactics mobile game

Image via DeNA[/caption]Once that is done, it's time to begin scaling the game back on the predetermined timeline. Then, on the day of closure, switch off any remaining in-game resources such as in-game advertising, take the game offline and withdraw the game from the app store. Devs can consider offering users a compensation package, though it?s rare that they do so.At that point, the closure is complete. Though users might retain access to a game because the app has been downloaded to a device, use a pop-up message on the splash screen to inform players of a closure and direct them to other games in an effort to retain them.

What's the best way to move forward?

There's no shame in releasing a game that fails. In such a hit-driven business, many games won't hit the mark or be a commercial success. But make sure to mark the closure with a debrief to figure out what worked, what didn't and what could be done differently in the future. This will help the team to move on from the game and get excited about making improvements when creating the next.And by understanding how to close a game respectfully, learning from mistakes and using those lessons in the future, developers can put themselves on the long road to success?even if it?s bumpy along the way.