Per Aspera Ad Live Ops: the Gold and Goblins Experience

Per Aspera Ad Live Ops: the Gold and Goblins Experience

The human brain often adds value to items and events that are in some way limited, be that in time, quantity or availability. This approach is used with great success in free-to-play games. 

Let’s see how it works with in-game events, using the video game Gold & Goblins, published by AppQuantum. 

First, a look at some statistics. In 2016 only 50% of mobile games on the Top Grossing list (and 25% of mobile games overall) had in-game events. In 2021 they were present in 94% of the USA’s Top 100 titles (according to Game Refinery). In other words, nearly all the top games use events to attract and retain users, as well as boost monetization.

In-game events can be classified into a few categories:

- Recurring and unique. For example, Christmas is a recurring event, but many people only see it in a game once due to the user life cycle, depending on the genre. There are also events that take place every three days or every couple of weeks. Those can be considered recurring for the majority of users;
- Varied by duration (from multiple hours to a couple of weeks);
- With a completely new economic cycle or integrated into an existing model (battle passes work that way); 
- Using existing gameplay or adding completely new systems; 
- Singleplayer, competitive (e.g. leaderboards) and cooperative (for instance, kill a boss together). 

What are the usual mistakes with these events?


In every game there can be small differences, but we hope you can still gain important information from our experience. 

We think it’s important that in-game events are unique and never repeat. In our experience, however, we learned that most players don’t care if the events are one of a kind. That means you can have recurring events, especially if the project’s user life cycle allows it. 

Our approach to make every event unique proved to be expensive and difficult for the developers, and didn’t allow them to create a large amount of content. Yes, we got an influx of people during the event and didn’t get a drop afterwards (any activity is measured by its effect on income). With that said, production was still too expensive and the amount of content was insufficient. 

Also, the event’s duration was too long and didn’t always fit the content. For example, if you set a week for something small-scale, the user will think they’ll be able to finish the event in the last two days. As a result, the player will lose focus and forget about it altogether. You can, of course, work with longer events, but they have to be prepared properly. 

In addition to that, we used to introduce one or two new mechanics built “on top” of the main game. In idlers this approach brings mediocre results, as there’s little gameplay in them in the first place (as there is in tycoons). Yes, we added something new, but it didn’t bring any considerable growth. 

For Gold and Goblins, developers themselves offered us to do events differently. During them we saw a major ARPDU increase (4 times as much). On top of that, the events were recurring, which, naturally, led to a large increase of LTV (by ⅓).

What changed?


- Instead of specific holidays, the events were tied to weekdays and repeated every week. We still held seasonal events: for Halloween and Christmas. For 2022 we plan to have seasonals for every quarter: Easter (already live), Summer, Halloween and Christmas; 
- Weekly events lasted from 3 days (Sunday to Tuesday) to 5 (Tuesday to Saturday);
- We didn’t even have to tie them to player timings. With the Easter update we introduced three time zones (America, Europe, Asia) for user convenience; 
- We added a button to the main game screen. It displayed the event’s current status, showing if it was live and how much time was left until the end;
- We added push notifications to remind users to log in and play. 

Why did this approach work? 


Events in Gold and Goblins were created as a parallel gameplay loop, using the game’s existing mechanics. Thus, within an idler we let people play another idler that attracted people for a limited duration. The players, who already enjoyed this gameplay, were happy that there was more of it :)

Short events, lasting a couple of days, shouldn’t be too expensive for the player. In our case, completing one would cost about $40 or 150 ad views. However, it could also be completed without spending any money. 

Due to high availability, the event attracted a large share of our playerbase — around 80% of active users. 

Progress was linear, and exponential growth was left for the leaderboards.

Let’s talk briefly about which features you can add on top of the “bare minimum” content — leaderboards (separate for events, limited in time and disappearing after the end), battle passes, social and clan mechanics. 

Introducing leaderboards to Gold and Goblins increased the competitive players share, which led to an IAP ARPPU raise. People started buying more event bundles, in order to get in the lead of their group, which we paid attention to during the development of the 11-days-long Easter event. By dividing it into separate mines (instead of one mine for the short events), we set the final one apart for those who like to fight for top spots, letting the rest finish on the 5th shaft, getting all the rewards, thus making the 6th one purely competitive.

What about rewards? 


Rewards are the most important part of event development and have a lot of influence on player behavior. They have to be paid enough attention to but also be unique enough. It’s important for them to motivate players into taking part in the event again.

In Gold and Goblins there are two events at the beginning of a week and four in the middle. The former are shorter, with either evolve or hard-currency bundles as rewards, depending on the specific event. Thus, players already know they can greatly increase their resources from Sunday to Tuesday. 

Events in the middle of the week offer a more diverse prize pool, but they also last longer — Tuesday to Saturday. Those provide more rare chests and manager upgrade cards.

How does event monetization work? 


The system we’re talking about works not only in Gold & Goblins but in many games of different genres: RPG, tycoon, idler, puzzles, merge, farm, etc. That system is “bundles”. 

Bundles are tied to slowing down progress. Overall, there are 5-6 of them over 3 days and a little fewer for two-day events. Their price is usually low enough to not scare players away — $3 to $15. It increases as the player progresses through the event. The user knows that progress doesn’t carry over between events, so they’ll be ready to pay a bit more every time, in order to get all the content and rewards. 

Such monetization attracts even the type of players that are used to not spending anything on the game, thanks to the added motivation of limited duration. 

What about ad monetization? 


A good decision would be to only leave top ad placements in the events, and not drag everything there. This allows you to “protect” your eCPM and avoid cannibalization of the other ads in the main game. 

For instance, within Gold & Goblins we only repeated two ads from the main game, the most popular ones. This decision proved to be the right one, since it didn’t lead to excess Rewarded Video creation within a limited-time event. It’s important to keep the event scale in mind: the duration, difficulty, conten — all of that can influence not only the number of ad placements but also their frequency. For example, it’s best to let a player watch an ad that helps them increase their offline income only 3-5 times a day. 


So, how exactly do you make quality, money-making events for your game: 

- Make them recurring and tie them not only to holidays but also to calendar weeks. For example, they can repeat every week or two. Set the frequency of your events based on the user life cycle for that specific project;
- When choosing duration, look at the amount of content. Don’t make weekly events too long (over 2-3 days), there’s no point, as the player will lose focus; 
- Events have to be user-friendly: both in gameplay and in accessibility (the best decision is to have a button that can instantly take the player to the event);
- Don’t make the gameplay too complex; 
- Don’t overprice the bundles. For short events set low prices, $3 to $15, increasing as the player progresses. 
- Offer rewards that are relevant to the user. They don’t have to be unique, but should motivate the player to participate. 

We’re always happy to meet new partners! If you want to show us your game and work together to make awesome in-game events, head over to our website to learn more and get in touch :)