What does ‘live ops’ mean?
But these activities, and the machinations behind them, remain mostly behind the scenes: not so clear to the eye of the average player. So what does live ops entail?
“Live ops consists of a few things in my honest opinion: first, [making sure] there is exciting new stuff on a regular basis, something that brings the players back and offers other reasons to come back and check out the game,” says Walter. “It’s like a new episode of a series of your choice. For us, that means seasonal events, ages and in general everything that drives the player forward to improve their city.”
Next, he says, is technical quality – a crucial aspect of maintenance for a mobile title such as Forge of Empires.
“We have a very high internal standard and allocate significant resources to maintain top notch technical quality – be it the pure bug count or the size of the app, the download times for the updates or the loading times of any module within the game. Tech cannot be done just once, but needs frequent care as well.”
A huge part of the Forge of Empires strategy hones in on a ‘players come first’ mentality, with the company focusing on feedback, monitoring all systems, reading app-reviews, doing A/B tests, observing the competition and doing user tests.
“Validation of happiness is key for us,” Walter explains. “While the practice itself didn’t really change, the tools we have in 2020 are much better for it than those we had in 2012.”
He adds that the crux of an effective live ops strategy marries entertainment with business goals and technical necessities: “In the end, nothing works without the other. Doing only fancy things in-game but ignoring tech works for a few months maybe before users churn, because the app is getting too slow, big or inconvenient to use. Doing it the other way around brings the same result. There isn’t something like the most important – it’s the mix of it all that makes a successful game or service.”
Live ops is a fast-changing field, and includes a set of operations that needs to be integrated into games’ overall lifecycles.
“I’ve only really been involved in the live operations cycle for about a year and half
now,” says Kieran Taylor, associate producer on live ops for F1 2020 at, Kieran Taylor, “but even in that time I can see how things have progressed, both as a developer and a gamer.
“It used to be that a game would be released, there would be a typical patch cycle period and then support would fall off – particularly true for annual franchises. There has been a shift to support titles longer and I feel like we’ve embraced that well here. We’ve created a dedicated team whose sole focus is on the current title and that means that we aren’t pulling resources from other areas of the business. This also means we don’t need to schedule work around other critical points of development.”
And its benefits move beyond player engagement at Codemasters, with live ops contributing to expanding and optimising the game itself.
“It’s not only about what the game currently has to offer but actually expanding on its feature set and making quality of life improvements that maybe wouldn’t make it previously,” continues Taylor. “This has really been the big benefit of how live ops has changed over the years, as it brings more content to games that people love.”