Crititcal checklist before launching an online social game

I have often been asked what are the critical tasks before launching an online social game like CityVille or FarmVille?   The short answer is… there are a hundred critical tasks… These tasks however vary from company to company – so let’s approach this in a little more of a generalized fashion.

A while ago I made a post looking back on what it was like to launch the Social Game FishVille.  It’s a good tale of the ups and downs.  In addition to FishVille I have helped out on dozens of other Social Game launches while at Zynga.  In all honesty – we got pretty good at launching them.

Here are some key lessons we learned from launching Online Social Games.  Use these as your critical task-list for launching a new game.

1. Launch Day should just be a “normal release”

Too often game teams put in extra hours working day and night to make it launch day.  This is BAD.  With a Console game (and to some extent a mobile game) you can get away with this.  You send off your game to the distributor and then you can relax and maybe start working on the next phase.  However an Online Social Game works in real time.  New problems will need to be addressed instantly after launch.  Before you launch your product you need to already be in the daily schedule that you want to keep.  If you want your schedule to be a 9-6 schedule – then start working it.  If you want to work 12 hour days every day – then do that.  The key is that your workload does not go away simply because you “launch”.  Rather your workload increases – so you had better be prepared to handle it.

2. Never under estimate the value of polish

Too often it can be so tempting to just launch the dang thing and prove it out.  However there is one key fundamental flaw with this.  Your users will only give you one chance at your app.  The money you spend on advertising, the money you spend on development, will all be undervalued and wasted if you do not pay attention to the polish.  It is so easy to take an app and build it 80% of the way.  However it is the last 20% that truly stand the titan apps apart from the run of the mill apps.

3. Test your virals, again and again and again.

This is the key difference between a social game and a console game.  After all a social game is not social without the virals.  If your virals are not working your app will never get momentum.  From the top of your viral funnel all the way down to the bottom you need to ensure that every viral is working as expected.  You need to ensure that all of the proper viral hooks for requests, feeds, emails, tweets, etc are all in the right place.  Most importantly – you have to way those numbers carefully after the first few days of launch to ensure they are performing properly.  There is no sense in dumping a ton of money into advertising a social game that is not viral.  A social game that is not viral means the users are not engaged.  Users that are not engaged do not spend money.

4. Stat track everything

One of the biggest challenges of a new game launch is having a clue as to what is actually going on.  Ensure that every action within your game is being tracked so that you can understand how your users are acting.  This will enable you to know which features might not be working properly.  This can also give you valuable insight into potential outlets for expansions, new features and even monetary additions.

5. Ops alerting and monitoring

Take the time needed to setup your alert graphs and monitoring system.  Create alerts not only for your hardware but also for your stats and virality.  If all of a sudden users stop sending new requests – make sure that you get alerted.  When that happens that is the equivalent of your advertising going down the tubes.  Setup external monitors such as pingdom or other site watching programs.  Never underestimate the value of performance based graphs and alerts.

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