Soft launching (also known as SL, soft-launch), is an important step of product validation. We launch a product for a restricted audience so that we can evaluate the potential of the game or product and improve it.
On the one hand, soft-launch is an opportunity to gather metrics on common KPIs that can be used to finance growth (by finding a publishing/acquisition deal, venture capital for growth or even other traditional types of business loans). On the other hand, indie/bootstrapped teams are often cost-sensitive and have to make the most out of their resources.
Ultimately, being able to present evidence that the game has potential gives teams access to negotiation power. After all, it’s an investment in the game and in the company.
The art of demographics on a budget
Choosing the geographical areas or countries where you are going to soft launch is going to have a big impact on the costs and insights. Important things to consider are:
- Low CPIs, high fill rates, traffic quality (not only you should look for paying less, but also being able to acquire enough users to validate your KPIs)
- Your audience and demographics
- Budget for localization/customer support
- More than 1 geographical location (in order to single out location independent effects)
There are great opportunities for soft-launching in countries like Brazil. Besides being able to get lower CPIs, there’s a high population count and it’s a country of which ~45% are adults between 20 and 50, with a big renewing pyramid base.
Compared with Brazil, Portugal seems a bad marketplace to test an app marketed at a younger audience. Moreover, there are a lot more eyeballs in Brazil than in Portugal.
Even if your game is primarily focused on audiences tier 1 countries (like USA, UK, South Korea, etc…), you’ll be able to validate the first stages of the game experience while spending much less (early engagement, early conversion).
CPI by Country from Chartboost (https://www.chartboost.com/resources/) is a great quick free resource to help with your location strategy for soft-launching. You can get insights by platform (iOS, Google Play, and Amazon), as well as various categories like Action, Sports and Strategy.
Going back to our previous examples CPIs on average are higher in Portugal than Brazil.
Localization for the Location
As we mentioned previously, soft launching in Brazil might give cost you less in user acquisition than in the US. However, you’re not going to be able to take full advantage of this strategic decision if your product is not localized in Portuguese (PT-BR more specifically).
It’s not only your product that needs to be localized. You might lose crucial user feedback if you can’t understand the native language of your selected geographical area.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be full-on on engaging localization services. Early product development needs to be fast and nimble. If you work in a multicultural team, there’s a high chance that there’s someone in your team that can be that bridge. Leverage your available resources to the fullest potential.
In case no one in your team is able to localize your game, hiring one-off translation services from a platform like Fiverr might be a good option.
Expose the game to the right audience
Using Facebook Ads (https://www.facebook.com/business/marketing/audience-network) to start driving traffic to your app is an integral part of the testing process. Facebook allows fine targeting for your specific audience. Tests that come from traffic bought from a reputable source help build a solid business case for potential investors.
Keeping an eye on the competition
Knowing where your competition is soft-launching can help you decide where to launch or where to avoid launching a similar product at the same time.
Pocket Gamer maintains curated lists of the best games currently on soft-launch “The best 50 soft launch mobile games for iPhone, iPad or Android” https://www.pocketgamer.com/articles/075070/the-top-50-best-mobile-games-currently-in-soft-launch-for-iphone-ipad-or-android-mobile/. This article includes locations, publishers and short descriptions about the games. Even if you’re still far away from launching, keeping tabs on this section can help you understand some parts of the strategy used by the biggest publishers.
Deciding where to soft-launch your game will have an impact on your release budget. Settling on your final geographical locations for buying users will depend on your business goals. Making good games is incredibly challenging. While there’s a lot of ideas and best practices sometimes at the end of the day the most important thing is to just focus on creating a wonderful game.