Elin Jonsson is a Producer at East Side Games in Vancouver, BC, who works on the hit mobile title, Trailer Park Boys: Greasy Money.
Trailer Park Boys: Greasy Money is a story-driven idle game based on the cult classic TV show, Trailer Park Boys. The game launched in 2017 and quickly became one of the best monetized idle games on the market.
I recently had the opportunity to speak at ironSource’s Game Product Managers Forum in Vancouver about Trailer Park Boys’ journey to functional live ops and how we maximize our long tail.
Plan for live ops
Originally, we didn’t launch our game with live ops in place. But we had our reasons.
Prior to launch, the game was behind schedule. Very behind. Also, this was the first time we had worked with branded IP, and we had pressure from all sides to get the game THE FUCK OUT. We also weren’t completely confident in the game itself — would it work? Was it fun? We had already pivoted dramatically from our original idea, and could not justify spending more time and money developing additional content, and furthermore, a plan for weekly events. We didn’t have the bandwidth to develop tools for our designers and artists to be able to survive in the live ops treadmill, nor tools for the community to be able to assist the players effectively 24/7. We wanted to get the game out the door, so we did. We pushed it out, head first.
The game was really successful (huge relief), but we knew that without events, we would quickly perish. The team scrambled to get events in place, taking several months to get the scheduled events out on time each week.
Our codebase was a challenge and not at all suitable for live ops — a consequence of our pre-launch decision to forego creating the option to rerun an event. So we needed to find ways around the problematic code, which resulted in heavy manual work, as well as endless bugs. We spent a lot of engineering time refactoring the codebase to decrease manual design work and develop tools for everyone on the team.
“The biggest hurdle to smooth service operations is a failure to plan before the game goes to market” PocketGamer: Becky Jowsey
Stay on your toes
As soon as you think you have a working live ops formula — surprise! — you don’t. Since it was extremely time-consuming for our design team to create new events, we thought we could get away with releasing 4 reruns, with every 5th event being brand new (balance, art, and story). It worked for a while, but after six months we started to see a drop in all of our KPIs.
What was going on? Basically, our players were getting bored.
“It is a constant process of adjusting, interacting, updating, reporting, resolving and adjusting again.” Pocketgamer: Becky Jowsey
We realized we needed to switch things up. Seeing that rewrites were relatively cost-effective, we decided to launch 2 new storylines every month. We introduced global promos, reskinned our mini-events (only changing the art), and created a brand new event every month, which led to positive results!
By now, we have a pretty good idea what our fans like and so we constantly update our fan favorites. For example, two months after o fans requested a Conky event (something we plan to give them in February together with guest star mentalist Reveen), KPIs were up. We had learned an important lesson: it is imperative to constantly switch things up to keep our players delighted and engaged. We have players that have been with us from the very start! Our players are super fans of the brand and love everything TPB related. It’s so important for us to continue taking care of these devoted super fans and keep them excited. They are loyal to us and we are loyal to them, as we can see in our sky-high retention numbers.
Need new prizes: Guest stars
We also encountered another problem: we had started to run out of interesting prizes for our players. Prizes drive engagement in our events and even when we offered cool costumes for existing characters, our players always preferred brand new characters from the show. After two years, we had already exhausted the entire cast of the show, with the exception of the guest stars!
Over the years, the Trailer Park Boys have included many guest appearances on their TV show and in their films: Sebastian Bach from Skidrow, Tom Green (comedian), Snoop Dogg (musician), and many more. We started with Tom Green. Two colleagues and I flew down to LA to meet Tom. We booked an Airbnb in the gritty outskirts of Los Angeles and spent the day filming promo videos. Tom Green then approved his character art, and we launched the very successful “Tom Green Event”.
Hot on the tails of the first successful guest star appearance, we continued with Sebastian Bach, and our players LOVED IT.
We then did some digging to unearth a list of other celebrities that share a similar fan base and traits as Trailer Park Boys, but who have never appeared on the show or in the movies. We partnered with comedian Mark Ryden — “Steve Jessup” — and once again we released a very successful event. We also launched a wrestling-themed event with the famed Chris Jericho a few weeks ago, and our players couldn’t have been more thrilled.
How we plan our event calendar to build the hype
We aim to plan one “hypeable” event per month, where we use every tool in our toolbox to create buzz.
We utilize our in-game channels such as the news feature, teasers, push notifications, all of our social media channels, Trailer Park Boys’ channels, and the social reach of the guest star we are featuring. One time we even bought ad space on the local bus system.
We also have a weekly Facebook Live, timed fifteen minutes before each event starts — all to create excitement for the event kickoff. Facebook has always been an important partner for us, we always have gotten great support from the Facebook Developer team. What’s more, most of our players are active Facebook users.
Typically, our players love wrestling, hockey, and weed, so we create special moments around world events such as 4/20, NHL season, and wrestling events. When the Trailer Park Boys hosted a special TPB Cruise to the Bahamas in 2018, we created a “cruise” event and told players: “Even if you didn’t get tickets to the Bahamas, you can always join our Cruise event”.
Our players are very active and our community team always does an incredible job taking care of them. I think it’s safe to say that we have one of the best community teams in the business, with coverage seven days a week and now live support on Facebook. Our community team truly cares about our players and frequently updates the development team on any current issues our players are facing, player trends, and general happiness. We are currently planning a “Fan Appreciation Day” with a secret guest later this year, right here in Vancouver. We want to make sure our fans know we are here for them.
Producing Trailer Park Boys: Greasy Money has been a wild and rewarding ride. Although we encountered a ton of challenges along the way, we are incredibly proud of where we ended up — with a highly rated, incredibly fun game that our fans absolutely love. 1% of our players have been playing our game since day one (over two years!), and much of our community plays no other games, devoting all of their time to ours. We could not have done any of this without the feedback and support of our amazing fans, and their enthusiasm for Greasy Money makes us love working on this game each day!
If you have any questions about live ops, working with IP, or narrative idle games, I can be reached at @EastSideGames on Twitter.