There’s an interesting trend bubbling up of extremely time limited offers in mobile games - let’s call them microsales.
In a microsale, there’s an offer - for example a deal on a virtual item, currency or content (eg- access to a special dungeon). This is presented with a very short countdown timer, typically 20 seconds or less.
The player is forced to make an explicit decision on the spot - take the offer now or let it pass with regret and uncertainty as to when or if it would return.
It’s an interesting entry in the monetization toolbox, and one that to me, makes sense:
A study by Scott Swain, Richard Hanna and Lisa Abendroth (2006) examined 3 mechanisms (deal evaluations, anticipated regret, and urgency) that influence purchase intent, through the lens of time limited sales. They concluded:
…shorter time limits create a greater sense of urgency thereby leading to higher purchase intentions…giving consumers more time leads only to more delay and, in effect, the shorter time limit causes the promotion to gain priority on consumers’ “to do” lists. However, caution is needed since… too short of a time limit can also increase perceptions of inconvenience, leading to lower deal evaluations and ultimately lower purchase intent.
On mobile the “inconvenience” factor I think is reduced - you’re already in a “limited time” frame of mind, and all it takes is a single tap on a button to take up the offer - especially when using virtual currency, not needing the interruption of IAP password entry.
That out of the way, all you need is a sufficient time for the deal to be evaluated, which is normally in the period of seconds, not minutes.
Does that mean traditional 24 and 48 hour digital sales are on their way out? I doubt it, but I suspect that we’ll see a lot more of microsales used in parallel in the future.
Have you used or seen a microsale lately? Would love your feedback. Tweet or email
Image for a minute, one of the U.S.’s Top Grossing iOS apps.
A freemium game that has stayed top of the charts for the last three months.
Like me, you might imagine a title with gorgeous HD graphics, slick UI and a lush soundtrack?
You’d be mistaken.
In fact, the first time you play Rage of Bahamut by Japanese developer Cygames (published by DeNA/ngmoco), you might think you’ve downloaded another app by accident.
The visuals? Mangalicious, but low def only.
The UI? A web port with text, links, buttons and banners on often long scrolling pages.
Audio? This game doesn’t have any. Really.
But that doesn’t hold it back.
Rage of Bahamut (RoB) is a triumph of game mechanics over glamour.
It’s million dollar proof that depth counts (that should make us game designers happy :)
Up at the top of the ranks since launch
Here’s my attempt on breaking down some of the key elements that make it such a monetization monster.
Mobile-Friendly Core Game Loop
First the bread and butter.
RoB is a collectible card game (CCG) with a very solid core game loop:
- Quest and battle (pve and pvp) using sets of cards, which have various attributes.
- This gives you resources: soft currency (rupies), items, treasures, cards and XP.
- In turn these give you the ability to increase your level, acquire and upgrade cards.
- Which lets you quest and battle vs more difficult opponents and get better rewards.
It’s a simple to grasp concept that let’s players get right onto an addictive levelling grind in the pursuit of making progress.
Being a numbers heavy game (no actual combat or real time skill involved), there is plenty of depth for stats obsessed gamers to dive into.
By it’s nature it fits well for mobile gameplay.
- is easy to grasp and UI works well on a small phone screen
- has a vertical orientation makes it easy to play with one hand
- can be played in small snippets - actions don’t take long (eg battle in <30 secs)
- can be resumed with minimal real time elements (eg- change trains, go in a lift)
It’s a foundation that sets it up solidly for all the monetization* elements we’ll go into next.
* RoB also has a bunch of well executed retention and viral features (can I interest you in my referral code?) but that’s out of scope for this post.
IAP removed time restrictions
Ok, like all modern social games, RoB restricts how long you can play in a session, a limit that can be removed via IAP:
This is implemented through two main mechanisms - Stamina (used for progressing in pve quests) and Attack Power (used for pve boss battles and in pvp).
Both are consumed through actions, and regenerate at a rate of 1 per minute.
Both can also be refilled through hard currency (rage medal) acquired consumables: “cure water” and “holy power” respectively.
This basic mechanism motivates players to spend to reduce waiting times, and helps pace the game for free users.
Gacha and collection mechanics
Next, the gacha.
There are several types and many hundreds of cards in RoB, each with different attributes and maturation and evolution states.
All active players have a drive to gain better cards be it through gameplay, trading or card pack purchas - a key monetization driver.
Players can purchase card packs in the prominent position on the right of the UI header bar:
A card pack (there are several kinds) contains a set number of random cards, and there is always the small chance to get rarer (more powerful) items.
For example, there is a small chance that an SS Rare card like the Crystal Queen above may drop in a beginner legend card pack. There are at least 8 levels of rarity in the game (including normal).
And even if poor cards are received, they can at least be sacrificed to help upgrade other cards, reducing the psychological sting of drawing a bad set (more on that later).
All up it’s a solid casino mechanic that plays on the notion that you might well “strike it rich” in your next Card Pack. And it doesn’t hurt that Card Packs cost quite a lot of real money.
On a related note there are also collection drivers within the game, with bonuses awarded in case of a set completion.
One example -
In questing and pvp (you can target specific items from opponents) there is the chance to obtain an item from one of the treasure sets, which when complete give you a completion reward. This also carries over to events, where set completion unlocks bonus items.
Collecting of cards is also popular, as a result of the next topic…
Deep upgrading system
RoB includes a couple of systems, commonly used in conjunction that encourage you to source and consume cards to help make other cards incrementally stronger.
This has the net effect of encouraging more gameplay and monetization sinked through the card upgrade system, that plays into the desire to make good cards “that much better”.
The first- enhancing is a way to upgrade a cards level and battle stats (attack and defence) by sacrificing other cards, called feeders.
The second- evolving is a way to combine two cards of the same type to a more powerful version of the card - there are normally 4 evolution levels, and at the final level the cards rarity also goes up one level. The 4 levels are represented visually by different graphic versions of the same character, as in this Archangel example:
Like an an RPGs recipe and crafting system, these systems can be used in a variety of interesting combinations, yielding different results.
The systems also operate on a “law of diminishing returns”.
Cards have maximum rating, and increases towards a maximum require a greatly increasing amount of resources.
A maximum card evolution with only a few enhancements might deliver close to 98% of maximum, but to squeeze the last couple of percent up to 100% could take an enhancement investment of 15 (ie all cards enhanced in the evolution process).
Perfect for perfectionists :)
An analogy might be world class athletes, competing and training more and using increasingly advanced technology to shave off ever decreasing milliseconds off world records.
This makes it an awesome sink especially for its target audience, and combined with PvP participants competitive natures a strong monetization driver.
Well executed tutorial
Despite cheesy lines and endless tapping, the tutorial is strangely endearing, and more importantly introduces the player early to the key monetization systems - gacha, card packs, card upgrade and PvP, via a simulation with the guide npc.
Also subtle, the realm choice at the start of the tutorial uses your personal preference to drive the first sense of alliance and community. I’d say it represents the first emotional investment in the game, and players are generally more receptive to pay if they are hooked in emotionally.
PvP - revenge, proactive revenge and competitive spirit
Like other top grossing games (think Kingdoms of Camelot or Backyard Monsters), PvP goes deep and is a key part of RoB’s success.
Players can battle each other (your attack strength vs their defence strength modulated by various skills/effects) and by winning, gain among other things, currency (a percent of the losers liquid amount up to a certain value) and treasure.
Whilst there is some protection mechanisms so that lower level players don’t get beaten down by much higher level players, beyond that you have the chance to attack and be attacked, with impact.
This encourages players to spend to money to increase their attack and defence scores.
PvP can also get personal - there is a strong human reaction (dust off the evolutionary psychology theory) to a loss inflicted by another, even more than a positive emotional impact gaining something. Rivalry and in the evolutionary context, putting a wayward tribe member back in place I believe motivates even more monetary investment.
Feeding from that fear of loss, the game also lets you buy insurance (proactive revenge) for your treasure items (currency can be indirectly protected in other ways). The game lets you buy a magic circle to place on your treasure items. A magic circle fires once when that item is targeted by another player, automatically inflicting a loss on them.
Beyond the direct PvP battle system there is also a meta game available for players over level 10 (where some of the deeper monetization systems kick in), with a leaderboard of battle rankings, compiled using another attribute gained in proactive and defensive PvP. This is used to determine the best players during that time period, and based on their placement they are granted another currency, gems, that can be then redeemed for items and even more powerful cards.
Battle leaderboards are reset regularly, encouraging ongoing level of competition and investment in the game.
Guilds and guild PvP
Continuing on the PvP theme, one area RoB has done particularly well is their implementations of guilds, or in their terminology, “Orders”.
Only available to more established players (level requirement), orders let players join and then ultimately form their own groups, complete with leadership, roles and hierarchy.
Orders enable encourage investment in a group via a donations mechanism, and the leadership can also construct speciality walls and buildings that confer attribute bonuses to all members.
For example, a church constructed by an order can boost all God realm cards attack and defence by 5%, for a cost of 3 million Rupies.
Like players and their cards, orders themselves can be leveled up through group donations which has the impact of increasing the maximum number of members up beyond 30, which is useful in guild PvP.
Guild PvP is implemented through a “Holy War” system, whereby an order declares war during a set time period, and is matched automatically with another order (I didn’t figure out that algorithm), triggering a time limited event where order members battle each other, with resulting rankings (tabulated by a guild PvP specific attribute, Holy War Points) that ultimately translate into more cards.
The guild structure and guild PvP system in RoB have several benefits to monetization:
- A loop of helping a guild which helps the player which helps the guild etc
- Guild events and structures give a reason to spend to help the team performance
- Guilds communication tools eg forums facilitate economic activities like trading
- Guild leadership roles encourage more investment by those members
- Encourages patronage relationships where senior members desire to help others
- And of course a strong social bond (shared struggle, shared rewards) that encourages higher ongoing retention
Note - In addition to the order guild system, there is also a personal group system (everyone gets a guild!) called Fellows. I won’t go into that in this post as I understand it as more of a viral/sticky tool rather than directly monetization related, but indirectly helps monetization through mechanics where fellows leader cards can assist in certain attacks. ie- we upgrade and can help each other in a reciprocal manner.
Events are key - keeping the game evergreen and encourage returning play and introducing new goals to drive towards.
In a recent event, players were encouraged to stop evil entities from using magic moon tears
In addition to guild PvP events (Holy Wars) there are also PvE events that encourage team work, and encourage purchase towards event specific cards which help in the specific event they appear in.
The loop is obvious and direct but appears to works, especially when caught up in the thrill of the shared event (would be interesting to see if an indirect system would have fared better)
Events also tie in with normal grind mechanics (eg quest system) but with typically additional random effects that let players participate for longer. This also ties in with a gacha mechanic whereby random rewards are assigned at random times.
Whilst a lot of work to implement and manage (there was a community uproar over technical issues in a recent event) the monetization impact particularly to dedicated paying users looks strong.
Item trading and economy
Last but not least RoB features a robust trading system and with it a simple but effective economy with de-facto item exchange rates (eg- to consumable items). Players can freely trade currency, cards and items with their friends.
As player activity “generates value” through upgrades and random drops through extended gameplay, that value can be transferred between players. Psychologically this can mean investment in upgrades, grinding and collection is “worth it”.
This also adds another dimension to the gameplay, allowing players to participate in a (often as satisfying) meta game of trading, profiting from sales as well as purchasing desired items directly.
Whilst in theory trading might be seen to reduce high end paying user monetization as it gives an option to purchase from another player (who in theory may have been farming for free) rather than directly from the game, converting free time into paid value, in reality it plays well with the random drop and upgrade nature of the game, encouraging more collection and investment in the game in general.
I believe Rage of Bahamut succeeds because of its excellent game design and deep systems that directly and indirectly drive monetization.
Put simply there are many different reasons and ways to spend your money.
It’s a great match to a high paying demographic and is implemented in a way that is mobile friendly and of course, fun :)
ps - wrote this post for personal interest to understand about monetization in CCGs, an old genre that’s new to me (grew up with D&D, not Pokemon!)
Thanks to Adriaan and other players for helping me understand the game better and also big ups to the RoB Wiki.
I’d love to hear your feedback. What did you think of the game? Email or tweet
I recently got this friendly text from T-Mobile:
Only slightly peeved, I called to ask what upgrade or top up I could get to restore my speed. I was told, being on the highest volume plan already, there was no option. I had to just bear 1990’s style internet access while waiting for the next billing month to start.
I was willing to pay, but there was nothing to spend on.
Quite peeved, this got me thinking back to a game design issue - how to fully meet demand from paying players. After all it’s normally easier to increase ARPPU than paid user conversion rate.
Take our title Style Me Girl. The core puzzle mechanic with energy based currency earning requires serious patience or skill to finish the game for free.
So most players who reach into the end-game are paying. And the majority of who do finish the game enjoy it and want to keep playing:
What’s the solution we offer today?
Well you can go back and try and get 3 stars for all levels like in
Or just sit tight and wait until the new levels hit, whenever that is. Tomorrow or maybe in two weeks. Dear player, cool with that?
Oh hang on…. we’re guilty of… that makes us just like…. T-Mobile! *sob sob*
Drama aside, what are the sort of things that could help?
The good news is that there are LOTS of tactics in this sort of case. These include:
- More content, on a faster cycle (no brainer)
- Parallel spending on multiple characters / pets etc
- Parallel spending on multiple attributes, with accompanying mechanics
- Random drops to encourage speculative consumption
- Premium content, time limited or otherwise special items
- Item upgrading, crafting and customizations
- Adding more and varied time gates to gameplay
- Branched story overlays to increase fun of replayability
- Programatic goal generation (this is tough to get right, just ask D3)
- Community and PvP play to give new play goals
Some really interesting stuff here, I plan to dive into a handful of them in future posts as we design and roll them out.
Whether you’re T-Mobile or Tiny-Startup, don’t leave money on the table.
How do you give paying players more to buy and enjoy? Email me or tweet