GameRefinery https://www.gamerefinery.com Thu, 11 Aug 2022 10:56:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://www.gamerefinery.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/cropped-gr-web-thumbnail-32x32.png GameRefinery https://www.gamerefinery.com 32 32 Episode 31: Crafting a Charming Farming Game: The Story of Sunrise Village’s Development https://www.gamerefinery.com/episode-31-crafting-a-charming-farming-game-the-story-of-sunrise-villages-development/ Thu, 11 Aug 2022 06:34:29 +0000 https://www.gamerefinery.com/?p=15595 In this episode of the Mobile Gamedev Playbook, Thi Detert, Senior Lead Game Designer at InnoGames, and Product Owner, Alison Simpson talk about the development journey of Sunrise Village with GameRefinery, a Liftoff company analyst Teemu Palomäki and our host, Jon Jordan.    Spotify, BuzzSprout, TuneInRadio, iHeartRadio – If you enjoy the episode, remember to […]

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In this episode of the Mobile Gamedev Playbook, Thi Detert, Senior Lead Game Designer at InnoGames, and Product Owner, Alison Simpson talk about the development journey of Sunrise Village with GameRefinery, a Liftoff company analyst Teemu Palomäki and our host, Jon Jordan.

   Spotify, BuzzSprout, TuneInRadio, iHeartRadio
If you enjoy the episode, remember to hit subscribe!

We will cover the challenges (and solutions) encountered along the way from soft launch to global launch; the solutions that allowed the design team to build everything from components developed by the dev team; what inspired the game; and what the future might have in store for InnoGames.

You can also watch the episode on YouTube:

Topics we will cover in this episode:

  1. Introduction
  2. Moving from strategy games to casual games
  3. Expanding your audience
  4. Two sets of crafting games
  5. Combining existing genres with new trends
  6. Creating a narrative for a mobile game
  7. Design and pre-production phase
  8. How does InnoGames approach the soft launch phase
  9. Designing a game economy that is accessible to all players
  10. Designing collaborative elements
  11. Future plans for Sunrise Village

The post Episode 31: Crafting a Charming Farming Game: The Story of Sunrise Village’s Development appeared first on GameRefinery.

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Analyst Bulletin: Mobile Game Market Review July 2022 https://www.gamerefinery.com/mobile-game-market-review-july-2022/ Thu, 04 Aug 2022 09:17:22 +0000 https://www.gamerefinery.com/?p=15538 July saw plenty of summer-themed events making a return to games, including Genshin Impact and Umamusume Pretty Derby (ウマ娘プリティーダービー), while some of the mobile market’s biggest names such as Apex Legends: Mobile, League of Legends: Wild Rift and Diablo Immortal got major content updates.  Earlier this month, we wrote an article about the most successful […]

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July saw plenty of summer-themed events making a return to games, including Genshin Impact and Umamusume Pretty Derby (ウマ娘プリティーダービー), while some of the mobile market’s biggest names such as Apex Legends: Mobile, League of Legends: Wild Rift and Diablo Immortal got major content updates. 

Earlier this month, we wrote an article about the most successful traits of rhythm games in the top three markets following the growing popularity of rhythm games in the mobile market, and July saw multiple music-related updates in mobile games. The biggest update was the K-pop girl band, BLACKPINK, making their debut in PUBG: Mobile, but we also saw some interesting music integration with gachas in Puzzle & Dragons (パズル&ドラゴンズ), while the popular rhythm game Beatstar introduced new competitive multiplayer elements. 

As always, we spotted plenty of collaborations and anniversary events happening throughout the month of July. These ranged from Cookie Run: Kingdom’s mammoth-sized 50-day collaboration with Disney, and State of Survival teaming up with the UFC to Game of Sultans Royal Pets celebrating its fourth anniversary. 

You’ll find more information about all of these events, along with all of the other major updates from across the three main markets below. 

US Market Overview

Two of July’s major content updates in the US were for two of the hottest newcomers in the mobile market: Diablo Immortal and Apex Legends: Mobile. 

Diablo Immortal’s debut content update was a big one, introducing a class-change mechanic (non-monetized); a new Battle Pass season; two new raid bosses; a new set of legendary equipment items; and the first non-recurring event since the launch called Hungering Moon, in which players completed event tasks to gain Moonslivers event currency and draw event rewards. Apex Legends: Mobile’s new season added another exclusive character and a new map from the console/PC version of the game, alongside plenty of events and cosmetic items.

Diablo Immortal's Hungering Moon event is the game's first non-recurring event since its launch event.
Diablo Immortal’s Hungering Moon event is the game’s first non-recurring event since its launch event.

There were plenty of major events in July too, one of the stand-outs being PUBG: MOBILE’s first in-game concert with K-pop stars BLACKPINK taking to the virtual stage. The concert performances were repeated multiple times for different time zones and monetized with new cosmetic items, with a second, unrelated event inspired by Ancient Egypt taking place in the second half of July. The Cookie Run: Kingdom and Disney event features a cartoon collaboration not to be missed (and unlikely to at 50-days long) with 20 new Disney-themed characters transforming the land of Kingdom into Disneyland.

Before the concerts and in between, PUBG Mobile presented players with Cheer Event, a monetized side event where players could show their love to the queens of K-pop by splurging money on the IAP Cheer items to get points and a limited title.
Before the concerts and in between, PUBG Mobile presented players with Cheer Event, a monetized side event where players could show their love to the queens of K-pop by splurging money on the IAP Cheer items to get points and a limited title.

Elsewhere, Genshin Impact’s Summer Fantasia event returned with a new map and gachas, causing a surge in revenue, Royal Match, The Sims™ FreePlay, Slotomania™ Slots Vegas Casino, and Beatstar expanded their events loop by introducing new event types, Brawl Stars boosted its revenue with new skins inspired and designed by K-pop legends BTS, and League of Legends: Wild Rift saw its revenue climb with a new Battle Pass season and its new Star Guardian event, the game’s first monetized event. Wild Rift also added a new reward collectibles album system, a collection system implementation that we haven’t seen in cosmetic monetized games other than PUBG MOBILE.

Summer Fantasia event's limited-time character gacha boosted Genshin Impact's revenues.
Summer Fantasia event’s limited-time character gacha boosted Genshin Impact’s revenues.

Interesting top 200 grossing entrants on the market

  • Square Enix’s turn-based RPG, Octopath Traveler: CotC, rose to the US top-grossing 140 after its launch to the market but has since come down a bit since. If you’re interested to know more about Octopath Traveler – Champions of the Continent, check out this blog post from a couple of years ago by our game analyst about the game’s Japanese version.

China Market Overview

The Harry Potter franchise proves it still got plenty of magic left in China, with Harry Potter: Magic Awakened (哈利波特:魔法觉醒) adding a new 4v4 co-op game mode with a Battle Royale style shrinking area; an interesting use of hybrid gameplay mechanics. Sticking to the theme of fantasy, players of the MMORPG Fantasy Westward Journey (梦幻西游) experienced an upgraded return of the 2022 Championship. Other major updates included Canal Towns (江南百景图) adding guild mechanics and Ling Yun Nuo (凌云诺) adding a fixed-place leaderboard.

Harry Potter: Magic Awakened (哈利波特:魔法觉醒) introduced a new recurring 4v4 co-op game mode with a Battle Royale style shrinking area.
Harry Potter: Magic Awakened (哈利波特:魔法觉醒) introduced a new recurring 4v4 co-op game mode with a Battle Royale style shrinking area.

As for events, the tactical RPG Langrisser (梦幻模拟战) collaborated with the popular manga/anime series Gintama for a limited-time event, The Marvelous Snail (最强蜗牛)‘s collaboration with Pokémon introduced a new gameplay mode that parodied the original Game Boy games, while the July update for the racing sim Ace Racer (王牌竞速) featured a collaboration event with Hainan Island and a first-anniversary event that offered players the chance to win cash prizes and in-game rewards for racing to the top of the leaderboard.

The Marvelous Snail's (最强蜗牛) collaboration with a Chinese Panda Research Center included a game mode parody of the original Pokémon game on Nintendo Game Boy.
The Marvelous Snail’s (最强蜗牛) collaboration with a Chinese Panda Research Center included a game mode parody of the original Pokémon game on Nintendo Game Boy.

Interesting top 200 grossing entrants on the market

Japan Market Overview

Music seemed to be the central theme for July updates to mobile games in the Japanese market. The popular rhythm and RPG-style adventure game, Disney Twisted Wonderland (ディズニー ツイステッドワンダーランド) introduced Tsum Tsum (Disney soft toy) plushes in a new character and story update, while Puzzle & Dragons (パズル&ドラゴンズ) added a new collection system for background music (BGM) by pulling specific characters from gachas.

Puzzle & Dragons (パズル&ドラゴンズ) introduced a new BGM collecting system.
Puzzle & Dragons (パズル&ドラゴンズ) introduced a new BGM collecting system.

Elsewhere, the free-to-play mobile sim Idolmaster Cinderella Girls Starlight Stage introduced a new voting event called Stage for Cinderella; the baseball game Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyuu (実況パワフルプロ野球) collaborated with the popular manga series, Jujutsu Kaisen, for a new cooking-themed game update; and SEGA’s soccer sim, Pro Soccer Club wo Tsukurou! Road to World (プロサッカークラブをつくろう!ロード・トゥ・ワールド), celebrated its fourth (Q) anniversary with the addition of two new characters, missions, and gachas.

Idolmaster Cinderella Girls Starlight Stage (アイドルマスター シンデレラガールズ スターライトステージ) featured a voting event called Stage for Cinderella.
Idolmaster Cinderella Girls Starlight Stage (アイドルマスター シンデレラガールズ スターライトステージ) featured a voting event called Stage for Cinderella.

There was also an abundance of summer-themed events and gachas across the month of July in Japan’s mobile market. If you’re interested in learning how your game can jump on Summer themes, we’d recommend checking out the July Summer updates for Umamusume Pretty Derby (ウマ娘プリティーダービー), Idolmaster Cinderella Girls Starlight Stage (アイドルマスター シンデレラガールズ スターライトステージ), and One Piece Treasure Cruise (ONE PIECE トレジャークルーズ).

Interesting top 200 grossing entrants on the market

  • #Compass Live Arena (#コンパス ライブアリーナ) is a rhythm game based on the popular title #Compass (#コンパス). The game was ranking at its highest in the top-grossing 51 position.
  • 37GAMES’ 4X Strategy game, Ant Legion, had a surprising spike in revenue after mediocre performance since its launch. The game is ranking at its highest in the top-grossing 110 position.
  • Turn-based RPG Touhou Arcadia Record (東方アルカディアレコード) is a girl collection “side scroller” that made an appearance in the top-grossing 50 last month. The game is based on the “Touhou Project,” a multimedia collection of games, art, and music with a history all the way back to 1996.

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How Pride Was Celebrated on Mobile in 2022 https://www.gamerefinery.com/how-pride-was-celebrated-on-mobile-in-2022/ Thu, 28 Jul 2022 06:00:00 +0000 https://www.gamerefinery.com/?p=15488 Every year, Pride celebrates equality and human rights, along with being yourself in a world that still likes to see people in molds. While the topics and news surrounding the issues of equality and human rights remain distressing even today, there is still some space for celebrating past accomplishments, love, and the work being done […]

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Every year, Pride celebrates equality and human rights, along with being yourself in a world that still likes to see people in molds. While the topics and news surrounding the issues of equality and human rights remain distressing even today, there is still some space for celebrating past accomplishments, love, and the work being done worldwide.

Year after year, more and more game companies have started to participate in Pride celebrations. In this blog post, we would like to highlight some examples of how Pride showed on mobile during this year’s Pride month.

Zooba: Zoo Battle Royale Games (Wildlife Studios)

"Faye," is the first transgender character in Zooba: Zoo Battle Royale Games
“Faye,” is the first transgender character in Zooba: Zoo Battle Royale Games.

Wildlife Studios kicked the month off by announcing “Faye,” the first transgender character in Zooba: Zoo Battle Royale Games. According to Wildlife Studios, the character programming was mostly led by a non-binary engineer and voice-acted by a transgender actress. Celebrating the character’s launch, 10% of Faye’s purchases were directed to Casa Neon Cunha, a non-profit organization providing shelter and education for the queer population in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Zooba also held an IAP skin offer campaign, where the player could get a newly released “Pride Power Betsy” skin if they purchased skins for both “Duke from Mars” and “Rainbow Wizard Louie.” Throughout the month, the game released small challenges that players could participate in for free rewards.


League of Legends: Wild Rift (Riot Games)

In League of Legends: Wild Rift, players could get their hands on special Pride-themed icons, emotes, and a temporary rainbow trail following the player's characters.
In League of Legends: Wild Rift, players could get their hands on special Pride-themed icons, emotes, and a temporary rainbow trail following the player’s characters.

Riot is no stranger to the Pride Month celebrations: the company has openly supported Pride for many years, and the event shows in all of their games. In League of Legends: Wild Rift, players could get their hands on special Pride-themed icons, emotes, and a temporary rainbow trail following the player’s characters. All of these were free of charge, but unlocking some required completing certain simple tasks. 

Behind the scenes, Riot Games has partnered with organizations supporting LGBTQIA+ populations, for example, ILGA-Europe. The company has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign as one of the best places to work for LGBTQ+ equality in 2022.

Beatstar (Space Ape)

Beatstar's Pride-themed Battle Pass
Beatstar’s Pride-themed Battle Pass.

Beatstar themed their monthly Battle Pass around Pride, naming the pass “Freedom.” By purchasing and leveling the pass, players could get two special Pride-themed banners and access to nine season songs, including a track from Years & Years, whose frontman Olly Alexander is a very vocal human rights activist. On their Twitter page, the game also featured the drag queen artist Pabllo Vittar, whose song is also playable in Beatstar. Highlighting and showcasing queer artists is yet another way of taking part while fitting to the Beatstar setting.

Beatstar featured on their Twitter page a drag queen artist Pabllo Vittar, whose song is also playable in the game.
Beatstar featured on their Twitter page a drag queen artist Pabllo Vittar, whose song is also playable in the game.

Multiple games by Zynga

FarmVille 3 brought LGBTQ+ characters to the game during this year's Pride month
FarmVille 3 brought LGBTQ+ characters to the game during this year’s Pride month.

Zynga celebrated the 2022 Pride with in-game content across several of their games, be it meeting LGBTQ+ characters in Farmville 3 or sending Pride-themed drinks and gifts to other players in Zynga Poker. Zynga has participated in Pride celebrations before as well. Last year, the company distributed an exclusive rainbow-colored car to players in CSR2 Racing to commemorate the event.

Most importantly, Zynga donated a total of $50,000 to several non-profits working with queer issues.

Conclusion

Every year more and more games participate in Pride celebrations in their own way. Cosmetics play a big part in how mobile games approach the event, and it can be a fun way to let players showcase their identity. It is nice to notice that some gaming companies like to give back as well. Companies like Wildlife Studios and Zynga donating to causes related to LGBTQIA+ issues, either from profits made from Pride-related sales or otherwise, is a development we like to see. It is, of course, important to look at what organizations do behind the scenes as well. Inclusive working environment and culture are at the heart of Pride, after all, and companies like Riot approach that angle well.

This post was written to highlight some ways mobile game companies can incorporate Pride in their games, but there are still plenty of other games that have highlighted the event that we didn’t include in this post. More examples of events related to Pride – and others as well! – can be found in the GameRefinery service.

If you enjoyed reading this post, here are a few more you should definitely check out:

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Episode 30: Diablo Immortal or Diablo Immoral? Discussing the Monetization Controversy Behind Blizzard’s Latest Mobile Game https://www.gamerefinery.com/episode-30-diablo-immortal-monetization-controversy-behind-blizzard-mobile-game/ Thu, 21 Jul 2022 08:33:00 +0000 https://www.gamerefinery.com/?p=15523 In this special episode of the Mobile GameDev Playbook, our host Jon Jordan discusses the popular but controversial game Diablo Immortal with Erno Kiiski and Wilhelm Voutilainen, Chief Game Analysts at GameRefinery, a Liftoff Company.    Spotify, BuzzSprout, TuneInRadio, iHeartRadio – If you enjoy the episode, remember to hit subscribe! We discuss the franchise’s background, […]

The post Episode 30: Diablo Immortal or Diablo Immoral? Discussing the Monetization Controversy Behind Blizzard’s Latest Mobile Game appeared first on GameRefinery.

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In this special episode of the Mobile GameDev Playbook, our host Jon Jordan discusses the popular but controversial game Diablo Immortal with Erno Kiiski and Wilhelm Voutilainen, Chief Game Analysts at GameRefinery, a Liftoff Company.

   Spotify, BuzzSprout, TuneInRadio, iHeartRadio
If you enjoy the episode, remember to hit subscribe!

We discuss the franchise’s background, what separates Diablo Immortal from its predecessors, the player experience, the monetization controversies surrounding the game, and whether they are justified.

Topics we will cover in this episode:

  1. Introduction
  2. The success of RPGs
  3. IPs in mobile games
  4. How Diablo Immortal fits into the Diablo franchise
  5. Diablo Immortal’s monetization model and controversy
  6. Developing Diablo Immortal for a Chinese audience

Read transcript

Introduction

[00:00:00] Jon Jordan: Hello, and welcome to the Mobile GameDev Playbook. Thanks for tuning in for another episode. This is the podcast all about what makes great mobile games, what is and isn’t working for mobile game designers, and all the latest trends. I’m your host John Jordan, and today we have a special episode. I think it’s the first time we’ve ever done an episode specifically about one game. That game is Diablo Immortal, and we have two experts in the scene to discuss that in great detail. Welcome, Erno Kiiski and Willhelm Voutilainen, from GameRefinery. How’s it going, guys?

[00:00:36] Erno Kiiski: It’s going great. Nice to be here. It’s been a while, actually, since I’ve been on the podcast. Nice to talk around again.

[00:00:43] Wilhelm Voutilainen: Good. Definitely nice to be here. It’s been a while for me as well, but yes. I am doing really well.

[00:00:51] Jon: Well, I think we’ll get a problem shutting up today. By the sound of things, I think there’s a lot to talk about regarding Diablo Immortal. Not many mobile games, I think, have generated as much interest just by their announcement, let alone the ongoing development. Before we get really stuck into the details of this game, should we have an overview of what’s been going on generally in the mobile RPG market because that’s where Diablo sits? As a franchise, it’s one of these seminal RPG games on PC, but how does it fit in terms of what we’ve seen with other mobile games up to this point?

The success of RPGs

[00:01:29] Erno: Yes, definitely. Well, we start thinking about, especially Diablo Immortal. It’s only launched at the moment in the West. They postponed the China launch because of some weird controversies that may be happening on their social media. Maybe we’re going to talk about it later. At the moment, it’s only in the West. If you look at the Western market on mobile, on the RPG market, what we can see, is the distribution of what kind of RPGs there are. Pretty much 95% of those games are turn-based RPGs.

First and foremost, pretty much every single successful one is a character collector RPG. The whole model, the whole core loop, is based on collecting characters. 

If we look at some games that have been successful in the Korean or Chinese mobile market, there are more MMORPGs based on singular characters. That type of game hasn’t really found success in the West, even like action RPGs haven’t had much success in the West until Genshin Impact. In Genshin Impact also, if you look at the meta side of the game, it’s a character collector RPG, and that’s how the game is monetized.

In that sense, Diablo sits in this category that hasn’t been successful on a bigger scale of things in the mobile market in the West. That is one interesting point. Then, something also quite interesting that we noticed is that everybody knows, especially on the iOS side, the ATT and the difficulty of scaling games and difficulties, especially scaling games for more niche audiences everybody is talking about. It’s definitely affected a lot of companies, a lot of massive dips in almost all gaming stocks, stuff like that.

If you look at the new entries, like the past 180 days, in the US charts, we have found that eight games have been released in the past 180 days are among the top-grossing 200 games. It is really interesting to me. Actually, six out of eight are RPGs because, especially if we are thinking about RPGs, they are not as widely appealing. If we think about the whole ATT thing that targeting and finding your specific audience is more difficult than ever, but there are those games that have entered the charts. A lot of them are actually RPGs.

Actually, if we look at the bigger scale of things, seven out of eight are mid-core, and one is a sports game. In the past 180 days, there isn’t a single crossover game that has been able to scale as a new game to the top-grossing 200 ranks in the US. About those RPGs, there are new RPGs. If you look at, we, of course, have Diablo, then we have Dislyte from Lilith, a turn-based character collector RPG. Then we have Ni no Kuni, which is also an MMORPG, but more like a classic MMORPG type of game.

IPs in mobile games

There was a game called Bloodline, which is more like the traditional action turn-based RPG than, for example, Disney Mirrorverse, which just launched, I think, last week. Again, that’s a game that mixes action RPG elements to this character collector meta. Also, if we will look at those games, three of those games have an IP. That’s, of course, a big thing in scaling these games and getting organic downloads in the current marketing landscape.

If you look a bit wider, I mentioned we have eight entries in 180 days in the top 200 charts and six across the genres, and all the categories have some kind of IP. There is Diablo, Ni no Kuni, and Disney, and then there’s the new MLB game from Glu. There’s Apex Legends, a shooter again with the PC/console one. In terms of new games, only two in the past 180 days have been able to scale to top-grossing 200 without an IP. 

[00:06:14] Wilhelm: Yes. We’re in quite a rare situation in the US market, which is usually a bit more casual-games-dominated. I’m not seeing any new casual games and only RPGs. It’s quite interesting. We’re in a really interesting situation. It feels that the RPGs are really back in the US mobile market.

[00:06:34] Jon: Interestingly, you point out that Apple is changing how people can market directly to players. You can’t really do that anymore with these ATT changes. Broadly, that does play into things like having big brands that you do not have to market directly to specific individuals, but you have a more organic approach. Certainly, I guess with Diablo Immortal, a game that’s been in development or been announced for a couple of years. There was just an enormous amount of interest around that, both positive and negative. 

I think they had up to about 30 million pre-registrations across iOS and Google PlayStore, just for people who were like, “When this game’s out, let me know,” sort of thing. It doesn’t really matter what UA – they’ve got 30 million out the blocks. I guess the other thing to point out, and I think we’ll touch on it as we go through, is the game is also available as a PC game. It’s interesting. The history of Diablo is a seminal PC game with three games released over the years.

Diablo Immortal is the first free-to-play one, but you can play it on PC, and you can play on mobile. It’s the same game. Probably an additional audience is playing on PC. Okay, cool. Where should we start? One of Diablo Immortal’s criticisms was that it will be a free-to-play mobile game, which PC players who like to pay for their games and play them on PC don’t like from the get-go. The other thing was there was a concern that it would be watered down and full of microtransactions.

From a very broad state, how do you think the Diablo Immortal fits within the Diablo franchise. If you’re playing on PC, would it be a very different game, or do you think it’d sit nicely within the current franchise?

How Diablo Immortal fits into the Diablo franchise

[00:08:24] Wilhelm: Yes. I have to say Diablo is a classic premium PC RPG. We had Diablo I, II, and III, and now we basically have this monetization-wise, completely different, so to speak, free-to-play MMORPG, and it’s on mobile. That way, it’s completely different from the older PC titles, but I have to say the gameplay itself because it’s made so well, it feels like this authentic Diablo III experience. 

[00:09:08] Erno: Yes, definitely. I would agree with that. We come to the big, big problem that it’s never easy to bring an old premium series known for ages and had always been premium with no microtransactions at all. How you transform that into an actual free-to-play model it’s not an easy task, especially for that audience, the fan audience that has always existed for those games. It can be hard to sell to that specific audience that is used to paying something up-front and not having any microtransactions. 

If you look at the mobile market and these games with the PC/console IPs that have come, pretty much shooters are the only ones that have been able to find big success on mobile. One thing is that that model has also found success on the PC/console side. We already have War Zone and Fortnight, and that type of cosmetic model seems to be or at least doesn’t generate as much backlash as games with free-to-play models that allow you to pay for progression or a pay-to-win type of a situation.

[00:10:42] Jon: I’ve just played a couple of hours. I’m not a big Diablo fan. It’s not the sort of game I would play. To me, I felt that it was a surprisingly good experience. Maybe I’m a cynic and expected it to be a bit more ‘not so good’, but it certainly felt like a PC game. From that point of view, that was different from what I expected. It was very smooth from a user experience. Obviously, it’s a big download, but they handled that in the background quite nicely. I felt the first experience was very well-crafted.

You knew what you were doing at any period of time, and it was all those typical things you like to see. You run around, you feel really strong, you’re killing loads of bad vampires, and you’re just leveling up all the time. It was great, and obviously, I’ve not played that much of it, but I felt the user experience was really good, and obviously, the monetization doesn’t come into it at that point. There’s certainly not a hard sell into it. To me, who’s not a big Diablo fan, it felt very authentic, which is a word I think you use too, Wilhelm. 

[00:12:00] Wilhelm: I have to say, first of all when you start the game at empty stats, you will play through the main campaign. I have to say that it felt like a AAA console experience. It was so well-made. The controls, smoothness, and response of when you use your skills, I would say pretty much comparable to Genshin Impact. Similarly, they were able to find it. On top of that, at least for me, I have not played too many Diablo games before. I don’t know about the store that much, but it was really well done. 

Honestly, it was just a good experience, all the effects on the bosses and everything; it felt really good. About the controls themselves, I have to say it’s similar to Genshin, when you have this action/MMORPG, at least in the US mobile market, that has these super smooth controls and that being more of this core game-play-focused game instead. There have been lots of action RPGs and MMORPGs in the Western markets, but they have not been able to find that much success. 

For example, one of the newest ones was Marvel Future Revolution. I feel those games have been more meta-game-focused where the core gameplay, at least in the Western market, should be more of a focus, has not been at the same level as in Diablo or Genshin. In those games, you usually just put autoplay on and grind it. Then you focus on the metagame, but on Diablo and Genshin, it’s the other way around. 

[00:13:56] Jon: I think, as you say, that is a real focus for a developer who’s spending an enormous amount of time just honing that gameplay software. As you say, mobile games are basically “here’s an auto button.” It doesn’t matter. You’re collecting, leveling up, or whatever you do. When I was playing the game, I was only going to play for half an hour, and two hours later, it was like, “Oh, it’s time to go to bed,” sort of thing, which never happens with me with those action games. Okay, it’s very early on. Just running around and shooting things was really good fun; probably 10 hours in it, maybe it becomes a little less fun. 

The other thing I guess that Diablo is known for is you’re basically getting all this gear all the time. You’re killing some enemies and getting some cool gear. It’s not as if it’s even better gear than I already had in leveling up. That was an ongoing, probably slightly hectic experience to get people into the game, but I felt it worked. The criticism people, I think, originally had about the game was that it was going to have really heavy monetization and be a really bad version of Diablo for mobile games. It was absolutely not. I felt it was actually top-notch. Also, Blizz is the publisher, and NetEase, a Chinese company, did most of the development as far as I understand it.

I think that was another concern: “Oh, it’s going to be a Chinese version of Diablo.” That’s the game side of things. Should we get into monetization? This is the biggest concern people had: monetization. I never bought anything in the game. I didn’t feel I needed to. How does Diablo Immortal compare with other mobile games, RPGs, or monetization and to other free-to-play RPGs?

Diablo Immortal’s monetization model and controversy

[00:15:49] Wilhelm: First of all, the monetization, of course, it’s completely different than the Diablo PC games before us. They had no microtransactions. But, compared to other mobile games, especially RPGs, it’s similar in terms of its pay-to-win as other RPGs. However, as Erno mentioned, they’re more just character collector RPGs, while Diablo is more single-player-focused, where you have your own one character. You’re developing that true gear and everything. 

I’m not going to go too deep into the different monetization elements because I could spend one hour explaining them. Basically, in short, you have two different premium currencies, eternal orbs, and platinum. Then eternal orbs are the leading premium currency. That can only be gained through purchases with real money and is used for different things in the game, like cosmetic items and materials to reforge your gear, awaken your gear, and so on. You can also purchase this platinum with that as well.

The main thing, actually, and I would say this is probably one of the things that caused some controversy in the monetization, especially for the hardcore Diablo fans who are not used to this microtransaction mobile monetization. The biggest thing and I would also say the main monetization mechanics in the game, are the legendary crests that you purchase with the eternal orbs. What you do with the legendary crests then is that you use them to enter this Elder Rift gacha.

This Elder Rift is a quick and easy dungeon you enter into. You basically cannot fail there. Let’s say you somehow manage to die there; then you get your legendary crests back, though. Those Legendary crests are these gacha tickets like in usual RPGs. Anyway, you complete the Elder Rift dungeon, and then basically, in the end, you kill the boss, and then they gacha. The loot that you would normally get from opening a gacha in an RPG game, that loot is the end loot of the dungeon. If you inject the Elder Rift with those legendary crests, you get one of the main meta things in the game. 

One of the biggest things that affect your character’s powers is these Legendary gems you inject into your gear. The main way to get these legendary gems, especially the highest tier legendary gems, and again, this is one of the things that caused some controversy: the only way to get these highest tier legendary gems is through purchasing these legendary crests. In short, there are legendary one-star gems, two-star legendary gems, and legendary five-star gems. The legendary five-star gems are incredibly powerful. They do not just, for example, give you passive boost and passive practice skills. 

They also increase your stats, but the game has a resonance system. What that does are the legendary gems you have in your gear. Of course, the better legendary games, the more they do increase your resonance. The resonance then basically increases that stats from your equipment items. It doesn’t matter how good equipment items or anything you have after the game, but you have to have as high a return as possible. Those get boosted by your legendary gems. The big thing here is that the only way to get these legendary five-star gems is to purchase eternal orbs and then use them in the Legendary Crest.

They are not really available for free players. That’s the main monetization of the game. Of course, there’s the platinum premium currency, which is then used to purchase items from other players in the open market. There are some other use cases for that. There are also lots of these different monetization mechanics, these really trending ones that they have been talking about for years. Like, as you have your pedal pass, succession plans, paid progression plans, and these kinds of bundles. Still, the biggest thing, if you want to increase your player power, you want to be purchasing these legendary crests to run this Elder Rift to get those big legendary gems. 

[00:21:12] Jon: People who have looked into the game, as you probably understand, it does get quite complicated. I read that in a whole bunch of different materials. I think once you get into it and start playing the game, it becomes a bit more clear. Before you’ve played the game, there’s a bit abstract. You got orbs, platinum, stones, crests, gems, and gear, and somehow it all comes together. As you say, there’s been a lot of focus on these rare high-end items that boost you the biggest. 

A lot of focus for people like YouTubers and influencers has been to focus on that because that’s the leverage they get to their audience who don’t like monetization. Then they’re saying how much money they have to spend to get them, then destroying them and deleting the game and all this performance art stuff, which is fine. Do you feel these very expensive, rare, random items are in the game for a normal player? Do you think that reduces their enjoyment that there are these things they’re never going to get? Or does a normal player just go, “Well, I’ve got a Toyota; I’ve not got a Rolls Royce in the world. Nice to have a Rolls Royce, but I haven’t got one. That’s fine, and my Toyota is fine.”? Does it impact us apart from when people try to use it as a stick to beat Blizzard? 

[00:22:34] Erno: I will start with that being a no. Not like a normal player not yet in the end game. Yes, definitely one thing that separates Diablo Immortal from most of the rest of the mobile game market is that depending on your player type; if you’re just a casual player, you want to play through the story, you can do it without spending, and that’s an exceptionally high-quality experience. But, of course, for the hardcore audience, for the big, big Diablo audience, the end game is where the actual game is.

It’s when you complete the story; that’s just the start. The actual initial experience, I don’t know how long it takes like 20, 30 hours to complete, something like that, you can get a lot of value. But if you are that player who wants to go for the endgame, that’s where the monetization kicks in. I understand the controversy, especially players that have been coming from the old Diablo games, because then it becomes this pay-to-win game because the competition kicks in. You’re not able to compete at all against those who are spending a lot of, lot of money. 

It depends a bit on your player type and, I would say, how it affects the experience. For the more casual player, I would say Diablo immortal. Compared to at least many of the other mobile games, it gives quite a bit of value, but for the long run, for the endgame, that’s where things really, really kick in and start to affect the experience. Then if you’re similarly going into the endgame than with the old Diablos that I’m going to be able to compete, that’s not going to happen, and that’s going to piss a lot of people off.

If you are playing the endgame with “Okay, I’m not looking to be the best, I’m not looking to be on the top of the leaderboard, or so on,” I’m sure you can find the enjoyment there as well. Something that’s, well, we’re going to talk about the future maybe a little bit later on. But if we compare Diablo Immortal’s monetization to some of the other games like Genshin Impact, that also has a lot of value for the free player for just playing through the story, enjoying the world, and so on. 

Diablo’s monetization model focuses a lot on the high-spending users because it’s all about improving, getting those gems and getting those better, better stats, and so on for the individual character. There isn’t as much value for the low spender; why would I spend anything if I’m not going to be spending a lot. I don’t feel the sense of progression that much, or I don’t feel a lot of gains compared to, let’s say, Genshin Impact, which I think has a bit wider spectrum for different types of players in terms of monetization.

First, there isn’t that much competition, even in Genshin Impact, but some events tap into that. Anyways, if I had everything, I would have to spend a lot, but if, let’s say, I just want to get one new character, then I start to grind that up and so on. Again, as a low spender, I feel the value; I can get this new cool character that I want, and I can spend a little bit and get something.

In Diablo, it feels more that you need to really spend a lot to feel the sense of actually getting something for your money. That’s one of the key issues at the moment that I see for Diablo in the future and will be. Of course, they haven’t ticked in the live operation. That will be interesting to see where it goes. To wrap up my thoughts on that, the initial experience was really player-friendly, to be honest. If you are that casual player just looking for the story, play through that, but then the endgame, but then the endgame, it supports that whale player quite a bit.

[00:27:22] Wilhelm: Yes, I absolutely actually agree with Erno. I can open up the endgame. My thoughts on that, I’ve actually, because I’ve played the endgame quite a bit already. Absolutely accurate, Erno. For a casual player who just plays them through the main story, you do not need to spend any money because the game is relatively easy to complete while still being fun. Still, I will say then, when you get to the endgame, as Erno mentioned, it depends on your player type. 

For free players who just want to play the game for fun, who do not care about making their character as strong as a whale’s character, they will have a really good time. There’s so much stuff to do for free players. You always get to broker something, and you don’t feel you need to pay. But then the thing comes if you are competitive, let’s say you like the PvP a lot, you play in the battlegrounds, there’s going to be a lot of whales who are going to be so much stronger than you because they have those high Legendary gems and high resonance increasing their gear that you are not able to get as a free player.

I would say there are no better/best plans and lower price points for quiet and mid-spenders once you get those nice cosmetic skins and everything. That can be enjoyable for those too, but let’s say you are a low spender and still competitive. You’re going to get demotivated when you realize that the only way you’ll get those highest-tier Legendary gems is by spending a lot of money.

That’s when I would say the player experience might lack a bit. Of course, for the whales, if you want to spend a lot of money on the game, you can do so. Also, there is this, I’m not going to go too deep into it, but there’s this immortal system, which has spots for 100 ‘highest’ or the ‘coolest’ players on the server and just highlights the whales even more. If you’re a whale or a non-competitive low-spender or non-spender, you will have a good time, but in the middle, it might feel like an unbalanced experience. 

[00:29:58] Jon: Diablo III is a PC game. I think it sold about 30 million copies. In a couple of years, $1.5 billion of revenue, broadly speaking. Suppose you think Diablo Immortal is an expensive project, if not more. If you’re looking just to raise that amount of money, then, as Erno pointed out that it’s where you place those monetization pain points. You can try and monetize the entire audience. Roughly, it’s always going to be more towards the end. You can try and get a bit of monetization out of people. 

It seems like they very much maybe because of the controversy they’ve had about making it free-to-play, “Let’s just not worry about the majority of players, obviously, about battle passes and stuff, but let’s really focus it on those people who can spend, and let’s make that very competitive.” The idea of having 100 slots, if you got 101, you’re like, “Oh.” You get to spend a bit more to get in there. Broadly speaking, in commercial terms, that’s what they have to do.

Do we have any idea how it is monetizing at the moment? I think I saw some numbers saying about 24 million in the first month. That’s an estimate, I think. That seems pretty competitive for the first month? Do we think it will be a billion-dollar game in its first year? That’s the highest level, isn’t it, that we would look to for like a Genshin Impact, which did a billion dollars in its first year? 

[00:31:25] Erno: At the moment, of course, we don’t know yet much about how the game is going to be, actually, live-operated, how it’s going to evolve. I mentioned earlier the big difficulty for that model compared to Genshin. If you look at the revenue models of Genshin, always, there’s a big, massive new event, new characters, then a new gacha, which then monetizes. There’s always a massive spike, which keeps the game alive. The live operations are insane, how MiHoYo is putting in from their level and operating, the quality of the events, new types of stories, and everything, which keeps the players engaged.

It will be really interesting to see. For example, as I said, at least all of the other games in the West have been character collectors. If you play Genshin, there’s always an event story when they bring a new character into the game. They also get that emotional connection to the characters, which makes you more likely to purchase it. 

Or like Marvel Strike Force, when they bring a new character, of course, in this turn-based RPG, there’s the power creep to give a reason why especially for the high spenders, want it instantly because it’s a really strong character that then comes into the meta. It’s really important for those, bringing this new character. It will be really, really interesting to see how well it can sustain. If you look at Diablo revenues, it comes together with the downloads, but both are going down. The trend is already going down.

But, if you look at the revenue per download metric, it is still quite steadily rising. In the US, based on our estimations, it’s about $4.5 at the moment in terms of revenue per download. I would say I was a bit, maybe, even surprised. I was expecting, perhaps, a little bit lower. It’s doing quite well. If you compare, let’s say, Genshin was about $6 in one month after the launch. Then, as I said, we talked about, or Wilhelm mentioned, Marvel Future Revolution, the MMORPG launched last year. They had only $0.9 after one month of the release.

I would say at the moment; the performance is surprisingly good. The model has what kind of game it is and what kind of the end game loop is compared to all the other games in the market. I’m a bit hesitant to predict that it will sustain. I’m expecting a shark fin type of craft, but we’ll see. The live ops will tell us because that’s how you keep the game engaging, alive, and keep the player spending. At the moment where the game is, without knowing how they’ll operate it in the future, I will say it’s going to be more of a shark fin type of entry, but what we’ll see. 

[00:34:50] Jon: As you’re just saying, they don’t introduce new characters, so you don’t have that easy, “Oh, I want that new character.” It’s hard to sell around, “Get better gear.” It’s just a different monetization. We’ll have to see if the monetization is coming from the whales, then the live events stuff will have to focus on the whales and keeping them engaged in new things. One interesting point, when you start the game, you choose a character class to play through. You can go back and choose a new character class. 

For people just playing the game without paying, you can almost play it several times by using different character classes and playing through it again. It’s interesting from that point of view. 

[00:35:33] Erno: Yes, actually, one thing about the multiple characters also, Wilhem mentions, it’s quite interesting that, at the moment, they don’t have any connection or account-wide stuff. When you start a new character, it’s always just the new character. It doesn’t combine into anything else. Even these single-character games usually have connections and benefits for leveling up the other characters and incentives. Wilhelm can correct me if I’m wrong, but there is no alternative ecosystem account-wide built into the game.

[00:36:07] Wilhelm: It was common in other mobile RPGs to have more account-wide stuff. Suppose you want to try or start a new class over. Even Elder cosmetics, you must purchase them again, the legendary gems, and everything. It’s going to be really interesting to see what they will do from now on. Because there have been lots of feedback about the legendary gems being too powerful, will they balance them out more? If they would bring their power down, it could appeal more to the medium spenders, as you’re required to try to get the highest legendary gems. What live ops will they do in the future? Because there’s no way, they can start bringing new classes in the same amount as for actually Gensin and is bringing new character. Will they, maybe, like to try to call it let’s say, the World of Warcraft rules where they bring in really big expansions. It’s going to be really interesting to see what they will do. We will be following that closely here at GameRefinery. 

[00:37:29] Jon: There’s a certain amount of visibility on the mobile side, but we can’t really see what’s going on for the PC side because that’s all, obviously, on Blizzard’s infrastructure. We have no idea whether mobile players’ monetization is higher or lower. Also, there’s a big unknown around that. Cool. Okay. We could talk for a bit longer, but we’re ending. What are the headline takeaways? Broadly, for me, I think it’s been a successful launch. I think it’s a very exciting product.

I imagine it will probably be, at the top of many best mobile games of 2022, maybe even in the best game lists, I would think. I’ve been quite surprised about it. Any other things you want to highlight before we finish?

[00:38:19] Erno: My viewpoint would be that, like I said, as a free-to-play mobile game, it gives an exceptional campaign type of experience that we rarely see, even for the free player and so on. Then, as a second point, I would say, the longevity of the end game, longevity of the game, how well it can sustain, how well it will be able to monetize in the long run, with that type of model that they have, that’s a big big question mark, to me at least. Those would be maybe the two. It combines two birds because we have that almost AAA core gameplay-focused experience with Genshin. 

When Genshin came out, when I started to play, it was exceptional how good it felt, how much they had put effort into the core gameplay side, how that feels, and the production values of that. I think Diablo goes into this category that, in terms of core gameplay, it stands out how enjoyable it is to play. As Wilhelm said, most games have this meta-focused, just grinding simulators, where the enjoyment comes from the slow progression and getting further all the time. But now, the core gameplay is, really, action RPG-focused. Those are my viewpoints. I don’t know; what do you have, Wilhelm, to add?

[00:40:00] Wilhelm: I would just like to add that I feel that they are considering the challenge of bringing this PC title to mobile. For example, getting Gensjin, like Genshin didn’t have any PC audience, would be like, “Oh, there are microtransactions.” There’s not going to be as much controversy in, let’s say, Genshin’s microtransactions as Diablo Immortal’s. That’s a huge challenge, first of all, bringing its IP to mobile. On top of that, as it’s not a character collector RPG either, it definitely is not an easy case.

Considering those two factors, they have already managed to pull it off well. All in all, I think it’s a fantastic game. Absolutely. It will be interesting to see where it will go from here.

[00:40:56] Jon: I guess you mentioned it at the start; the big unknown is if and when it gets released in China. It’s developed mainly by Chinese company NetEase, one of the enormous great Chinese game publishers, and you’d expect it to double its player base, if not more.

Developing Diablo Immortal for a Chinese audience

[00:41:14] Erno: I would also say even more about knowing the Chinese market. Not an expert on that, but of course, we have people here in the company. When it launches in China, I believe it will be like 70% of the revenue, though I don’t fully know. It will be big in China. It is developed with China in mind. Yes.

[00:41:42] Jon: Also, it goes to prove I think what we’re saying is the excitement of it as a product is one that it’s had to cover a lot of things. It’s had to take a PC premium franchise beloved in the West, make it free-to-play, give everyone a good experience, and cover the Chinese market, which is quite different from the top end. It is much more a play-to-win than western markets, I think, in general. Thanks to NetEase and Blizzard for coming up with such a great product. Thanks, guys, that was good.

[00:42:16] Erno: Thank you.

[00:42:17] Wilhelm: Thank you.

[00:42:18] Jon: Thanks to you for listening and watching in the various forms in which you consume this podcast. Every time we talk about the mobile games industry, by far the biggest sector in gaming and the fastest growing. I think it’s always great to see genre-defining products and maybe even market-defining with Diablo Immortal. If you haven’t downloaded it, you know what to do. Go and check it out, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Other than that, please subscribe to the podcast. Thanks for tuning in, and see you next time. Goodbye.

The post Episode 30: Diablo Immortal or Diablo Immoral? Discussing the Monetization Controversy Behind Blizzard’s Latest Mobile Game appeared first on GameRefinery.

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The Most Successful Rhythm Games of the Three Big Markets https://www.gamerefinery.com/the-most-successful-rhythm-games-of-the-three-big-markets/ Thu, 14 Jul 2022 06:00:00 +0000 https://www.gamerefinery.com/?p=15460 Since the heyday of rhythm games in the late 90s and 00s, the genre has seen quite a decline in popularity in the Western markets. Still, rhythm games live on, and at the end of a long line of formats ranging from the original Japanese arcade cabinet games like Beatmania to titles like Guitar Hero […]

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Since the heyday of rhythm games in the late 90s and 00s, the genre has seen quite a decline in popularity in the Western markets. Still, rhythm games live on, and at the end of a long line of formats ranging from the original Japanese arcade cabinet games like Beatmania to titles like Guitar Hero with instrument-like controllers, high-quality music games are now also widely available as free-to-play mobile games. It’s no surprise that the genre is especially alive and well in the cradle of rhythm games, Japan. According to GameRefinery data, music/band is the fourth biggest subgenre occupying a 6,25% market share in the Japanese iOS gaming market (top 500 games) in Q2 so far. When looking at the 2022 Q2 top 500 revenues at the time of writing, the Japanese mobile rhythm game market is roughly nine times as big as in China and 39 times as big as in the US, to give you a sense of the scale. 

In the US market, the previously rather stagnant genre has experienced a recent revival with the entry of Beatstar, and new games like Dislyte experimenting with rhythm game elements, bringing much-needed fresh gusts of wind to the market. In China, the subgenre has also seen only a few entries in recent years and is dominated by two games that have held their spots for a good while. 

The most successful rhythm games look entirely different in the three big mobile gaming markets of the US, China, and Japan. The range is staggeringly wide, with some games taking a more stripped music-first approach, others with a more-is-more approach with features for days, and some putting more emphasis on story elements and immersion. In this blog post, we’re going to take a look at what works in each market and introduce the leading free-to-play games of the genre from around the world.

US: casual doses of hit music

Before the launch of Beatstar, the US mobile gaming market had only occasionally seen rhythm games in the top-grossing 200, and those managing to reach the top ranks often having difficulties sustaining their success for the long term. For the most part, lighter, casual games focusing on straightforward beat-matching have found their audiences a little better than more feature-rich games with heavier meta layers, and casual titles like this can do well on the download charts. These lighter music games often rely on ad-heavy monetization mechanics, and many also utilize a mix of IAP and IAA (for example, Magic Tiles). At the core of monetization are song purchases, with the occasional light decoratives in the mix for simple customization. The music selection, which naturally, along with good beat matching mechanics, is at the heart of any good rhythm game, is predominantly licensed music from real artists and can range anywhere from classical evergreens to the songs of smaller artists or the latest pop hits. To this landscape, the current reigning champion Beatstar entered in August 2021.

While still very much a casual game with no significant meta elements, Beatstar represents a slightly more refined take on a casual beat matcher and also brings some new twists to the format. Visually, Beatstar is uncluttered and simple, keeping the focus on music. Songs have their respective colors that will take over the main menu when selected and burst in rhythmic visualizations when a streak is carried on in core gameplay. Beatstar’s gameplay utilizes the classic note highway with three lanes and a line to match beats on the bottom. The gameplay is simple but unforgiving, as any miss will end the track. Songs have preset difficulty levels and get progressively more difficult as you go along, essentially making finishing songs a test of dexterity, especially in the case of harder tracks. All songs featured in Beatstar are by real artists (not made only for the game), and the selection includes a good variety of genres from pop to alternative, with some special categories like latest hits, games, and international in the mix. Overall, the song selection mostly consists of music from well-known mainstream artists with something for everyone.

No unnecessary bells and whistles: color-coded songs and vivid visualizations keep the experience neat and fresh. Also, on the left, Beatstar's song case unlock system can be seen at the bottom.
No unnecessary bells and whistles: color-coded songs and vivid visualizations keep the experience neat and fresh. Also, on the left, Beatstar’s song case unlock system can be seen at the bottom.

Like many other casual music games, Beatstar also relies on a mix of IAA and IAP (lately, more weight has been added on the IAA side), with songs and music at the center of monetization. Songs can be purchased from gacha boxes, or bundle/single song offers in the shop, or players can obtain new songs for free by collecting cards for song boxes. The game has several genre boxes to collect cards for, with each requiring progressively more cards as you go along. Box cards are obtained by playing, watching ads, or getting them as rewards for progress or from events. Getting more songs and collecting stars from them is crucial for progress overall, as stars will contribute towards the player’s progress on a trophy road that offers various great rewards like new songs and gems.

Beatstar’s session length mechanics are tied to box card collection through timed unlock slots, a differentiating system for rhythm games that undoubtedly draws inspiration from Clash Royale’s box unlock system. When a song is played, the player is awarded Beatcoins to fill out song case slots that can then be set to unlock one at a time. When the unlock finishes, the player will receive random box cards to fill out genre boxes and ultimately claim more songs. Once all the slots are full, songs will require either watching an ad or making a purchase to be played. To this end, Beatstar offers an Unlimited Play subscription plan that allows players to keep going with full slots.

Filling out song boxes by collecting cards is the main way to get songs for free. Players sometimes have limited choices when choosing which boxes to fill with cards.
Filling out song boxes by collecting cards is the main way to get songs for free. Players sometimes have limited choices when choosing which boxes to fill with cards.

When it comes to monetization, Beatstar’s biggest triumph so far has been the adoption of a Battle Pass system: Tour Pass was introduced in December 2021, rocketing the game’s revenues, boosting it into the US top-grossing 100, and increasing the baseline revenues. Since then, the start of each new Tour Pass season has given the game a great revenue spike, although the trend has been declining lately. The premium pass rewards include the season’s songs, box cards, new in-game emotes for bragging to your friends, and season-exclusive profile banners. Points for the pass are earned by playing songs normally or by playing the Daily Shuffle, which offers extra points for picking and playing a song from a selection of three owned songs. Notably, Tour Pass seasons have been the sole element in Beatstar’s event schedule so far.

Monthly Tour Passes are usually themed around a seasonal event: for June, the theme is freedom. On the right, another noteworthy specialty from Beatstar's monetization, the Wishlist Box.
Monthly Tour Passes are usually themed around a seasonal event: for June, the theme is freedom. On the right, another noteworthy specialty from Beatstar’s monetization, the Wishlist Box.

Originally, Beatstar only offered light social features like high scores, a friend list, and simple emote-chat when passing each other in the rankings. This changed in July when the social feature set was strengthened with Beatstar’s first ever multiplayer events. The long awaited addition pits gamers against each other for 20-minute points contests on specific songs. This new event type boosted the social feature set beyond simple high score aspirations and added much needed elements of competition to the game, while also allowing new kind of visibility and outlets for existing features like profile decoratives and emotes.

Although there aren’t that many games with beat-matching cores competing in the top-grossing charts in the US, the music theme is definitely a popular one, and rhythm games/music-based contents have been seen popping up as separate game modes, minigames, or focal points of events on the charts. As a prime example, Roblox has lately been catering to music lovers with big collaboration events with popular artists, including virtual concerts and even rhythm game modes. 

Japan: musical universes

As implied in the introduction, Japan’s mobile rhythm game market is by far the busiest and the one with the most competition out of all the three big markets discussed here. At the time of writing, there are nine rhythm games in the Japanese iOS top-grossing 200, and new challengers are entering the market in a steady stream. While the casual, meta-light rhythm games discussed earlier also have their place on the market, they fare nowhere near as well as games following the most popular character collector format, which focuses on gathering and developing groups of characters with the goal of assembling the strongest team to get the best points in beat-matching gameplay. Characters can have complex development systems, including many upgrade types, skills, and even class advantages. Raising the character levels also raises the number of points they get in the core gameplay, and there are several helpful skills that can aid players in keeping their streaks, for example. In many ways, the Japanese rhythm game templates could be characterized as music-themed RPGs with a rhythm game core. 

Rhythm games in Japan are often made with anime-style visuals, another common point being the strong emphasis on story elements: the audiences have come to expect long, well-thought-out, and deep main storylines, event stories, and even unlockable character-specific stories from rhythm games. Characters are in the center of everything, and they are not there simply as instruments of gameplay but also as personalities to get attached to: most games have in-depth bios for each of the characters with info about every little personal detail, along with possibly even relationship systems. As a peculiarity of Japanese rhythm games, the characters available in the roster are usually either all female or all male. 

Games are often parts of bigger multimedia franchises, including other games, manga, and anime (e.g., as is the case for top games like Ensemble Stars!! Music and Idolmaster Cinderella Girls: Starlight Stage). Commonly, such games only feature music that is made specifically for the fictional bands in the franchises and is performed by well-known voice actors. Another strain of popular rhythm games on the market are the games based on real idol groups, where the visuals and songs are derived from real music and footage from the bands. 

The top spot on the market currently has two big contenders: Ensemble Stars!! Music and Project Sekai Colorful Stage feat. Hatsune Miku, the latter of which we’ll be taking a closer look at this time. 

Drawing on the brand of the popular virtual singer/idol Hatsune Miku, Project Sekai has performed very well on the market: since its launch in October 2020, the game has stayed in the top-grossing 100 and has also been a familiar sight in the top 10. The character collection aspects revolve around a set of newly assembled bands, whose journey to formation and success is followed in the story that is set in the real world and a virtual parallel world of “Sekai.” Taking a step outside of the most common setting, the characters featured are of mixed gender, with virtual singers also joining the party. The integration of vocaloid singers allows for a fresh and interesting music selection, featuring original songs from the bands (made for the game), famous original songs performed by the vocaloids, and songs mixing the two. The selection also features songs from real artists like Eve as covers. For core gameplay, the characters are set in groups of five to perform songs on a note highway. As a fun detail, the characters set to the party will actually perform the song by lip syncing and dancing to the original. To create even more variation, players can use in-game currency, Vocal Cards, to buy voice tracks with different performers to songs.

Core gameplay in Project Sekai Colorful Stage feat. Hatsune Miku.
Core gameplay in Project Sekai Colorful Stage feat. Hatsune Miku.
Core gameplay in Project Sekai Colorful Stage feat. Hatsune Miku. 

Monetization mechanics rely mostly on a steady flow of character gachas with frequent paid currency offers. What drives gacha purchases is the variety of character skills and class types, character rarities, and new event-tied versions of the characters. Some cosmetics-based monetization through performance costumes has also been implemented, and costumes are often thrown in with gachas as well. Otherwise, the IAP selection includes item bundles for character development/useful items, gem packs, and subscription plans, but notably, Project Sekai is also one of the few rhythm games on the Japanese market to implement a Battle Pass system.

While Project Sekai definitely has its own two feet to stand on when it comes to quality gameplay, beautiful visuals, and music, the game has also stood out from the competition with some innovative metaverse elements. Virtual Lives are virtual concert experiences held in the social hangout area of the game that players enter using a customizable avatar. Before entering the concert venue, players can spend time with each other in an open hangout area with mini-activities like playing on slides, swings, or the trampoline. The area also has a shop for avatar accessories. Once inside the concert venue, players can enjoy a short concert performed by one of the bands or a mix of characters. During the concerts, effects, stamps, and chat messages can be sent on the stage to cheer.

Hanging out in the metaverse. For team PvP events, each of the teams gets their own hangout area, and the space is also often decorated for seasonal events.
Hanging out in the metaverse. For team PvP events, each of the teams gets their own hangout area, and the space is also often decorated for seasonal events.
Hanging out in the metaverse. For team PvP events, each of the teams gets their own hangout area, and the space is also often decorated for seasonal events. 

Virtual lives are usually available as “after-lives” when in-game story events finish. Sometimes for bigger events like anniversary celebrations, players get to enjoy special celebratory performances as well. While virtual concerts have been a popular and fun event type, Project Sekai has also just upped its game with the first ever Connect Live held in June. The next generation of virtual live has an improved interface and allows the performing group to interact with the audience in real time, making for a more realistic and immersive concert experience. Connect Lives are a premium experience where a part of the event can be enjoyed for free, and tickets are sold for the full 1-hour concert.

Connect Live.
Connect Live.

For other social content, Project Sekai offers a friend system, multi-lives (co-op song gameplay), and team PvP events, where all players are divided into two teams to battle it out in synchronous 5v5 matches. On the PvP side, the game has also just introduced a 1v1 PvP league system which is a rare sight in rhythm games in Japan. The game has also hosted in-game preliminaries for real-life tournaments of Project Sekai. 

Project Sekai has also been released for the US market under the name HATSUNE MIKU: Colorful Stage! and the game has even briefly visited the top grossing 200 a few times.

China: social all the way

On the Chinese market, there are currently only two rhythm games in the iOS top-grossing 200. The top game in the music/band subgenre in China is QQ炫舞 (QQ Dance) which has consistently performed well and mostly stayed in the top grossing 50 since its launch in 2018. 偶像梦幻祭2 (Ensemble Stars 2) is currently the only other game in this subgenre in the top 200. Traditionally, Chinese audiences have preferred more feature-heavy games to simpler casual titles, and rhythm games are no exception. While Ensemble Stars 2 represents the type of rhythm game that is often encountered in Japan with abundant character collection/group development meta layers and storytelling elements, QQ Dance comes from an entirely different mold that allows for much more than just the core experience of tapping to the rhythm.

Whereas the character collector rhythm games often stage the core gameplay’s beat matching as a music performance by a band or a group of singers, QQ Dance’s approach focuses on dancing. Gameplay is also not restricted to a single set of tapping mechanics, and there are several gameplay modes to choose from with varying gimmicks to keep things interesting. In addition, there are several rhythm game modes available, from 4-player PvP matches to team PvP and co-op modes. Similarly to Beatstar, the music selection in QQ Dance consists of music from real artists, both Western and Asian, catering to a wide range of preferences. Notably, the songs are available to all and are not separately purchased. 

One of the main differences to other rhythm games introduced in this post is that QQ Dance features a customizable player character that is used in gameplay, and the dancing mechanics provide the perfect venue to show off your character. For example, in PvP matches, everyone’s character gets up on the stage to dance it out. The bulk of the monetization model is also built on the player character system and customization. There are several gachas filled with various outfits, accessories, and styles to purchase to get that player to look just right. In addition to customizing the player character, the game also features a pet system and a home that can be personalized with furniture and decorations of choice. What’s more, it’s also possible to have and raise a child in QQ Dance!

Player avatar up on the stage dancing.
Player avatar up on the stage dancing.
Players can experience raising children in QQ Dance.
Players can experience raising children in QQ Dance.

For social features aside from seeing other players in PvP or co-op, QQ Dance also has a guild system and loads of other social content for connecting and flaunting your impeccable look. Bringing more depth to the gameplay experience, there are several additional game modes/minigames that don’t necessarily have anything to do with beat matching or even music. These games can be anything from casual bomb courier modes to hide-and-seek. QQ Dance also features a social hangout space that players can enter with their avatars. It’s the perfect place to be seen and hang out, attend and throw events, socialize and engage in various activities like taking photos together, fishing, or having fun with a drawing board.

Fishing in the social hangout area.
Fishing in the social hangout area. 
A minigame where players compete in who can be the last person standing on a game board that randomly opens up parts of its floor.
A minigame where players compete in who can be the last person standing on a game board that randomly opens up parts of its floor.
Casual "bomb courier" (炸弹速递) mode where the players attempt to get rid of a bomb before it explodes by passing it to others in a closed arena.
Casual “bomb courier” (炸弹速递) mode where the players attempt to get rid of a bomb before it explodes by passing it to others in a closed arena.

All in all, the cosmetics-heavy monetization paired with the abundant social content makes for a winning combination for QQ Dance. Add super strong live-ops with a steady flow of big events to the mix, and it’s no wonder the game has solidified its position as the leader in China. 

Summing up

On the spectrum of rhythm games on mobile, the lighter casual versions have found their audiences better in the West, while feature-rich meta-heavy games are the way to win in the East. Straightforward beat matchers have competition not only from their own genre in the US, where music-based events and game modes have been popping up in the top grossing games of other genres as well. Anime/idol-style franchise games are unsurprisingly popular and dominating in Japan but have had a tough time breaking through to the audiences in the US, where their brand power and visual appeal carry less weight. In China, the current winning approach stresses the individual approach, social aspects, and customization. Notably, metaverse elements have been especially embraced in Asian rhythm games, where social events, modes, and even virtual concerts are a staple for the leading games. When it comes to monetization, the key points of the leading games can be summed up as such: music first in the US, characters first in Japan, and cosmetics first in China. 

Keep up with the latest updates for each of the introduced games through the GameRefinery platform!

If you enjoyed reading this post, here are a few more you should definitely check out:

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The Rise of Midcore Mobile Games Snapshot Report: July 2022 https://www.gamerefinery.com/the-rise-of-midcore-mobile-games-snapshot-report-july-2022/ Thu, 07 Jul 2022 06:21:27 +0000 https://www.gamerefinery.com/?p=15441 It used to be the case that the mobile gaming market was dominated by Casual and Hyper Casual titles such as Candy Crush and Merge County. While these and many other titles in the Casual and Hyper Casual market are still popular, the growing popularity of Midcore games such as Diablo Immortal, Call of Duty: Mobile, and Apex Legends Mobile is a […]

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It used to be the case that the mobile gaming market was dominated by Casual and Hyper Casual titles such as Candy Crush and Merge County. While these and many other titles in the Casual and Hyper Casual market are still popular, the growing popularity of Midcore games such as Diablo ImmortalCall of Duty: Mobile, and Apex Legends Mobile is a sign that the mobile market is evolving and providing new experiences that cater toward the needs of PC and console gamers.

There are plenty of numbers backing this up. If we take a look at Midcore and Casual mobile games released in the past 365 days, nine Midcore titles still feature in the top-200 grossing chart (US), compared to just three Casual games.

Midcore and Casual mobile games released in the past year that have sustained their position in the top-grossing 200 (US).
Midcore and Casual mobile games released in the past year that have sustained their position in the top-grossing 200 (iOS, US).

That’s not to say that Casual and Hyper Casual games are no longer popular, but the popularity of Midcore games shows that AAA developers and publishers from the world of major video games are starting to take the mobile market more seriously.

The vast majority of Midcore games are AAA experiences, many of which have been ported from best-selling PC and console franchises to mobile. Of course, many big names have experimented with mobile ports in the last decade with mixed results, but we’re starting to see more consistency when it comes to quality now. What’s impressive about many of these AAA Midcore games is that they retain the quality of their PC and console counterparts while adapting to the mobile market with specific gameplay and monetization features. In this Snapshot Report, we dive into what’s setting them apart and the features making them so successful.

You can get the full The Rise of Midcore Mobile Games Snapshot Report here or by entering your information below.

Get your copy


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Episode 29: Fishing For Knowledge: Designing Realistic Life Simulation Games for Mobile https://www.gamerefinery.com/episode-29-fishing-for-knowledge-designing-realistic-life-simulation-games-for-mobile/ Wed, 06 Jul 2022 09:36:41 +0000 https://www.gamerefinery.com/?p=15428 In this episode of the Mobile Gamedev Playbook, Kirill Petruk, Lead Producer at Ten Square Games, talks about the development of Fishing Clash: Sports Games and other realistic life simulation games with GameRefinery, a Liftoff company analyst Teemu Palomäki and our host, Jon Jordan.    Spotify, BuzzSprout, TuneInRadio, iHeartRadio – If you enjoy the episode, […]

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In this episode of the Mobile Gamedev Playbook, Kirill Petruk, Lead Producer at Ten Square Games, talks about the development of Fishing Clash: Sports Games and other realistic life simulation games with GameRefinery, a Liftoff company analyst Teemu Palomäki and our host, Jon Jordan.

   Spotify, BuzzSprout, TuneInRadio, iHeartRadio
If you enjoy the episode, remember to hit subscribe!

We discuss the inspiration behind Fishing Clash, the realistic gameplay it provides, the social elements, and the collaborations it has had.

You can also watch the episode on YouTube:

Topics we will cover in this episode:

  1. Introduction
  2. Finding the balance between real-life simulation and actual gaming
  3. Let’s Fish and Fishing Clash
  4. Key audience
  5. Offering players new and surprising experiences through liveops
  6. Monetizing through multiple gameplay layers
  7. Battle Royale in a fishing game
  8. MVP approach to designing
  9. Audience cross-overs
  10. Raisin awareness about environmental issues

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Analyst Bulletin: Mobile Game Market Review June 2022 https://www.gamerefinery.com/mobile-game-market-review-june-2022/ Thu, 30 Jun 2022 07:12:27 +0000 https://www.gamerefinery.com/?p=15410 Minigame modes, an abundance of anniversary events, and plenty of appearances from RPGs are just some of the highlights from June.  Lords Mobile: Tower Defense, Game of Sultans: Royal Pets, and I’m a True Princess (我本千金) held minigame events that offered a twist on their core gameplay mechanics. As an example, the Merchant Empires event […]

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Minigame modes, an abundance of anniversary events, and plenty of appearances from RPGs are just some of the highlights from June. 

Lords Mobile: Tower Defense, Game of Sultans: Royal Pets, and I’m a True Princess (我本千金) held minigame events that offered a twist on their core gameplay mechanics. As an example, the Merchant Empires event in Game of Sultans strayed from its traditional RPG/sim mechanics for merge gameplay, while the interactive story game I’m a True Princess introduced yet another minigame event with puzzler mechanics. 

Some of the mobile market’s most popular mobile games celebrated anniversary events in June, including The Seven Deadly Sins and Dragon Ball Legends, causing a huge spike in revenue for both games. Games such as Project Makeover and Redecor also celebrated LGBT Pride month with themed battle passes, and you might be surprised to learn that a Japanese, mobile-only rhythm game is becoming a major player in the virtual concert space… 

June also seemed to be the month of RPGs! Alongside the highly anticipated release of Diablo Immortal, we saw several turn-based RPGs making debuts in the top-200 grossing chart and other games such as Rise of Kingdoms incorporating RPG elements in updates. You can find more information on the new top-200 grossing entrants, as well as the major mobile updates from June 2022, below.

US Market Overview

June was a relatively quiet month in the USA for major game updates. The Ants: Underground Kingdom added a new upgrading type for Insects and a Medal system for high-level players, while Rise of Kingdoms welcomed Egypt as a new faction and celebrated it with its own RPG-themed narrative and alliance quiz. One of the biggest updates was Garena Free Fire’s 5v5 Bomb Squad mode, which features similar mechanics to the bomb defusal modes in Call of Duty and Counter-Strike.

Rise of Kingdoms' main event consisted of four parts, one being Words of Eternity. It was a six-part short story series that surprisingly borrowed narrative mechanics from RPG games, meaning that it required players to make minor decisions as the story progressed.
Rise of Kingdoms’ main event consisted of four parts, one being Words of Eternity. It was a six-part short story series that surprisingly borrowed narrative mechanics from RPG games, meaning that it required players to make minor decisions as the story progressed.

We saw some interesting examples of Battle Passes in June, with Jurassic World Alive introducing a regular Premium Pass and a “Grand Premium Pass,” while Project Makeover and Redecor featured Pride-themed Battle Passes for the month of June. Dragon Ball Legends and The Seven Deadly Sins celebrated their 3rd and 4th anniversaries with plenty of freebies, causing a massive spike in revenue for both games, while the luxury fashion house Gucci returned to Roblox but this time with a permanent world inspired by Fall Guys called Gucci Town.

Dragon Ball Legends' 4th anniversary caused a massive revenue spike.
Dragon Ball Legends’ 4th anniversary caused a massive revenue spike. (Source: GameRefinery SaaS platform)

Interesting top 200 grossing entrants on the market

  • The highly anticipated MMORPG Diablo Immortal was launched globally at the beginning of June, making the game rise straight to the top 10 grossing games in the US. Check our game analyst’s full deconstruction of the game in the GameRefinery service (only available to users with full access).
  • Action RPG Disney Mirrorverse had its global launch in June, making the game jump straight to the US top 100. The game was also chosen as one of the finalists in GameRefinery’s 2021 Mobile GameDev Awards’ most promising soft launch games category.
  • Turn-based RPG Bloodline: Heroes of Lithas, currently ranking in the top 140-grossing.
  • Turn-based RPG Artery Gear: Fusion, ranking at its highest in the top 130-grossing.

China Market Overview

The Chinese version of Teamfire Tactics and one of China’s most popular games, Battle of the Golden Spatula (金铲铲之战), launched a new PvP season with plenty of new heroes to play with. AFK Arena’s (剑与远征 – AFK) also got a new update, with a new skin for the character Peggy and a customizable IAP offer for specific characters. Less than a year after its release and the magic seems to be fading for Harry Potter: Magic Awakened (哈利波特:魔法觉醒). Despite being a huge success at launch, the game is consistently dropping in rankings.

Battle of the Golden Spatula (金铲铲之战) launched a new PVP season with new heroes.
Battle of the Golden Spatula (金铲铲之战) launched a new PVP season with new heroes.

Other major Chinese game updates in June included Ace Racer’s (王牌竞速) limited-time PvP mode and plenty of summer-themed events as games such as QQ Dancer (QQ炫舞), Immortal World (一念逍遥), and Canal Towns (江南百景图) celebrated Dragon Boat Festival at the beginning of June. And while there wasn’t much happening on the collaboration front, the Multiplayer Battle Arena game Onmyoji Arena (决战!平安京) collaborated with US beer brand Bud Light.

Onmyoji Arena (决战!平安京) collaborated with the US beer brand Bud Light in June. During the event, players had the possibility of obtaining a collaboration-themed skin.
Onmyoji Arena (决战!平安京) collaborated with the US beer brand Bud Light in June. During the event, players had the possibility of obtaining a collaboration-themed skin.

Interesting top 200 grossing entrants on the market

Japan Market Overview

The popular action RPG Guardian Tales (ガーディアンテイルズ) released a new world map with events and offer campaigns, while the MMORPG Gran Saga (グランサガ) featured a June Bride-themed story event along with content focusing on the game’s half-anniversary celebrations and summer beach theme.

Gran Saga's (グランサガ) June Bride-themed event included event levels with battles and a special bridal-themed story where two of the main characters get possessed by the ghost of a bride.
Gran Saga’s (グランサガ) June Bride-themed event included event levels with battles and a special bridal-themed story where two of the main characters get possessed by the ghost of a bride.

One of the biggest event updates in June was in the popular rhythm game, Project Sekai Colorful Stage feat. Hatsune Miku (プロジェクトセカイ カラフルステージ! feat. 初音ミク), which held its first Connect Live concert, a premium, one-hour-long virtual concert experience. The event featured a performance from the virtual band Vivid BAD SQUAD, and players had to purchase event tickets in advance to attend the full concert.

Project Sekai Colorful Stage feat. Hatsune Miku’s recent update brought the long-awaited first official Connect Live concert: Vivid BAD SQUAD 1st CRASH!

Interesting top 200 grossing entrants on the market

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Mobile Game Publishers Are Bypassing Google and Apple Store Cuts With External Web Stores https://www.gamerefinery.com/mobile-game-publishers-are-bypassing-google-and-apple-store-cuts-with-external-web-stores/ Mon, 27 Jun 2022 11:10:38 +0000 https://www.gamerefinery.com/?p=15399 The Epic v Apple court case may be over, but we don’t expect the debate around store fees to end anytime soon.  If you’re unfamiliar with the above case, we recommend reading The Verge story linked above for the full run-down. But in short, this was a court case over arguments relating to Fortnite’s iOS […]

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The Epic v Apple court case may be over, but we don’t expect the debate around store fees to end anytime soon. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the above case, we recommend reading The Verge story linked above for the full run-down. But in short, this was a court case over arguments relating to Fortnite’s iOS app, with Epic claiming that Apple has an unlawful monopoly on digital app transactions. 

Apple takes a 30% cut of all transactions made in Fortnite through the iOS store, and Epic breached its developer agreement by offering cheaper in-app purchases of Vbucks, an in-game currency if the transaction was made via a direct payment to Epic, rather than through the iOS store. 

This is essentially how the whole argument started. Apple removed Fortnite from the iOS store, Epic sued, and both sides lost billions. However, there have been several changes to store fees since this court case. Notably, Apple and Google have reduced their app fees from 30% to 15%, but that comes with some caveats, such as the 15% fee only applying to the first $1 million made every year.

Game of Thrones: Conquest web store
Game of Thrones: Conquest web store

This means that in most cases, many mobile game publishers still pay a 30% fee on the vast majority of transactions made in their games. 

The reason we’re talking about all of this is because context is important, as it leads into a new trend that our analysts have spotted relating to in-app purchases within mobile games: mobile game studios are trying to bypass Google and Apple Store fees by selling certain in-game items through external web stores. 

At the time of writing, we’ve spotted four mobile games doing this so far: Game of Thrones: Conquest, Clash of Clans, Marvel Strike Force and Star Trek Fleet Command

Figures from the GameRefinery platform show Marvel Strike Force made $4 million dollars from iOS in-app purchases in the last 30 days in the US, while Clash of Clans, one of the best-selling mobile games of all time, made $6.7 million in the US over the same period.  

Another development in the aftermath of the Apic vs Apple case was Apple announcing it would allow app devs to link to external payment options from 2022 onwards. Still, it’s important to note that this change only relates to “reader” apps, and not mobile games. 

So what’s the deal with these web stores? The vast majority of mobile games are free-to-play titles and make most of their revenue through in-app purchases such as in-game currencies, battle pass subscriptions, or cosmetic items. 

Given that many of the most popular mobile games make upwards of $100k every single day, it’s no surprise that mobile game studios are looking to move some of their in-app purchases to external channels where Google and Apple can’t take a cut.

Supercell store for Clash of Clans
Supercell store for Clash of Clans

So, what remains to be seen is how many game publishers will follow in the footsteps of Warner Bros. and Supercell by setting up their own web stores. Plenty more, we suspect, which could encourage Apple and Google to reconsider their fees for mobile games. 

That said, the visibility and accessibility of these web stores remain an issue. Apple and Google don’t allow the advertising of these web stores in-app, so mobile game publishers are currently dealing with the challenge of getting the word out there about these web stores.

It’s also worth highlighting that making an in-app purchase is a much simpler process than having to visit one of these web stores, sign in and then link your game account, so studios will have to incentivize visiting these web stores to encourage consumers to go through the effort of purchasing through them. As an example, Supercell is currently selling Clash of an exclusive Gold Pass bundle for Clash of Clans at a discounted price. 

We’ll keep you updated here with any developments relating to these stores and app store fees in the future. We suspect we’ll be seeing plenty more of them…

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Soft Landing to Conversion – Introducing Onboarding Best Practices PART 3 https://www.gamerefinery.com/soft-landing-to-conversion-introducing-onboarding-best-practices-part-3/ Thu, 23 Jun 2022 07:01:09 +0000 https://www.gamerefinery.com/?p=15362 The onboarding period is the delicate phase where the player’s relationship to the monetization mechanics of the game is often decided – for better or worse. In the beginning, the players can be introduced to different monetization aspects of the game in a way that leaves them hungry for more instead of feeling tricked and […]

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The onboarding period is the delicate phase where the player’s relationship to the monetization mechanics of the game is often decided – for better or worse. In the beginning, the players can be introduced to different monetization aspects of the game in a way that leaves them hungry for more instead of feeling tricked and driven to pay to win.

In our “Introducing Onboarding Best Practises” blog post series, we have so far taken a look at the best practices of player onboarding in terms of storytelling and retention among the top-grossing iOS games across different genres and markets. In this last part, we will dive into new player monetization. Remember to check out the part one about storytelling elements and a sense of progress, as well as part two on player retention, to deepen your knowledge about the topic of onboarding. 

Let’s find out what kind of interesting monetization features aimed specifically at new players can be found in top mobile games from East to West!

Introducing monetization mechanics through free samples

A common and gentle way of getting players used to monetized items and actions is by giving players some of them for free the first time these items are introduced. That is, while the player is still getting used to the gameplay mechanics and figuring out what their goal is.

In Roblox, there is a shop for different types of accessories, clothes, and characters to brighten up the gameplay’s customization experience. At the beginning of the game, players get free stuff, such as characters, accessories, and clothes to spice up their characters’ looks. When the player first goes to the shop to collect their free gifts, they are also introduced to various kinds of customization items with an actual price tag. This offers two ways to get familiar with the game mechanic: a free trial of some more common wear while also showcasing where the player can get more of the cooler decorative items.

Roblox: Free customization items
Roblox: Free customization items 

In many tycoon games, the tutorial allows you to speed up the construction of buildings and production of crops and such once for free when you are first introduced to these mechanics. At the same time, the player is informed that the action will, later on, cost actual premium currency, the amount usually depending on how long the remaining waiting time is.

Family Island — Farming game: Free speed up trial for food production
Family Island — Farming game: Free speed up trial for food production

Township helps the player with a small amount of the premium currency at the beginning of the game and then guides the player through several ways to use it in different tycoon mechanics in the game.

Township: Bread production speed up with premium currency
Township: Bread production speed up with premium currency

Different kinds of boosters are an essential part of the Match3 subgenre, and it is hard to find a game that doesn’t offer a free taste of them when explaining and visualizing how they work on the game board.

Homescapes and Royal Match are no exception in this regard.

Free first time boosters in Homescapes and Royal Match
Free first time boosters in Homescapes and Royal Match

These are a few ways to combine the onboarding of essential game mechanics with an introduction to the various small-scale monetization features scattered around the game. The player will be faced with these types of transaction options in practically every session, so it is beneficial to show players right from the start how much easier opting for these offers makes their life.

Smoothing out the first session flow by offering free waiting time skips or boosters will create a neat contrast to the struggle with crueler session length restrictions that players will be faced later on. In games where customization is a big part of the experience, the free common accessories will seem dull compared to the flashier, exclusive premium items, conveniently visualizing the benefits of conversion to a paying player.

New Player Gachas 

In gacha-based character and item collecting games, it is just as important to give the new player a taste of the essential gacha mechanics. Many games do this by offering free pulls (and even re-rolls in the case of unfavorable results!), discounts, or a special one-off gacha tailored specifically for new players’ needs.

For example, the Puzzle RPG Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle has a Single-Summon limited to new players who are just starting to compile their character roster. This gacha guarantees you one of three SSR-rarity characters for five Dragon Stones (premium currency) only.

Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle: Single-Summon SSR gacha for beginners
Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle: Single-Summon SSR gacha for beginners

Probably the most popular way to steer the new players’ attention to gachas is by implementing a gacha tutorial within the first gameplay session.

In the successful shooter game Call of Duty: Mobile, players get familiar with several gachas that the game has to offer. A “Lucky Board” gacha is an example of this: players are taken to a “Lucky Board” gacha and introduced to all the aspects of it, such as what kind of rewards the player gets from the gacha, where to get lucky coupons, the currency to roll the gacha, or where to use the lucky coins (a reward from gacha pool). Combining the tutorial with a free gacha pull is a way to get players comfortable with the system.

Call of Duty: Mobile, “Lucky Board"
Call of Duty: Mobile, “Lucky Board”

PUBG Mobile offers a well-rounded onboarding system for new players, and this system also has a special gacha, the “Rookie Roulette,” woven into it. This new player gacha can be pulled with gacha currency that can be gained from beginner achievements, including things like match completion tasks, rewards when reaching a certain level, total kills, season match time accumulation rewards, and so forth. The gacha currency can also be gained from daily tasks, which incentivize players to come back to the game daily to collect the gacha currency. Rookie Roulette includes randomized reward packs for weapons and accessories, as well as Rookie Roulette Points.

Rookie Roulette in PUBG Mobile
Rookie Roulette in PUBG Mobile

These types of schemes bind the gacha with engagement through tasks, milestones, and dutiful logging in, making it part of a meaningful loop of onboarding actions instead of coming off as merely a means of getting the player hooked on gacha monetization.

New Player Offers

One of the more direct ways of urging the F2P players to convert early on is all kinds of new player-exclusive IAP offers. Many games across genres offer some kind of bundles of useful items to new players to help them make quick progress and catch up with their seniors.

Daily offer system in 梦幻西游网页版 (Westward Journey Browser Edition)
Daily offer system in 梦幻西游网页版 (Westward Journey Browser Edition)

In the Chinese MMORPG 梦幻西游网页版 (Westward Journey Browser Edition), there is an interesting way to give offers to the new players in a Daily Offer type of system. The player must come back to the game daily to pick up their varying daily offer, including items needed for progression in the gameplay (such as boosters). This daily offer system is only available for the new players for a limited time, and there are up to 8 days for offers to appear.

So-called ‘starter packs’ are a common way to formulate limited-time, new player offers. These make the player feel welcomed with exclusive offers designed for the novice player, and the limited time gives time pressure to purchase the items still when possible. Giving some special items for the player that they only get when they start the game can help to familiarize players with purchasing mechanics.

Call of Duty: Mobile starter pack
Call of Duty: Mobile starter pack

In Call of Duty: Mobile, new players are offered a starter pack, which will give them COD Points, which is a premium currency, and a skin for their weapon, as well as a skin for their character. 

Garena Free Fire: Mixed Newbie Bundles
Garena Free Fire: Mixed Newbie Bundles
Garena Free Fire: Mixed Newbie Bundles

Garena Free Fire, a battle royale title, offers starter packs called “Newbie Bundles.” These also contain cool decorative items and skins for the character, supporting the importance of customization in this battle royale game. With a low price, players can fairly easily try out the customization options to spice up their gaming experience from the beginning.

Instead of deco items, Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle has many different upgrading types for the characters, and these upgrading types require a multitude of materials. It makes sense that Dokkan Battle offers new player bundles that have a nice assortment of common upgrading materials. The Dokkan Welcome Packs are only available for the first 100 hours, counting from the start of the first session, urging the players to hurry their conversion.

Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle: Limited-time new player bundles with upgrading materials
Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle: Limited-time new player bundles with upgrading materials

The casual category games obviously have their own kinds of bundles for new players as well.

Coin Master: First Timer Pack, which contains energy and coins
Coin Master: First Timer Pack, which contains energy and coins

In the casual casino game Coin Master, there is a pop-up starter offer for new players for a low price. The “First Timer Pack” contains energy and coins, which are essential for the gameplay to continue. Nothing extra or fancy! Similar to the Dokkan Welcome Packs, this offer is only available for less than 24 hours, which creates time pressure for the player to grab the order right away, and brings a possibility to play the game longer without running out of coins and energy too soon. 

Township’s low-cost Starter Bundle contains materials for upgrading and expanding the Barn, which works as the player’s inventory. The inventory expansion is important for new players since the amount of items to manage grows rapidly in the early stages of the game. Homescapes, on the other hand, focuses on monetizing via the boosters, so it makes sense to craft a low-cost Starter Pack with boosters to fit a new player’s needs and willingness to convert.

Township: Starter pack with currencies and material items with clear explanations
Township: Starter pack with currencies and material items with clear explanations
Homescapes: Starter Pack and Apprentice Pack with small sets of boosters and soft currency
Homescapes: Starter Pack and Apprentice Pack with small sets of boosters and soft currency

Rewarding Conversion Itself

This kind of elaborate monetization mechanics is traditionally more commonly seen in the Asian markets, but it might offer inspiration for developers aiming to push their players towards early conversion more aggressively.

The Idle RPG game 放置少女〜百花繚乱の萌姫たち〜 (Houchi Shoujo – Hyakka Ryouran no Moehimetachi) from the Japanese market rewards its players generously for simply making their first real money purchase. When the player clicks on the link in this special offer screen, they will be taken to the in-game premium currency shop, where they will notice that the first-time purchase will give twice the regular amount of the currency. The first time a player makes a purchase in this shop with real money, they will immediately receive the full amount of “bonds” (character shards) needed to acquire a special character for their roster. This character’s passive skill is particularly useful for new players on low player levels since it boosts the experience points gained when offline. But wait, there is more! This conversion incentive is also cleverly linked to retention. After the initial purchase, for two days, the player will receive extra daily log-in rewards that are specially designed to aid in swiftly powering up your character roster. This is yet again an interesting example of a multifaceted incentive towards conversion.

Houchi Shoujo - Hyakka Ryouran no Moehimetachi: The players are rewarded on their first time real money purchase with an exclusive character with a special skill, upgrading materials, equipment, and a discount on the premium currency
Houchi Shoujo – Hyakka Ryouran no Moehimetachi: The players are rewarded on their first time real money purchase with an exclusive character with a special skill, upgrading materials, equipment, and a discount on the premium currency.

Summary

To sum it up, there are many ways to elegantly introduce the player to a game’s monetization mechanics during the onboarding process. Here we have taken a look at free samples of monetized items and actions, different types of new player-friendly gacha implementations, bundles, and offers tailored with beginners in mind, as well as ways to directly reward for converting to a paying player.

Looking at the examples from all the areas of onboarding we have gone through in this series (storytelling elements and tutorial sequences, retention, and monetization), it is clear that many of the mechanics work well across quite different genres if tweaked a bit. It also seems safe to say that, at best, the different areas are all tightly linked to each other in a way that forms a fun, meaningful, and engaging first-time user experience, making the player come back for more.

You can find more examples of the new player monetization best practices that we have opened up in this post, as well as all the other onboarding mechanics we have introduced in this series (and much more!) from the GameRefinery SaaS platform. Our team is also always happy to point our customers to the most memorable onboarding implementations we have witnessed over the many years we’ve been tracking top-performing mobile games, especially if you’re looking for examples in a specific genre.

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