Thursday, August 29, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Dissecting a Card Battle Game

by Christopher Ory, Playforge
·         Summary: Card battle games drive retention and monetization through enhance and fusion mechanics, events, carefully balanced drop rates, and loyalty programs.
·         A card battle game (like Rage of Bahamut, Marvel War of Heroes, Legend of the Cryptids, Puzzles & Dragons) is not a collectible card game (like Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone, Cabals, Solforge). It is a separate genre that also uses cards as its metaphor.
·         Cards are a very effective tool for many reasons. First, your audience can intuitively read abstract mechanics of a card. Secondly, cards are cheap. With a card metaphor, the audience is willing to accept static art and even inconsistent art styles. This way, as a developer, you can out source the art to many studios and get a lot of art done quick and cheap.
·         The game mechanic of card battle games is just tapping. The strategy comes with the collection of cards and the deck composition. This model favors monetizing users who collected the most cards.
·         Rage of Bahamut has two core loops (the PvE loop and the PvP loop). They are both very similar, simple loops (PvE = go on quest -> collect loot -> unlock more quests, PvP = fight opponent -> collect loot -> find new opponents) with different resources. These core loops look exactly the same as World of Warcraft.
·         A very effective retention method is the Enhance and Fusion mechanics. Cards gain experience points and level up, and you can feed less desirable cards to power up other cards. This has two major positive side effects. First, it creates a system where everything (even bad cards) have value and the economy remains stable. Secondly, duplicates become desirable instead of a drag, because you can fuse several duplicates to create a more powerful version of that card.
·         Another retention method is the event system, which targets later-stage players. Have universal daily, weekly, and monthly events where players must coordinate together. This will create talk among players and naturally forge a community around your game.
·         Rage of Bahamut's drop rates are 38.5% normals, 60% rares, 15% high rares, 1% S rare, and 0.5% SS rare. The drop rate of rares are actually higher than normals because it's more desirable and rewarding to the player to get a 2 star card than a 1 star card.
·         Magic the Gathering's booster packs usually include 8 commons, 3 uncommons, 1 rare, and about 0.25% chance of a mythic rare. Magic's drop system is used for game balance (rares are actually more rare because they are also more powerful) and for secondary markets (retailers can make higher profits off rare cards). Rage of Bahamut's drop rates, however, are intended only to make money, so it's the model you should follow.
·         Kompu Gacha (translated as "complete gacha") is a monetization method where you must complete a set of random pulls. It's similar to prize vending machines at carnivals... you pay a small amount of money to receive an item at random, and you must complete an entire set of these random items to turn it in for a grand prize. Since the items are rewarded randomly, it's very difficult to complete a full set and players can easily spend a fortune getting a full set. This monetization method is so powerful, it was made illegal in Japan.
·         Loyalty programs are effective retention methods. Reward players for logging in or for making x number of purchases.
·         Puzzles & Dragons employs an arcade system where you can pay to continue a level after losing. In addition, it shows you everything you've gained up to that point in the level and you must pay an additional cost to keep those items, otherwise you lose them. This is their highest conversion to purchase.
·         Developers should be transparent about their retention and monetization systems. Don't trick players with dirty monetization methods. Players don't like to be lied to and they will always find ways around your tricks. They will only be more incentivized to "beat the system." Just let players know what they're getting into and it will build trust.

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