Mobile Mavens

Monetizer Mavens on the simple, sophisticated, genius, and extremely aggressive gacha monetisation (and retention) of Clash Royale

Monetizer Mavens on the simple, sophisticated, genius, and extremely aggressive gacha monetisation (and retention) of Clash Royale

We haven't engaged our Monetizer Mavens for a long time.

But our first question of 2016 was a corker about the biggest game of the year (so far):

  • Is Clash Royale's use of a time gate within its chest reward loop an innovation in F2P monetisation?
  • Any other thoughts on how Supercell has approached monetisation in Clash Royale?

 

Jordan Blackman Lead Designer Adrian Crook & Associates

Jordan Blackman is a lead designer and producer with over ten years of experience designing, producing, and managing hit content for companies like Zynga, Ubisoft, NovaLogic, & Disney.

Over 80 million people have played games that Jordan worked on as either a producer or designer.

Jordan’s credits include Lead Designer on FrontierVille & CastleVille, Senior Producer and Original Concept on CSI: Crime City (Facebook), Producer on Delta Force: Black Hawk Down, and Writer on Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising.

In Clash Royale, the chest system is quite brilliant.

Here's why:

  • Paying to unlock a chest early feels like paying for something you've actually earned, since you had to win to get it in the first place.
  • Opening a chest leaves a slot free for a new one, encouraging the player to engage and play more matches. This keeps the loop flowing when a player comes in off a chest notification, or an early unlock, etc…
  • Those chest-ready notifications are really compelling too because the player now has access to a mysterious earned reward and also the opportunity to gain more rewards through play.
  • Chests can be earned in various ways and also purchased outright. Then again, the contents themselves can also sometimes be purchased outright on occasion in the store... It's very textured and gives a lot of monetization scenarios with minimum moving parts.
  • Chest unlocking over time with limited slots is a sessioning system for the core loop because after earning three you've got to wait to get maximum rewards on each in-game victory.

In a way, the system is a step beyond what something like Hearthstone does with quests. It's a sessioning mechanic based on limiting rewards over time.

But Clash Royale's evolution is more sophisticated because it's also an intra-day return mechanic and so encourages more frequent and regular engagement while also being a hugely effective monetization mechanic.

Michail Katkoff Executive Producer, writer of DeconstructorofFun.com

In all simplicity, the chest mechanic of Clash Royale achieves two important goals.

  • Firstly it creates a very strong retention mechanic as players return to the game to get the rewards they earned during their last session.
  • Secondly, and most importantly, it allows endless session length without giving away game content.

There's a lot of talk from gaming industry people that focuses on the negative side of the chest mechanic. But these complaints about chest unlock timers and limited slots are in my mind totally missing the point.

Monetization is a result of retention.
Michail Katoff

The fact is, you can play Clash Royale for hours ends and not actually expend any game content. This is revolutionary in freemium games, where content is locked behind sessions and sessions have hard stop.

Just think about Clash of Clans, where after a single battle you're pretty much done as you don't have enough units for another battle and there's nothing you can do as your builders are busy.

Monetization is a result of retention. Chest mechanic increases retention through strong pull to return to the game and by allowing players to actually play as much as they want.

Mikkel Faurholm Freelance designer, writer of AppCrimes.com

Clash Royale manages to ignite the craving spawned in a player to play, to progress, and to win, and then manages to monetize it.

A competitive game like Clash Royale focuses on Killers (Bartle's Taxonomy), and explores this in a mechanic, limiting the reward of gameplay.

A competitive game like Clash Royale focuses on Killers
Mikkel Faurholm

This mechanic is design to do two things.

Casual Players should leave the game when chest slots are full, setting up a retention mechanic for themselves (notified when chest is opened) - but the mechanic is on the other hand very deliberately targeted at the player that what's to rise to the top of the charts.

This may seem counter intuitive since you are still able to play, but the genius part is that the game exploits the fact that player recognises the 'permanent progress' in Chest Rewards (cards).

Skills will only take a player so far. The player needs the cards (level of units), providing players with a better ability to rise to the top. This is why the Killer (player) is now primed to spend.

I would like to see behavioural analytics on how fast a player who spent hard currency on a reward chest is skipping through what was actually in the chest. My guess is about lightning speed compared to a chest bought in the shop. This mechanic is not about receiving the reward, it is about gameplay and optimising the gains.

Even in training you have to wait for chest to unlock

Futhermore the game plays as a hype-man for the Killer archetype. There is an extremely effective psychology in communicating to the player;

"We assume you are going to win, so since your chest slots are full, your awesome self won't gain full effect."

Supercell recognises its audience of gameplay, manages to nail the gameplay, and then exploits the players this game essentially was meant to monetize - Killers - and with great effect.

On a side note, I found it very interesting the huge leap in available Chests in the store.

  • In the beta, the game had a Silver (30 Gems), Gold (80 Gems) and Magical chest (400 Gems).
  • In the global release it was Giant (350 Gems), Magical (600 Gems) and Super Magical Chest (3100 Gems).

Obviously, a skill-driven game should not aggressively test monetization in beta, but its a very interesting leap - which I can only assume is because of the revenue the game brought in during beta.

Justin Stolzenberg Director, Product & Monetization Flare Games

I agree with Mikkel on what the chests loop and limitation actually achieves…

From my point of view, the three main factors why Clash Royale has been performing so well are:

  • The Clash brand,
  • Supercell's ability to simplify complex systems to their core,
  • The extremely fine-tuned core gameplay

These three make the game so much better fit for a mass-market and (presumably) much better retaining than other games with a collection-based economy (especially, but not only, CCGs).

  • The brand

At the end of 2015 Supercell pushed its marketing towards "Clash" as a brand instead of Clash of Clans as a game (most notably with a set of high-rotation ads featuring Christoph Waltz).

Next to all the audience appeal and Apple/Google love, the brand (and how Supercell handled it) also brought immediate critical mass in the sphere of YouTube influencers who show off the game's core gameplay depth with their tutorial videos. Here's a thriving community on day 1.

  • Supercell quality

Fusion/evolution/collection UI and UX can be a pain to do well for the mass market, and Clash Royale does this brilliantly. The same goes for onboarding players into meaningful social interaction, which they solved very smoothly with the reciprocal card donation.

Fusion/evolution/collection UI and UX can be a pain to do well and Clash Royale does this brilliantly.
Justin Stolzenberg

Making replays of high-level games and your clan mates available in game (and again: in a super simple UX) helps with learning and goal setting.

The first days in the game you're flooded with meaningful content and the trophies inflate until 1,000.

Few other games with similarly deep monetization potential in their core content have I found as easy to get into. In this context, the chests timer and slot limitations are somewhat of a stress reliever that help make the game compatible with a mass market.

  • The core gameplay (action phase)

This is the reason why Clash Royale – to me – felt much better than traditional CCGs and hero collection games. In that sense it’s similar to Hearthstone.

It's pretty obvious if you play against a payer in early game, but at least I didn't feel particularly frustrated. Sometimes you can still win with a lucky set of ideal counters in your deck. Most importantly, it actually has a lot of impact/makes you feel reasonably more powerful to collect and level common cards.

In most other collection games a more simplistic core gameplay/action phase limits the impact common cards can have.

How big the success becomes in the long term now hinges on if Supercell can now pull off levelling the playing field for endgame competition (they already announced further changes).

Having said all of this: the chests limits somewhat failed to limit my own binging behavior.

I personally can play a game of this competitive intensity only either all or nothing, very frequently played while my slots were all full, and recently churned out of Clash Royale due to time constraints.

Dimitar Draganov Monetization Manager Flare Games

A game design and monetization analyst with professional gaming background and degrees in Social Sciences, Economics and Probabilities and Statistics, Dimitar also writes the Freemium Game Designs blog.

On the question of innovation, Supercell always shines not because it innovates in leaps and bounds, but because it simplifies and adds tiny polish touches where they matter the most.

From a top-down approach the chest mechanic is not an innovation per se, after all rewards gated by timers have been in F2P since the very beginning, but two things make their execution of the rewards new and very instrumental for the success of the game.

Supercell shines not because it innovates in leaps and bounds, but because it simplifies and adds tiny polish touches where they matter the most.
Dimitar Draganov

Firstly, the simplicity of placing all these rewards on a single screen (the default one when the game is launched and when a battle is finished) and the building of the game's monetization around them is hands down brilliant.

This implementation gives everyone multiple reward-countdown timers every time they're about to leave the game, but also spells out the benefits of spending money more obviously than even Clash of Clans' builders did.

The chests in the shop are the same chests you can grind in the core loop, so even the most unsophisticated player eventually grasps what money can buy: 1 gem or roughly 1 cent for every 10 minutes of waiting time and $3-8 (scaling with arenas) to avoid the week of chest grinding required to get to a Magical Chest.

Secondly, Supercell casualized the time mechanic further, but has put additional mechanisms to gate the chests apart from time.

The casualization they did is simple: instead of forcing players to be on time for the Free Chest every 4 hours they doubled this to 8 hours, by allowing players to stockpile two of those chests; instead of forcing players to login every day for optimal collection of Crown Chests, they allowed them to login once every second day by the power of the same trick.

This continuous increase of rewards the longer a player has not checked-in into the game has been adopted by many F2P titles before, but never in this superb form.

To support their core loop and discourage churn stemming from the fact that in a synchronous PvP game everyone will have a 40-60% win rate in the end, they added the additional mechanisms on top of time: win battles and win crowns.

I find the crown winning especially shrewd, as it allows players to win even when they lose and therefore gives additional levers for Supercell to optimize the game's matchmaking (a topic that deserves a thread of its own).

As to Supercell's approach to monetization, it can easily be described in two words: extremely aggressive.

As mesmerizing as the new synchronous gameplay presented is and as polished as the game feels, looking at the surface it is very hard to believe that players in 2016 are willing to tolerate the extreme hand-in-pocket approach we're witnessing. This definitely caught me by surprise and outside of the intense courting by all the platforms, I would say three things explain this phenomenon.

Firstly, the game sports more than obvious exponential increases in costs. This makes an early money investment very likely and as I have spoken at length about this before, a lot of companies try to drive conversion through retention, but Supercell are masters in driving retention through conversion!

Here they achieve it not only through the low costs early on, but also through the (extremely aggressive) anti-competitive hiding of epic cards behind a paywall. A prince, a dragon or a goblin barrel early on means a solid win streak and progress through the arenas. Once players get stomped by these cards multiple times, reaching in their pocket for $5-$20 seems like the logical next step.

Secondly, Supercell looked at the rise of MZ (or maybe at my Game of War GDC presentation) and finally took note. The switch to a gacha-based monetization has made them feel more comfortable with higher shop caps.

As most people in the industry know, Supercell has usually set their shop size across their titles at roughly $12-15,000, but in Clash Royale, we see a much higher cap of roughly $25,000 needed to max out Epic Cards (of course drop chances and therefore the shop cap can be tweaked easily on the go).

For legendaries this is probably as high as $50,000 as players cannot buy these from the shop and have to rely solely on the minuscule chance of getting them randomly.

Interesting to note here is that the game lacks consumables (hmm, maybe I was wrong and they didn't watch my presentation after all!) and therefore extracting more revenue from the big spenders who already maxed out the game, relies solely on adding new cards and hoping these payers would spend another $25,000-50,000 to get these new cards.

As to Supercell's approach to monetization, it can easily be described in two words: extremely aggressive.
Dimitar Draganov

Thirdly, the vast mobile audience doesn't understand synchronous competitive gameplay. It comes from an asynchronous gaming background where retention is king and to keep players in, companies have gradually decreased barriers to entry and allowed for asynchronous win rates as high as 70-95%.

This makes the current moment in the history of mobile gaming development quite unique and Supercell has seized this once in a lifetime opportunity just like it did with Clash of Clans.

The vast audience will get very frustrated with the 40-60% win rates that come with synchronous PvP and as many of them don't know any better, they would prefer to spend and keep winning to decrease that frustration.

I find this extremely aggressive strategy brilliant, but also a bit repulsive.

I think it is working right now, but it won't work as the audience matures in 12 months time. I don't know of any competitive game that has ever put a $50,000 barriers entry or 10+ years of waiting time before you can hope to compete.

This is the big question for the long-term success of Clash Royale and I am quite confident it's in Supercell's best interest to give an answer to this as soon as possible.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

Comments

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Pascal Clarysse
I don't understand why Supercell didn't you invite you to participate to their eSports tournament -- you play better than those guys!
Dimitar Draganov Senior Product Manager at Flare Games
Thanks for the mention, Pascal! I managed to reach the Legendary Arena without paying anything in 10 weeks time. Fighting players 3-4 levels above me was no fun, but the end DOES justify the means! :-)
Bogdan Adamut
But if you managed to reach the Legendary rank in 10 weeks, why do you say
"I don't know of any competitive game that has ever put a $50,000 barriers entry or 10+ years of waiting time before you can hope to compete." ?

Because you know you can reach Legendary without paying anything, and also you know Game of War, where you need thousands of euro per week to be competitive at the same level as reaching Legendary Arena, not higher.
Pascal Clarysse
Dimitar Draganov plays in the Legendary Arena of Clash Royale. Here's thinking the article should mention this fact :-)
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