Data & Research

The battle pass is a hot trend in mobile games that looks like it’s here to stay

The battle pass is a hot trend in mobile games that looks like it’s here to stay

Erno Kiiski is Chief Game Analyst - US at leading mobile game feature data provider GameRefinery. 

Here at GameRefinery HQ, our analysts are constantly monitoring features in the top-grossing games across multiple countries to try and understand their secret sauce.

Without doubt one of the most popular features we’ve seen implemented has been the battle pass.

Just in case that you’re not clear what a battle pass is, according to Wikipedia it’s defined as ‘a type of monetization approach that provides additional content for a game usually through a tiered system, rewarding the player with in-game items by playing the game and completing specific challenges.’

This monetization model is well known to console and PC Gamers. Fortnite is the apex of battle pass implementation as a free-to-play game by getting gamers to sign up to exclusive gear and goodies to keep them playing.

So it makes total sense that the battle pass system has now made its way to mobile.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at how some of the top-grossing mobile games have been implementing this increasingly popular feature.

We’ll be focusing largely on the US - but before we begin, it’s interesting to also take a look at the UK and China.

The US has seen a rise of the battle pass in the top 100 grossing games from around 2% a year ago to about 20%.

Likewise the UK, due to a large amount of crossover between the two English-speaking markets.

Most striking of all is China, which has gone from 3% to over 30% in just 12 months. Clearly, it’s a model that has worked especially well with Chinese consumers.

The above chart shows some of the top-grossing games in the US that have implemented a battle pass.

It’s clear to see that this is no longer a ‘one-genre only’ feature, with a spread of sports, strategy and FPS games all using it.

It’s a monetization mechanism versatile enough to be used across genres, and it’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

Just because the battle pass is appearing across multiple genres, it doesn’t mean everyone is going a great job of it. As you can see below, there are multiple ways that the battle pass is being implemented and it’s certainly not a ‘one size fits all’ mechanism.

Successful usage relies upon the correct price points and a robust progression curve.

Here are some examples of how various titles have implemented their battle pass, how progression is built, what rewards are on offer, and how much it costs.

  • Clash of Clans: Clash of Clans implemented its battle pass system (knows as a ‘Gold Pass’) in April 2019, becoming one of the first non-Battle Royale games to do so.
  • Price: $4.99
  • Season length: One month
  • Progression: Players clear daily and weekly challenges, which reward players with challenge points.
  • Rewards: Players can get their hands on a wide variety of rewards, including heaps of gold, consumables, cosmetics, season-specific perks and a Season Bank, which fills with loot that can be claimed after the season ends.
  • Is it worth it?: Clash of Clan's battle pass had a considerable impact on the game’s performance and financial success. The progression system incentivizes player retention daily to complete the challenges and engage with the game. It doesn’t appear to cannibalize the game’s economy and provides good value at $4.99.

  • Clash Royale: Supercell saw the excellent results of a battle pass in CoC and implemented one in Clash Royale.
  • Price: $4.99
  • Season length: One month
  • Progression: Unlimited entries to Special Challenges and the possibility to queue chest openings. A simple progression curve; players earn crowns from winning matches, progressing the battle pass further and unlocking more rewards tier after tier.
  • Rewards: Chests with cards, gold, tokens, exclusive cosmetics, and “bonus bank.” This battle pass only has 35 tiers. Once completed, every ten crowns add gold to the “Bonus Bank,” claimed after the season ends (similar to Clash of Clans).
  • Is it worth it? Like Clash of CLans, Clash Royale’s battle pass brings value for $4.99. There are no daily/weekly quests encouraging players to return to the game and engage. It’s tied simply to winning and earning. Players don’t get to ”interact directly” with the Battle Pass, only intermittently claiming the unlocked rewards.

  • Idle Miner Tycoon
  • Price: $9.99
  • Season length: One month
  • Progression: In Idle Miner Tycoon, there are always live events running within “event mines” – special locations separate from the main game progression. Players earn battle pass season points from progressing in these, essentially tying event and battle pass progression together. During a single battle pass season, there are multiple different events to participate in.
  • Rewards: There are different kinds of items that boost their income along with research points that players can use to buy permanent boosts. Character shards and some event-specific avatar icons are available through the Battle Pass.
  • Is it worth it? Who would’ve thought a year ago that we would have Idler games with a Battle Pass? It’s always exciting to see developers experimenting on how to implement a feature or mechanic across different genres. Idle Miner Tycoon's battle pass does run the risk of feeling more like a tacked-on “extra reward layer” for the existing event system. It doesn’t feel as captivating and engaging as other games. Since progression is earned merely by event participation, rewards earned from these events are not as compelling, especially with this high price point. Also, items lack one of the most significant selling points for cosmetic-driven battle passes - a ‘fear of missing out’ for those without a pass.

  • Mario Kart Tour: Mario Kart had its version of the battle pass implemented straight from launch.
  • Price: $4.99/month. Recurring subscription
  • Progression: The Gold Pass unlocks the “premium” reward track for players. Players acquire 1-5 stars per race based on their performance. Once enough stars are obtained, the next races and reward thresholds are unlocked. One interesting difference from the norm, however, is that the Gold Pass uses a continuing monthly-based subscription, whereas with other battle passes you pay a single transaction for every season you want access to premium content. Another significant difference to the usual battle pass stems from Nintendo’s decision to close off the fastest racing mode, open only for Gold Pass subscribers. Mario Kart Tour is one of the only games to put an entire game mode behind a battle pass paywall, a move that has led to negative feedback.
  • Rewards: Other than the aforementioned 200cc game mode, there is a premium currency, experience tickets and cosmetics.
  • Is it worth it?: A bold move to block the 200cc races behind a paywall, the only other exclusive rewards players get is golden profile badges. The additional content, namely the gacha-system of unlockable characters, is available to everyone - Gold Pass or not. It remains to be seen if Gold Pass will affect multiplayer modes.

Summary

Some of these implementations have worked better than others, but we can see that the trend is clearly to implement some kind of battle pass system whatever the game.

The move to an auto-renewing subscription model is one trend to keep an eye on, perhaps in reaction to the increasing scrutiny around loot boxes and gambling mechanics.

When done right, battle pass systems can have a tremendously positive effect on a game’s retention and monetization – both directly and indirectly.

Whatever the implementation one thing is clear- the battle pass is very likely here to stay for the immediate future, and we’ll be seeing many more games adopting its model in the near future.

Find out more at GameRefinery. 

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