After seven months of existence on iOS, Vainglory is now officially released, thanks to its Android launch.
It's certainly a high quality game from an allstar team at US developer Super Evil Megacorp but despite plenty of media attention, it's not yet clear whether the game's longterm monetisation approach will be successful.
In a recent interview, CEO Bo Daly stated that he wasn't defensive about monetisation.
Indeed because he was looking for longterm success built on community engagement, monetisation was "the least of his worries right now".
So we asked our Monetisation Mavens:
- Do you think this is a logical approach for companies with deep investor pockets, or should monetisation be a key part of any F2P game at every stage?
Ben is a 15-year veteran of the games industry - he's worked as a senior executive, studio head, project lead, creative director and game designer at companies like DeNA, EA, Sony and Lionhead.
He started working on traditional games, but has been focussed on the free-to-play business model since 2006 - an extremely long time by western standards. During that time He's worked on a total of ten separate free-to-play games across five different platforms reaching over 50 million users.
If you don't need to monetise to hit your company/project goals, lucky you. Go for it.
Not every company strategy is about trying to generate value via cash.
Some try and generate value other ways.
His answer seems to be 'we know how MOBAs monetise, so we'll do that, as well as we can, with the benefit of hindsight'. Which seems reasonable for a team with that level of backing and available expertise.
It seems reasonable that his more pressing concerns are around the gameplay and thus community working on the platform.
With an eSport high skill game, that community is vital to success, as is long-term engagement, so there's nothing in what he says that suggests Super Evil don't have a solid plan. If that works or not is a different matter, but that seems to be what they're trying to answer, and more power to them.
It's foolish to think that F2P is a solved problem.Mark Sorrell
In this specific case, there's also the obvious non-direct/IAP related financial rewards of being a huge eSport. In other cases, there might be reason to design specifically for advertising or sponsorship opportunities, or other non-IAP related revenue streams.
It's foolish to think that F2P is a solved problem or that mobile will always be about IAP and only IAP. It's precisely those pushing at those boundaries who will, by definition, be the ones to discover new revenue streams.
It feels to me like the art of designing for commercial outcome, or more generally, designing for a specific purpose, is growing and maturing, and with that growth in knowledge and expertise will come new commercial opportunities.
So monetising as we know it now isn't some unique and holy truth. It's just our best trick right now.
There's one statement in that interview that really gives the right perspective about the game and the company's approach:
- "...we're trying to build something that over the course of ten years will yield many times as much money as the biggest game in the world today."
That's not one in a million, but one in a billion shot.
Our industry is so fast-paced that winners appear out of nowhere in genres no one imagined at the time. Before Clash of Clans there was CSR Racing, and before Fallout Shelter there was the sudden rise of Clash of Kings on Android.
This is not one in a million, but one in a billion shot.Dimitar Draganov
The Asian market is even more hectic and full of surprises. This is what I love about mobile gaming - big titles and lots of innovation appear in almost every quarter. Trying to predict how mobile will look ten years from now and trying to build a game that will be successful throughout that decade is like trying to kill a mosquito by throwing darts at it, blindfolded.
Instead of entertaining this wild speculation, as of now I don't see how a trend of players giving up on the truly competitive platforms - console and PC, to compete on mobile devices can be anything but a very niche market.
Sure, as the competition is very low on the platform currently, there would be some interested in making easy buck out of it, but competing with others based on fast fingers and steady hands is not what mobile is about and I am definitely a true non-believer in the aforementioned success.
The most successful entrepreneurs are driven by making something awesome. Money is important, but not the primary motivation.
I think that is what Bo is on about. He could be focusing on how to monetise right now. Instead, he is trying to build a large (relatively speaking), loyal audience.
It's a Silicon Valley mentality, akin to that of Facebook and Twitter: if we build the dominant platform in our space, we'll figure out how to make money eventually.
We've already seen that eSports have some characteristics of a winner-takes-all-market. League of Legends is an order of magnitude bigger than its next competitor. It's not as stark as in the world of social networks or communications platforms, but it is there.
Super Evil is trying to be the dominant player in eSports on smart devices.Nicholas Lovell
So Super Evil is trying to be the dominant player in eSports on smart devices. To get there, they need a strong community who will trust them and stick with them through the difficulties of experimenting with new business models. Or they need to be so big, like Facebook, that even when they change the rules on their players, there is nowhere else to go.
So between being motivated to make something awesome, and needing to have an audience who is so committed to the game that they won't quit when monetisation is introduced (which is likely to be unpopular with a vocal minority, no matter what it is), building scale and loyalty first makes sense.
But it needs big pockets. It needs a board that won't fire you for not meeting quarterly (or annual) targets. It needs backers who are shooting for the stars, and accept that you might fail 100% while trying.
I recommend to all my clients that they focus on retention. 80% of my work is on retention. I still focus on ensuring they have a clear plan for monetisation.
Super Evil Megacorp's strategy needs a very particular set of circumstances. For most startups, it is probably the wrong one.
I believe we all know that what a company spokesperson says may or may not have anything to do with the actual truth.
We also know that you can't build a MOBA without steady revenue streams. Just look at Kixeye's TOME, EA's Dawngate and Warner Brothers' Infinite Crisis - all cancelled last year shortly after they were launched.
The simple fact in MOBA games is that their monetization is dependent on very large amount of highly engaged players.Michail Katkoff
The simple fact in MOBA games is that their monetization is dependent on very large amount of highly engaged players.
This is due to the dominant business model created by Riot's League of Legends, where the amount of purchases player can make is significantly lower that in typical F2P games but because of the extremely large user base the company can generate extraordinary amount of revenue.
In plain business language, Riot has created an entry barrier to the MOBA market by pricing their service very low. New entrants to the market have to reach very large scale before even breaking even as they attempt to play catch-up with a game with 6 years worth of content and know-how.
Vainglory follows the dominant MOBA monetization allowing players to purchase permanent characters and character skins, which are simply vanity items.
They've innovated lately around monetization of skins, which has allowed them to significantly increase their revenue and actually break into top 100 grossing in several countries. They've also finally launched on Android, which is vital for high grossing Korean and Japanese markets.
In other words, what I'm trying to say is that based on latest stream of updates in Vainglory, monetization looks like the key goal. At the same time stating that the growth of community is number one focus is also true because MOBAs have low average revenue per paying player and are thus highly dependent of large amount of daily active players.
I believe that the next 6 months will tell the full extent of Vainglory's impact on touchscreen market. If they're able to monetize sustainably even at conservative breakeven pace, they will be able to afford further building the game and gradually growing the player base.
If their monetization dips, Super Evil Megacorp will have to invest into opening a new game track.
This will take away resources from Vainglory and basically move the game into maintenance mode.
Either way, the team behind Vainglory has shown immense game-making skills, which ensures further investments into the company regardless of the success of their first title.
It's certainly likely that currently Super Evil Megacorp is prioritizing retention and engagement when it comes to how they spend development resources.
Of course, eventually you have to pay the bills. What you're building today has to fit with the monetizing you'll want to do tomorrow so monetization will always inherently be a key part of any F2P game.
Regardless of if Vainglory blows up, Super Evil Megacorp has clearly shown they are a top shelf studioDylan Tredrea
Whether or not a studio's current focus on monetization is logical depends on the studio's strategy and shareholder expectations.
Perhaps Vainglory shows enough promise to be worthy of ongoing investment and experimentation. Perhaps not, and the strategy is to solidify that initial community and learn about running live operations for a core mobile game with eSport potential to leverage on future projects.
Both approaches, depending on the details on the ground of course, can be very valid.
I imagine investors are most scared of determining if a team can work together, ship a game, and build a community from a valuable target audience.
Regardless of if Vainglory blows up, Super Evil Megacorp has clearly shown they are a top shelf studio in these and many other areas. That's an incredible differentiation that is certain to attract talent and capital.
That said, I'm sure the team is well aware that while they've built a solid foundation they still need to find a hit. There is a big difference between Vainglory being a successful step for Super Evil Megacorp, and Super Evil Megacorp being a successful studio.
With over 15 years’ data mining experience, Mark co-founded deltaDNA, formerly GamesAnalytics, to unlock big data to drive player understanding, introducing the concept of Player Relationship Management to build better games.
I agree with Nicholas - focus on retention is critical but a planned structure to monetization from the very beginning is also important to avoid future implementations feeling tacked on.
Building up a loyal player base from the start is obviously a good strategy, but one wrong move once you've built that up could see a mass exodus.
Super Evil Megacorp are in the lucky position to be able to give themselves much more time than normal to think carefully about the whole game experience. I would say use this time wisely with clear design thinking based on player experience and an A/B testing strategy to enhance the engagement and monetization loops.
Vainglory as it stands today is not doing anything revolutionary in terms of monetisation mechanics for the MOBA genre.
Outside of generating revenue through vanity purchases, being thoughtful about the monetization options will make sure the community stays positive and engaged. So an emphasis on positive monetization rather than blockers would fit better with the player base.
Jero is a very business oriented and entrepreneur-spirited game developer focusing on combining game design, business and marketing.
CAUTION: If you engage this person with topics of game marketing or monetization, just clear your schedule for rest of the day.
If you want to sell a product to a customer, he has to like the product/have a need to have that product.
This same applies to the games. You need to have players who love your game by providing quality experience and solutions to their needs.
Monetisation is a combination of engagement and a need.
Monetisation is a combination of engagement and a need.Jero Juujärvi
So as long as you keep user experience and engagement (community building, social design, events etc.) in your mind at every stage, monetisation is easy to implement afterwards into engagement features.
I think this approach should be applied to all F2P games, as:
Competition is tough and to stay up in the charts, you really have to make your game as engaging as possible (to get new users, re-target churned users and engage and addict existing users),
No engagement, no effective monetisation,
Engaged players are prone to pay much higher prices than non-engaged,
Social games require high amount of active users to stay engaging.