Given Supercell’s introduction of month-long Season Challenges along with its Gold Pass, and the success this has had taking Clash of Clans back to the top of the grossing game rankings, the question for our Monetizer Mavens this month was a no-brainer.
- Will the introduction of Battle Passes to F2P mobile games enable better monetisation for all titles?
- Or does this sort of technique only work for already successful 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.
I gave this question some thought around the start of 2019 and was very happy to see in April that Supercell reached the same conclusion as I did.
The psychological mechanics behind Battle Pass are extremely powerful. If they can work so well in a customisation-focused monetisation, imagine what could be achieved with the superb implementation of that system in a free-to-play game with deep monetisation. A few months later their results speak louder than words.
By taking the time to transform the Battle Pass into the monster feature (production-wise) of Season Challenges, Supercell put customisation to the sidelines and focused on core gameplay instead.
They offered players new ways to experience the game, new milestones and achievements to go after and added new solutions to the ancient problems of grind and getting stuck in Clash of Clans. They took their time, but the final result is a superb complement to their core and very deservedly took them back to number one grossing again.
I believe in one form or another, Battle Passes and the core design ideas behind them can be applied to all F2P games.
Taking a step back and looking at what this means for the industry, I believe the psychology behind the system (endowment effect, FOMO, etcetera) is not going anywhere and in one form or another Battle Passes and the core design ideas behind them can be applied to all F2P games.
The monetary effect of adding a Battle Pass, just like with any other game feature, will heavily depend on the depth of the system, the innovation, effort and polish put into it and - of course - on the number of players it reaches.
Hobbyists, whales, superfans etc would always be 10-plus times more likely to purchase a Battle Pass and explore a new deep mechanic that offers new gameplay in one of their favourite games.
Therefore the impact that a Battle Pass can have will always be orders of magnitude higher in a game that has been on the market for years and has millions of fans, many of whom have stopped playing, but perceive this as an opportunity to return for a fresh take on their hobby.
I agree. When I first saw the Battle Pass, its elegant design struck me as phenomenal. There is so much that is done right in it.
We will see games that lazily copy the format without understanding the principles that make it work.
On the other hand, the specific implementation in Fortnite, focused on customisation, depends on the many ways, particularly the post-death camera, that Fortnite uses to make customisations a core part of the experience.
I think that any F2P game could successfully implement a Battle system. I equally think it is possible to implement it in a way that *will not work*. For example, a customisation-centric Battle Pass in a game that does a poor job of making players care about customisations would perform poorly.
So a skilful designer applying the Battle Pass concept to any F2P game will be successful. Equally, we will see games that lazily copy the format without understanding the principles and supporting elements that make it work fail to make an impact.
But that is true about many elements of successful F2P games anyway.
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.
The Battle Pass is a powerful and player-friendly system and a welcome innovation in monetisation. However, there is always the danger of implementing a Battle Pass ineffectively.
A game's core gameplay and progression systems dictate the headroom for add-on monetisation features.
Vainglory introduced a Battle Pass in June last year and is now in the process of shutting it down. (My understanding is they will introduce a reworked Battle Pass later on.)
And yes, there are scenarios where a Battle Pass will underperform. For example, if a game doesn't have desirable rewards to offer in the Pass (status, power, content, cosmetics, resources), then players won't engage or monetise based on the pass. The key word is “desirable”. Your players need to already want what you have to sell in order for a Battle Pass to be effective.
There may also be cases where a game already has the monetisation "turned to 11" with several events and sales happening each week. Here the pass is may cannibalise those other efforts.
At the end of the day, a game's core gameplay and progression systems dictate the monetisation "headroom" for add-on monetisation features like events, clans, or a battle pass. So, while I strongly believe in the future of Pass systems, it's not a cure for a mediocre game.
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.
One thing that struck me when I read about this is that in the past we've seen mostly the core triple-A games on console and PC look at mobile (and Asian PC games) for inspiration when it came to monetisation.
This is certainly what we did back in 2006 when we visited EA's partner in Korea (Neowiz) to figure out how they monetised for a shooter.
This feels like the first, or one of the first instances, of things going the other way - core games like DOTA 2 and Fortnite have popularised this monetisation method and this time it is a mobile game that is drawing inspiration from them.
I wonder if this is some kind of indication of the beginning of a power shift?
To point out a rather obvious thing: implementing a battle pass is a major undertaking and therefore only relevant for the bigger budget games.
I don’t think we will see any of the hyper-casual games with it anytime soon. Anyone want to bet if it can work for single-player games?