This article is part of our Monetisation Month 2020, brought to you in partnership with AudioMob.
Welcome to The In-App Purchase Inspector – our regular look at free-to-play mobile game monetisation from the consumer's perspective.
In each instalment, we consider how well a developer has designed its in-app purchase retailing to work alongside the overall gameplay and metagame experience.
This time we're looking at The Pokemon Company's colourful, light-hearted puzzle game Pokemon Cafe Mix.
Pokemon Cafe Mix sees you taking ownership of a small cafe which caters exclusively to the many creatures found in the Pokemon universe.
It's your job to create dishes and serve them to hungry Pokemon, which in turn earns you stars with each of the critters. Get enough and they'll join your staff, offering up different power-ups to use when making food and drinks.
Unlike most cafe or cooking-themed games, Cafe Mix doesn't involve any culinary action. Instead, your screen fills up with little Pokemon heads, and you need to swirl your finger around to stick them all together.
Each level comes with various objectives, like destroying a certain number of objects, reaching a certain number of points, or creating a certain number of high-value links.
It's all pretty standard mobile puzzler fare. Linking things together feels a lot like LINE's Disney Tsum Tsum, albeit with the ability to move your icons around the screen, and the objective-based gameplay is common in just about every matching game there is.
In the weeds
So, predictably, the monetisation on offer is fairly straightforward as well. There's only one currency in the game - Golden Acorns - and this has a very limited number of uses.
Should you run out of moves, you can use Acorns to give yourself another three moves, with the cost of this growing as you continue to fail the level. You can also restore lives with your Acorns, or refresh the randomised "Cafe Invites", which give you the chance to earn stars for specific Pokemon that you're trying to acquire for your team.
You can earn these Golden Acorns in game - each completed level grants you 50 Acorns, multiplied by the star rating of the level, plus an extra five Acorns per unused move.
But you'll need 900 Golden Acorns to buy extra moves or refresh a life, meaning you'll need to complete at least 18 levels before you can afford to use them for something more meaningful than a Cafe Invite refresh.
Naturally, you can turn to the shop to buy Golden Acorns should you ever need them. These start at £0.99/$0.99 for 1,200 Acorns and go up to £49.99/$49.99 for 70,000 Acorns, plus a heap of in-game power-ups to help you with trickier levels.
There's also some unique packs, with one offering party vouchers for free Cafe Invite refreshes and another offering 900 Acorns every day for 30 days. New, time-limited packs are slowly being introduced as well, offering slightly more Acorns and power-ups than the existing offerings.
New players can also pick up the "Special Pikachu" pack, which unlocks a unique Sweets Pikachu character along with a bundle of items. Sweets Pikachu is largely useless in the grand scheme of things, but he is absolutely adorable, and he's a permanent mark on your collection if you don't buy him.
Where's the lamb sauce?
But is this actually valuable to the player? Sort of. Pokemon Cafe Mix isn't so hard that you'll find yourself stuck all that often, but this means that when you do get into a tricky puzzle, you've built up a momentum getting to that point, and losing that momentum can really sting.
That said, if you're not so invested, there's little incentive to pay. As I've stated in a different article, with a little bit of luck and skill, you can clear every single level available without spending a cent. Fail a level? That's fine - just wait until your hearts recharge and try again. Sometimes you'll lose a "friendship bonus" for failing a level, but this bonus won't be desirable to every player.
And yet, I have a small confession to make. I have, at time of writing, made three purchases of Acorn bundles in Pokemon Cafe Mix, totalling over £20. This isn't exactly whale money, but it's no small investment in a lightweight, casual game like this, and I fully intend to spend again further down the line.
Does that mean Pokemon Cafe Mix has good or bad monetisation? It's hard to tell. I found value in it because I'm a truly invested player, now regularly partaking in its post-game content. And it's not hard to reach that point without spending money.
Perhaps that's a point in the game's favour - you never feel you need to spend money, but when you do, it actually adds to your experience and improves your progress. It's pretty basic for an in-game economy, but once you're invested, it never feels like a waste to spend money on.
Monetisation Month is brought to you in partnership with AudioMob. Find out how rewarded audio can help you monetise your games better - get in touch!