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A second wind: the monetisation of Storm Casters Ultra

IAPs from the players' perspective
A second wind: the monetisation of Storm Casters Ultra

Welcome back to the In-App Purchase Inspector - our regular look at free-to-play games from the consumer's perspective.

In each instalment, we consider the incentives or pressure applied to make in-app purchases, their perceived value, the expansion offered by IAPs and the overall value of the experience.

The end goal is to see whether the game makes a good enough case for us to part with our cash, or whether players are content - or engaged enough - to 'freeload'.

This time, we're taking a look at Storm Casters Ultra, a lightning-paced dungeon crawler from Toronto studio Get Set Games.

One more try

The first edition of Storm Casters emerged on the App Store in 2014, sporting an Ultra-less moniker and a premium price-tag. However, despite some critical acclaim, it struggled to make an impact.

As such, Get Set Games has now relaunched what is essentially the same basic game, only with four times the amount of content and brand new F2P monetisation layer.

<em>Storm Casters Ultra</em> adds F2P card mechanics to a dungeon crawler
Storm Casters Ultra adds F2P card mechanics to a dungeon crawler

Whether or not free-to-play can give the game another lease of life remains to be seen, but as a game it certainly holds up in F2P form.

Boasting plenty of one-more-go appeal and indie style charm, Storm Casters Ultra thrusts you into ever-intensifying randomised dungeons with the goal of looting treasure - and killing the monstrous guardians thereof - within a tight time limit.

Storm Casters Ultra is essentially about repetition, but it doesn't feel the same every time.

The controls are incredibly simple, with nothing more than a virtual d-stick for movement control, a single button for auto-aiming fireball attacks, and another for limited-use special attacks such as Blastbombs.

But the real joy is in the variables.

At the start of each dungeon attempt you're given three random cards from your deck - each of which offers a unique benefit - additional firepower, a higher chance of high value drops - and can either attained via hard currency or through standard play - which will alter either your character or their surroundings.

Storm Casters Ultra is essentially about repetition, then, but it doesn't feel the same every time. Nor does it feel like a thankless chore; each run, even if unsuccessful, is going towards strengthening your character.

Buying a fourth card slot gives you 33% more
Buying a fourth card slot gives you 33% more

Cards are collected and gold is accrued, which in turn can be used to increase your strength and the overall time limit for your next dungeon run, meaning you're ever increasing your chances of success.

Providing incentives

Of course, as a premium-turned-freemium experience, Storm Casters Ultra has a fundamentally different feel to a game that's been designed from the ground up for F2P.

And as such, it would have, perhaps, been easy for Get Set Games to slap on thoughtless monetisation that sat incongruently beside the core gameplay - wait timers or an energy system, for example.

Incentivised videos ads are well integrated
Incentivised videos ads are well integrated

Thankfully, this is too considered a conversion to have integrated such systems. Instead, it focuses heavily on purchases as optional extras, seeking revenue elsewhere with incentivised video ads.

Obviously whether this is a positive or a negative depends on your stance on in-game advertising, but it does mean that a lot of things you'd otherwise be charged for can be earned for watching a brief ad.

You can watch an ad to earn an extra life before you enter a dungeon.

You can watch an ad to earn an extra life before you enter a dungeon, or to get 350 Gold, or to revive from a failed attempt with an additional heart and another 30 seconds on the clock. The latter is an especially nice touch in a world where many developers charge hard currency for the privilege.

The cost of free

Storm Casters Ultra does have paid currency, in the form of Warp Stones, but it smartly avoids infringing upon the game except from where its implementation fits best: card packs.

With a total of 73 cards to collect, and a pretty generous number given during standard play, there's no real need for any but the most passionate players to purchase additional packs.

However, for those willing to pay for a stronger deck, that can be arranged: Epic, Legendary, and Majestic Packs are available for 10, 50, and 85 Warp Stones respectively.

The increasing cost of rare of Summon cards is the game's main monetisation method
The increasing cost of rare of Summon cards is the game's main monetisation method

I managed to muster 10 through standard play to purchase an Epic Pack, but given the slow rate at which Warp Stones accumulate, these packs are primarily aimed at players willing to spend money.

Warp Stone bundles range from 12 for $0.99 to 336 for $19.99 - very low price for an upper tier. Other real-money purchases are offered in the form of a one-time $3.99 fee to open up a fourth active card slot, as well as four exclusive 'Ultra Cards' priced at $1.99 apiece.

I had no particular need for these Ultra Cards, but I did opt to unlock the fourth slot. My only other purchase was the Starter Bonus Pack, which offered 20 Warp Stones for $0.99 - a 70 percent increase over the standard 12, and enough to buy 2 Epic card packs.

No pressure

And, for now, I think that's enough. I may only own 25 of a possible 73 cards, but I am still earning them through standard play and through generous daily login rewards.

Duplicate cards can be fused together to make them even stronger, and levelling up your character is all purely done with soft currency. Unless I catch the collection bug further down the line, I can't see myself spending any more money.

Daily rewards encourage retention
Daily rewards encourage retention

But the fact I can even make that decision, and be so sure that nothing will influence my future purchases aside from how I personally want to tailor my experience, speaks volumes.

Storm Casters Ultra may have crossed over from premium to free-to-play, but Get Set Games has understood the limitations of such a move.

With the game fundamentally not built with the rhythms of traditional F2P in mind, the studio had to tread carefully with its implementation of the model.

And, to my mind, it has done so exceptionally well.