37 min read

Long-Term Engagement in Hybrid Casual Games

Long-Term Engagement in Hybrid Casual Games

Games mentioned in the presentation

  • Archero
  • Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes
  • Marvel: Strike Force
  • Marvel: Contest of Champions
  • Walking Dead: Road to Survival
  • Walking Dead: Our World
  • Angry Birds 2
  • Solitaire Tripeaks Journey from Me2zen

Transcript from the webinar (generated with Otter.ai)

Joakim Achren 4:17
The topic of today is long term engagement, and specifically talking about hybrid casual, which is this new genre naming? I don’t know. No. Like, there’s so many namings like casual, ultra casual, hyper casual, casual. But yeah, we’re going to be going to specific what that is. But first, an introduction of myself. I’m yorkin Akram. I’m the founder and CEO of elite game developers, which is a gaming startup School, where I’m trying to give out a lot of interesting topics for myself to people who are also interested in startups in gaming. How do you start your own games company? How do you get funding? How did Get off the ground, like start paying salaries is a really good point to achieve early on but then, like how do you go from there to growing things? So my background in gaming is that I founded my first company 15 years ago called iron star Helsinki was a virtual worlds company for Nokia phones really, like not good timing at all those devices really couldn’t do anything online. Like was terrible, miserable. we pivoted to Facebook games got for like we did a few years of profitability until Facebook decided to close down the viral channels. And we ended up closing down the company as we couldn’t acquire users. I went to Supercell for a while did analytics there until Clash of Clans became huge thing and I wanted to get into that as well and then left to start building next games, which we found it in 2013 and I left last year to start elite game developer So, like I was just saying that the material that I’ve so far brought out this to this podcast episodes with founders, people from the industry investors and the blog post but today so kind of like a new area that we’re going to go after, which is the the hybrid casual that and I would say like the term was coined after the game Archer o came out last year, everybody’s probably played it. It’s this really cool action RPG where you’re progressing with your character doing these cool levels, a lot of skill based gaming, interesting meta. So the meta game is something that really like here is a big, big takeaway. Like they really incorporated a nice RPG system on top of this really unique hype like a hyper casual gameplay experience. If you think about it, how simplistic it is to play the game. The early ads that they were showing were basic like like, it attracts people who also install hyper casual games. But then underneath, there’s this depth of all the equipments and the collection. So the the game loop itself revolves around the fighting where you’re constantly going into new chapters, you’re on unlocking more tougher enemies, but you’re also playing to be harder content, you’re you’re progressing through your skill development, and then you get rewards for the beat in the levels, gold scrolls equipment. And then finally, you can level up your gear to even be harder opponents in the following levels. And the game is pretty deep nowadays. It’s they’ve been constantly adding more stuff into it, like Rarity levels, whatnot, bringing in different kind of abilities and there’s there’s really good material online to look at like how Do the economists nowadays. But yeah, like, how do you actually apply kind of learnings from outside of hyper casual or like outside of Archer what they did? What is what are the really like fundamentals that you should be looking at? So RPG mechanics, I think is the place to really start. There’s a lot of titles out there that have incorporated gameplay from RPG games into new ways. Like you have Galaxy of Heroes, which has the shard system, or character collection, Contest of Champions, this street fighter esque gameplay tied into a really deep character collector, and then of course, like walking dead brought to survivals and was a really interesting deep game that came out several years ago, before the shard system was made popular by a Galaxy of Heroes and heroes charge like this is this is how the The gameplay really breaks down you have your core gameplay, the second, the second combat whatnot, which is talking basically with the meta game, like how you’re progressing in the economy. And then you have the live ops which is constantly pushing in new content. And in a game like empires and puzzles, what is actually happening there is that you have a game, which which has a really deep mastery. But you also have this kind of moments where you’re going back into the game, you’re getting new characters, there’s hundreds of these three star, hundreds of four star and five star characters and the player is slowly sort of like transfer me transforming their roster towards the higher star. So it’s not automatically that you’re kind of like jumping into the five stars, but it can take four years before you collected sort of the three stars and four stars and then eventually you start leveling your whole life. roster into five stars, and you’re adding new characters there. And then when the older players who’ve sort of reached the end, they start transitioning towards maybe a six star character roster. And then the whole depth comes from having a level up and an ascension system at the same time where you’re your level, your hero who was a five star character, when you got them, they stay a five star, but you have these kind of different leveling mechanisms going on underneath the character. So that you’re you’re sort of like, the road to maximize a character is really long. And then finally, when you get them maxed out, then you’re sort of like at that stage that Okay, now I’m gonna go for six star that it starts mattering and thinking about the depth there, where it really comes from for all these characters is But you have this rock paper scissors system where, let’s say your character is a certain type, the paper type, they can, they can be really strong against the rock type. But then when the scissor type comes along, they’re gonna beat them. And all these kind of like elements towards an RPG can really like push, push, forwards. And in a hyper casual space, if you have collection elements start thinking about this, this rules sort of like that certain types can create an advantage or a disadvantage towards towards the other other content that you have, that you’re collecting. And definitely like in Empire, some puzzles they have, like each character still has their own traits, how they’re specialized, how they matter. And then you have the skill based gameplay which is super deep with different kind of abilities that the characters can have. And then an example from Contest of Champions, which really takes it more further is like, how you’re moving your character. What is the second second gameplay like you’re blocking, you’re attacking, you’re doing specials, all these kind of like character strengths and weaknesses, the player starts understanding them as they’re using the character. So, of course, they could read a list of different gun descriptions. But playing and learning through playing is a really big amplifier in these kind of mid core games, which also apply, in a sense to Archer. Oh, but I think there’s so much more to be covered here besides what the archer pipe can do. And like when this kind of a system is set up, you can really build a meta game where you’re introducing new characters who have different kind of combat abilities through the rock paper scissors again, Whether they’re better or worse for something to, you know, they might have a strong resistance when the other character doesn’t have the stun resistance, and there’s new challenges and new skill elements constantly coming for the player. So then, the other topic I really wanted to stress here is how long term goals matter in in creating long term engagement. So I often use this analog of a mountain climber who is happily climbing the mountain and they know that this is like their, the second highest peak, and they still in their career want to reach even the higher peaks that are somewhere in the horizon. But when they finally reach those peaks, they notice that there’s even more and more to come. So it’s more about like you’re on a journey or you’re getting better Stronger you’re learning? And how do you incorporate these into gameplays really like goes back into thinking about the all these learnings that the players can get through just playing and learning, and also the different kind of like strengths and weaknesses towards other elements inside the game. And that mastery that the player starts getting really brings them into the point where they they can think about goals for the long term from them that are interesting. So why does this matter? Why do you want to have these long term goals? Well, this is what will make people stay in their game. If you just look at a DA you break down. This is like a cohort analysis. Let’s say that you have people starting in the game. The colors here is like month one, let’s say it was January then you have people who started in February. The red All these bars here represent the value where the bar charts and is the d value broken down by the cohort. So, like here, you can see that the month one ends here about the 30th x axis point. And you start seeing that the blue lines start deteriorating because of the Gru. The people who came on the first month, there’s less and less of them in the game. And then you start getting the red cohort coming in from February, who are sort of building on top of that, like how many people started in February, but then you can see that the DA use starts declining in March, because you cannot sustain the players anymore. If you think about like some game, which could retain players for let’s say, 10% stay there for three months and then after a year, you’re still retaining 4% like you’re stacking more and more Have these cohorts constantly on top of each other, and then the DA, you start scrolling. So how do you achieve that? It’s through through long term, long term goals, and really interesting things to look forward to in a game. So keys to achieving this, keeping things interesting to RPG mechanics, which, which we’re talking about are really good ones to think about in all sorts of came games, where the players are sort of like on a learning path, and achieving and mastering new things. And the focus here should not be optimizing the monetization, but rather, optimizing these kind of interesting ways for the player to learn playing and enjoying the game and continue enjoying the game. And then finally, is the live ops section which I think Nick is going to talk about soon more. So thanks, guys.

Nick Murray 20:01
Awesome, thank you.

Nick Murray 20:05
I guess I’m up. So I’ll share my screen

Nick Murray 20:10
in a second.

Nick Murray 20:13
Okay, can you see my screen? Yes. Excellent. All right. So, brief introduction to me. I My name is Nick. I’m an Independent Games consultant. I focus on products and live operations, kind of within that things like things like monetization, Product Backlog prioritization, game economy balancing what have you. I’ve been independent for a few years, and worked with clients such as Rovio HBO games crazy that recently my first job in the industry was actually as a game master on a hardcore MMO RPG. Well I was doing this kind of thing is in virtual weddings for online characters. So I would go in and actually type out a wedding ceremony for people who wanted to get married,

Nick Murray 21:12
which was as charming as you can imagine.

Nick Murray 21:16
Apart from that I worked for GRI most recently was my full last full time job where I was director of live ops. Before that I worked for Ubisoft on the division in analytics. I worked for Rovio designing game economy, monetization systems for Angry Birds, and area games on this kind of hardcore MMO RPG where I was doing all the weddings. Alright, so what I want to talk about then are some of the strongest methods to monetize and retain users come from mid core hardcore, but are now being used to drive KPIs in casual and As your he mentioned already sharding is a big one.

Nick Murray 22:03
So sharding

Nick Murray 22:05
basically, as I’m sure most of you know, breaking down content into smaller parts, so instead of receiving the hero that you want in one piece, you have to receive it in 100 pieces, and it’s a lot longer to achieve. But it’s not just about giving players longer term goals, it’s also about actually giving them help along the way. So you’re not just saying, okay, you have to get 100 of these things, but your other saying, you have to get 100 of these things. Here’s 20. To get you started, you can get another five here, another 10 here, and it’s giving players smaller goals within their progression. In hybrid casual, it’s been now expanded to other genres. So for example, in Sonic forces, you have a sharding system, to unlock new characters for the racing that you’re doing in that game, and empires and puzzles as we talked about already. Like, it’s basically a match three game, but the levels of metal on top of it are very deep and the sharding is is almost its own gameplay, like on top of it. It’s it’s a meta game, but in reality some people are just playing for the sharding side of things. Now I’m trying to unlock the heroes.

Nick Murray 23:21
Asphalt nine is a great example of how to do sharding.

Nick Murray 23:25

Nick Murray 23:28
I will explain that a bit more on this slide. But basically, some kind of key tips for when you are thinking of introducing it in your hybrid casual game, don’t sell your best hero shots directly. So make sure to come up with a more logical roadmap and the methods by which you distribute them. So that is to say live operations, like structured events haven’t have an understanding of when your heroes will be released and actually players will be able to use them this fits in something called product lifecycle management strategy, which I’ll talk about more on the next slide. If your game is very linear, then introduce some kind of limitation so that players aren’t just going to get the stuff that’s like right at the end. And asphalt nine does this in a really clever way, they have a garage level. So basically, you can collect shards throughout the game, it’s largely PvE. There are some PvP parts of it. You can collect shards of any car that you want, but unless your garage is leveled up enough, you can’t use them. So if my garages, let’s say to see you or something like that, then I can only use TSC cars. I can’t use tier B, A s, or any of the really fancy things. Basically, this really good way of making sure that in a game that’s a bit more linear, you can’t have a spender who comes in and just buys I don’t know a Lamborghini and wins all the time. Like they have to actually follow the progress And then lastly, a really key thing in sharding is trying to make sure that investment in all characters or cars or whatever the item is, feels rewarding and useful. This is a big challenge because obviously take an example of Galaxy of Heroes Marvel Strikeforce, whichever game you want, players will gravitate towards the heroes that they like, or the characters that they like already. But actually, Marvel Strikeforce does this really well and gives you different missions and different objectives that require you to have, let’s say, henchmen leveled up or it requires you to have characters that you wouldn’t usually go for. So it just it forces you to diversify and try and level up as much as you can all with your characters, instead of just sticking to your favorite team for example. Shouting also then gives an advantage in live ops. So this is looking at product lifecycle management. In a game that I used to run called Dragon Soul, and then Dragon Soul. Basically, we wanted to make sure that players were engaged in collecting sharks in the long term. So we defined a lifecycle for each new hero as well as the hero skins. We focused on child’s for midterm goals. And we prioritize like high revenue and engagement mechanisms. Meaning that when we release a new hero, we really wanted players to be able to unlock it through very competitive play initially, so players spent most in competitive areas. So that was a good place to put like a new hero or shards of the new hero, top of that leaderboard prize, so that you know, everyone will, will compete to get the most shots they can so they can be the first half the new hero and then once you’ve done a few competitions like that, you start actually Reducing the value of the shots. So you move it to like a premium gotcha. And then contests progress rewards, meaning like milestones. So every player can get some of these shots, but they just have to reach a certain point. And then you can move it to regular gotcha. And you continue this chain out, you can even move it to login rewards or whatever you want, give it away for free at some point. And basically, it’s about maximizing the price we’ll make the value of the item versus the quantity of giving out. So, this is just another way of looking at it. So on the one hand, we give away a very few at a high price in contest rank rewards, and then over time, the value diminishes. So price goes down, quantity goes up and we start giving away in regular gotcha. This is a really important thing to consider for, for sharding. If you do choose to use it and hybrid casual because it just ensures that you are not undervaluing what you’re giving away. It makes it gives every hero or every character, whatever mechanic you’re using, it gives them their own lifetime. And it gives their own desirability and their own spotlight almost. So in games that have limited content, you really want to make the most of it.

Nick Murray 28:18
So as I mentioned, I’ve worked on Angry Birds too. And I will refer back to Angry Birds to quite a lot in this presentation, because it’s a good example of hybrid casual. But we basically took the same model of sharding and applied it to rather a limited pool of heroes. We didn’t want to come out with 50 versions of the red bird. Rather, we chose to have one version, which you have a level which is determined by the number of feathers. So feathers are your shard equivalent in this. And basically, it was just a really simple way that everyone felt like they were constantly leveling up their core team. And then you know, we had hamsters. And whatever on top of that, but it’s just it’s a very light implementation of sharding if you have a smaller pool of heroes or characters. So what are the key questions to consider in sharding? Things like how can I best help my players to understand sharding? within my game? How can I ensure that my game economy is deep enough to allow for it? Because, again, if you have very little in your economy, just boosters, for example, then that’s not going to be very interesting for sharding. How much do I want to limit the availability of shards at different stages of the game. So this is about your product lifecycle management strategy, understanding how the player interacts with the different shards at different points. here I’d also like to add a brief note on Gaucho which is obviously very important these days in gaming. And it typically requires like, and a deep economy as well. So If players receive the same items from chests, they tend to stop buying chests. There’s my experience from working in live ops for many years. Light implementations for smaller economies is possible though. So hungry dragon is a reasonable example of this, where you can buy, you know, eggs to get pets and they have a decent pool of pets. And it’s by no means essential. But it’s just it’s a it’s a nice way of getting players to spend a bit and at the same time not needing crazy economy depth. In Angry Birds to there is gotcha. I would say it’s decent again because we have the shots so you can constantly on the feathers. And there are also a few different currencies for the hat shop for continuing with extra birds at the end of a level etc. But actually, the strongest tool for Angry Birds too is the tower Fulcher, which is a more significant gacha system. is a bit more gambling. But basically, if you haven’t seen it, you have a choice. The image on the right hand side, you have a choice of four cards behind one of the cards is a pig. And if you hit the big, then you lose all of the rewards that you’ve gained on the left hand side. And rewards increase with each with each floor of the tower that you go up. So what it does is it really creates the feeling of loss aversion. So you have all of your awards displayed to you. And you’re thinking, yeah, well, I’ve come this far, maybe just one more, one more level, or get something cool. And then if you get a pig, then you definitely don’t want to lose all the rewards that you have. It also gives the player a feeling of control, like it’s actually their fault that they chose the wrong card. So as I said, it’s a little bit more gambling focused, but it’s also quite a good mechanic if you would like to consider it. So another key part of this as we’ve already touched on is multiple progression drivers like these are this is really where I think RPG mechanics influence hybrid casual. So if we look at

Nick Murray 32:10
kind of traditional casual games

Nick Murray 32:12
around the year kind of 2012, we have like Angry bugs with the original with it’s just kind of layout of levels. Then Candy Crush Saga brought in the kind of linear saga style map of trying to work your way through a world. And gradually things got more sophisticated. Now if we look at 2020, we’re looking at our era where instead of just having a saga progression, you have progression in talents, you have progression in equipment, and you have progression in actually character levels up as well. So it’s very much taken from Marvel Strikeforce or other similar games, as you can see, where they’re really just trying to make sure that you have multiple progression drivers. So if If you are hesitating about whether, like do I continue playing this game or not, I’m so far away from leveling up my hearer, well, that’s fine, but I can level up my cake right now or I can spend on a new talent instead. And that just gives me the extra push to go of, well, maybe I’ll stick with it a bit longer. I’ve got I’ve still got stuff that I’m working on. And just as a point of interest, a comparison between Angry Birds one and Angry Birds two and how angry birds two became more of a hybrid casual game. As I said, on the left, we have very basic kind of level layouts. On the right we have your flock of birds with all their feather levels we have hatched tops which determine different scores. You have a saga style map, and similar style as Candy Crush with rewards built into the map things like chests and bosses. You have a PvP leagues. You have clan leagues. Also a lot of these different mechanisms, they have sub progressions within them. So you have like a streak reward for doing the daily challenge. So if you do every day for a week, then you get an extra cool reward. You have streak rewards in the PvP league as well, where if you, if you lose a match, then you need to try and like you need to basically spend to preserve your streak and keep getting the better rewards. So there are a lot of progression, kind of focus areas going on in Angry Birds, too. So some more key questions to consider on progression. How can I help my audience to understand all these systems because understanding everything is really key, particularly if you’re moving a more casual audience to something that’s a little bit more deep, a little bit more mid core. How much is too much? At what point should I stop adding progression systems because there is such a thing as too much. How do I prioritize when progression to develop first, like, you know what’s going to make the biggest impact, but also what’s going to be the most logical. And then last part of this section talk briefly about social systems. So social systems are really great at prolonging the player lifetime. So on the left images game called knights and dragons, which I worked on, which was really good at promoting Guild Wars, so guild wars were basically the metagame. In fact, it was such a big part of the game that people just came back to play Guild Wars and pretty much nothing else. Cooperation as well is like a really strong motivator and I’m sure your chemo recognize the image on the right, which is from walking dead are well from next games. And basically, they have a brilliant system for creating the sense of responsibility. So you have a A weekly challenge, and everybody contributes to the different tasks within that. So that’s, you know, kill 1000 zombies, the person who kills the most zombies out of your clan, they get their name, kind of on that task, and then and their image. So it’s a very good way of showing, okay, who’s not pulling their weight. And it creates this sense of social responsibility and forces you to go Okay, I need to be on top of this because otherwise my guild are gonna feel like I’m letting them down. There is also a sense of reciprocation in some games I’ve seen leveraged really well. In knights and dragons, we had guild gifting system where basically, if you were to buy a specific item, it would also gift a bunch of items to your guild, which, as a guild member, if you receive items from someone else purchasing you instantly go Oh, I should probably buy something as well. You know, I want to make sure I’m, again, I’m there. I’m pulling my weight. I’m I’m a big Part of this kill.

Nick Murray 37:04
This is actually, I think my main complaint with Angry Birds to where I think that there’s still work that could be done, which is that the social systems and Angry Birds too I don’t think feel essential. They are an addition to the gameplay but they don’t feel like they are a kind of heavy influence on me staying or going. So I really think that if they were to push more on this have a kind of a clearer, maybe clearer UI direction UX direction on what the top clans actually achieve, what kind of prestige they they get, what kind of rewards they get. Just focus more on this I think I reckon they could really boost it further.

Nick Murray 37:53

Nick Murray 37:55
some key questions to consider in regards to social, how can I help my audience to understand all these things Again, this is really important transitioning from casual to hybrid casual as we’re calling it, how much is too much? Because again, I feel like Angry Birds would benefit, for example by actually slowing down and maybe redesigning a system or two rather than adding more. How do I prioritize with progression to develop first because you have to consider things like when is the player going to be arriving in game at what point do I want? This time this to unlock? Like what point do I want guilds to unlock? At what point should PvP are knocking etc. And then just a few final thoughts, kind of questions for the QA that I took it upon to answer myself. Like is there such a thing as taking too much from mid core games? Definitely. So there are three key checks that I would encourage when you’re considering taking mechanics cross one is, is it understandable the is the most important thing because there is there are some very poor implementations out there of people who had brilliant ideas to transfer a system from mid core RPG to casual, but because of the way it’s been explained or rather not explained, it leaves the players with with a lot of confusion, and therefore the system doesn’t really work. Is it economically coherent? Like can your economy actually take the system that you’re proposing? Like you need to make sure that there’s enough depth and you need to make sure that there’s enough variety as well.

Nick Murray 39:38
And then is it thematic or like a core game coherent?

Nick Murray 39:41
This is more of a kind of artistic point. But the fact is that if you have something that feels very kind of artsy and indie with, you know, maybe some mid core mechanics in the meta progression, like shoving a gacha system and might feel a bit at odds with how the rest of the game feels so worth considering. I mean, to give you an example of that, actually, there is a solitaire game, which I mention on the right. Which I’m really impressed with how much they’ve tried to stuff in there, because they’ve got a battle pass of VIP scheme of piggy bank, monetize minigames, limited quests, like they have so much stuff, but it just, it doesn’t feel necessarily relevant for a solitaire game.

Joakim Achren 40:24
Nick, well, I want to add one thing about walking dead actually, which we were contemplating when we were adding some additions to the character collector and concerns about like, how many characters does the IP actually have? Like, you know, it’s a TV show, it doesn’t have like the Marvel Universe. So, the contemplation there was that people will just want to collect because because of the visuals, you know, they love the star or the actor, and how much does that matter or where utility Inside the game, you know differentiation from character a two character B if there are two different so that was a thing that we we did notice that when you’re just adding new skins to something that is very similar, that it doesn’t really pay off, people start saying that okay, this is enough, like so it really matters that you have a flexible meta game where you can add this kind of like, you know, opposition to something else that you haven’t catered for versus like just doing a carbon copy with the different graphic assets on top.

Nick Murray 41:41
Exactly. So you introduce a new hero or even the same hero with a different outfit but a new kind of buff, and then you need a counter for that buff from the

Nick Murray 41:51
hero version.

Nick Murray 41:52
Yeah, as you say everything needs to feel relevant and not just like you are trying to think the expression isn’t Kolenda in your audience. You’re not just trying to say, Okay, look here, we’ve created a ton more content by changing all of the skins to slightly blue.

Nick Murray 42:09
You know, it needs to feel gameplay relevant. Yeah.

Nick Murray 42:15
And then just lastly, where do I feel there still greater opportunities in hyper casual, I’d say meaningful economy depth. I think that there are some games that I say do does quite well, but I feel like there are a lot where if you can really build a meaningful meta game that has a proper economy within it, then I think there’s a lot of opportunity to further diversification in PvE and PvP path progression. So the example below a couple of screens from Marvel Strikeforce at any one time, you have like pretty much five things going on. So these are five different parts all of which open you have the Nexus, which is like more kind of hardcore. Then you have villains United for your And you have heroes assemble for your heroes. And then on the right you have like live ops events, which obviously change and cycle on a regular basis. But they’re just that always feels like there is some progress in a meaningful way to be made, it can feel a bit overwhelming, which is why obviously like making sure it’s understandable and well introduced to your players is important. And then lastly, like I mentioned, the implementation of committed social mechanics. So there aren’t that many games who have made it to hybrid casual that I think have brilliant social mechanics. I think toon blast is a good example of one that does in terms of how it kind of drives like team focused competitions, and regular team play. But apart from that, it’s it’s actually quite difficult to come up with examples. Yeah, over and a bit. I apologize for that. But thank you.

Joakim Achren 43:56
It was great. Thanks, Nick. Really good. Let’s go into questions. I have a lot of questions for you. But let’s look at the what the audience wants to hear first. Big question here. I’ll ask that last question. Do you feel that Archer lost it? lost its path? What do you think man?

Nick Murray 44:25
I don’t know. I mean,

Nick Murray 44:27
I think it lost momentum because I guess with every game, you know, at some point, it’s gonna, it’s gonna peak, it’s gonna like come out everyone’s gonna go, Wow, this is amazing. And then it will get cloned 20 times its mechanics will be seen in other games. And then it will just, it will still be there and still be doing well, but you won’t hear about it as much.

Nick Murray 44:47
And I actually I think that the thing is that they’re adding make sense.

Nick Murray 44:54
Like in terms of like pushing more on the rarity levels, pushing on for Example doing like hardmode versions of the same dungeons. They’re all very logical steps. But I feel like maybe some of them are just a little too late. As in, they have this early buzz and, you know, particularly within the industry, I know a lot of people were very excited about it. But if they had been able to push this stuff a bit earlier, I think it probably would have made a much better impact.

Joakim Achren 45:25
Yeah, for me, it feels like the controls are actually a limitation, like what you can actually do with your character, you can move up and down, stop, move again. So it’s, it’s good, like for onboarding, but like, let’s say day 30 it starts to feel like the depth is really like that, that there’s no depth there. So that’s sort of like a shame for me.

Nick Murray 45:51
Yeah, I mean, I guess,

Nick Murray 45:53
like you could start adding kind of other contextual events or player skills almost in the same way. Like a non stop night kind of game, but at the same time, I think I think there is definitely still an audience, which is very much

Nick Murray 46:09
unfamiliar with

Nick Murray 46:10
more arcade titles. So I think the people who play our chair on a regular basis, I want to come back to actually enjoy those controls and enjoy the simplicity of it. Obviously, whenever you start adding more and more stuff and more events or more actions that you can take there is always a risk. And maybe, I don’t know, maybe you’re just not the kind of gamer that that is expected to stay around beyond day 30.

Joakim Achren 46:38
Yeah, that’s that’s also I was just talking about this kind of like, kicking the retention can down the road. It’s never a good idea. I think it’s, yeah, the earlier you can like, point out that this game definitely won’t last for, you know, day 360 nobody’s going to be here. Where’s this like, then you know, Somebody else was thinking, of course, it needs to last until like 360. And then there’s a conflict because that wasn’t decided early on. So yeah,

Nick Murray 47:09
I mean, it’s very easy to get into the cycle of, okay, the game is doing well, but we only retain players for 30 days. So we need to market it constantly. And the graph that you showed earlier, where you are kind of getting, you know, percentages left over from previous cohorts. Yeah, fortunately, becomes increasingly diminished. And it’s a real shame because I think when you have a game and you obviously want to see it grow, there is little This is more satisfying than seeing like players from January 2018. Still there in January 2020. You know, it makes you actually feel like okay, we are definitely on the right track. We have something

Joakim Achren 47:50
Yeah, it’s it’s so much more than just a small game then. Yeah, question here. Moving from casual core game. to something more deep and more complex, complex, which might churn some people like I think it’s question about the complexity here. Yeah, I mean other churn reason.

Nick Murray 48:14
Absolutely. I mean, for example, so I class myself as quite an active player of games, particularly in my job. I logged on to apex the other night, and suddenly there is like, a new currency or they’re talking about like CP which I had to actually look around in the game and I was very confused at first as to what this actually meant. And they were saying like, oh, you’re getting CP and you gain XP and I was like, Okay, tell me what CP is like some kind of tutorial ization some kind of thing saying, you know, click on CP, this is what this means. I did eventually find it in such a challenge points, but it this kind of this kind of Makes players feel like they have lost control of their experience. So if I’m familiar with a game, and I’ve been playing for hundreds of hours, and then I log in, and suddenly something has changed, and I just don’t understand it. It makes me question. Okay, like, are necessary. Sorry. My question just makes me feel like suddenly I’m having a negative experience. Like suddenly, I’m out of my depth in a game that I’ve been playing for over 100 hours. That seems crazy. I should understand everything. So I think definitely, like if you introduce new mechanics, it needs to be well integrated and well explained. Because if it isn’t, then you risk churning players. Yeah, like all the time.

Joakim Achren 49:44
Yeah, I think like, each time the player leaves. There’s a judgement moment. Like, will they ever come back each time and like, based on what what kind of experience they had if they had this kind of confusion moment, it’s It’s really bad. It’s a red flag.

Nick Murray 50:03
Exactly. And it’s, you often only get one chance at this as in, if a player logs in is confused by something doesn’t understand feels out their depth. And then they leave, most often they won’t come back. Or, like better to take more time over implementing new mechanics, if you can feel or if you feel like you can improve the explanation of them, then rushing out a new system, which 50% of your player base might understand the other 50 don’t get at all and then leave.

Joakim Achren 50:35
Yeah, that’s really that’s true. What advice would you give to our show developers on utilizing and improving their battle pass monetization mechanic to boost retention and engagement? It seems like this is seriously lacking from their battle pass.

Nick Murray 50:55
Yeah, so I mean, I think battle passes are inherently a kind a cool way of doing things. I think I really like the model as a replacement to catch up because it encourages gameplay encourages long time investment in a product. What I would say is like every battle pass needs to feel like there are rewards that are exclusive and that I’m going to feel like really special unlocking. And I mean, sometimes new skins, sometimes new weapons, whatever else, like that stuff feels really good. But ultimately, like, I want to feel like having having invested usually a decent amount of money in a battle pass that I am getting regular value paid out. And then just periodic, like very special rewards, rewards that actually make me change the way that I play the game, I think is is great. So the example I gave earlier about the solitaire game. That’s it Actually, you know, they have a battle pass and they just give out a ton of boosters and soft currency. That changes nothing for me. Like, I haven’t played the game for that long, but I have enough boosters and I have enough soft currency. There’s zero reason for me to invest. Give me something that is gonna actually change the gameplay Give me something that makes me feel like okay, I’m happy I invested in this. Because now I feel overpowered for a few levels. Or, you know, just this feeling of this feeling of I was right to do so. Yeah. Yeah, makes sense. But what do you think?

Joakim Achren 52:36
Well, I was thinking about the battle pass. It’s like, Clash Royale. I think it’s, there’s starting to be this kind of like moment there. For me, at least with a battle past. I don’t really care. Like, I’m winning by it anymore. I don’t need what they’re, they’re giving me so that’s always like, Is it really like, can you justify that you can at least see Well months or 24 months ahead, that you can provide value with people like subscribing for the battle pass, meaning that they’re going to be purchasing it each month. And like now I saw brawl stars, actually, they their battle pass is like over 10 bucks, versus most of the games are doing it for five. So I think there’s a lot of inflation happening for that mechanic as well, when you’re introducing it in a sense like that, you know, that it’s not gonna, maybe, maybe Supercell went through that discussion already undecided that it’s anyway, it’s going to be such a small cohort who is going to be converting so let’s just up the price tag here to make it actually worth the investment. It could be I don’t know.

Nick Murray 53:49
Yeah, it could well be Hmm. But as you say, like if you particularly if you come into game and you are an active player and a committed player already, and then you see a battle pass Which doesn’t really offer you anything near? Yeah. Like, if it almost feels like much in the same way that a lot of games use increased targeting for different promotions and events, like you almost need targeting for a battle pass as well. So you have 10 different skews of a battle pass. And then you need to deliver them to different people based on their behaviors and their timing game. It’s not the most practical, but it’s probably only a matter of time.

Joakim Achren 54:29
Yeah. Yeah, it’s not. Yeah, there’s so many other things that people should take a look at. Like, what, like I wanted to ask you a question about Angry Birds too, because the game was sort of first out for a while and it wasn’t really doing well. And then it suddenly jumped up in the top grossing charts. What was the was there a single addition to the game? Was it the shards what really mattered there? It was, it was a combination of things. So

Nick Murray 54:55
the shots were actually in there from the beginning. Yeah.

Nick Murray 55:00
But basically. So just to clarify this, I saw I was in the design team and working on like I designed the monetization for it pre launch. And then it got to launch and I had already left by that point. But basically, we were trying to make sure that we weren’t upsetting a core player base from other angry birds games by being too IP heavy. Yeah. So the first impression of the game had to be, okay, players are going to come in and they’re not going to be bombarded with IEPs they’re going to actually, you know, feel like they’re constantly making progress at zero cost to themselves. There’s going to be some good ad integration to make sure that, you know, for younger players, they feel comfortable, etc. So that was really the focus. And then I think, you know, that worked okay, initially, obviously, but then the big big change, I think largely came from a couple Two things one was introducing these kind of multiple progression drivers. So we had already PvP in there, but they introduced PvP streaks and daily challenges which then obviously it was like, I think really good for just enforcing retention. Then things like the tower flirt or the tower faltering rather on top of that the tower fortune I believe makes over 30% of the revenue. I think I read somewhere. So it’s, um, like that was really a big deal for them. And they’ve since used it also in things like Angry Birds evolution.

Nick Murray 56:37
I haven’t seen any of their other titles so far. But yeah, that’s good.

Joakim Achren 56:43
Another question here following the example of the overloaded solitaire game with too much mid core elements Do you think that these type of mechanics have no place in classical puzzle games like chicks or word word puzzles Mojang those kind of things?

Nick Murray 57:02
That’s that’s a really interesting question.

Nick Murray 57:06
I mean, from a personal standpoint, I think, like I, I would always be reluctant to play a game that actually had too many of these kind of mechanics. Or at least that’s what I thought. But then actually the solitaire game I mentioned, I’m still playing it. Like it’s not, it’s not making my experience worse, particularly though, you know, the occasional pop ups are getting in the way of it, but it’s not that bad. And I think mostly, it depends on the core game mechanics, people will tolerate a lot if the core game is really solid, which it is in this game. So like, yes, it is overloaded, and I feel like it’s too much but I I’m still playing it because the core game is still fun. And I have to say I kind of admire them on just a professional level for how much stuff they’re trying out and genre that doesn’t really suit it. Huh, that’s interesting. Yeah.

Joakim Achren 58:01
What do you think about retention plus IAP mechanics and casual games do like you purchase something which gives rewards every day aiming at increasing the engagement of P you

Nick Murray 58:19
there So

Nick Murray 58:21
firstly, hi here, okay.

Nick Murray 58:24

Nick Murray 58:26
yeah, basically, I think that’s like

Nick Murray 58:31
I mean, this is referring to more like a kind of subscription style model, right. Like, I guess it’s

Joakim Achren 58:36
like a battle pass in a sense. But

Nick Murray 58:38
yeah, so I mean, more battle passes, obviously like related to player engagement within the game.

Nick Murray 58:47
Kind of regardless of what they is I can play intensively for a day and then leave it for a week and I, I might be at the same stage as someone who’s played for every day for a week. Whereas, like something a bit more subscriptions Based like, you know, in Dragon Soul we had actually where you could buy like a month of gems, and every day you would receive a certain amount of gems.

Nick Murray 59:12
I think those systems work really well.

Nick Murray 59:15
for, let’s say, for lower revenue per paying user games.

Nick Murray 59:22
If you have a deep economy with the potential for much higher revenue per paying user then I would typically avoid more subscription based models because they are good for engagement for certain cohorts. They are also problematic and that you have to give usually quite high value for them to make sense for people. So you know, you can’t just give someone 10 gems a day for logging in, you need to make sure it’s a you know, a decent amount and and balanced within your economy. But often, I feel like subscription base is slightly over balanced because You want that player to continue returning returning every day? So they typically are a bit more generous. Yeah, makes sense.

Joakim Achren 1:00:08
A question here? It’s a bit different kind of question. So what content would you suggest is needed before launching a market test? For a casual game like Archer? Oh, I have my answer. But I would like to go first.

Nick Murray 1:00:27
Well, I mean, honestly, I. So yeah, I think you’re a better place to answer this than I am in terms of, you know, starting a company and launching games more often. But I would say that, like, basically, you can start doing market testing as soon as you have like a really solid core gameplay. I think that’s the most important thing. beyond that. I think the systems that you should look to add, would obviously be based around kind of retaining for let’s say the short term midterm. So I was talking to some developers about this recently, actually, they were talking about going soft launch with a game and then adding, you know, lots of kind of endgame content. And I said to them, okay, but how long is your existing content going to take? Oh, yeah, that’s going to be lasting for months. Like well, then don’t bother adding more endgame content right now that that doesn’t make sense. Focus on like optimizing the front end of your game. Make sure the first time user experience is great. Make sure that the core gameplay is as crisp as you want it to be. And basically, yeah, I think as soon as you have those things in place, and ideally, I would say maybe one to two weeks worth of content already stop like market testing. But what do you think?

Joakim Achren 1:01:48
Yeah, I was just about to say core gameplay as well is good enough. I think, like, outside of the test, you need to already realize that the gameplay gunning for what kind of meta game can it actually facilitate like I think it’s really interesting because if you don’t really have a combat based game it’s always a bit like a different limitation on what you’re doing. So Angry Birds I would say it’s a combat game still because you have to you know use the controls in very specific ways to be challenging moments but like it’s like perfect cream Do you know this hyper casual game from a legendary which is not afraid? Yeah, it’s like you know, you’re in a bakery and you need there’s like a conveyor belt that’s taking cakes in front need to squeeze stir the cream at the right point. It’s like you could have a brainstorming on like what kind of like deep meat core meta game you could put on top of that might be interesting and, and and play around with it. But I think these kind of questions you can already answer without a Test internally, what would your the group of people who are making the game with with friends and evaluating and then going out when you you sort of know that, hey, this is gonna we don’t need to test that right now. But here’s the things we want to test first. Yeah. Another question here. What are the early metrics, a developer should be looking for validating a hybrid casual game? This is going to be the last question, but I think we can continue this on LinkedIn in when I post the recording on on the website. So but yeah, what are the early metrics? What do you think?

Nick Murray 1:03:39
So I would say, I mean, the most important metrics you’re going to be looking at are like obviously, like the one d3 I’d say D seven retention should be your kind of top return your highest retention one. You don’t need to look at D 30.

Nick Murray 1:03:54
When, when validating

Nick Murray 1:03:57
that it’s possible a gameplay loop that could come later. You should ideally be looking at then more like session specific metrics. So let’s say, median, or even modal, like session time per user,

Nick Murray 1:04:14
as well as number of sessions per day.

Nick Murray 1:04:19
And yeah, I mean, I think those would be the most important because you’re more focused on engagement. And validating, like the engagement basically means that you are also just seeing how well you’re calling this function, fully functioning well. You can add monetization to that you can add, you know, all the late game mess of stuff you want to.

Joakim Achren 1:04:42

Nick Murray 1:04:42
without the core loop, then nothing else will work. So I’d say that’s definitely like the most important stuff to focus on.

Joakim Achren 1:04:49
Totally agree. Hey, thanks, Nick. This was really fun.

Nick Murray 1:04:53
Yeah, likewise, I’m happy.

Joakim Achren 1:04:56
I’m going to share the recording later. Hopefully. This evening and I’ll let everybody know about this. So, but yeah, stay safe people don’t go too close to each other.

Nick Murray 1:05:09
Yeah, good. Cool.

Joakim Achren 1:05:10
All right.