We’ve reached the end of this series of articles. I want to thank the team at Demiurge for providing me with the ideas for the articles and making Marvel Puzzle Quest such a great case-study, the team at GamesBeat for editing my sometimes terrible grammar and all my peers in the industry that wrote in with questions and encouragement. I’ll be continuing to make short posts on free-to-play product management on my blog.
Card store overhaul, Round 2!
The biggest improvements in ARPDAU (average revenue per daily active user) we’d seen to date correlate with the launch of our updated Card store. We detailed those changes in Part 2 of this series. A week ago, we launched another major overhaul of the store experience, and it’s been performing well.
The first change worth highlighting is that we made substantially more room for the character artwork. This subjective and untestable update is intended to make the contents of the card packs more “covetable” by players. In talking with developers of card battlers, we’ve heard repeatedly that we should not underestimate the importance of the artwork. We have a team of triple-A concept artists, and we’re eager to show off what they’ve done. Rage of Bahamut, Legend of the Cryptids and many of the other card battlers out of Japan feature some truly industry-leading concept pieces, and we hear that a significant portion of their development effort goes into making those cards.
In Part 2, we discussed the importance of the writing within the store. In just a few words, you need to communicate the value proposition to the player. This new store layout has much more thoughtfully placed text boxes and actually cuts down on the total amount of text quite a bit.
Removal of guaranteed cards
In previous events, our card store featured a pack of 10 cards for about $20 USD that was guaranteed to drop the featured character for the event. That’s unusual for card battlers. Typically, this is the newest, most exciting prize for players. In this latest revision of the store, we removed the guarantee while keeping the expected number of featured characters about the same. For many developers at Demiurge, this was a crazy idea. Many of us figured that the entire value of the 10-packs of cards was that they included a guaranteed character in them, but we were fairly unusual in our design here, so we decided to adjust the system. This change went live prior to the visual overhaul, and the results were phenomenal. The first event to feature this new design was a huge success despite having relatively simple content and no new character on sale. We’re not sure why players preferred this system, but we suspect the answer is a simple one: the uncertainty of opening packs is part of what makes them fun! If, in World of Warcraft, the boss was guaranteed to drop the loot you wanted, I suspect the game would be less engaging overall. Theoretically, you could apply the same principle to card battlers.
Published drop rates
We’re always working to clearly communicate value to our players. In random packs, especially without the guarantee, players are inherently suspicious that we’re rigging the drop-rate of characters. Uncertain value is a great reason to not spend money in a free-to-play game, so we decided to publish the drop rates of each card in the pack.
The above two changes let us fix a major problem with our pack design. Prior to odds tables and the removal of the guaranteed character, we needed to keep the number of characters in a given pack fairly small in order to clearly communicate value. As a result, we had just a few of our “uncommon” cards in a pack, and they dropped very frequently. This resulted in expert players who went to draw 10 cards, frequently getting the same not valuable card over and over again. With this new system, we include nearly every card in every pack.
40 Card Packs
The final major change to the cover store was the introduction of 40-packs.
This was a simple change that greatly reduced the tap friction for players that are interested in making large purchases. Forty-card packs are expensive, so the number of them sold is quite small relative to the singles and 10-card packs.
Once we have a more complete set of data, I’m sure this last round of changes will yield further refinements. Our advice at Demiurge is simple: Never stop working on your storefront!
Well, we’ve reached the end of our series. I hope to keep writing about game product management and the free to play business here.
Making the switch from triple-A development to free-to-play is a daunting proposition. We see the same mistakes being made every time; hopefully these articles will help a few folks mitigate the biggest risks. For most developers (ourselves included! This is our 4th F2P title), it seems like the fundamental mistake they make is misidentifying the “the hard part”:
Your No. 1 risk is fun. It’s not technical, it’s not monetization — it’s good old-fashioned game design. The challenge of mobile and free-to-play is keeping your players engaged. The best way to accomplish that is to make a joyful, compelling experience. Creating content that players will be enjoying months after they first start is genuinely challenging. That’s a truly wonderful thing to ask your team to worry about. It is, after all, why we all got in making games in the first place.
As cofounder and CEO, Albert Reed has held the reins for over a decade at Demiurge Studios, a game development house focused on innovative, high-quality games for all platforms. Find him on Twitter at @almnop.