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Note: due to my home language, I had to provide screenshots in spanish, though I do think the content helps answering any doubt about what is inside the boxes. Any doubt, yell, claim or shout do not hesitate in commenting below!

In this new recipe we will dig deeper inside which patterns does the game follows in terms of monetization, social interactivity and user retention: the three pillars of social games and F2P which ensures their stability and progress, for both users and the company. The first part, tackling Mechanics, dynamics and flow system is also on this website. Both were originally published on my game design page of Games for Breakfast.

Social Interactions

What makes a game social is the insertion of game mechanics in a community template made out of the friends’ circle of any player. Dragon City boosts through Facebook in order to grant an increase of the viral spread value and player retention. Depending on the effort the player has to do, and how hardly the game imposes interactions (or by its contrary suggests to do them) we can identify such interactions as soft or hard.

The game allows the current soft interactions:

– Exchange presents with friends: choosing from a list where to aid other friends with presents, expecting as an exchange another one from them, encouraging the transactions between participants of a social circle.

– Use friends for gathering resources: inside the Tavern, an specific building, players can gather friends to help them receive a number of resources directly proportional to the number of friends selected.

And the hard interactions:

– Using friends for opening buildings (previously purchased with ingame soft currency): once the player unlocks higher buildings and obtains them, he will need the approval of other friends in order to open them; otherwise he will have to break this “locks” by using hard currency. Placing a constraint of such dimensions makes the player forced to seek out for his friends favor in order to continue progressing, or else purchasing real currency to avoid pushing friends to aid him.

Dragon City friends unlocking

A wide set of cool looking dragons is available to those players who willingly would act as aspokesman of the game, inviting new players to test it out.

-Earning new players for unlocking dragons: as any social game, capture new users is always rewarded in a profitable and attractive way for the player. Dragon City allows players to unlock unique dragons (impossible to access by any other means) by making new players out of his friend list, increasing viral spread through a reward system.

Retention Techniques

Ensuring the continuity of play is a core feature of social games:  the longer the player keeps on the game, the more a he is able to deliberate about making a profitable purchase, coming out as a result of a moderate up to deep engagement. Retention techniques as long as monetization tricks are widespread alongside each titles, even though there are notable similarities between different companies’ games, but there’s also differences which makes them more sustainable in terms of catching the player’s attention in precise moments.

Retention works in two ways: short termed, where the player keeps engaged during a simple play action from when he opens the game until he closes it and long termed, where the player feels the urge to come back to the game because there is an extrinsic motivation coming from the game, or the medium (social network), for doing so. Here are a set of what Dragon City makes most use of for having the player engaged in both sides:


Campaigns (Missions) are side events which last for an specific amount of time, usually 7-8 days, where players are granted the chance to obtain unique units (mostly themed, such as Medieval, Halloween, Egyptian, etc. dragons) by doing a different set of activities which report a side currency. Dragon city offers two prizes inside each campaign, one obtainable through a completion of the collection of the required items in a 60/70% and the other one at the 100%. Usually, an standardized play behavior will provide the first prize in time, but the large one will usually require a huge effort or purchasing it with hard currency, being a powerful monetization trick, while suggesting indirectly the player to finish all his hard work after retrieving it from his hands, in the so called Reward Removal coercive monetization model, but we’ll discuss it later on when we’ll dig deeper on the monetization techniques.

Dragon City medieval Campaign

Lancelot would be proud with such Medieval Monsters about to be unlocked inside this campaign

For completing campaigns, the player must gather an specific resource that we can refer as a side currency.  Usually the side currency is rewarded by performing the standard flow loop and play ritual of the game (building, gathering, farming, fighting or breeding) and a lesser amount is rewarded by unique actions which require fighting in an specific league or just clicking a button each amount of time. This last activity is triggered usually between 8 or 12 hours, and forces players willing to earn the huge prize (the ultimate dragon) reconnecting into the game the specific hours to fulfill this requirement.

Catch activity

Something missing to be successfully deployed inside the game is the catch activity:  an event triggered in a short period of time in order to fulfill the player’s possible state of idle (when he has run out from things to do). This idle zone, in Dragon City, is currently reached when the combats have run out and the player has successfully set every available task; needing a boost of hard currency to keep the game flow.

Dragon City allows gathering resources each time a player desires to click each building, but they aren’t triggered each time they have something to be taken, just when their capability is higher than 80% and such thing takes more time than what a player’s time of single play does. A better boosting of this activity will manage to increase significantly the amount of time a player spends in each play time, making him release his idle state and reloading the engagement state.

Monetization tricks

Inside Dragon City there is a major monetization model that impulse the game’s revenues by microtransactions held inside. By such implementation, the game ensures its revenues in a profitable way, offering players purchasable assets which will help progress them better through the game or provide a with unique features forbidden on the free side.


Layering refers to the trick of replacing real world currency (money) for an ingame currency (hard currency) in order to diminish the negative reinforcement that using real money has to the player, rather than the virtualization (or blurring) of it. Though layering is a feature that is included in every free to play game (if found the contrary, we could presumably assume something isn’t going pretty well in terms of design), we could identify how it is implemented in the game.

Dragon City uses Gems for Layering, and offers them inside packages through the shop in amounts of 25 up to 1.700, with some interesting offers (bonus gems) the higher the spend is. Gems are as well able to be exchanged for gold or food, up to inmense amounts which will cost high times to earn for any player, making a re-valorizing switch inside the player’s brain, thinking about if the best possible outcome is to farm or to use a hidden and comfortable currency which solves pretty much all the pain tricks.

The model: Progress Gates

The monetization mainframe held inside Dragon City is the so called Progress Gates, specifically a transparent type. Is a common scheme used in social free to play games, but it has slightly different changes.

The system works by offering the player an stage where, in order  to advance, there has to be a purchase (using hard currency), and once unlocked the gate, he will soon face another demanding an increased purchase. But being a transparent type of Progress Gates, which means the player actually is granted the entire progression through the game without making any purchase to get through the doors, but he will have to hold and resist all the constraints which will challenge his pain tolerance.

Constraints alongside the game will turn in slightly more aggressive in order to incite more experienced players, which of them, due of its progression and weakened tolerance, will be able to end up purchasing (all of this statement taken, of course, in a perfect testing ground, though the psychological and cultural action of purchasing differs from every player).  The main constraint inside the game is Time, used in farm games globally. Time makes users wait for a completion of any task as a direct feedback once they choose to do any action, translated in the ratio of how much gradually a player can be engaged in the game and how much is left out by standing in a tempting queue. Time toll can be up to 72 hours, even though it’s a pretty specific case (farming food)

The Progress Gates model also holds inside the famous triad of Unlocks, Boosters and Skips (though boosters aren’t inside Dragon City),  powerful assets unlocked through hard currency which will make the game pace to be faster, avoiding time constraints, therefore augmenting the player’s experience (engagement) obtained through the game:

Unlocks: though the player can advance through the game, there are premium items only available through purchase. From specific assets which deploy a new dynamic to the game pace (breeding more dragons at once, getting more exotic mixtures out of it, raising the dragon level capability, etc) up to unlocking dragons faster, specifically the hard-to-get ones which usually will require the player to breed and to succeed inside the ratio of obtaining one.

dragon city breeding skip

Skipping is effectively suggested in long term actions, and with lower (expendable) amounts of hard currency.

-Skips: allows the player to avoid waiting times, making the progression continuous until he runs out of hard currency. Skips couldn’t be simpler: each action takes its time toll or its hard currency toll, but to skip is attractively suggested (wouldn’t be clever not to boost it) and moreover, each purchase is significantly low in terms of costs to the player. Provided small amounts of Gems are obtainable through playing inside the game, players can actually skip waiting times with the saved ones they have, making the purchase of an small amount of gems lasting way more than expected.

Purchasable items weighing and balance

How assets are weighed inside the game is another feature to review inside our recipe. For every freemium game, tagging each article is done by taking into account several decisive factors, which vary from the reliability up to the aesthetic value they have to the player.We can identify 3 weighed elements inside Dragon City, which differ from a decisive expense up to an affordable one (for the standard player which actually takes the free way, or just a Minnow which spends the lesser amount possible):

Dragons: Dragons are the most expensive asset available to purchase. They usually range between affordable amounts up to highly expensive ones. The increasing factor depends equally on the versatility of the dragon (though as a powerful one, more reliability in terms of stats and abilities), and the price mean that dragons are the result of a clash of multiple forces and resources (that causes a huge pain relief) such as time, gold and food. Dragons are usually a claim for whales, meaning they’re just as valuable as what the community  think they are: the more intense and lasting an experience is for the user, the more value he gives to the whole system in which he plays, being directly proportional to retention. Therefore, if there are dragons whose prize tags gets up to 2.5k gems (we could be just talking of an amount of 70EUR /85 USD), we would presumably assume that certain investors will specifically purchase such dragons, but those low ratio players (minnows) will definitely feel an incredible constraint when it comes to get a new powerful unit by this way.

purchasable dragons

Expenses get serious when it comes to purchasing exotic high-end dragons.

Specific Buildings: Buildings are set in the middle value of the expense meter. They’re usually only in need of soft currency to be purchased, but some of them develop more intense and dynamic activities, which are translated into hard currency as exchange value. Premium buildings can breed more units at once; increase the ratio of obtaining a more valuable unit and so on. They usually increase the experience of the user making the sense of fulfillment more stable and less constrained by low ratios of success, whether he is merging different units to obtain a new one, his chances are slightly powered up for a greater success. With such feeling come the offer and the user strategyThough its price is tagged as medium (affordable from a whale up to a minnow) it allows the reliable theory of the basic user strategy to grow up: if there is enough room to place a clear offer telling the user he will get more with less, making things perform better in a long term and benefit his all progress, then there are more chances to make him suggest inside his brain to easily calculate the greatest benefit and end up in purchasing such element. Even though this equation is not safe as math, minds will always be handling  thousand variables, from what so far we  known the half and use a third.

-Skippers: skippers are the lowest possible expense in the game, making every player able to purchase it one or more times during its whole playtime. Moreover, the tutorial insists and suggests players the importance of relying in such boosters, provided the starting amount of hard currency that is given allows for a few quick purchases like this one. Although the longer the player reaches, the higher this purchase gets, it still keeps being cheaper than any other product. Its purpose is to create a cycle where in which the player tends, little by little, to prioritize the spending loop relying on such small bonuses. That means that with the lowest possible amount affordable in the game, there’s a guarantee that it will allow to make some of this skips, lowering the feeling of expending higher amounts on single products with pure cosmetic or collectible-related purposes.


The transparency of the model makes monetization a clever move, benefiting players and the developer: while it doesn’t force constantly players to keep on expending money in order to advance; it suggests the optimal performance for doing so, reaching higher places in less time. Provided such technique, nobody has the clear advantage and nothing is camouflaged as a pay to win, the model itself is clearly understandable and it brings a whole new items where the player can choose to tune the experience in a way different than the one offered by free.

Though it would be perhaps benefited by an addition of some catch activities for increasing retention and avoiding player idle situations, and a perhaps more detailed or meaningful social interactivity (outside from just using friends to progress, but to create boundaries or helping links); Dragon City proves to be an powerful and solid Social Game, with lots of features nicely implemented and lots of available things to do.

Thanks a ton for reading, if  you found it interesting, I usually write about social game design at Games for Breakfast. If you’re looking for techniques, design theories and tricks for taming such wild genres, you should probably land there.