Thursday, November 22, 2012

How Rage of Bahamut Monetizes

When Rage of Bahamut (from DeNA's publisher Mobage) conquered the top grossing charts on iOS and Android I was stunned. I just couldn't understand how this web port with no sounds, sexist anime graphics and absolutely terrible player flows makes any money. I asked my gaming colleagues around the world and none of them understood why people play this game. After few tries I uninstalled the game thinking that this was one of those one hit wonders. A Gangnam Style of gaming.

Then came Marvel: War of Heroes, Hell Fire, Blood Brothers and other card (or collecting) games from Mobage that continued the success. It was time to give these games a proper shot. After a month of daily sessions I believe that I now understand the 8 core mechanics, which make these games successful.

*most of the images are from Marvel: War of Heros, which is essentially Rage of Bahamut's re-skin. 

The Core Loop

The core loop of Mobage’s card games is pretty straightforward comprised of two main elements – Single Player Mode (PvE) and Player Versus Player Mode (PvP). Both of the game modes have their own specific energies ensuring that one mode adds onto another instead of cannibalizing from it.

The Single Player Mode

The single player campaign may not look like much. Actually it looks down right awful. But the mechanics are simply amazing! Basically what happens is a series of 9 taps onto the screen of your mobile device, which contain elements from action, casino, collecting and role-playing games. A series of actions that you keep on repeating several sessions a day and feel always more and more engaged and entertained.

Here’s the flow. You open up the mission view, tap on the screen and see enemy going down with a blow after each tap (Action).  Three taps and three enemies down a treasure chest will appear asking you to tap to open it (Casino). Fourth tap and you open the chest and see a new card added into you collection (Collecting). Then back to the mission mode. One more tap and you’ve completed the mission. Completing mission rewards player with an attribute point (RPG), which can be used to increase one of the three: maximum PvP Energy, maximum PvE Energy and maximum Defense Power.

PvE mode is wrapped around a super simple story line to keep the tapping meaningful and structured. A set of missions is called a campaign and each campaign ends in a boss battle after which a new campaign with new enemies and new quest giver is presented. So apart from being extremely engaging PvE mode is also the best way to level up, get Soft Currency and earn new cards early in the game. 

Player Versus Player Mode

In the beginning challenging other players is the only thing players can do. The battles are asynchronous where attacker first choses opponent based on their level, owned resources or rivalry. Then the attackers chosen attack pack (5 cards) are put against defenders defensive card pack of five cards.  After few seconds and a very simple animation player is declared as a winner or loser.

Each PvP battle consumes PvP Energy based on how powerful cards player uses. Winning a battle earns players Soft Currency and card specific XP. Losing on the other hand simply leaves player empty handed and without any PvP Energy. As player progresses the focus of PvP will shift towards looting specific Treasures and guild wars both of which I’ll go through in more details in this post.

The 8 Core Elements of Success 

1. Core Element  - The Simplicity

I thing 99% of you will argue that simplicity is an adjective, which can be used to describe this game. In a way you’re right. The game is full of text instructions, terrible UI and absolutely the worst user flows I’ve experienced on mobile. Yet again once you’ve gotten into the game, leveled up few times, beaten bosses and earned few of the first cards there’s just no simpler game sessions and more satisfying game sessions.

The application is light on the battery, there are no skill elements, sessions are super short, replayable and ultra rewarding. I mean which game lets you play a productive session in the time it takes you to walk from a one meeting room to another?

The game can be very simple...

2. Core Element  - The Complexity

While being simple Mobage’s card games can also be very complex. After few sessions new elements and meta-games are slowly but steadily introduced. For example each card has its own faction, which means that player has to start thinking more about which cards to put into same attack and defense packs. 

This complexity leads into different kind of gaming behavior for us, the engaged players. During the day we play our short sessions with the aim to simply progress and gather all kind of resources. In the evening we enter the meta-game of reconstructing the perfect attack and defense packs, making use of the new cards and attributes we earned during the day.

...or the game can be pretty complex

3. Core Element  - The Card Consumption Mechanics

Earning one card after another is alright but what makes Mobage’s card games pop are the two card consumption mechanics: Boostin and Fusing.

Boosting is basically sacrificing other cards to boost the XP and thus the Attack and Defense points of the chosen card. Pretty simple, but there’s a bigger effect of this simple action. What happens is that the game can now be extremely generous with random cards that are given to player for progressing in the PvE Mode without flooding the game economy. And from players perspective it’s great to earn even those weak cards as they can always be used as boosters for the chosen dozen cards.

Fusing is combining two same cards in order to make them into one better and rarer card. Fusing is also something that drives every true card collector to monetize. Seriously, you just can’t emphasize the addictiveness of getting a rare card and realizing that if only you can find another of these rare cards you’ll have a SUPER rare and SUPER powerful card. And of course combining two of these SUPER rare cards...

4. Core Element  - The Card Packs

There’s three ways player gets new cards. As mentioned the initial way is by grinding the PvE Mode and earning one card at a time. The second way is by purchasing card packs and that’s where the monetization seriously kicks in. And the third way is trading with friends players, which is major incentive to get playing friends in the game.

There are only few different card packs priced at different price points but the beauty is in the fact that monetization on cards is based on casino and collector mechanics. Casino in the sense that you just never know what kind of cards the card pack will have. Collector in the sense that you WAN’T to get same cards so that you can fuse them and you WAN’T to get weak cards so that you can use them to boost your chosen cards.

And the beauty from monetization point of view? Well think about it. Players can’t directly buy the cards the really truly want so they have to buy several card packs just and cross their fingers that one of them will have the card they’re looking for. And once they get the card they’re looking for they will most likely search for the second one so that they can fuse these two. Just like kids collecting baseball cards – except that these kids have credit cards and the cards are consumable.

5. Core Element  - The Double Energy Mechanics

There are two different types of energies in Mobage’s card games: PvE and PvP Energy. Both of the energies have a cap, which can be increased by leveling up and completing PvE quests. In other words, as player progresses in the game he'll have more energy per session due to increased Energy cap. To restrict the progress Ngomoco’s card games increase the energy it takes to complete each PvE quest, which at the same time forces player to keep on increasing her max energy cap. 

Time is money

In the end the way energy mechanics are implemented in Mobage’s card games is pretty sweet as it enables fast progress in the beginning and slows the progress down once player is hooked. This is because in the beginning players max energy levels are very low and thus quickly replenished, but as the game progresses players max energy level will grow and so will the time it takes for energy to be replenished. Slowing down progression is the best way to drive monetization.

6. Core Element  - The Looting

From time to time player receives a Treasure (collectable item) when grinding through the PvE quests. Each collectable item is a part of a six piece collection. Once player possesses all six items in the collection she'll receive a unique card and the collection will be completed. Completed collection transfers into collection reward while also closing the collection from looting. 

Of course having one rare card is never enough in Ngomoco’s card games as you need at least two of the same to fuse the into one super powerful card. So player is encouraged to finish the collection three times: first collection reward is the card XY, second reward is Bonus and third reward is again the card XY).

What makes grinding collections interesting in Mobage’s card games is the fact that you can steal specific Treasures from other players - and other players will try to steal the Treasures you posses. Stealing ends only when collection has been completed.

The way looting monetizes is amazing: 

  1. Player has to be fast when he sets to complete a collection as somebody is always looking for the Treasures he has at the moment. Being fast means usually buying PvP energy as there's no time to wait for energy to reload.
  2. To loot a Treasure player needs to have strong attack deck. Buying an additional card pack seems like a good investment when you get beaten one too many times.
  3. To successfully defend the collection while looking for missing pieces player needs to have a strong defensive deck. Buying a card pack sounds like a great idea when your defenses have been defeated over and over again.
  4. Players can also put a timed defensive shield over the collection items they just looted. When player tries to loot an item protected by a shield they automatically lose. There's a custom animation to this kind of battle and it sucks to be on the receiving end. It actually sucks so much that you want to put shields on all of your Treasures just to make all those players who try to steal from you regret it.

7. Core Element  - The Events

To spice up the daily grind Mobage’s card games introduce various themed events. Events are basically comprised of new PvE missions and a new event specific card pack in the shop. Players are encouraged to complete these event missions as the reward from these missions is a new limited time resources that can be exchanged for card packs. 

To drive the monetization from the events Mobage adds a timer element (complete missions and collect uniques resources before the event is over) and pushes also a progress wall in form of super tough boss fights. You see, the boss fights in event PvE are so tough that in order to beat them player is encouraged to purchase event specific (and of course limited time) card packs. 

The Loki event promoted original Alliance card pack as
these cards dealt up to 600% more damage against Loki

8. Core Element  - The Teams and Alliances

Need someone to trade cards with? Or how about getting help in a tough boss fight? In case you're in demand of these two you can add some team members. The higher your level is the more team members you can have. And no, you don't need to send Facebook, Game Center or other "official" requests. Just look at a list of all players and simply send them in-game requests to join your team.

For those seeking for a deeper meaning and higher rewards the Alliance (guilds) is the way to go. Once in Alliance player starts working towards a common cause and can interact with other members of the Alliance. Players' status in an Alliance is based on how much soft currency they donate for the Alliance. By donating soft currency to the Alliance players also increase the size of the Alliance. By being a member of Alliance players receive various bonuses (based on what kind of researches their Alliance completes) and gets to battle it out in Alliance vs. Alliance wars. 

Alliances add a deeper engagement to the game

Not a Card Game but a Card Collecting Game

With Rage of Bahamut, Marvel:War of Heroes, Hell Fire, Blood Brothers and other similar titles Mobage has succeeded to hook and monetize players around the world. The success of these titles seems very odd as there's no stunning graphics, extreme polish or new and exciting game play modes. But once you give some time to these games you'll understand that their success is based simply on our natural need to collect and compare what we have with other collectors around the world. 


  1. How do you explain the casual player making it through the initial turn off of the awful UI and user flow? Everything I've read says this part is extremely important to keeping players, but Rage seems to break that assumption in every possible way.

    1. With poor user flows in the beginning what happens is that bigger % of players will drop off before getting hooked. This results in higher user acquisition spending. But if money ain't an issue then poor user flows ain't either..

  2. Amazing analysis once again. Reading this got me thinking of re-designing the item system in our new game we are working on. BY far the best analysis on card games I ever seen. Also kudos for having the patience to play these games so much. I've tried and failed many times, usually in extreme rage :)

    1. Henric, you're far too kind.

      The collectables, which can be looted from other players is IMO amazing. It really pushes PvP to a whole new level driving retention (amount of consecutive session in a limited period of time) and monetization (better cards + shields + energy).

  3. Now you've done it, Michail... expect to see even more Rage clones coming in the next few months now that you've laid out the gameplan for any junior designer to run with ;)

  4. Hah.. Don't think so. You can't make a hit game just by deconstructing an existing title on ripping all of it's features apart. It's like you can't make a heute cousine dish simply by following a recipe.