2019 Predictions #6: The Magical Storm Gathers Around Card Battlers

2019 Predictions #6: The Magical Storm Gathers Around Card Battlers

The next in our series of Mid-core category predictions - Card Battlers. To make sure you don’t miss all the following prediction posts, please do subscribe to the Deconstructor of Fun infrequent but powerful newsletter. Also, the other 2019 Predictions can be found here.

Before you jump in, let us sum up how we arrived to the predictions.

  1. First we created a taxonomy together with Game Refinery dividing the games market into four different genres: Casual, Mid-Core, Casino and Sports. Then we further broke down the genres into categories based on games and then we further divided each category into a sub-category based.

    As as example, Candy Crush Saga is in a) Casual Games genre > Puzzle Games category > Match & Blast sub-category

  2. We pulled the data of top 500 games (excluding China, Japan and Korea) from Sensor Tower and aligned the data with the genres, categories and sub-categories.

  3. Once we had a clear view of what happened, we got together and wrote our predictions.

Please, take the numbers presented with a giant grain of salt. They are there more to show trends and to give rough estimates.

Special thanks to Abhimanyu Kumar for writing this one, and Jussi Huittinen for crunching the numbers.

First: a sneak peak into the Mid-core market as a whole

As you’ve noticed from the previous prediction post, we actively refer to categories, genres and sub-genres. In this post, we discuss Card Games, which we see as genre in Mid-core games. More specifically, we will deep dive into Card Battlers, which is the only sub-genre of the Card Games genre. To understand our taxonomy in details, please read this. To understand it at a glance, please look at the image below.

* Ad revenues not included

2018’s Card Battler Market

Over 2018, the Card Battlers market has been a pretty quiet one - a little too quiet compared to the amount of action packed in these games. The market stabilised in terms of downloads (-46% YoY, 46m vs 86m) and revenues (-4% YoY, $303m vs $317m). The big YoY downloads drop is mainly due to the massive launch of “Yu-Gi-Oh!” during Q1 2017.

* Ad revenues not included

When the term “Card Battlers” is mentioned, one of the following names is bound to come to mind - “Hearthstone” or “Yu-Gi-Oh!”. Without a doubt, these are the two biggest players of of the worldwide mobile card battler market, with Hearthstone dominating on both downloads (35% share) and revenues (46% share). The revenue market share numbers for both games would’ve been larger if not for Cygames’ “Shadowverse”. Even though it primarily monetises in Japan (>90%), Shadowverse rakes in a very respectable cash volume that earns itself the third market share position.

There were a few new players in 2018, like “Marvel Battle Lines”, that initially ate up downloads market share due to its strong IP. The game had the potential to be huge given the merging of a hot IP with a fitting card battler setting, and arguably some innovation on core sub-genre gameplay. Unfortunately, the gameplay and balancing was quite disappointing, resulting in a quick pop-and-drop. Such new entrants and older players alike, “Plants vs Zombies Heroes” for example, haven’t been able to scratch the strong revenue positions of Hearthstone and Yu-Gi-Oh!.

* Ad revenues not included

2019 - The Year of MTG

Having spoken about a calm 2018, we think it was just the calm before the storm. There is one other name that comes to mind when one says “Card Battlers” - the grand-daddy of all card battlers, “Magic: The Gathering”! If “MTG: Arena” launches on mobile next year, then 2019 is going to be the year of MTG. And there are many early indicators that would point to “Hearthstone” getting a run for its money.

With greater than 5m Twitch followers, no other card battler comes close to Hearthstone! At the same time, Hearthstone’s daily viewer base has been steadily dropping over the past 2 years. This is mainly driven by infrequent new card releases and few and far between meta game rebalancing efforts, leading to a playing/viewing experience that doesn’t always stay fresh and consumable through Twitch. Viewers were averaging at ~50k during Q1 2017 and are now hitting the ~25k mark, thereby dropping by -50%. Needless to say, “MTG: Arena” is just getting started, as can be seen in the major daily viewer bump following its open beta release during late September 2018. One can imagine what that green line is going to look like once it goes mobile.

Avg. daily Twitch viewers of Hearthstone (purple) vs MTG: Arena (green)

Further, Hearthstone prides itself with the highest eSports league prize pool in its genre. But MTG: Arena has announced a $10m prize pool for its 2019 eSports league, which is essentially 2.5 times that of Hearthstone’s and thereby making it the sub-genre’s largest prize pool. Not only is that going to lead to much higher participation levels, but will also fuel a wild eSport viewership growth rate for MTG: Arena.

Roughly estimated from multiple online sources

Roughly estimated from multiple online sources

Last but not the least, we should not forget that MTG was released way back in 1993 (the creators “Wizards of the Coast” were later acquired by Hasbro). Since then, MTG has been a steadily growing cash cow for Hasbro! With a recent launch in 2014, Hearthstone is 20 years short on the colossal name and reach that MTG has built for itself. This is clearly visible in the Google Trends graph below, with Hearthstone literally seeing an interest downtrend. Another strong indicator for 2019 being a great time to launch MTG: Arena.

Source: Google Trends

Source: Google Trends

Huge community hate captured in Steam game reviews; Source: Steam

Huge community hate captured in Steam game reviews; Source: Steam

One other awaited title for 2019 is Valve’s digital CCG named “Artifact”, which is based on the Dota 2 universe. Unfortunately, the game has not done so well for itself during the last quarter of 2018 after losing greater than 95% of its launch player base. This was mainly due to a huge community outcry against the game’s demanding monetisation model, which existed on top of the $20 game purchase price. According to multiple reports, the game is not only heavy on the wallet, but also heavily “pay-to-win”. Sometimes new card purchases cost more than the game’s $20 buying price itself! Most definitely, the game’s initial purchase price and this trailing community sentiment is going to severely curtail adoption volumes once it goes mobile.

Given all the above, we’d make a few predictions for 2019 -

  1. The mobile launch of “MTG: Arena” will majorly shake up the currently stable card battler market, leading to “Hearthstone” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!” both losing market share.

  2. “MTG: Arena” will surpass “Hearthstone” in terms of users, viewers and revenue, while growing the card battler market.

  3. Valve’s “Artifact” will suffer from lack of mass mobile adoption, unless it responds to the massive community outcry.

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