Game Design

Finding the Fun: Archero Part 3 - Monetization

Welcome to part three of my look into Archero! This time we’ll focus on the monetization aspect of the game and how it doesn’t intrude on the fun. If this is your first foray into this series, I recommend starting at part one which focuses on the gameplay, which you can check out HERE. Let’s dive in!

Where money comes from

In Archero there is soft currency called gold and hard (premium) currency referred to as gems.

 
IMG_Currencies.JPG
 

Gems are received via:

  • Purchasing them with real life currency directly

  • Through purchasing bundles

  • Through stage rewards (completing five or ten new stages)

  • The wheel of fortune minigame, which sometimes gives them a chance to receive gems for watching an ad

  • Increasing the player’s adventure level (this seems only good for receiving gems thus I didn’t include it in progression)

Gold is received via:

  • Purchasing them using gems

  • Clearing rooms of enemies

  • The wheel of fortune minigame at the beginning of a run and after bosses

  • Through purchasing bundles

Gold is primarily used for standard progression and upgrades. Gems are used to speed up progression. As we’ve already covered everything gold can buy in the previous post, we’ll be focusing on gems this time around.

Energy

Players have standard max of twenty energy. Attempting a run costs five energy. It takes twelve minutes to recharge one energy. When a player completes five new stages, they are given an additional five energy. They can also buy twenty energy for one hundred gems ($1.25) or watch an ad to recharge five energy up to four times a day.

 
IMG_EnergyRecharge.JPG
 

You can imagine how this plays out in the beginning of the game. Players have over twenty energy easily and can play nonstop for quite a while. By the time the player will have to wait for energy to recharge, they’re well into the game and have begun investing themselves in it. They’re familiar with all the aspects of the game and are enjoying themselves so they don’t want to stop. This motivates them to watch the ads, after which if they’re still enjoying themselves it becomes easy to justify spending one hundred gems on another twenty energy.

Death

The first time a player dies in a run they are offered a chance to revive. This costs 30 gems and the player only has five seconds to decide.

 
IMG_Death.JPG
 

This mechanic adds to the fun because it allows the players one more shot if they have an excellent set of abilities. Additionally, because they only have five seconds to decide, it keeps the game moving and keeps them in a heightened state. They don’t fall out of the flow of the game. In fact, wanting to stay in the game could lead to them impulsively spending money when they normally would not.

This mechanic works in this instance because of the amount of time and work it takes for the player to get through the chapter in one run. Players are more likely to want to throw money at this if they’re near the completion of a run.

Mysterious Vendor

The mysterious vendor appears from time to time after the completion of a stage. His inventory is always different scrolls. The player can purchase these scrolls for gems.

 
 

Anyone else getting a RE4 vibe? “What’re ya buyin?”

This falls under the convenience category of monetization. He’s targeted at late game players because he sells scrolls in bulk for a lot of gems. Late game players need a ton of scrolls for improving high level equipment. He’s there so if the player is tired of grinding for a scroll, which he happens to have in stock, they can speed up the progression and the grind by paying him. He’s particularly well thought out because players don’t “need” to purchase his wares but getting what the player wants that quickly is awfully tempting. And if they don’t buy it at that moment, they have no idea when he’ll return and what his stock will be.

Gacha Boxes

There are two kinds of gacha boxes: a golden chest (60 gems or about $0.75) and an obsidian chest (300 gems or about $3.75). Golden chests can drop any piece of equipment at common or great rarity. The Obsidian chest can drop any piece of equipment at great, rare, or epic rarity.

 
Gif_GachaBox.gif
 

These are the best ways to get equipment. Because the player is given gems for defeating every five new stages and the chance at receiving gems for watching adds during normal playthroughs, it fits nicely into the loop of the game. Fight > get some gems (rewards)> save up enough and buy a box (improve)> repeat. A player only must purchase boxes with real world money when they want to speed up their progression. They monetize impatience.

Something I don’t want to discount is the low number of items within the boxes and that the boxes go up to maybe halfway to max rarity. Because the fusing system requires multiples of higher-level items at equal rarity, players will have to get even more items from the boxes, resulting in more boxes needed to be purchased to progress. If there were a huge number of items, I think the fusing system wouldn’t work and it’d be too tedious. But there are only four weapons, four armors, four rings, and four spirits, that’s it. Sixteen items are a tiny amount for a gacha game and yet it works so well because it fits with the progression systems requiring multiples.

Bundles

Every chapter has an accompanying bundle. They usually come with some gems and a mix of something useful to the player in that part of the game. For example, the beginner pack comes with three hundred gems, ten thousand gold, and five free revives. The players can’t buy higher chapter packs until they purchase the previous chapter ones.

 
IMG_Bundle.JPG
 

The Chapter 2’s Pack is the available bundle for me since I bought the first one.

That last part is what’s most important because it helps condition the player to spending money on the game in progressively larger values. By holding the more expensive bundles in hiding from the player until they purchase the previous ones, they don’t scare off potential sales with the expensive prices. Then when they do appear, they feel more special. The hardest thing for a free to play game is to get that first purchase. If they can convince the player to purchase the first bundle at $1.99, it makes it so much easier to convince them to buy the second at $6.99 and the rest at $10 each. And if the player buys them with each chapter it becomes a habit, at which point they can kiss their wallet goodbye.

Conclusion

By looking at all the ways Archero monetizes, it’s evident it really excels by tempting the player to spend their real money while never demanding it. It’s like they’re a devil on the player’s shoulder, “Don’t you just want to play a little bit longer?”, “Don’t you want to improve just a little bit faster?”, or even “Just watch this ad and you’ll get something cool!” They are constantly tempting the player, but never forcing them to spend money or watch an ad. It’s always the player’s choice. Archero is able to focus on gameplay because of this, ultimately resulting in increased user engagement, retention, and a happier community. 

If you’ve come along with me on this journey through the pieces that make up Archero, I thank you. It has taken me a bit of time to put this together and even longer to research it. I hope I got you thinking about how the different pieces of this game are put together and why they make this full package an enjoyable experience.

Until next time,

Scott

Finding the Fun: Archero Part 2 – Progression

Welcome to part two of my look into Archero. This time we’ll focus on the long-term progression and how that contributes to the fun. If this is your first foray into this series, I recommend starting at part one, which you can check out HERE. Let’s dive in!

Chapters

Chapters are sets of stages. The player must complete every stage in one run in order to complete the chapter and progress to the next one. Each chapter introduces new more difficult enemies with slight variations to the movement and attack patterns, and additional abilities which can be selected.

This infusion of content helps to keep the game feeling fresh. The developers drip feed the players new content to reinforce new challenges in each chapter. Once the player has mastered those challenges, items, and abilities, they move on to the next chapter.

 
Img_ChAbilityUnlock.JPG
 

Gaining Gold

Players gain gold by killing enemies and doing spins in the wheel of fortune style minigame at the beginning of each run. As previously mentioned, the wheel of fortune style spinner increases in rewards based on which chapter the player is in. This is a useful catch up mechanic if the player is behind in leveling up their talents or wants to grind their level. Even if the first encounter is too difficult for them, they are guaranteed some progression just for trying.

 
Gif_Intro.gif
 

The gold dropped from enemies is only received once the room is clear. This increases the risk in tougher chapters. If a player is barely surviving and there is gold everywhere but still plenty of enemies left it increases the tension making for a more stressful situation and enjoyable victory.

 
Img_GoldEverywhere.JPG
 

So why does gold matter? Let’s get into it in the next section.

Talents Vs Abilities

Last time we discussed abilities, which are short term power ups that last until the player dies or completes a chapter. Talents are permanent stat upgrades. The player spends gold and receives a random talent upgrade. These are things like increasing max HP, general damage, attack speed, or so on.

This works great in the sense that every player’s character is different. Every player’s experience is a little bit different as well. But, as with all things completely random, it falls into the same pothole. What is the most frustrating thing about RNG? Getting the same useless item repeatedly. And while I would argue that none of these are particularly useless, some are clearly better than others. I think this would be fine in a casual game like a clicker or business management game. In tougher chapters though the difficulty skews away from casual at which point having some control over the character’s talent build would go a long way. When I make a mistake because I built my character wrong, that’s on me, and that’s not too frustrating because I can try to do something different. When it relies on RNG and there’s nothing I can do outside restarting my progress or grinding out of necessity rather than desire, it gets frustrating and pushes players away.

 
Gif_TalentUpgrade.gif
 

Equipment + Scrolls

Equipment is like a permanent upgrade, but one the player has more control over. They receive equipment sometimes in game, more often from gacha boxes (a.k.a. loot crates). The player gets one gacha box for free,or when watching an ad, once a day and a better one once a week. These can also be purchased for gems, the premium virtual currency that can be bought with real money, at any time.

There are four types of equipment: weapons, armor, rings, and spirits. The higher the rarity, the higher the max level it can be upgraded to and the higher stats it will have. The player can equip one weapon, one armor, two rings, and two spirits at a time for a total of six pieces of equipment.

All equipment increases in level by the player leveling them up using their designated scrolls and gold. For example, a weapon will require X weapon scrolls and X gold. Scrolls are received commonly through playing the game.

As I mentioned before, there are various rarities for each of the weapons (common, great, rare, epic, perfect epic, and legendary). Though rarities in this sense would be closer to ascending an item to a higher form. All common items could one day become legendary items. This is achieved through fusing; the player can fuse three of the same items with the same rarity to create a higher rarity version of the original item.

Okay, that was a lot, but here’s what’s so brilliant about it. All that information is displayed in an easy to understand format across maybe two or three screens.

The equipment screen displays all the players equipped and owned equipment in an easy to read format.

The equipment screen displays all the players equipped and owned equipment in an easy to read format.

The fusion screen is clean and easy to understand.

The fusion screen is clean and easy to understand.

The locking out of unusable equipment makes this very easy to understand and use.

The locking out of unusable equipment makes this very easy to understand and use.

The player can discern all this information (except for gacha boxes and where scrolls come from) from spending maybe thirty seconds inside this menu. The scroll locations players will learn from seeing them drop while playing the game. The gacha box information they learn from the gacha screen when they receive a notification for a free box. No hand holding tutorial needed, just playing on their curiosity. This is some excellent UI and UX design. It’s easy to understand, it’s quick, and it doesn’t get in the way of players getting back to the game.

How does this further increase the fun?

How does all this fit together? It fits well into the games loop of fight > get rewards > improve.

 
The overall loop of Archero along with actions that fit into each section.

The overall loop of Archero along with actions that fit into each section.

 

This loop resets itself every new chapter. When the player comes into a new chapter, they’re usually too weak to easily progress. They need to increase their talents and equipment levels to be able to better face the challenges of the chapter. While they are playing the game and getting the gold, items, and scrolls to improve themselves, they are practicing against enemies and learning the new attack patterns. Thus they are not only improving their stats but their skills at the same time. Upon completing the final boss and defeating the chapter, the whole cycle starts all over again in a new chapter. It’s fun in the long run just because of that simple loop executed so well.

The enjoyable moment to moment gameplay and a strong repeatable loop make for a very enjoyable experience for a long period of time. But how does this app make money? We’ve talked a bit about it in these last two posts and we’ll finish the series out answering that question next time.

See you then,

Scott 

Part three is up! Check it out HERE

2016 Scott Fine game Design Year in Review

Whoa! Time does fly! It’s already been a few years since I started this blog. Just like last year, I’m doing a 2016 year in review! Today I’d like to take a look back at some of my favorite post from the last year.

I’d like to highlight three articles which I believe are my best work of the year. Additionally, I’d like to give an honorable mention to one of the most exciting moments of my year.

1.       Pokemon GO! Series

Okay, I know I’m cheating right out of the gate but technically I think these should be highlighted as a group. In this four part series, we start by understanding the basic functionality and mechanics of Pokemon Go. In part two, we discuss gym battles and the problems plaguing them. Part 3 is one of my most popular posts of the year, it deals with how Pokemon are distributed and located around the planet. We finish up discussing the economy of Pokemon go and how it affects the players.

Part 1 - Basic Pokemon GO

Part 2 - Pokemon Go: Gym Battles!

Part 3 - Where's that Pokemon?

Part 4 - Pokemon Go: Economy

2.       Game Design Analysis – Disney Magic Kingdoms

This analysis breaks down the game Disney Magic Kingdoms. We discuss everything from the basic mechanics and to quest functionality to the economy and rewards. This is one of the most popular pieces on the site today.

Disney Magic Kingdoms - Design Analysis

3.       The Dark Zone Versus the Prisoner’s Dilemma

This piece discusses the Division, more specifically the dark zone and how it relates to the Prisoner’s Dilemma. This is the piece I’ve had more comments and heat over than any other piece I’ve written.

The Dark Zone Versus the Prisoner's Dilemma

Honorable mention:

Boss Battle Gamecast Guest – Ep. 48

This was an exciting opportunity for me! I had the honor of being a guest on the Boss Battle Gamescast. We discussed the industry, what I’m up to now and so much more. Check it out when you get some time!

If you don't have time to stream it now, feel free to download it for future listening at the Raptor cow website HERE

With that said I’d like to thank you. Your comments have helped me to improve these posts. I’d like to give an extra big thank you to everyone who stuck around since 2015.  I know I haven’t been the most active over the course of the last few months. I appreciate your patience and thank you for sticking around. I’ll be doing more posts in the New Year and I should have some big news in the coming months. I hope you had an excellent 2015 and that 2016 will be even better.

I’ll see you guys next time,

Scott

P.S. If you're new (Welcome!) and wanted to check out 2015's year in review it can be found HERE

Where's that Pokémon?

Continuing with the pokémon theme this week we're going into part three of my series on Pokémon Go. Today we'll be discussing how the pokémon locations are determined. If you haven't read my last couple posts on Pokémon Go I recommend checking them out! While they aren't necessary to understand the concepts we will be discussing today, they will help to give a broader picture of the game and how individual functions work. They can be found at:

Part 1 - Basic Pokémon Go

Part 2 - Pokémon Go: Gym Battles

Now, let’s dive into how I believe the pokémon locations are determined. A disclaimer if you will, the only way to 100% find out for sure how it works is to ask Niantic how they did it. What I am presenting here today is based on my observations and discusses how I believe it to work. While their system is much larger, I have attempted to miniaturize it and discuss it in a smaller more manageable version. I hope by doing so the concepts will be more approachable and less daunting. With that out of the way, let’s get to it!

The Grid:

Imagine a grid over Los Angeles, like this:

Within each section of the grid, the player can see up to nine different pokémon. The player can see which pokémon are within their grid space via checking the nearby section of the app.

These pokémon might be in F2 (in the square with Museum of Contemporary Art), while in G2 there is a whole different set of pokémon. When a player moves to a different grid space, different pokémon will populate in their “Nearby” page.

Side note: The pokémon also seem to cycle in and out based on time elapsed. Each pokémon will disappear after a certain amount of time has passed.

 

But how do they decide which pokémon will be in each grid space?

Enter a random number generator! For simplicity sake, I’m going to use only five pokémon in my example.

Now imagine you have a twenty sided dice. You’re going to roll the dice nine times, and those nine dice rolls will determine the nine pokémon in the K1 grid space. You can try this exercise out using the grid as follows:

Just from looking at this chart you can see a few things:

 

●      25% chance the pokémon will be a Pidgey

●      25% chance the pokémon will be a Rattata

●      25% chance the pokémon will be a Zubat

●      10% chance the pokémon will be a Growlithe

●      5% chance the pokémon will be a Goldeen

●      10% chance there will be no pokémon

(If you don’t have a D20 lying around, you can check out WIZARD'S DICE TOOL and use their digital dice)

Try it out! Roll the dice nine times. What did you get?

My rolls are:

4, 1, 2, 17, 20, 1, 5, 13, 4

This means that the 9 pokémon in K1 are:

1.     Pidgey

2.     Pidgey

3.     Pidgey

4.     Growlithe

5.     Nothing

6.     Pidgey

7.     Pidgey

8.     Zubat

9.     Pidgey

As you can see the results are random, but there is a higher chance of certain pokémon appearing over others. If we were to check a different space, we’d see different results. Maybe we’d find a space with mostly Zubats instead of Pidgeys.

So how does geography affect pokémon placement?

Let’s say, for example, we go to the pier. Now we’re over water, so there are more water pokémon appearing. How has our chart changed? Let’s take a look:

As you can see from the chart, things have changed. Now we have:

●      15% chance the pokémon will be a Pidgey

●      5% chance the pokémon will be a Rattata

●      15% chance the pokémon will be a Zubat

●      5% chance the pokémon will be a Growlithe

●      50% chance the pokémon will be a Goldeen

●      10% chance there will be no pokémon

Now, if we run our simulation with the updated chart, what do you get? I got:

2, 8, 16, 17, 2, 10, 6, 16, 19

This means that the nine pokémon in the space with water are:

1.     Pidgey

2.     Goldeen

3.     Goldeen

4.     Growlithe

5.     Pidgey

6.     Goldeen

7.     Rattata

8.     Goldeen

9.     Nothing

As you can see, while on land we had more Pidgeys, Rattatas and Zubats, but Goldeen rains supreme by the ocean. This is because there is a higher chance of Goldeen appearing based on the player's proximity to water. It’s safe to say then, if the player were near a volcano for example the number of Growlithes would increase just like the number of Goldeens increased when the player was near the water. Because of the random number generator, it is possible to find an area that has no pokémon, or even only one kind of pokémon. Though this is unlikely because Niantic is working with 150 different pokémon instead of just five.

Is it possible to catch any pokémon at any location?

I believe so. I know it sounds crazy, but at times I’ve found Goldeens and Goldducks in the middle of downtown L.A. miles away from the water. I think the possibility of a Goldeen showing up though is so miniscule that it will almost never happen. While our example used only 20 slots to choose pokémon from, Niantic’s would be using hundreds of slots resulting in some pokémon appearing less than .001% of the time.

Side note: Imagine you lived in the middle of Kansas with your dog Toto. What if a super rare pokémon to the area, like Venasaur, popped up? You’d race towards that Venasaur. This is the kind of effect they’re creating in players by allowing pokémon to appear anywhere just at an incredibly small probability. Players’ excitement will be rekindled again long after the initial excitement has dwindled because of this rare find. Additionally, they may have done it this way to simulate wandering pokémon who maybe got lost.

So, what factors cause the chart to adjust?

Niantic has come out and said that there are a couple of factors which influence pokémon appearing:

●      Location - Geography and location on the planet

●      Time of day - different pokémon come out at night than during the day

●      Pokémon rarity - how rare is the pokémon?

So, your location at midday might cause you to run into more Pidgeys, but at night the chart readjusts and there may be a higher chance of Growlithes.

Now that you understand the basics of how pokémon are distributed, we’re going to add one additional layer, common, uncommon, rare and legendary. This is actually a third factor, which influences which pokémon appear. Common pokémon, like Pidgeys, will appear in greater numbers than an uncommon pokémon. Uncommon pokémon will appear in greater numbers than rare pokémon and rare pokémon will appear in greater numbers than legendary pokémon. To help you visualize the distribution of these kinds of pokémon, check out this chart:

Side note: This is assuming the legendary pokémon are not attached to public events. Though the commercial for Pokémon Go made it seem like they were.

The distribution of pokémon rarity might look like this, with considerable amounts of common pokémon vs. the other types. Then we’ll see a few less uncommon pokémon and even fewer rare pokémon, with the legendries being almost nonexistent.

This affects our chart by adjusting the rarity of pokémon. For example, we know we’ll find more water pokémon near the water, as you can see in the slots listed as Goldeen in our charts above. If we expand to add more pokémon to the mix, you’re still going to see more Goldeens than you would a Blastoise. This is because Blastoise is a rare pokémon and Goldeen is common. There is a greater chance of Blastoise appearing because the player is closer to the water. But due to the rarity of Blastoise there may still be a higher chance of the player encountering a Pidgey instead.

Side note: The best way I can think of to explain it is a little more technical. Each pokémon already has a percentage of appearing based on their rarity. The system checks the location of the grid space. From the environment/geography, the chance of a pokémon appearing adjusts by increasing or reducing the percentage based on if the area is near water, or in a city, near a volcano, etc. The system will then select nine random numbers and select the pokémon for placement in the world. It then selects nine random locations within the single grid space to place the pokémon. This is why three different people can all see the same pokémon at the same space.

For those who like math, a simple algorithm for pokémon chance of spawning might look like:

Pokémon rarity x (D + G) = % Spawn chance

·       D = Day/night cycle modifier

·       G = Geographical modifier

Most of the pokémon would be less than 1% because there are 150 of them.

But what about incense and lures?

Pokémon can’t move independently in the world. They are tethered to the global system. Additionally, when two players are using incense at the same time, which way do the pokémon go? What about ten players?  Because of this, and that pokémon can’t move towards the player who is also moving across grid lines, it causes too much confusion and stress on the system. So incense actually creates a virtual space around the player spawning in additional pokémon. This is why when I activate incense; someone next to me won't always see the same pokémon I do. It is also why sometimes I’ll see rare pokémon that my friends standing right next to me can’t see. Additionally, there is a check to see if the player is moving. When the player is on the move more pokémon will appear for the player. You can tell incense specific pokémon by noticing a slight purple glow when they appear on the map.

Lures on the other hand are stationary. They work similarly to the incense; the space around the lure spawns an additional set of pokémon, acting as it’s own grid space. Because it is tethered to a stationary position and not player specific all players can see these pokémon. Due to this benefit of attracting pokémon for all players, we oftentimes see players congregate around lured pokestops. This helps to bring players together and creates a sense of community.

I hope this post has helped you to think about how Niantic distributes pokémon across the world. Like I mentioned before, this is based on my research I’ve conducted and I may be wrong. The only way to know for sure is to ask the designers at Niantic. Do you agree? Do you think I missed something? Let me know in the comments below and we can discuss it further. Next week we've got one more Pokémon Go post. After that, we'll continue on to other games.

I’ll see you guys next week,

Scott