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Improving Freemium Design - Cardinal Quest II
by Benjamin Sipe on 04/17/14 12:14:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

 

If you haven't already noticed, I play a lot of mobile games. I've talked about my lack of time for games now as I grow up, but that doesn't mean I like them any less. The medium and how the games are designed is what hinders me more than anything else. However, I still enjoy a good old fashioned quest or grind in an RPG. If you're anything like me and really enjoy RPG and tactic games then I'm confident that you'll love this game too. It's challenging. It can be played in short or long sessions. I feel it's one of the better mobile games I've ever played. With that being said, then why isn't this a chart topping game? Let's take a look.

 

What they did right...

Artwork

I love the old 8-bit art style and I think it really resonates well with their target market. It reminds me of playing old NES RPG titles such as Dragon Warrior (possibly the best NES RPG).

 

 

Difficulty

Normal levels are passable with a try or two and suicide levels are hard. I feel like this game eases me into a good challenge and I've been hooked since I downloaded the game.

 

Love the Varying Class

Like all the classic RPGs this game comes with several classes. Each of the the 6 classes have pros and cons that make each pretty unique from one another. Although I enjoy playing several

 

Publisher

I can't confirm or deny that working with a publisher is a good idea for you, but I will say that I did discover this game from an advertisement. The game is currently charting around the 250 mark in all games so I wouldn't have otherwise seen this game, but I'm really glad that I saw that ad for it (I know I can't believe I'm praising an advertisement either). Why does this tie back to the publisher? I have a suspicion that if they developer launched on their own they wouldn't have gotten the game on my radar.

What could be improved?

Single Currency

You could debate this with me later, but games with a dual (or triple) currency allow you to approach virtual sales from different angles. A single currency means you're forced to a single method of earning that currency. In this case players just need to play the game over and over again. Keep grinding until players earn the desired currency to purchase what they want. Well... that or purchase the currency, but I know not many are doing that. Why? That brings me to my next topic.

 

 

Store items

Their virtual store is in dire need of help! I'd probably classify as a super-fan since I've unlocked all the classes, acts and I'm working on beating all the acts on all difficulties. However, I haven't spent a dime and I absolutely don't feel like I need to. I could throw a couple bucks their way knowing that I love their game (and I might after writing this), but I need to review and critique games from a consumer standpoint. It's safe to say that as a consumer I would not purchase anything. Let's look at some reasons why.

  1. Lack of things to purchase - players start off with 3 characters; each with one out of 8 unlockable options. Players can purchase 3 more classes each with 7 unlockables. That means I have a total of 45 total purchasable options (plus 1 for the extra continue after being killed). That might sound like a lot reading this article, but ideally the number of purchasable options should be infinite.   

 

  1. No power-ups/consumables/modifiers - the game only sells one type of virtual goods. Unlockables. What about consumables, how about power-ups, or lastly some sort of modifier? Some of these are covered in the character unlocks, but they come as a trade-off. You can start with an ungraded weapon but start with a decreased stat. Why would I grind to unlock that? I get better weapons throughout the game, but my stat is permanently decreased? That doesn't seem like a good trade-off. I believe this is done to "balance" the game or help combat the "pay-to-win" feeling, but realistically it just seems dumb to me as a consumer.
     
  2. Equipable items - similar to the point above, I can spend currency to unlock a different starting weapon but there's a trade-off elsewhere. What about just unlocking a different starting weapon, or a modifier that gives you a better chance at rare weapon drops in game? Maybe something that expands your accessory slot from 5 to 6? What about a re-roll with the merchant in-game because what he's currently selling is trash? I could go on and on, but there are several ways they could have enhanced the looting/equipment mechanic in this game and frankly I feel like this is one of the largest pitfalls for an RPG game like this. 
     
  3. Lacking MEGA FAN (AKA whale) purchase - or even a repeat purchase option. If I was REALLY impatient, I could purchase the $20 IAP and basically unlock everything. However, if I really like the game, chances are I already earned enough currency to unlock the things that I would like to unlock (which I have). Now I can continue to play the game because I like to (which I do) but there's no real reason for me to ever purchase anything. 
     
  4. Could improve visuals/UI - right now there's no real store. There's an IAP store, but no virtual store for purchasing characters, consumables, goods, etc. The unlockable items are just built into the character selection scree. I love that it's part of the game's natural progression/flow, but I dislike how little screen real estate they occupy and no attention is ever drawn to these unlockables. It's up to the game to just discover them and decide which one they might want to unlock. 
    • Side note - don't get me wrong here. All IAPs or virtual goods should be a part of the game workflow and I do like an element of discoverability in my games, but I also believe that developers can direct or help move players towards the choices that they want their players to make. For example; once I found out there was a Paladin class I played the game for maybe 3 hours grinding to unlock that character. Perhaps if the game knew I had  played 3 games back to back then maybe it should have offered me a discount on a character purchase or allowed me to purchase one for $0.99. Maybe I would've made the purchase, but not offering me anything guaranteed that I didn't purchase a thing.  

Icon

Perhaps this is nitpicky but I don't like the icon at all. I feel like it doesn't have anything to do with the game. Most of the game is pixel art yet the icon isn't? I don't even know who the bull with the axe is supposed to be or how that even relates to the game. I'm guessing that perhaps it's the boss at the end of the first level, but I'm not sure.

 

 

Upselling

This is a tricky subject with most game developers because they feel like upselling is pestering players or breaking the game's difficultly setting. The developer did build in a continue option (which is a good start) but they could have done more intelligent upselling. Like mentioned earlier, what about upselling discount to someone who has played 2-3 games in a row? They obviously like your game and perhaps they'd be more inclined to make an IAP if presented a discount?

 

 

What about upselling different items at the merchant screen or allowing players to re-roll the items at a currency fee? Perhaps if you have the manpower/intelligence, you have benchmarks of what the average player has at that point in the game and you offer a slightly better weapon/option at a premium price?

 

No Cloud Saving

Since this is a game I LOVE playing, then I want it on my phone so I can play it on the go. However I also own an iPad that I prefer to game on when I'm at home. I wish I could sync my saved progress to Game Center so I could play between the two devices.

 

No missions

Let's go through my thought process when playing the game for the first time...

 

What's the goal? Defeat the end boss? Oh okay. Alright, Act 2. What's the goal? Defeat the end boss. Oh... I see...

 

Side quests are not uncommon in the RPG world and they help keep players interested in the freemium world so I felt like side quests (i.e. save this person before X time) would've been a natural fit for CQ2. I could come up with hundreds more of level side quests that could randomly generate with the levels and help keep players interested.

 

Side note: if there was a dual currency system perhaps they could award players 1 premium currency for completing the side mission on a particular level.

If there's no excitement to purchase...

The obvious answer is I won't purchase. I clearly liked the game and still didn't purchase anything. That's not good. I mildly enjoy Royal Revolt 2, but I've already spent $10 just after 1 week of playing that game (I know I'm late to that game but it's been on my list to play). I think I understand why the developers chose to design the game the way they did, but I believe they only hurt themselves by not utilizing F2P mechanics. What I do now that they game has already launched? I don't think converting to a paid game would be beneficial now, but I would sell extra levels as IAPs. The currency system is broke, so just sell additional levels or an entire unlock for a discounted price and walk away from this project. Take the lessons learned here and apply it towards the next game. I have no doubt it'll be better that CQ2. 

 

Designing a game to be both fair and profitable is a difficult task. It's much easier for the game's creators to be forgiving than your players so it might be worth having a third party look at your design before launching. If you'd like help in this area feel free to benjamin.sipe@gmail.com" span="" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: 'Times New Roman'; font-size: medium; line-height: normal;" target="_blank"> or hit me up on Twitter!


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