The World Doesn’t Need Another Card Battle Game (Gamasutra)

Guys, it’s not 2011: The world does not need another card battle game.

Cruising around at the latest Pocket Gamer event last night, within 1 hour I randomly bumped into different folks from 3 different companies launching 4 card battle games. I know of at least 2 active RFPs for card battle and I also know of at least 3 others in the works as well. These are just the ones I personally know of…

Do we really need another 20-30 card battle games (for the U.S. market) to launch in the next 2-3 months?


Why all of the fuss about card battle games?

Well, since the Japanese mobile gaming market is like 90%+ card battle game revenue, many of the large Japanese game companies like GREE, DeNA, and CyberAgent assumed the U.S. market would follow suit. These companies spent very aggressively to acquire users in a bid for market share ahead of what they assumed would be a U.S. market that follows the Japanese market.

They were wrong.

Everyone was talking about Rage of Bahamut and Legend of the Cryptids when they first launched as those games topped the charts in 2011/2012 and as the companies associated with those games touted extremely high monetization (well rumored and talked about ARPDAU of $1+ and LTV of $5+).

The problem is that ARPDAU does not equal profitability. The assumption that many/most of the card battle games are profitable given high monetization ignores the relevance of retention. Monetization AND retention are the Yin and Yang proxies of LTV.

I’ve seen the early marketing budgets for Rage (don’t ask)… it was pure craziness. How can you spend $8-$10 in CPI and expect a profit?

The strategy must have been to lock up the card battle user base for the U.S. market and thereby not only acquire users for the first card battle game, but for future card battle games as well: to spread user cost over multiple products. This is actually a pretty good strategy but who’s outcome at least for now seems uncertain.

Here in the U.S., the market did not follow the Japanese market. The dominating games in our space are not card battle games but a greater mix of genres such as (obviously) puzzle games (Candy Crush) and tower defense games (Clash of Clans).

We’ve seen this movie before. On consoles, in Japan the biggest hits are fantasy RPGs while in the U.S. the biggest hits are sci-fi/modern war FPS’s (first person shooters).

The answer to the initial question is that all of the fuss about card battle games is a matter of mobile game executives not understanding our industry well enough and misinterpreting our current industry situation:

  1. Bad assumption: Card battle games are profitable. Actually, very few in the U.S. are. Those that have been profitable have been greatly aided by strong brands/Apple love.
  2. Bad strategy: Trying to acquire a user base where there has already been massive amounts of money spent to acquire at ridiculously high prices is pretty silly.
  3. Bad market read: There is a massive glut in the industry and more coming for card battle games (at least for the first and second generation kinds of games).

Maybe a good question to ask here is, can your company survive management that builds game designs around a strategy that is fundamentally flawed and a strategy that any reasonable person who spends a little bit of time studying our industry would likely avoid?

High level, macro-simplistic thinking without fundamental understanding of nuance kills…

How to Win?:

So let me be clear here. I’m not saying no new card battle game can be successful, but I am saying it will be extremely difficult and a strategy to compete in the first and second generation type of card battle games is likely not good enough. Sadly that’s most of what I’m seeing.

Here’s what I mean by the generations of card battle games and a simplistic view of the genre’s evolution:

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 2.48.22 PM

If you’re thinking of creating another me too card battle game just don’t do it. Having said that, to have any chance of success, I believe new card battle games must do 1 or hopefully more of the following:

  1. Brand: Have a strong brand (e.g., Transformers, Marvel, etc. to lower customer acquisition cost, can also lower cost structure by re-using an existing engine)
  2. +1 Design: Add a compelling +1 game design (e.g., Battlestone – from Zynga what?? Finally getting innovative)
    • Areas to potentially improve: Social, Battle System, Equipment, GVG, Genre Mash-up (e.g., Puzzle & Dragon with Match 3), etc.
  3. Simplification: The first and second generation card battle games are still too hard core. The magic of what Supercell did with Clash of Clans was to simplify the more complex versions of its genre (e.g., Backyard Monsters and Edgeworld on Facebook) to appeal to a broader audience (as well as with appropriate art style, etc.)

Even then there remains the key obstacles mentioned above to this category. Think twice!

Please Think Twice:

As we will no doubt see the coming avalanche of card battle games launched in the next few months, please think twice before launching yet another in the category.

What we need in this industry is more artistry and less distribution: more vertical less horizontal.

Let’s create something new and stop creating 50 flavors of the old…

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