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Teardown: Blades of Brim

Teardown of Blades of Brim. Checking out how to improve its Acquisition, Engagement and Monetization features.

"Endless runners are dead.” I heard this from my friend some time ago when we were talking about monetization and player engagement. I understand his point of perspective as endless runners have simplistic features. This results that only the casual audience has interest to play this type of games. Monetizing the casual audience is generally difficult as they play games just to waste their time. His comment was interesting as it challenged my beliefs on monetization.

I believe that if you can get any engagement to your product, you can monetize it as well. It is not about the genre. It is all about understanding why your players engage with your product. Finding ways to improve the experience to a level that can solve their pains and desires.

So, challenge accepted! Let’s take a look at how we can create higher engagement and monetization for a new endless runner game BRIM.

THE DESIGN

 

First of all, this game has really beautiful aesthetics. For the endless runner genre, I think it was a really creative decision to create many roads that players can run on (not just 3, 6+). This gives players the feeling of vastness and the ability to choose the path they want to run on. You can go high into the sky or stay at the bottom of the levels. You can choose to run in the left, right or sometimes middle of the road. Each road has a different amount of rewards and challenges which makes the player decide on the level of the challenge.

Also implementing optional challenge roads (Dungeons) was a brilliant idea. For players who want to gain the most rewards, this route offers exactly that. Players have to complete the dungeon challenge to gain the reward.

Having the difficulty increase with each level was a good choice. It gives players a more concrete sense of progression while running. It also lets developers create more reliable designs for the difficulty curve. This gives more access to change player’s progression and general experience of the game. By having general view of player’s progression we can also see when is the best time to boost engagement (to avoid player churn) and when to sell opportunity for a sale. It is a must to know at what level players should die or experience failure. Calculating optimal player progression gives a perspective to engage and monetize players much more.

Slashing and smashing enemies is fun! This endless runner is not just about avoiding obstacles. It is all about killing monsters and getting through the enemy army. Game elements are the same as any other endless runner, but the change is in the point of perspective. Attacking over running away influences how the player feels about the game.

The game has a very interesting approach to the progression. Player progression is to gather better items. These items are earned by buying chests or completing dungeons. The game sells only 3 different chests: the iron chest (cheap soft currency, weak items), gold chest (expensive soft currency, average items), and the onyx chest (only premium currency, best items). With that, let's take a deeper look into mechanics itself.

THE ACQUISITION

BRIM relies on the same strategy as its previous title, Subway Surfers. Their goal is to get new players in their game by the oldest marketing strategy in the world: friend recommendations. They only offer facebook connect for players in their game. Players do not have any meaningful ways to connect with each others. The only way is to compete for the best score possible in the rankings. I find a ton of room for effective acquisition features to get new players.

First, you have to make it more meaningful for players to connect with his friends in the game. Otherwise, they feel like they’re playing with the ghosts who uses their friends facebook icons. Give them a way to communicate with each other. This would also fuel more dedication and engagement, but more importantly, it would get more users. You do not have to create complicated friend and group features. One effective way to create a channel of communication between players is to create friend challenges.

Each week, players would be able to challenge his friend (this feature is first introduced by a bot challenging the player). Winner collects the jackpot after a week. Players would select a friend and send him a custom message to declare a challenge.Why custom? This is the channel for players to send inside jokes or friend-specific knowledge. The value here is to bring value of the friendship to the challenge message.

To get acquisition working effectively, we need to find creative ways to engage players. After our players have the incentive to communicate with other players (preferably friends), we can bring down the limitations.

What happens when we set a limitation that the player can only challenge a single person once a month? That means each player needs to have atleast 4-5 friends on their high score list to challenge each others. In this example, this limitation is the primary driver to get new players. Offer players a solution to invite friends into the game. When doing so, he should be instantly rewarded for sending an invitation.Why? It is crucial to avoid creating buyer’s remorse. You are asking players to use their social currency to get players for YOU. Reward him for that, always. Offer them an experience as a reward and they will repeat that transaction again and again.

Another very effective way to get new players is to offer more benefits in game. Let’s say player can open more areas of the game through social shares. BRIM areas are procedurally generated from pre-designed blocks. What if some of the blocks unlock for a certain period of time (24hr) when a player shares a BRIM post on his facebook wall? (These blocks should contain ton of more soft currency in them to make it beneficial to have them) Why a certain period of time? Well, let me ask you, do you want to have 1 social share or 10? Just don’t make it spammy.

Takeaway: Find something that players want to have. Create the importance to have players achieve this. Create limitations. Create funnels to direct players to invite their friends to the game.

THE ENGAGEMENT

The game has a very interesting approach to game progression and retention. Let’s start with the most troublesome.

The main progression model in the game is to buy chests with weak attempt to progress by leveling up. The player has to collect a great amount of currency to buy chests. The progression is well spaced to level up, but it is not very desirable to go for this as chest buying rewards player much more. Chests reward players with items what work as progression in the game. The problem comes with pricing and availability of the chests. The player can from Day 0 get the best items of the game by buying premium currency chests if he has enough currency. Earning 200 premium currency takes 2-4 hours of gameplay. That is not the problem itself. The problem is that players are not able to get best items without premium currency. “For what do I need soft currency for?” The game does not offer any concrete incentive for players to gather soft currency. When players realize this, they only focus on gathering premium currency.

Another problem with this progression model is the model itself. Players do not receive any concrete milestones  for progressing through the game except levels which again, do not feel like an achievement. This is because the only goal is to buy the onyx chest. Why? Because all other chests have only crappy items of no value. This progression model makes 80% of the game’s content worthless for the player. At the moment, the player’s only goal is to gather premium currency to open onyx chests. To solve this issue, game progression must be limited. A simple solution for this is to close down the chest shop. This way, the player’s focus on progression is to level up the character and buy boosts. In the current state, upgrading the lower-value item is useless. This results that players store their soft currency only to buy the best chests available and no money is spent on consumables or upgrading low-tier items.

Currently, items give extra time to the pick-up boosts. The problem here is that players don’t have an incentive to upgrade if the item is not the best one (onyx chest reward only). To change this, the game needs to change these passive bonuses to something more meaningful (start at level 2 difficulty, earn 2x more soft currency, 2x more premium currency found at levels). Anything that the player can see as concrete a connection toward his goal. “I want to have the best items in this game.”

With the chest shop feature, BRIM gets “done” very fast. How? When players buy the first onyx chest, he gets rewarded with one of the best items. Then he realizes how much work it takes to get a full set of items for the character. This results a huge demotivation as he understands that the game offers only grind from now on.

BRIM also needs to change their daily reward system to a more improved one. Currently, it rewards less premium currency than the player can get from a single run. Getting players to return back to the game, developers have to create a very high-value carrot for the players. The habit of returning is not yet there, so make it valuable to return that will build the habit. Good carrots for BRIM can be get soft / premium currency boost if he returns back to the game after 3-day streak+. What this does is that player gets more rewards generally if he returns back to the game. It also creates a scarcity for this boost. If he does not return every day, he loses his boost and has to start over again to build up retention to activate it.

Finally, score. What do we need a score for? What value is a score providing the player? He can compete with friends and that’s it? I would suggest rewarding players more for their achievements. Creating engagement through a challenge by offering chest rewards when a player breaks his previous high score. I know, smart players are able to exploit this feature into great depths. If you consider lack of engagement versus exploitation. It's clear that it is much more costly for the game to have a lack of engagement than having a couple of people exploiting the system.

Takeaway: Find ways to track player engagement. Yes, metrics vary depending on the game. If you can track many metrics that tell you how engaged/addicted your players are, you can then integrate segmented engagement boosts and monetization funnels into greater effectiveness.

THE MONETIZATION

Did I write that correctly? Monez….Ma….Monetization? I don’t think this game has had such design at all. I really do not know where to start with this. There are so many examples that can be built into BRIM so I don't know where to start with.

Let's start with how it is at the moment. The game offers the best items by purchasing chests with premium currency. You grind yourself to death to get enough premium currency to buy onyx chests. This "effort" is to create attractiveness to buy premium currency via real money. And that's it.

First thing what needs to change are pricing and creation of discount coupons. The game has set their pricing quite average resulting for 1 of the best items to cost ~$4.60. The game has 63 (4 mounts, 44 weapons and 15 armor pieces) best items for players to collect. I would do the following changes to get players to buy these desired items. Firstly, raising the price to $14 per item would make players perceive great value in every single premium currency what he gains. (“Ooh this is so valuable!”). The goal is not to try sell items for $14, no. We create new collectible on the levels called “Discount Coupon.” When the player collects this coupon, he will get a discounted price of the offered item. If the player collects many of them in a single run, the price gets lowered significantly. We play here with players scarcity (“What if I do not get a better discounts than this time?”). We set that some runs to generate a lot of coupons, but most runs only have 1 or 0. Making coupon gathering a very special reward from runs that will drive monetization effectively.

Tracking these things by analytics, you can design your monetization much more effectively. Inspecting metrics, you gain enough intel to iterate conversion into optimal results. Just keep in mind, once the player has converted, there is a way to repeat the process. When building a system to repeat a monetization process, beware of buyer’s remorse.

As common knowledge, most F2P players do not convert into paying players. They do not convert even if you would threaten to kidnap their mothers. For this reason, we need to create an ad monetization design for our free players. For this, please do not be cheap and just force them to watch ads. Monetization cannot work if our engagement is broken. We need to think solutions to offer players some goodies for watching an ad. This way it is their own choice to watch ads and does not affect the overall engagement.

Good example ot use is to drive players to watch ads by offering them free consumables for the next run. This is effective because who does not want free stuff + consumables utility lasts ~5min and watching ad takes ~10sec. 10sec for 5min worth of value? Yes, thanks!

But again, this game has a ton of potential to create much more effective engagement and monetization designs. Their core gameplay is pure gold. I have to say that I feel addicted to this game, which means that it is perfect foundation to build a gigantic success.

Takeaway: When you understand what type of player segments enjoy your game, you can create very powerful monetization funnels. Sell a solution for their desires and pains and you have a very effective monetization struture.

If you enjoyed this case study, let your friends know about it as well. Share, like and comment.

Best Regards,
Jero Juujärvi

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Learn more about acquiring, engaging and monetizing your games!
www.acquire-engage-monetize.com

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