Many different genre of games are now using Events: card battlers (Marvel War of Heroes, Rage of Bahamut), 4X games (Kingdom of Camelot, Crime city), and even Puzzles and Dragons. We also use events in a game that I was in charge of, Ayakashi, an Anime themed Card Battler, which became a sleeper hit at Zynga. Events are proven to drive revenue (often multiple times the revenue of non-event period), increases Concurrent User Return Rate, Reactivation Rate, and overall Engagement. The goal of this article is to give game designers some insight on how to best effectively leverage this mechanism in their games. (Pictures below are some example events from different games.)
Definition of Event is a limited time content/activity for online games. Events are meta-games build on top the existing core mechanisms of the game. The most common core mechanisms in many games are Questing and Battle.
Questing is usually the main PVE mechanic or story mode that you complete one stage and move on to the next. In most F2P games, questing requires energy (in addition to skills, lucky, etc) as a resource. The energy can take many different forms in different games: some are “lives;” some are “health;” and some are your “troops”. The energy is consumed as you questing and usually takes time to regenerate.
Most games also have a battle system that you either battle against an in game character (Boss) or against another player (PVP). Generally, most games require resources for these type of battle as well: sometimes it is basically energy, most of the games create a separate resource type. Without loss of generality, let’s call it Mana for the purposes of this article.
On the foundation of these few core mechanism of Battle and Questing (often masked by different fictions by different games), there are three common types of Events.
Tower: A set of time limited PVE content, where player’s goal is to reach as far as you can in this content.
PVP: The goal is to encourage players to battle against each other. This can take most variations, such as Gathering Points, Resources, or King of Hill. An additional dimension can be added through Guild PVP battles.
Raid: The goal is to battle a Boss that only appears during the time period of the Event.
With all types of Events, the backbone of revenue source through Events is through recovery items for Energy or Mana. But to drive users to spend on recovery items, we must design the events carefully. There are four pillars of event design that one must keep in mind:
Rewards are the reason people play the game, the rewards should be tied to the core loop of your game. For example, in Ayakashi, the core goal is collecting cards, therefore the rewards should be cards. In Ruby Blast (a causal match 3 game), we did global competition events as well, it didn’t do as well, because the rewards are Coins, (free currency), and there is no pinch for it in that game initially.
As a side note, many player see Events as a cheaper way of obtaining desirable rewards than conventional means (such as Rare Cards) by putting in some elbow grease. This is one of the reasons that this drives recovery item spend.
Besides making rewards compelling, we also need to structure the rewards properly.
First approach is structure based on key players profile: have rewards for each of your players types: Beginners, Engaged Players, Extremely loyal players/regular players, and Whales. For example: In tower event, even if a player just joined on the day of the event, as he participate in the event, he should be easily reach the first good reward. This way, he’ll set goals for next time to reach even higher floor. On the other hand, have rewards designed for your whales also, they bring in the most money.
Second approach is structure rewards based on timing. Rewards should be giving out during the event and at end of the Event. This way, the player is engaged during the entire duration. If you give out event during the Event, it is an opportunity for the player to brag while event is happening. It encourage others to participate.
Since Events are basically meta-games, and, like all games, each Event needs to have goals. In addition, players need to feel progression towards those goals. For some event types, the progression is quite natural: Tower Event: Climbing the tower floors; Raid Event: Raid Boss increases in level as you beat him. For PVP events, it gets trickier. Therefore, most PVP events are based on accumulation of points. However, it isn’t enough to create progression on the high level, it is important to create progression at lower level mechanisms also, which I’ll illustrate using two case studies:
Case Study with Design Goal: Adding a wondering boss mechanism to a Tower Event to add interest, variety and more rewards.
- Design 1: As you progress through the tower, you have a random chance of meeting a wondering boss. If you beat the wondering boss, you have 10% chance of obtaining it as a card.
- Design 2: The encounter of the boss is also random. If you beat the wondering boss, you have to trade 100 tokens to obtain him as a card. If you don’t have enough, by the act of beating the boss, you get 10 tokens.
Even though it is equally likely to get the reward in both designs, Design 2 is better because of progression. In Design 1, if user fails to obtain the wondering boss couple times, he’ll think the probability is rigged against him, and stop playing. In Design 2, after the user get some of the 10 tokens, the user’ll be actively seeking out to find the wondering boss, hoping to make more progress.
Case Study with Design Goal: Leaderboard for an Event in a game where each game session is fighting against hordes of enemies.
- Design 1: The ranking is based on the number of kills you did in the best single best session during the event period.
- Design 2: The ranking is based on accumulated number of kills in all sessions during the event period.
- Design 3: The ranking is based on accumulated tokens. The tokens are dropped randomly as you kill the enemies, but drop rate increases as you kill more waves of enemies in a single session.
In Design 1, if a player achieves a high score in one session, there is no incentive for him to continue to play more. Therefore, he won’t pay for recovery items. For players with limited skill, he can never achieve higher than another player, he’ll be discouraged and not participate either. In Design 2 or Design 3, even if a player have lower level or lower skill, the he would feel that he can grind (perhaps spend more on recovery items to play more often) and progress up the leaderboard. In Design 3, you can more carefully balance it so you reward players for skills as well as grind.
There is a natural day to day urgency in the fact the reward and content are for a limited time of the Event period itself. However, that urgency isn’t enough. This is the biggest mistake new designers assumes about events. The more important urgency is the session to session. There must be a reason or need for players to immediate replay after a session or user will not pay for recovery items for energy or mana.
Examples of Urgency:
- In most tower events, it is tuned so that you probably can barely reach the top if you always play as soon as your energy recovers, if you don’t sleep. Therefore, you must play as soon as energy recovers. If you missed it, then you’ll have to pay for energy recovery.
- In some events, the number of rewards is limited for all global users. It is first come first serve.
- In some raid events, if you encounter a Raid Boss, you have X amount of time to beat it. Or else the Raid Boss runs away, and you have to start from a much lower boss. The time allowed usually is not enough for your Mana to recover without paying.
- In a PVP or Raid event, if you beat someone, if you chose to fight again within the next X minutes, your get Y% attacks boost. But that X minutes isn’t enough time for your Mana to recover.
In all these examples, the urgency is created for user to constantly playing when able and use recovery items for Mana or Energy to continue playing.
Almost all events have leaderboards, and give out rewards based on the leaderboard rankings. The competition is what drives revenue from whales. However, several qualities make some leaderboard better than others:
- Players aren’t safe in their leadership position. It can even change at last minute.
- Players need to come back and check their position all the time.
- Players feel like they have a chance by simply play more.
Case Study: Trying to design a leaderboard feature for a tower event.
- Design 1: The first person to reach the top of the tower. It is a race to the top.
- Design 2: The ranking based on collecting tokens. The tokens are randomly dropped as you climb the tower and beat the bosses.
In Design 1, as soon as the whale users reach the top there is no more incentive to continue play and pay. Furthermore, for regular users, once they see other whales already reach the top, they will become discouraged from continuing playing as well. In Design 2, the normal user will feel like they would have a chance if they just grind a bit more. It will force whales to constantly check and maintain their rankings to the last minute.
Once the main event mechanisms are created, there is an opportunity to create virtual items to help users exceed along the way. Ideally, the virtual items should be designed to help you reach the goal rather than give the goal away. Here are some examples:
- In Raid Events, items to increase our attack power against Raid Boss.
- Big bundle of Energy during tower Events.
- Items that increase the chance of encounter with Raid Bosses.
Market / Promotion of Events
Since Events occur during a set time period, it is important to promote the event to increase the funnel. There are many tools or questions to consider:
- Discoverability and entry point: How easy is it for Users to find the event once it started?
- Pre-Announce Events for a certain time period before the Event. A/B Test to find the optimal time period.
- Notifications: if your game is on mobile, you can consider Push Notifications.
- Give out free items for the next Event.
Event is a powerful tool used in many Mid-Core games to drive engagement and revenue. Event ultimately is a meta game, it doesn't replace the core loop or compensate for the weak core mechanism of your game. While it is powerful, design considerations must be put in place before an Event can be successful. As you design the event, always think about the reason why users would pay. On the other hand, make sure all users can participate and getting rewards regardless if they are payers or beginners.