August 4, 2021

Monetization, Clash Royale: Case Study

Clash Royale has brought in $3 billion dollars in lifetime player spending over the 4 years it has been in production. The game's creator, Supercell, accomplished this feat without showing a single ad to its players. Every interaction with this game is finely tuned to facilitate driving in-app purchases to the tune of nearly $6.40 in revenue per download (sensortower). Let us examine how Supercell created this massive success.

Key Points

  • $3 billion in lifetime player spending over 4 years (global release in March 2016)
  • $6.40 average revenue per download across all platforms and all markets
  • A mashup between a card collector and a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)
  • Habit-Forming First-Time User Experience: Complete Iteration through core loop in 1.5 mins
  • Free to Play (F2P) business model which does not use ads
  • Monetizes by offering a paid solution to the problem of impatience
  • Monetizes by offering exclusive cosmetics like tower-skins and animated emotes

Quick Gameplay Overview

Clash Royale gameplay consists of players collecting and upgrading cards that represent spells, buildings and units which can be used in 1V1 or 2V2 PVP Tower-Rush Battles.

Cards are obtained from Chests which are given as a reward for winning a battle.

Each card has a set ’Elixir’ cost to it allowing the player to play a finite number of cards at any given time. Cards are played by dragging them into the battle arena where they are set free to damage their opponent’s units and buildings.

A win is accomplished when a player eliminates all three of their opponent’s towers. Alternatively, when the battle timer runs out, a winner is determined based on the number of the player’s buildings destroyed VS the number of the opponent’s buildings destroyed. There are additional tie-breaking mechanics that are a bit out of scope to this discussion. A ’draw’ in Clash Royale is also possible.

Check out the following video of a battle in Clash Royale to get a better understanding of how the Gameplay works:

Core Game Loop:

  1. Battle PVP 1V1 or 2V2 with Cards to earn hard (i.e. gems; hard to obtain) and soft currency (i.e. gold; more abundant, more easily obtained) and Chests
  2. Unlock Chests to Obtain Cards or soft currency
  3. Use Cards and soft currency to level up existing cards to make them more powerful.
  4. Use Hard Currency to avoid time-gate on chests, obtain soft currency, Special Chests, and Rare Cards

First Time User Experience

Battle

When a player first installs the game, Supercell immediately drops the player into a tutorial Battle which is impossible to lose. The AI opponent does not play a single card, the goal here is to get the player to understand the simple mechanics of deploying troop-cards and spell-cards. Speech bubbles appear to come from the AI’s main tower to explain what to do and give positive, rewarding feedback such as ’You’re Learning Fast!’

Disclaimer

Following the first battle, the player is shown a disclaimer notification letting the player know that ’Clash Royale is free to play, but you can speed up progress with in-app purchases […].’

Chest Reward & Unlocking

After the legal mumbo-jumbo is out of the way, the player receives their first reward – a wooden chest! A tutorial guides the user to tap the chest to begin the process of unlocking it. After a 5-second count-down timer runs its course, the user is directed to ’open the chest’ which triggers their experience of the second main hook of the game: the gacha mechanics of opening chests.

Open Chest

The experience of opening chests is very well crafted. Music and sound FX that one may expect to hear in a casino when they have won big-time begin to play. The Chest animates into view, then animates from a closed state to an open state while pretty particle effects add to the grandeur of what you have accomplished. The user taps the screen to reveal each successive reward with even more casino winner audio clips and visual effects emphasizing what a feat you have accomplished.

Upgrade Card UX Transition

After the player finishes collecting the loot from their first chest, they are instructed to switch over to a screen where they can see the benefits to the loot they collected. The design for unveiling this screen is very intentional – it starts at the bottom of a scrollable list of ’not found’ cards and animates all the way up to the top where your currently ’found’ cards reside. From here the user is instructed to upgrade their first card using the cards they obtained from the chest.

Upgrading the First Card

Upgrading the card results in a similar experience to opening a chest. The UI fades away, more casino-win music and sound clips play, and particle effects add eye candy as well. An animation depicts card count going down then another animation shows the card leveling up. Original card stats pop up one at a time along with the added-stat bonuses given as a result of leveling up the card.

Back to Battle

After the player has upgraded their card, they are directed back to the original menu and instructed to start the next battle. There is a total of 5 battles (4 additional) that are essentially tutorial and practice. The same loop occurs: Battle, Receive Chest, Unlock Chest and wait 5 seconds (if you want), Open Chest, Upgrade (if you want), and Battle again.

Core Game Loop: 5 Iterations in 10 mins or less

What is notable about the first-time user experience is that the first iteration through the Core Game Loop occurs within the first minute and a half of installing and opening the game. Within the first 10 minutes of installing the game, the user has been incrementally introduced to the core game mechanics and has had a chance to iterate through the complete core game loop at least 5 times. This is very powerful when it comes to creating habits in players which serve to drive retention.

Look at the full first-time user experience:

Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, explains habit formation as a three-step loop: Cue, Routine, and Reward. The more habit-forming-loop iterations one goes through, the more deeply engrained the habit becomes. With Clash Royale, the cues likely include push-notifications and the battle button. Routines may consist of opening the game to check for unlocked chests and battling to get more chests. Finally, the rewards: discovering new and rare cards, obtaining new chests, leveling up cards, leveling up your crown towers, and even some social feedback likely contribute to what players come to crave from this game.

Free to Play Model

Truly Free to Play (F2P)

Clash Royale is a truly Free to Play (F2P) game. Opponent Matching is very well balanced in that the matches always feel fair. This is essential in differentiating a Pay to Play game from a F2P game. There are absolutely no limits to the amount you can play the game either, aside from second chances at ’Events’ which require hard currency. On a final note, contrary to many F2P models, Clash Royale does not use ads at all in the game, it relies 100% on in-app purchases.

Paid Solution to Impatience

A major monetization strategy Supercell uses is to offer a paid solution to the problem of impatience. Its design accomplishes this in three major ways. First, it places a time-gate on opening those chests. Second, it limits the number of Chests a player can store at any given time. Finally, it carefully controls the allotment of hard currency, soft currency, and cards.

Time-Gate on Chest Opening

Each chest has an amount of time needed to unlock it. The training chests (wooden chests) only take 5 seconds to unlock while the rarer (and more value-packed) chests can take up to 24 hours to unlock. Players can only unlock one chest at a time unless they pay for a season pass whereby, they can queue up to two chests to unlock. Players may also spend hard currency to instantly unlock a chest, the amount they need to spend corresponds to how much time is left on the unlocking of the chest.

Chests:

  • Wood (tutorial Chests)
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Magical
  • Giant
  • Epic
  • Legendary

Limited Chest Slots

Every battle that a player wins results in a reward in the form of a new chest but only if the player has an available Chest Slot. Players are given a total of 4

chest slots to stockpile new chests. The limited chest slots combined with the time-gate on opening chests, results in a strong urge to spend the hard currency to bypass the time-gate. Opening a chest opens a chest slot which allows players to avoid missing out on rewards from battle wins. There is an element of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) at work here.

Slow Allotment of Currency & Cards

Without spending any money at all, a player would likely need to play about a month or two to accumulate 100K gold to upgrade one of their 8 battle deck cards to level 13. Level 13 card-upgrades also require 5K collected cards. Cards are distributed from chests by randomly selecting a few card types from the pool of 100+ available cards. Players can purchase up to 5 daily-random cards from the store with hard or soft currency.

Paid Exclusive Cosmetics

Because Clash Royale is a multiplayer game, cosmetics are another important driver of monetization. Cosmetics do not impact gameplay, so Supercell can offer them without breaking its F2P model. Players enjoy being able to express themselves while playing other players and this desire is exploited to drive revenue. A player may obtain tower skins and custom emotes by using hard currency or by purchasing a season battle pass.

Conclusion

Supercell has done a phenomenal job in designing Clash Royale to hook & retain its players. The devil in the details are executed with precision when it comes to producing ample opportunities for monetization. Careful study of this game is sure to aid anyone interested in replicating Supercell’s success. How will you use this as an example to produce the next hit?

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