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November 17, 2022

Monetization in Clash Royale: A Case Study

Originally Published 8/4/2021

Clash Royale has brought in $3 billion in lifetime player spending over the four years it has been in production. 

Supercell, the game’s creator, accomplished this feat without showing a single ad to its players. Every interaction with this mobile game is finely tuned to drive in-app purchases generating around $6.40 in revenue per download (sensortower). 

Let us examine how Supercell created this massive success.

Key Points

  • Generated $3 billion in lifetime player spending over four years (released 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: Able to get through core gameplay loop in 1.5 mins
  • Free to Play (F2P) business model with no ads
  • Generates purchases by offering a paid solution to player impatience
  • Further monetizes by offering exclusive cosmetics like tower skins and animated emotes

Quick Gameplay Overview

Clash Royale gameplay consists of players collecting and upgrading cards representing spells, buildings, and units used in 1V1 or 2V2 Player versus Player (PVP) Tower-Rush Battles.

Cards are obtained from Chests. Chests are given to reward players for winning a battle.

Each card has a set “Elixir” cost to it, limiting the player to a fixed number of cards at any 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 player “wins” by eliminating 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 also tie-breakers and the ability to reach a “draw.”

Watch the video below to get a better understanding of the gameplay:

Core Game Loop:

  1. Battle PVP 1V1 or 2V2 with Cards to earn gems (hard currency or difficult-to-obtain paid currency), gold (soft currency or easy-to-obtain currency), and Chests
  2. Unlock Chests to Obtain Cards or gold
  3. Use Cards and gold to level up existing cards to make them more powerful
  4. Use gems to avoid the time-gate on chests, obtain gold, special chests, and rare cards
Image displaying clash royales core game loop starting with battle pvp, moving to unlock chests, going to using cards and soft currency, then using hard currency, and repeating the process again.

First-Time User Experience

Battle

Image illustrating the Clash Royale play field with three blue towers on the bottom and three red towers on the top

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 is to get the player to understand the simple mechanics of deploying troop and spell cards. Speech bubbles appear to come from the AI’s main tower to explain what to do and give positive 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 unlocking it. After a 5-second count-down, the user is directed to ’open the chest,’ which triggers the second main hook of the game: the gacha mechanics of opening chests.

Open Chest

The experience of opening chests is well crafted. 

Music and sound FX that one may expect to hear in a casino when they win the jackpot begins to play. The Chest animates into view, then transitions from a closed state to an open state while particle effects add to the spectacle of what you have accomplished. 

The user taps the screen to reveal each successive reward with even more casino winner audio and visual effects to emphasize 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 to a screen where they can see the benefits of the loot they collected. 

The design for unveiling the benefits is very intentional. It starts at the bottom of a scrollable list of “not found” cards and animates to the top where your currently “found” cards reside. From here, the user is instructed to upgrade their first card using cards they obtained from the chest.

Upgrading the First Card

Upgrading the card is a similar experience to opening a chest. 

The UI fades away. More casino jackpot music and sounds play, and particle effects add eye candy to the experience. An animation shows the card count going down, while another 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. 

A total of 5 battles serve as both tutorial and practice. The same loop occurs: Battle, Receive Chest, Unlock Chest, Wait 5 Seconds (if you want), Open Chest, Upgrade (if you wish), then Battle again.

Core Game Loop: 5 Iterations in 10 Mins or Less

The most notable thing about the first-time user experience is that you can get through the core gameplay loop 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 slowly introduced to the core game mechanics. The player has had a chance to go through the core game loop at least five times. 

Completing core loops is very powerful when it comes to creating habits in players, which serves to drive retention.

Full video of the 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 loops 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 include opening the game to check for unlocked chests and battling to get more. Finally, the Rewards consist of discovering new and rare cards, obtaining chests, leveling up cards and crown towers, and social feedback likely contribute to what players crave from this game.

Image illustrating the habit forming loop of Cue, leads to routine, leads to reward, and then repeats.

Free-to-Play Model

Truly Free to Play (F2P)

Clash Royale is a true Free to Play (F2P) game. Opponent Matching is well-balanced in that the matches always feel fair. Appropriate balancing is essential in telling the difference between a Pay to Play (or pay-to-win) game from a F2P game. 

There are no limits to the amount you can play the game, aside from second chances at “Events,” which require gems (or hard currency). 

On a final note, contrary to many F2P models, Clash Royale does not use ads in the game; it relies 100% on in-app purchases.

Paid Solution to Impatience

A major monetization strategy Supercell utilizes is offering a paid solution to the impatience problem. 

Its design accomplishes this in three significant ways. First, it places a time gate on opening the chests. Second, it limits the number of Chests a player can store at any 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 open, 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, where they can queue up to two chests to unlock. Players may also spend hard currency to unlock a chest instantly. The amount they need to spend corresponds to how much time is left to open the chest.

Chests Types:

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

Limited Chest Slots

Every battle 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 and the time gate on opening chests result in a strong urge to spend money on hard currency to bypass the time gate. Opening a chest frees a chest slot, allowing players to avoid missing out on rewards from battle wins. For players with full slots, the sense of FOMO (or fear of missing out) begins to grow.

Screenshot that shows the chest unlocking system with limited chest slots.

Slow Allotment of Currency & Cards

To level up one of their eight battle deck cards to level 13, you need 100k gold and 5k collected cards.

To achieve Level 13 without spending real money, a player would likely need to play for about a month or two in real-time to build up their resources. 

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 critical monetization driver. Cosmetics do not impact gameplay, so Supercell can offer them without breaking its F2P model. 

Players enjoy expressing themselves while playing against other players. This desire is exploited to drive revenue. A player may obtain tower skins and custom emotes by using hard currency or purchasing a season battle pass.

Conclusion

Supercell has done a phenomenal job designing Clash Royale to hook & retain its players. Each of its monetization strategies is executed with precision.

Careful study of this game will aid anyone interested in replicating Supercell’s success. How will you use Clash Royale’s example to produce your next hit?

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