The Next Evolution of the Genre: Licensing
As soon as Rage of Bahamut became a success, Ngmoco was ready to move on to new games in the genre -- but its second wave strategy is a bit different. After Bahamut, Cygames built Marvel: War of Heroes for Ngmoco with the same core gameplay. The publisher also has a Transformers CCG in development at a different studio.
Meanwhile, Gree has several high profile licensed offerings in the works. "We are working on titles based on IP that is well known around the world, from anime with Naruto, to console game IP like Metal Gear Solid Social Ops and Final Fantasy, to sports IP like MLB: Full Deck," says Yamagishi, who describes licensing as a "key element" of the company's current strategy.
Namco Bandai even recently announced Tekken Card Tournament, a collectible card game based on its fighting game franchise that blends smartphone play with real-world cards, a step not likely to be taken by purely digital outfits like DeNA and Gree.
But can this sort of IP swapping work? Cygames' Iino says that this sort of reskinning is only possible "as long as there is something innovative and new added to the game." Gree's Nation also believes that it's not merely a matter of finding the right theme. "Sports and card-collection work well together, but success will be determined by how well developers innovate on the card-collection game mechanics."
Finally, Dragon Collection's Horiuchi warns that cloning a successful style of gameplay is far from the most important thing to worry about. "Simply copying the game system will not be the best way," he says. "The key to success is to maintain a fine operation after the service has started."
But is it Just a Fad?
Now we understand why collectible card games are popular, and why publishers are so eager to explore the genre. But will collectible card games turn out to be a fad, or will those strong underpinnings bring permanence?
After all, after the original collectible card game boom of the 1990s, spurred by the breakout success of Magic: The Gathering, Western players turned away from most of the games that popped up, leaving behind all but a few durable hits. Will mobile collectible card games follow the same path?
"It can probably go both ways," says Cygames' Iino. "I believe that there will be a cycle of new styles that may come and go, similar to the consumer gaming market. Rather than just one title, we want to create something like a genre that can be enjoyed over the years."
Iino does note, however, that Cygames is not putting all of its eggs in the collectible card game basket, and has projects in other genres in the works.
His publisher is more bullish. "Mobile social card games are here to stay," says Ngmoco's Scott. "Like any genre, developers will need to continue to evolve mobile social card game design to deliver new and exciting experiences to gamers. If we are successful at doing that, mobile social collectible card games will most definitely be here to stay."
The vibrancy of the Japanese market -- where there are many more physical card games, and where they've also become a successful arcade genre -- makes Gree's Yamagishi optimistic, too. "Before card games popular in mobile social games, card games was and still is a very popular genre in arcade games, so card games seem to have a certain enduring appeal," he says.
Of course, it all comes down to business. "The strong monetization of card-collection games will provide longevity for the genre," says Gree's Araki. "In general, CCGs have about 8x to 10x higher ARPU compared to other genres."
Both Gree and Ngmoco are very excited about those numbers, obviously. Yamagishi and Scott say almost the same thing: as long as the numbers work, the genre stands. But both leave the door open for an exit from collectible card games if the numbers stop working.
"Over the past several years in both Japan and the West, we have learned an enormous amount about how to create great gaming experiences within, and beyond, the collectible card game framework. It is natural for us to continue to evolve and innovate the gaming experience in collectible card games while we also invest in new genres in which we can effectively apply this hard-won knowledge," says Scott.
"The beauty of mobile social is that you can continue monitoring KPIs as you go; the trick is to identify what works and follow that where it leads. We're always working on refining our portfolio of games, so if tastes should change, we're confident we can adapt," Yamagishi says.