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The Rise of the Mobile Collectible Card Game

February 14, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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Robert Tsao
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Games like Rage of Bahamut are the equivalent of taking a walking tour through Pyongyang: feel free to follow the path and go at your own pace, or hey, do some exploring for yourself... also, you can't deviate from the path, please do not explore, and please, do follow the guide's pace or there will be problems.

So, yes, this genre is a fad. No, this genre has no real staying power in the truest sense. Nobody working in the games industry has ever said, "well, I played a ton of Facebook and free iOS games a few years ago and I just knew I wanted to make games like this." There is no room for innovation in this "genre" because any sort of real, player-expressive innovation would free players from the tightly wound compulsion loops and social-networking-as-rewarding-punishment that form the backbone of the super-impulsive IAP that games like these facilitate.

To do so would effectively spell an end to the genre, because like Araki said, monetization is the key to longevity of the game. "The key to our success is making money."


Jesse Tucker
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I've played a ton of Hero Academy (made by industry vets), which is a well-done free mobile tactical game. As a AAA dev, I would love to work on a game like that. I've also been playing the free collectible Highgrounds from Spry Fox in its early form. These games are both innovative and enjoyable to play. I'm also looking forward to Card Hunter, which is a free collectible game being developed by a bunch of ex-Irrational folks. You can't say that industry veterans aren't interested in these types of games.
Free mobile games are the flavor of the year. The form is currently being flooded with a bunch of small studios that are making their first game as a free mobile game. Once the dust settles and the new hot game style appears, this genre won't end - it will become established.

Robert Tsao
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@ Jesse

I'm also looking forward to Card Hunter as well, and I do think there is potential in card games as both a genre and a conceit on mobile platforms.

When I say collectible card games lacking innovation and staying power, I'm referring to "card games" specifically in the context of this article. I do agree industry veterans such as Jon Chey are interested in the potential of card game mechanics, and I doubt they would ever create something like Rage of Bahamut. I've played Rage of Bahamut (which iirc is a clone of Konami's "Dragon Collection"), as well as all of its clones such as Legend of the Cryptids and Reign of Dragons.

The fact that these post-RoB games aren't even trying to hide their clone-niness aside, what irks me about the general design of these games is the fact that they're missing out on what makes CCGs truly special in the same way gamification is reviled as distilling games into badges, achievements, and leaderboards.

Magic: The Gathering and CCGs like it (RIP L5R) are built on player expression through customization. Building a new deck around either a super-aggressive strategy or a control/combo strategy is half the fun of the game. RoB and games like it, on the other hand, are focused on the "chase" element of CCGs. The only expression to speak of in the game is basically sifting out a personal deck of playing cards and replacing all the non-face cards with Kings and Aces; it's a gussied-up version of war.

I have confidence that Card Hunter will be more of the former as opposed to the latter, but whether it is profitable or not remains to be seen. Here's to their hopeful success.

E Zachary Knight
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I played Rage of Bahamut shortly after getting my phone. I gave it up after a while because the energy requirements needed to advance outpaced my energy regeneration and I was no longer able to advance at an interesting rate. It started out pretty good. I was able to get through a chapter in a single sitting. However, after about 6-8 chapters, it started to take 2 or 3 sittings to make it through a chapter. Such energy requirements are what put me off the current crop of social games.

Other than that, the core gameplay of RoB was quite nice. I enjoyed playing the actual game. I just wish the pace of the game was consistent.

I like collectible card games and am currently working on one. You can do many wonderful things with them. Even just card games are fun. They don't have to be collectible. For instance, while the physical ccg market has faded away with only a handful of top players left, the card game genre is alive and well with a lot of great games such as Bang!, Dominion and many other gaining in popularity. Perhaps that might be a new direction video card games take.

Fredrik Liliegren
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I think the genre will evolve like any other to start offering a deeper engagement than just button pushing and stat increasing, when strategy becomes a deeper element in progression then i think the genre will flourish. We hope to accomplish this with our own title coming to Ipad soon but already available on the web here:

Kevin Carpenter
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I'm a bit puzzled by this game's success, as I gave it a try and, yes, the art is kind of neat (certainly plenty of fan service) and it was very easy to get into, but there's no depth to it. When I heard it compared to Magic the Gathering, I was expecting something more than just a fantasy version of War.

It's classic bait and switch fremium design, where it lulls you in with free and easy energy and progress, but once you hit a certain point it becomes very slow indeed, unless you start throwing down some cash. I really can't abide games that do that, and the better free to play games don't. They provide a cohesive experience that they then let you expand upon if you're willing to pay.

tony oakden
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except the better F2P usually don't make enough money to be viable. Bahamut does make money which is why it's structured that way. I hate games like this too but developers are finding out the hard way that giving away a game which is fun to play, no matter what extra payment options you offer on top, is financial suicide.

Keith Nemitz
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I was impressed by Shadow Era. I thought they did freemium 'right' for a card game. Unfortunately, I recently played the MtG app and was reminded of its greater play depth. Now I play neither. S.E. is a little too shallow for me, and MtG also reminded me of why I dislike freemium.

don synstelien
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My team and I created an engine for these types of games a few years ago. We're small and unfunded, so it took us longer to get to market than it should have, but we've always seen the value in the idea of a mobile CCG.

If you get a chance, check out Plan X -

We're still working and tweaking. The interview subject is correct that ongoing support is the biggest thing that people care about. We've done holiday specials, special card packs, events, etc. It's a lot of work.

GameViewPoint Developer
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Nice artwork, I would of thought it would of been better to be F2P though?

Steven Tu
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I'm utterly surprised by the lack of mention of one of the best CCGs on a mobile platform - Assassin's Creed: Recollection. It was a big name title, made by a big company (Ubi, of course). But it came and left in the space of a year - the gameplay, mechanics and balance were fantastic, and harkens to a real-time Magic, with so much more depth and satisfaction than Shadow Era.

But the lack of support from marketing and business left it floundering despite having an organically grown fanbase, and while the servers are still on and the fans are still playing, it seems to have been abandoned, with an AC3 expansion that was promised never ever seeing the light of day.

If anything, this has left a sour taste in the mouths of ardent fans who spent real money in the F2P model and will make future forays into the model fraught with resistance, unfortunately - for both the developers and players.

Alexander Symington
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This genre seems very at risk from the 'strip mining' effect that we've seen collapse Zynga's revenues. Like Farmville, Dragon Collection and its ilk have gameplay of very little interest or depth, and are heavily dependent on aggressive Skinnerian systems for retention. Without evolving into something more playable (Puzzle and Dragons is a start, but only a start) there is only a limited number of first-time users to cycle through.

Chris Roberts
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Well I'm hoping it's got some staying power as I've just released my new game Shelter on the Windows Phone Marketplace.

Now mine doesn't quite tap into the social aspects to the same extent, and it's not free to play, but hopefully it can be viewed as innovative and build up enough of a fan base to let me keep making games. I say innovative as it's a single-player assymetric CCG, using dice rolls and simple rules to provide a challenging opponent with some randomness and unpredictability.

It was inspired by the idea of combining the rich and deep strategic duelling mechanics of CCGs like Magic with the quick play style of castle defence games.

Take a look if you're interested:
Marketplace -
Trailer -

I'll be porting to iOS, Android and PC via MonoGame shortly.

Paul Johnson
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I certainly hope the bubble doesn't burst just yet, we have one coming out in a couple of months. We're trying to raise the bar a bit in terms of what actually happens in the battles though.