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Unabridged Comments – Are Digital Cards Games a Bubble? [Gamasutra]

From time to time, I get requests from publications to comment on specific topics. It is quite common for these comments to be cut or summarised to fit with the way the article is written, but it also means that some things are not said. However, as the time to write those comments has been spent, I feel like they should be shared. The original articles are interesting in their own rights as usually multiple persons are weighing in the topic, so it seems quite complementary. It can also be an opportunity for me to add to the comments, in light of the other contributions.
I want to kick off this practice by sharing the whole of my comments done for the Gamasutra article on Digital Collectible Card games (I am sharing my full comments with their blessing).
Article premise – Here is the frame provided for the article:
  • There has been a rise of digital collectible card games for the past couple of years (and a recent acceleration)
  • Specific question – Why is the trend is exploding now (and if I’ve seen a rise in crowdfunded CCG projects, both physical and digital)?
  • Specific question – Do I think this will be a short term fad/bubble, or do I think CCGs have staying power on these platforms?
  • Specific question – What’s the draw for developers and publishers to push so aggressively into this space?
And these are my unabridged comments:

Specifically looking at CCG that were crowdfunded, I think there are very interesting trends that many can learn from. CCG on Kickstarter have done historically incredibly well.

First, you can consider SolForge, a free-to-play CCG that raised $429,000 on Kickstarter in September 2012 ) – when free-to-play games are notoriously difficult to fund on the platform. That in itself was a sign of a real hunger for this type of game at the time.

Then, less than a year later, in June 2013, you have Hex that managed to raise more than $2.2m , again on a free-to-play promise, using the Magic the Gathering nostalgia (or enthusiasm as Magic is still around I guess) as well as the promise of an MMO experience alongside the card game elements.

[For reference, the two campaigns mentioned]

 

Kickstarter has always been a good place to get interest for games in an under served niche. At the moment, I think the niche is no longer under served, Hearthstone has taken care of this. The way I look at it is the way the Fable Fortune Kickstarter campaign went – it had a very strong IP behind it, it had excellent media coverage and reach, but it didn’t transform into a home run, far from it. Before it got cancelled, the campaigned had raised £58k ($76k ) in 20 days. That’s a lot less than SolForge did, and I don’t believe this is due to crowdfunding being past its prime. There are still many projects funded every month. Fable Fortune was unfortunate to be in a segment where there doesn’t seem to be an unfulfilled promise. The fact that the Fable brand is not particularly associated with this type of gameplay didn’t help, but I am certain than had it been released prior to Hearthstone, it would have found an audience.

That’s the risk I see in the current CCG craze – like when WOW released and brought the MMO genre to the forefront, I am afraid that the actual demand for this type of game is mostly fulfilled by Hearthstone. I personally am not very fond of it, and find Magic more appealing, but Magic, while having a dedicated audience, has always had a weak presence on the digital front – Hearthstone is showing the potential that was untapped (and yes, hearthstone is also a much more accessible game, widening even further the reach it has and its audience).

CCGs will stay, and I think there are room for multiple titles that will garner more diversity than in the MMO genres for instance, but we are not in a space where there will be a lot of titles either. I think like in the MOBA space, you will have 3 to 4 strong titles doing very well, half a dozen being profitable and having a sustainable presence, but beyond that, I have a hard time seeing this being a genre that has slew of new titles cycling every year.

I see the draw for publishers and studios – these games are less costly to put together initially, with the promise of very high returns, but there are also very dependent on building a sustainable audience. To anyone keen on tackling this kind of game, I would encourage them to look at the waves of CCGs that sprung from the Magic the Gathering success back in the 90s, and to consider how many (or how few) of them have actually had any enduring existence.

Media Monitor – Q1 2015 review

In an attempt to go further with the media monitor analysis, I will change the rhythm to a quarterly review schedule, in addition to Special Editions whenever a major event has occurred like the latest GDC one. Now, because I haven’t done an analysis for December 2014, you will get a 4 months special Quarterly review.

December 2014

Platforms

12_Platforms - Number of Articles - DECember 2014

 

We talked about it extensively, in December, Sony played a master move with the Playstation Experience.

This is very apparent in the month data, with the Playstation brand getting more than 80% more mentions than the Xbox one. It pushed December above June as the best month for media awareness for Sony, despite the incredible coverage that E3 is getting.

Games

12_Games - Total Reach - DECEMBER 2014

Grand Theft Auto lead the charge, fresh off a November release on the PS4 and Xbox One, and the upcoming PC version in early 2015.

It is interesting and unusual to see The Crew, a game with a lower profile than many of the others in the above ranking. The early December release may have helped, it is the only listed game that released that month.

Finally, last note on my part, is the excellent performance of Hearthstone. The Goblins vs. Gnomes set was the first significant beat that month, followed by the release of the Android version, that also received extensive coverage (about 280 articles just on this).

January 2015

 

Platforms

01_Platforms - Number of Articles - January 2015

January is usually a quiet month announcement-wise. The most significant growth in media mentions for a platform is Windows 10. It shows Microsoft ramped up its effort with the new year, mostly it’s coverage on the preview event from January 21st.

Interestingly, Oculus had a stronger-than-usual media presence thanks to Microsoft too. The Hololens announcement generated a lot of articles mentioning the Oculus device as a comparison and/or reference to the Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality arms race.

Games

 

01_Games - Total Reach - january 2015

 

Dying Light was released end of January, getting the new release spotlight for itself. Similarly to the previous month though, most of the most mentioned games are actually not out during that month, January being relatively quiet releases-wise.

It is interesting also that it is probably the month that has the widest “spread” of news. From our usual top 15 games, we rarely see games with fewer than 2,000 mentions in the month. For example, League of Legends’ 1,751 articles is actually a pretty regular performance for the game (even if it was a good month with a few nice news items, including the release of music tracks related to the game), and not something particularly exceptional.

February 2015

Platforms

02_Platforms - Number of Articles - february 2015

February saw similar numbers to January. Windows 10 dropped off, but not dramatically, entering an ongoing phase of promotion from Microsoft.

Games

02_Games - Total Reach - february 2015

The Order: 1886, released that month, topped the ranks. It is very hard to measure how much the controversy around the lifespan of the game helped those numbers. In the past, when looking at controversies, it seemed they didn’t add that much volume though.

Dying Light being released at the end of the previous month pushed it further into February’s media presence.

And while Battlefield Hardline’s strong performance was a ramp up towards its March release, it is also notable that Mortal Kombat X picked up up nicely while its release wouldn’t be until mid-April.

March 2015

Platforms

03_Platforms - Number of Articles - march 2015

March was GDC. So a lot of the extra media coverage came from the news around the event and I would encourage you to read the article written on this.

Android’s strong presence is coming from the MWC in Barcelona, with its numerous Android-related announcements. The nVidia New Shield micro console reveal at GDC also helped a little bit.

Microsoft was also quite aggressive with its Windows 10 announcements during GDC, supporting its strong media presence.

Games

03_Games - Total Reach - march 2015

March saw a similar trend as in February, but with Bloodborne taking the top spot. The game’s excellent critical reception explains the sudden burst of media coverage, beating Battlefield Hardline despite being a new brand.

The Witcher 3 edges closer to release and re-appreared in the top 15, roughly at the same level as in January.

Hearthstone, as in December, had its upcoming expansion to thank for entering the top ranks.

 

Upcoming content

As I move towards quarterly reviews, I will try to use the free time to get more case studies and carry out analysis of specific events. On my list at the moment, the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided announcement and Goat Simulator. Let me know if you have specific games whose media presence you would like me to break down.

 

Methodology reminder: For more details on the methodology and the way the tool we are using is working, check the dedicated blog post.