Snap is doing…ok! It peaked at 10K Steam PSU and 14M mobile downloads. But for all the innovation and press hullabaloo, shouldn’t Snap have higher expectations? After all, Vampire Survivors, from a team of one, wrapped up the year moving 2.5m copies at $5 a pop, with zero budget. And lest we not forget, Snap’s launch marketing war chest is now dryer than an FTX’s office party. Downloads have fallen from ~800k a day in October to ~50k in January; DAU will soon follow suit. It’s too early for a title of Snap’s caliber to see DAU softness!
Second Dinner’s successful unshackling of the mobile design paradigm is also the source of Snap’s struggles. Vertical progression or the ability of players to increase their power level 1guarantees a relationship between time spent and progress. The more a player plays, the more the player will progress. No such connection is guaranteed in horizontally dominated games like Snap.
Industry rumor has it that Clash Royale had a furiously high reactivation rate. The brutality of an average 50% win rate ensures churn is high. But a computer doesn’t have feelings, so why not have the player beat the computer instead of other players? And so Supercell did the obvious thing, and around three years ago, introduced bots into Clash Royale matchmaking. It solved the 0-sum PvP problem while eliminating matchmaking times; there’s always a bot to play against! Surely retention improved, and players were better off, so what gives?
I have a lot to say about Marvel Snap; it’s a breath of fresh air in a mobile market that’s smelt stale for too long. Snap dedicates itself to taking advantage of mobile rather than treating it as a tax. However, for all its innovations and wins, I wonder if the Snap team outsmarted itself with a monetization model that will cap its success.
Despite structural issues, Snap isn’t far from snapping a top 20 revenue spot. But beyond the dizzying amount of design innovation and truly outstanding animation work lies a monetization system so soft it makes marshmallows blush. Instead of glaring at Hearthstone or MtG Arena (~$300m – $600M per year), Snap should set its revenue sights higher to Clash Royale’s glory years (~$700M). At ~1.5M DAU, this suggests a $1.27 ARPDAU target. That’s an extremely tall order that requires moving both the numerator and denominator.
With so much to celebrate and discuss, I split covering Marvel Snap into three parts: Game Overview + Game Economy & Monetization, Progression + LiveOps, and UX. Here I cover Game Overview + Game Economy & Monetization.
At the start of 2018, Ben Brode and Hamilton Chu packed up and left Blizzard after more than a decade each to start Second Dinner. After ~4 years of development and ~6 months in soft launch, the former Hearthstone Design Director and Executive Producer finally released Marvel Snap in Oct 2022. The Collectable Card Game (CCG) has already amassed a whopping 6m+ downloads with publisher ByteDance (see: China expansion and license), while the game’s apparent “stacking DAU” is an encouraging sign. While mobile engagement is tricky to track, Steam actuals suggest ~100k DAU against a PSU of ~8k. It won’t surprise me if Snap has already surpassed 1.5M DAUs between PC and mobile platforms. It’s probably a sign of the massive uplift developers get from macOS development. It’s a great start and suggests an extremely bright future for Second Dinner while encompassing everything Blizzard mobile should have been and will likely never become.
Previously confined to PC turn-based play, mobile free-to-play transformed 4x into sprawling persistent world MMOs. The combination was and continues to be electric; what other genre can admit to $1M LTVs? Each X, EXplore, EXpand, EXploit, and EXterminate invites an unparalleled level of feature width and depth. 1 Its LTVs are not driven only by spend depth but also by copious amounts of long-term retention. Like long, long-run retention.
The “10-year game” has gone from a CEO fairy tale to reality. A couple of weeks ago, Clash of Clans (CoC) celebrated its 10th anniversary by grossing over $480 million in the last year alone. But longer lifecycles present new and unexplored challenges. 4x faces a genre-level conundrum: given vertical progression and persistent worlds, what is the most effective way to manage server populations?
Past core loop, three Cs, and KPI breakdowns lie currency animation breakdowns. It’s an animation that may well play hundreds of thousands of times during a player’s lifecycle; benefits compound. And yes, I really think the animation is just satisfying.
Economy design maintains a UX component. It’s vital for the designer to draw the cause <> effect loop between action and reward for the player. Currency animations, played when players claim or complete a task for a reward, stitch the acts into an experience. Wallet amounts don’t magically increase; the currency flows from the claim button to the wallet’s UI location.
Currency plays a peculiar role in economic activity. Classical economists are fond of claiming “money is a veil”; it abstracts away the underlying economic activity it helps coordinate. However, we know all too well that money is only a veil until it’s not. Monetary economics is justifiably a subdiscipline, so it makes sense for “tokenomics” to emerge as something similar to blockchain. And like early monetary economics, tokenomics finds itself suck in a strange mercantile stage of development wherein a token’s highest order is to appreciate rather than facilitate transactions. Something akin to increasing net exports and not letting money “leave the system.” But more specifically, modern tokenomics falls prey to three problems: