Often times we see F2P games for relying heavily on their theme to stand out and to a rather simple gameplay - and Shuffle Cats is no different - but here's an example of what happens when you neglect theme and end up openly becoming a straight up hunt for Whales. I present to you King's Shuffle Cats.
Shuffle cats have this early 1900's back-alley theme similar to Disney's Aristocats and reminded me of the gang of alley cats lead by Scat Cat. This - mixed with the traditional cute King visuals - sets up for a really interesting game.
But while games like Candy Crush's name delivers in the sense that the player will continuously be in a world of candy, in Shuffle Cats the theme doesn't even bother to stretch further than the first play session. After the tutorial end the player is suddenly no longer presented with the concept of levels that King is so known for, which makes you wonder why the game even started out with the initial 13 levels.
The player says goodbye to the well-known level system and is taken to Lucky Lane - a place where only currency of the Soft and Hard kind and addictive behaviour is allowed access. Cats and Narrative is banned from this place and King kindly asks you to hang your immersion in the theme of the game in the wardrobe as well.
Essentially Shuffle Cats discards all initial retention mechanics that should pull the player back into the game. The Characters, Walter (Antagonist)& Montie (Helper) and that chubby merchant cat called Bob now plays zero part in the game - and new characters are not introduced.
Even the Player's own progression through levels now has zero value because players are matched with real player opponents, and matched only by the amount of Soft Currency they are willing to Gamble with. Shuffle Cats end up being like a Gateway Drug to Gambling, but not a very good one. I predict that King will see long term revenue only from Users with a super addictive gambling behaviour, because the game sure doesn't tip player over the edge.
It feels like King are using its theme to lure player into Casino - and you might argue to which degree that is the case for a lot of F2P games out there. The problem here is that Shuffle Cats only bothers to spend 15min doing so. Obviously King looked at the analytics and revenue numbers from Shuffle Cats on King.com and thought it will do well on mobile - and it might - but if the Creators doesn't bother investing in the game, why should the users?
Studios are exploring different channels to keep spending on UA (User Acquisition) low and overcome tough discoverability on App Store and Google Play. This leads studios towards different channels like twitch and youtube, playing on the popular ‘Let’s Plays’ to get an audience. But here is how studios in the attempt to supercharge installs and potential revenue can end up ruining the First-Time User Experience.
Social Point, creator of Dragon City and Monster Legend, was recently featured with their F2P title, Dragon Lands; A 3D Platformer which essentially plays on Mario 64 control and visual frame and a Megaman like mechanic where the player needs to switch between, in this case dragons, to overcome obstacles, such as wall climbing, flying etc.
Social Point very openly tried to supercharge the game by adding a dragon called PewDiePie, a cameo, and making it available to the player for the generous fee of 1 Gem, the game’s hard currency. Naturally the game has already provided the player with 3 of such Gems before taking offering this bargain. PewDiePie, the dragon, was also of superior level, meaning more health and kickass ability, so why not buy it right?
The game is not difficult, meaning that the level of your dragon would rarely determine the outcome of a level, powerwise. This means the leveling of dragons work rather as a paygate more than a counter to the game’s difficulty because dragons need the appropriate level to even start the level. This would be like saying; “ You need at least x20 extra lives to enter this level in Mario, store’s over there.”
At this point I as a player, might start regretting the acquisition of a dragon shaped like a famous youtuber. On the tenth level, because of level design and what I guess is a desire to provide general diversity in player experience, the game forces me to use the starting dragon, called Blaze. The issue is then that player have intuitively been giving into the affordances the game provides and have been neglecting leveling up same starting dragon, which now needs to be a higher level to even start that level.
At around 30 mins into the experience, the player is left with starting over to get passed level 10, in a game that until that had offered no difficulty.
Punishing the player on such an early stage of the experience needs to very deliberate or should be avoided, especially when player are not financially invested in the F2P title. Being punished as a player, not because of general poor game design, but a, for the average player, indifferent addition of cameos is very frustrating, and will make players churn very early in the experience.
F2P is a powerful business model, if engagement(retention) and monetization is embraced into the core game design, but if forcing the virality opens up the possibility of players making bad/wrong choices that might kill both retention and revenue.