Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 31, 2013
Stoopid n00bs and conversion rates

Card Hunter is a game that requires very different skills than a MMORPG or MOBA game does, as it is a turn-based tactical game. So the player base is a different one. Nevertheless it turns out that on the Card Hunter forums exactly the same sort of discussion takes place as in every other online game, specifically the conflict between the hardcore and the casual players. On the Card Hunter beta forums there are numerous threads of beta players getting stuck in the campaign and finding the game too hard. I've played the campaign through by now, and even with 30+ years of D&D and a decade of Magic the Gathering deckbuilding experience and having played countless turn-based tactical games I found Card Hunter to be on the hard side. I can very much see how somebody who is less versed in this sort of game might get stuck or frustrated. But on the forums there are also hardcore players who spend their time mocking the people who have problems, claiming that Card Hunter is fine as it is, or should even be harder.

I am not just in the casual players' corner out of habit in that discussion. I also have a certain self-interest: I like Card Hunter and would like the game to stay. Which requires it to have a certain financial success. And I don't think it can have that financial success if the game isn't accessible enough for new players.

Basically in a Free2Play game financial success depends on a series of conversion rates: How many people can you convert from total strangers to people at least willing to try out the game? How many of those can you convert to people that stick around? And how many of the active players can you convert to paying players?

I would think that Card Hunter will have a problem already on the first barrier, getting people to even try the game. Card Hunter has a great appeal to people remembering old school D&D, provided they like both turn-based tactical gameplay (which is more 4th edition D&D than classic D&D), and deckbuilding like in a trading card game like Magic the Gathering. That is already a rather specialized niche from the start. How many people will when seeing a screenshot of Card Hunter already turn away just because it is clearly some kind of simulation of a board game with a square grid? So I would say that Card Hunter needs to do well in the conversion of the small number of people who will even try it to active players. And that necessitates a learning curve which the average player can follow, however disdainful the elitist jerks might be of that.

The specific danger of Card Hunter being possibly difficult rather early is that your success depends not just on your skill, but also on the gear you equipped. On the first play-through the amount of gear you find if you don't pay anything is limited. People who pay for a "Card Hunter Club" subscription find more gear, and you can also buy sets of gear for multiplayer which then can be used in single-player mode. Or you can buy chests full of random gear. In the long run success is more about choosing the right gear than having the most gear. But at the start of the game availability can clearly be an issue. There are level 2 adventures against monsters called Trogs who try to keep their distance and stab you with spears. A totally new player who played only through the level 1 adventures might not even have a spear at this point. And because you can play any adventure only once per day, he couldn't even grind for more gear immediately. It would be easy for him to conclude that Card Hunter is "Pay2Win", and quit the game in disgust. Now imagine that new player is the game "journalist" for Eurogamer and that conclusion becomes part of the review, and you can see how Card Hunter would struggle to become a financial success.

New players nearly always are bad at a game. While one needs to challenge them enough to remain interested, that level of challenge required at the start will appear to be rather low for somebody who looks at it through the eyes of an experienced veteran with a huge gear collection. Magic the Gathering could get away with being considered Pay2Win because it was the WoW of its day. But in today's overcrowded market of Free2Play browser games, a difficult turn-based game with a Pay2Win reputation probably wouldn't do well.

I got into the card hunter beta yesterday. It is something I've been looking forward to trying for a while.

The gear availability at the start is awful. It isn't even necessarily the gear, but the gold - it takes an awful lot of selling random junk to buy a single item you want, and new gear slots opening up constantly being full of utter garbage by default doesn't help.

The trogs were one stumbling block, but the real one came a bit later with heavily armoured trogs. The game hints just said 'use things that make them discard armour' but.. I had none, and none seemed to be available in the shops.

It's a fun game, but I think they need to smooth out gear availability. Especially once the class abilities become available, specialization seems pretty desirable, but all of your characters will be using whatever random junk you've found.
On the other hand if the game is dumbed down to the level of the "newbies", would YOU like to play it?

EVE Online is doing well, despite the "newbies" are not only struck in a wall but actively ganked and mocked by other players.

If you want to survive, you need a your own niche, no one need a next WoW clone, as WoW is better. Your niche will be - by definition - unappealing to the masses. 90% of the WoW players would find EVE horrible. But even that 10% would find WoW better, that's why they are WoW players, so dumbing down EVE would convert no WoW players.
@ Gevlon

The article mainly points out that Card Hunter is a p2w game. You either play for free (and perish, with tangible gameplay limitations) or pay real money and advance.

If this was a hard f2p title I would agree, of course. But this is not the case, it's not a niche-challenging game for "the few, the proud". It's just another p2w game where you progress if you pay.

Well, it *is* a beta.

I think the point about making games too hard is valid, but at the same time if it is dumbed down too much I am not interested.

Perhaps they need to flatten out the early stages while at the same time allowing good players to progress fast.
EVE Online is doing well, despite the "newbies" are not only struck in a wall but actively ganked and mocked by other players.

And yet even CCP went as far as revamping the new player experience twice, so as to retain more new players. Additionaly, Ali Aras got into the CSM with a campaign that focuses almost entirely on new players, which means that the issue strikes a chord with even the 'bitter-vets'.
The problem with EVE isn't that it's too hard, it's that mining asteroids is insanely tedious.

This is a problem MMO players tend to have: they confuse tedium with challenge. That said, obviously a game should design the game to be playable by people new to the genre. It's why COD still does the single player campaign even though its entirely a multiplayer game.
There is also the other side - retention rate. If dumbing down EVE increased the retention rate - say changed the average length from 7 to 11 months, then it is a good financial decision.


My outsider understanding is the conversion chain is even deeper.

Starts with # of ads you can afford
% of click thru
% sign up
% download
%play (f2- games want quick d/l so as to not lose them at this point. SWTOR has discussed lowering initial footprint and the PS4 has a feature for this)
% who buy (amazon & itunes having your card on file and trust is a huge advantage)
% who buy 3 times (I read that is about when it has clicked and they are "customers")


And of course ARPU matters.
I am liking it. I purchased 1800 pizza because I like that it is NOT pay 2 win.

The 1800 pizza is going on unlocks and the club thing. An extra item is nice but it is luxury and not neccessity.

It does seem fun though and quite challenging especially because of the CCG nature.
I am liking it. I purchased 1800 pizza because I like that it is NOT pay 2 win.

The 1800 pizza is going on unlocks and the club thing. An extra item is nice but it is luxury and not neccessity.

It does seem fun though and quite challenging especially because of the CCG nature.
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