In Search of…Rage of Bahamut Players

I recently listened to the excellent Walled Garden Weekly podcast about the massively successful collectible card game, Rage of Bahamut. The brave hosts played the game for a while in an attempt to analyze why it has dominated the top grossing charts on both iOS and Android for so long. In the end, they had no idea why.

I thought this episode was hilarious because I recently had the same experience with a friend of mine. We forced ourselves to play this game to understand why it is so successful. We came away from the experience just as mystified as Walled Garden. Is it a masterpiece of mobile gaming? Are we just too old and can’t comprehend this new genre of greatness? Perhaps it’s a combination of the two.

Rage of Bahamut is a collectible card game with no apparent skill involved. The interface appears to be a series of sloppily constructed UIWebViews displaying what looks like a web page from 1996–complete with blinking text. There’s no sound. The gameplay consists of tapping the screen and watching coins fly out of monsters with Skinnerian glee. PvP card battles are automatic and involve no strategy beyond deck construction. You win or you lose.

It’s also very difficult to find out how to spend money in the game–with the IAPs buried deep in the interface. This thing has towered over the top grossing charts for months on end, yet I’ve never met another person that’s ever played it. When Angry Birds was in a similar position a few years back, I knew lots of people who were fans.

I attended the Collectible Card Game panel at Casual Connect this past July to understand the space more. The takeaway was that since Pokemon will never appear on mobile devices, there is a huge vacuum taken up by the absence of that IP. In its void, a ton of CCGs have appeared on mobile targeting the Pokemon player demographic. It was suggested CCGs have 8-10X the monetization of other social games and are the ultimate core game experience for younger gamers. Maybe I don’t know any Rage of Bahamut players because I’m not 14?

Still, where are these people? I never see any coverage of this game on the web other than articles talking about how much money it’s making. It seems that the reason why you might not see a lot of chatter about these games on social networks is because the users are too young to be on Facebook. Instead, they use YouTube to display their lavish card collections. Most of the other social interactions are contained inside the game or DeNA’s social network, Mobage.

Rage of Bahamut appears to be a pure compulsion loop. It’s more like a slot machine than an actual game. The main drive is to collect rare cards and “evolve” them to advanced levels featuring character portraits with increasingly fewer articles of clothing on. Packs of cards in Rage of Bahamut can cost over twice as much as real paper cards for Magic the Gathering or other physical card games. This game is very simliar to Mafia Wars, so perhaps its success shouldn’t be unexpected. However, could something else be afoot?

Noting strange patterns in customer review score distribution and other clues, the Walled Garden podcast seemed to suggest maybe some chart manipulation is involved. I can’t say that thought hadn’t crossed my mind. DeNA made $609 million in revenue last quarter. The top grossing game in the App Store usually brings in about $10-15 million a month. Let’s double that to include Android (which probably is generous). Is it conceivable that in addition to the usual tactic of spending $50,000 a day or more in user acquisition, that DeNA is spending $20+ million a month on buying its own virtual goods to dominate the top grossing charts? With $1.82 billion in sales last year, it doesn’t seem like DeNA would need to do this.

Considering there are tons of other CCGs that are very popular, there’s a large and lucrative market for these games. There are different sub-genres as well. Some require skill similar to Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh instead of being a mere slot machine. I’ve read plenty of enthusiastic Rage of Bahamut reviews from people who are genuinely excited about it. Just watch this video–this guy really gets amped when he’s about to evolve his card to a new level of disrobement. Real people who play this game must exist somewhere. Leave a comment–let me know why you play it.

Oh, and while I’m at it, my referral code is mhk64683 if you want to start playing.

2 thoughts on “In Search of…Rage of Bahamut Players

  1. In the Walled Garden pod cast, they make comments like “this is not a real game”, “there is no sound”, “the UI sucks”, “I dont know what I am doing”, “This is not a game, its a slot machine”. Then they go on to accuse the company of buying gift cards and spending them in their game to inflate rankings.

    These comments remind me of comments made about FarmVille when social gaming was emerging as a genre.

    American game designers are arrogant and refuse to accept the emergence and popularity of new game forms and types of gameplay which are popular in Asian. While accusing Mobage of inflating their rankings, they completely failed to understand any of the mechanisms that make Rage of Bahamut successful as an iOS game.

    They failed to recognize the high ARPPU that allows for profitable user acquisition through advertising. They missed the skillful use of Gatcha and collection goals. They missed the skillful integration of three energy bars and dozens of compulsion mechanisms. They missed the clan system and Mafia Wars style PvP aspects. They missed that players are willing to spend money to guard their items against other players. They missed the energy bar mechanism that forces players to buy items to continue playing and refinements the game makes over popular western iOS slot machine apps which dominant the iOS revenue charts.

    They missed the whole process through which Mobage acquires and monetizes users. From “share on twitter for free cards”, to affiliate codes which incentives people to share the application with their friends, to the peer pressure and social mechanics which drives the purchase of card packs; Mobage expertly innovated on dozens of user acquisition and retention mechanics.

    Instead of understanding those mechanics and incorporating them into their games, arrogant western developers are dismissing the game as “I dont know anyone who plays this”, “they must be inflating their numbers” and “this is not even a real game” without being able to understand why the game is successful.

    “Oh its like Pokemon!” says the closed minded western developer, before he return to playing the 9th game in the Call of Duty series.

    I think the largest difference between western developers and the eastern developers, is that western developers grew up doing Work For Hire and taking advances from publishers. They believe that money comes from publishers and “cokeheads” rather than from users. They have never had to think about user acquisition and monetization. They are completely out of touch with audiences outside of the “core gamer” console market. They “dont know anyone who plays these games”.

    At E3 I had an absolutely surreal experience that showed me how out of touch developers here are with the iOS market. I was sitting a table with some Activision developers and one of them says “Mobile is Hot!” and I responded “iOS CPC > LTV for six months” they responded with “Mobile is hot!!!” *facepalm*

    Most developers are just completely out of touch with the market.

  2. Brandon, this is quite insightful. Please feel free to email us over at contact@walledgardenweekly.com. I think where Kevin and I were mystified is not whether these elements exist, but that they are so completely buried inside RoB. In most iOS games so much care is taken to make rewarding, addictive and monetizing aspects easily accessible to the user, and we found it hard to understand the developer’s total disregard to UX.

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