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.

Android Users Are Apathetic

I launched the virtual pets spoof, Brick Buddies, on Android and iOS last month with zero PR. It was a crazy idea I wanted to make for no particular reason. Since both versions were launched with the same minimal PR effort (a mere tweet and a Facebook post), I figured I’d use this as an opportunity to analyze both platforms from a new perspective.

The top line: Brick Buddies on iOS gets 10X the downloads of the Android version. I got more iOS downloads in the first day than I did in 3 weeks on Google Play. Although both versions have earned a pittance, iOS users spend more money too.

Brick Buddies’ iOS release got picked up as a news story on at least 3 websites, including The Guardian, with no PR. I saw far more Facebook likes, shares, and retweets about Brick Buddies on iOS through my social graph than the Android release.

But wait, isn’t Android beating iOS in market share?

Pondering this, I thought about everyone I know that has an Android phone. They are my friends least into mobile tech. When I get a peek at their home screen, they hardly have any apps installed. They are seemingly content to have a slick-looking phone with a giant screen that makes calls and sends messages. iPhone users (myself included) appear to be platform zealots and voracious consumers of apps.

I had a hunch that most Android users just aren’t into their phones–which makes sense. If you aren’t into mobile tech, you’d probably settle for an Android device. Let’s face it–Aside from the Google ‘pure’ handsets, most really aren’t so great.

I put a survey up on Mechanical Turk to unscientifically poll the public about the habits of iPhone and Android users. I wanted to see how they like their phones and how excited they are about apps. I only got about 200 responses, so this really isn’t statistically significant.

Hey–it’s good fodder for an inflammatory linkbait post about Android users! Here are some results:

WHO ARE ANDROID USERS?

Both Android and iOS had the same ratio of men to women users.

My results supported what I’ve heard from other studies–Android users trend younger than on the iPhone. 60.6% of Android users polled were under 29 as opposed to 47.3% of iPhone users.

Android users trend younger than iPhone

Android users also reported lower incomes and education levels than iPhone users. Not that this is relevant information–Unless you are an Instagram snob.

ANDROID USERS SEEM LESS SATISFIED WITH THEIR PHONE

When asked if they would buy the same kind of phone again, 89.3% of iPhone users said yes, while 78.9% of Android users did. Android owners also seem a little less satisfied with their phone when asked–89.2% of iPhone users were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their devices versus 81.7% for Android.

ANDROID USERS DON’T CARE ABOUT APPS

A chart showing the app recommendation habits of iPhone and Android users.

Android users seem less likely to blab about apps to their friends.

Android users seem slightly less likely to recommend apps to friends, with 37.5% of iPhone users recommending apps to friends often or extremely often and only 19.7% for Android. Hey, Android users just aren’t into apps–why talk about them?

Nearly 43% of iPhone users reported using apps extremely often, compared to 31% of Android owners.

ANDROID USERS ARE CHEAPSKATES

Android vs. iPhone users: Have you paid for an app?

iPhone users pay for apps, Android users don't.

Although the vast majority of Android and iPhone users have downloaded free apps, only 47.5% of Android users have ever paid to download an app vs. 80.4% of iPhone users. Also, 77.5% of Android users reported never having made an in app purchase in a freemium game versus 58.9% of iPhone owners. Hey, it’s been said before.

CONCLUSION

This data is based on too small a sample to really make a conclusion. I still think it’s decent data to expand on my hunch–Android users just aren’t into apps. This presents a marketing challenge. Android users are out there, but how do you get them excited about your content?

According to this final chart, users of both platforms look for information about apps in similar places.

Info sources for new apps ranked by popularity for Android and iPhone users

Android and iPhone users have similar tastes as far as info sources for new apps.

The audience exists. Perhaps you have to address them differently in the same channels.

Some developers seemed to have cracked this code. For most, monetizing apathetic Android users remains a challenge.