Source: Yostar Limited

This deconstruction is being resurfaced from Naavik's archives, and was first published in January 2023.

Arknights is a free-to-play hero collector tower defense-RPG developed by HyperGryph and published by Yostar Games. Set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world, players take on the role of the amnesiac Doctor and lead heroes (Operators) from a disaster management organization called Rhodes Island. 

The game features a combination of tactical tower defense battles, gacha-driven hero collection, idle base-building, and cosmetic customization, all wrapped in an anime art style and ever-expanding narrative. 

Arknights initially launched in China in May 2019, and was released globally in January 2020. It has grown into a powerhouse ever since, racking up over $678M in revenue from just 17M downloads according to No other title in the mobile tower defense genre comes close to enjoying the level of success that Arknights does: 

NintendoTop“Tower Defense – RPG” &“Tower Defense – Strategy” GamesWorldwide Revenue, Last 52 Weeks, All Platforms | Source:

Arknights is the dominant game in the tower defense category. Since launch it has captured a staggering percentage of the genre’s revenues. One could argue that it reinvented the genre: prior to its launch, total revenues earned by all games in the ‘Tower Defense – RPG’ genre (as defined by were less than $2M per month. During Arknights’ launch month, that figure jumped to ~$38M, with Arknights representing more than 95% of the total. 

Share of Revenue, Top 10 Highest Earning Games in“Tower Defense – RPG” Genre, Nov. 2018 – Nov. 2022|Source:

That success has continued to this day. On August 11th, 2022, the title pulled in nearly $5M from China alone in a single day, and also draws meaningful revenue from Japan (making roughly equivalent revenue to how it performs in mainland China), United States, and South Korea. 

NinArknights Daily Revenue, Worldwide, All Platforms | Source:

Clearly, Arknights has dominated the competition in the “Tower Defense – RPG” genre. However, it’s also worth examining the more mass-market “Tower Defense – Strategy” category — home to breakout games like Rush Royale and Plants vs. Zombies — for additional points of comparison. 

While it’s not uncommon for a China-first game to trade low downloads for higher revenue per download (RPD), this has benefitted Arknights a great deal more when compared to the competition. Arknights cannot boast the broad reach or lifetime download numbers of Rush Royale (37M LTD) or Plants vs. Zombies 2 (448M LTD), but it outshines all rivals with its monetization, bringing in a whopping $40 per download – nearly 4x its closest competitor.


Arknights has bucked several trends as it carved out its own path. For one, it introduced a heavy dose of RPG progression, classes, and character collection into the tower defense genre.

Rather than taking the standard approach of upgrading towers with resources earned through successful defense, Arknights asks players to deploy Operators using Deployment Points (DP) that slowly regenerate as battles progress. Players can also activate special abilities for each Operator, requiring deft timing and an understanding of each Operator’s kit. The game’s level design adds a further strategic element, with environmental hazards and interactive map tiles rewarding players who know how best to utilize them (and frustrating those that do not). You can get an overview of the gameplay in this video.

Source: Google Play

In another reversal of mobile gaming convention, Arknights leans into its expansive narrative. In its Story mode, Arknights’ narrative unfolds episodically, keeping players engaged and pushing forward to find out what happens next. 

While it can be difficult to quantify the KPI impact of investing in a game’s narrative, we can lean on some insights from the puzzle genre. In an interview with the Elite Game Developers podcast, Caroline Krenzer (co-founder & CEO of Trailmix Games, maker of Love & Pies) attributed an update to Love & Pies’ narrative to a 10% increase in retention. Our friends at and Deconstructor of Fun also noted in a recent report that investing in narrative was a driver in the success of Metacore’s Merge Mansion. 

What do casual puzzle games have to do with Arknights’ success in the tower defense genre? More than one might think. Arknights takes several design cues from the puzzle genre, from its saga-style campaign map and introduction of new mechanics to its reliance on strategy and tactical thinking.

Beyond the comparisons to narrative-driven puzzle games, one can easily see the qualitative effects that the story and characters have had across Arknights’ player community. Users have produced their own fanfiction, art, and explainer guides for new players delving into the lore. This engagement has even extended beyond the narrative and aesthetic of the game into other areas, such as the production of intricate strategy guides, wikis, gacha simulators, base-building guides, and much more.

This web of player creations is not only indicative of the game’s popularity but also speaks to the gameplay depth available to those in search of it. The sheer volume of user-created tools and guides available allows new players to ramp up quickly into what is a meaningful step-up in complexity from a standard tower defense game. 

Of course, the game is not without its shortcomings. Arknights leaves much to be desired in terms of social features, for example. Tower defense is largely PvE, and it has not been able to incorporate cooperative gameplay, clans/guilds, chat, or any other sort of needle-moving social features.

Arknights also remains a phenomenon largely limited to Asia. Though the game has achieved outsized success beyond the Chinese mainland in places like Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong, it has yet to meaningfully penetrate the West. Over the last 52 weeks, Arknights has never drawn more than 18% of its weekly revenue from any country outside of Asia.

Share of Revenue, Top 10 Highest Earning Countries, Last 52 Weeks, Worldwide, All Platforms | Source:

Nevertheless, Arknights‘ ability to draw inspiration from tower defense games, character collector RPGs, idle games, anime, gacha games, and puzzle games has led to a unique genre-dominant title that is a big revenue driver for developer HyperGryph. Arknights’ player-friendly take on gacha monetization and live opshas also helped it to establish and maintain an active, devoted fanbase. 

How has Arknights been able to accomplish all of this, and what can we learn from its success?

In this deconstruction, we’ll explore these questions and more, including:

  • How did the experience of HyperGryph’s founder influence the development of Arknights?
  • What differentiates Arknights from other tower defense games?
  • What makes Arknights’ monetization so player-friendly?
  • How do Arknights’ live ops create such eye-popping success so long after launch?

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Games of the Week

#1: Top Troops

Source: Top Troops

I recently dived into Top Troops, a mobile F2P game developed by Social Point and published by Zynga. See the gameplay video here. It soft launched back in July 2021, and was released globally this week.

Right from the beginning, the battle experience struck me as reminiscent of Battle Legions, but it also has some elements of Top War with its merge core. It opts for a build and battle metagame instead of a 4X one.

Top Troops quickly becomes complex with multiple progression paths, many currencies, and a multitude of features unlocked within the first session. At around the 15 minute mark, I found myself grappling with decisions — whether to merge first, focus on building structures, complete quests, or advance through the PvE saga map.

Social Point is currently scaling the game, and it has already garnered ~850K downloads and $1M+ in net IAP revenue globally. While it’s too early to delve into RPD metrics, the revenue to downloads ratio indicates a decent start. I can’t help but anticipate potential long-term challenges for Top Troops due to the self-cannibalising system design, which might pose a risk to long-term progression and monetization. 

Despite these concerns, the initial experience of this game is undeniably enjoyable. It’s been a long time since I felt that for any mobile game, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

#2: Finity

Source: CNET

Finity by Seabaa is a clever, more mature take on the match 3 genre, available on Apple Arcade. From the choice of colour palettes in the skins you unlock to the simple shapes and clean design of the gameboard, there are few distractions, giving players more opportunity to think about their strategy. The animations are simple but effective, and are supported by haptic feedback for maximum satisfaction after an effective move. New obstacles unlock gradually as the player climbs up the ranks, which allow for good, challenging progression. While enjoyable, I found the game a bit too difficult, although the various twists to the gameplay along the way kept me invested and eager to uncover more.

The game has three different game styles. Besides the classic mode, there is the amazing ‘tempo’ mode, in which the player makes quick matches to the beat of a catchy tune. Sadly, this mode has only two available tracks, though there are more to come. ‘Casual’ mode, which is easier, is also available, but in its experimental phase.

This is yet another more traditional mobile game joining Apple Arcade, which used to be dominated by titles often found on PC and console. Finity offers fast-paced yet deeply strategic gameplay which I most enjoyed in quick sessions. It’s a great start for a game that promises to expand, evolve and entertain.

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