MintRocket was publicly announced as a sub-brand of Nexon in May 2022. A few months later, in October, the studio released Dave the Diver (DtD) in Early Access. Nine months after that, the game launched globally, at the end of June this year. Since then, it has been sold more than 1.7M times, to generous critical acclaim. It topped the global Steam charts for two weeks after its release and reached 1M unique players 10 days after its global launch.
VGChartz summarizes the game as a mix of the following:
- An adventure, RPG, management hybrid
- Casual combat and gathering gameplay with rogue-like elements
- Eccentric characters with a lighthearted narrative
- A beautiful sea environment with attractive 2D/3D Art
- Ample additional content to complement the main gameplay loop
It is reported to be one of Nexon’s best-ever sales results for one of its PC/Console games. The same source even reports the game could trigger a small revolution in the Korean game development industry with the potential to start changing rival companies’ game portfolios.
DtD can best be categorized as a simulation game, and it has done very well this year when compared to other games in the genre. It has strongly outperformed genre competitors like Kerbal Space Program 2, Undisputed, and Dwarf Fortress, but the recently-released Cities: Skylines II is in a different class – its cumulative revenue surpassed DtD’s lifetime revenue in week one.
Line up all games that share Simulation and RPG as their main genre released in the last five years and DtD can be found at number six in the revenue top-10:
In short, DtD’s commercial success is definitely one to applaud for an estimated <$10M development budget. Today, we’ll dive deeper than Dave himself into the company that created him, how it pulled off this success story, whether it can replicate it, and what the industry can learn from this.
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Game of The Week
Tile Busters Spykes Up the Charts
Written by Evtim Trenkov, Naavik Senior Consultant & Operations Lead
Developer: Spyke Games
Publisher: Spyke Games
Platform: iOS, Android
An All-star Team: Spyke Games, as we have covered before, raised $55M in its seed round. It is made up of ex-Peak and ex-Riot talent and led by Peak cofounder Rina Onur Şirinoğlu. This is important to keep in mind as the ex-Peak influence is seen in many of the product, design, and marketing decisions taken with Tile Busters, as would be expected.
One Upping Zen Match’s Core Gameplay: Tile Busters is similar to puzzle game hit Zen Match in its core gameplay, where players match three identical tiles from a pile until it is cleared. While Zen Match keeps the core gameplay unchanged throughout the game, Tile Busters frequently introduces new mechanics to the board. Some of these twists are inspired by classic match-3 games, such as blocked tiles that can’t be used until an adjacent tile is played first or tiles that spit out other tiles until the timer on them has run down to zero.
Coin Master’s Metagame, Smart Theming, Catchy Art:
- A few months ago, we looked into how Tile Blast innovates with its meta game primarily by using Coin Master’s meta progression systems (without the attack loops) and smartly carrying over technology and learnings from Royal Riches (a Coin Master clone).
- Spyke Games decided on a travel theme instead of the familiar room decoration found in other tile match games, which feels like a logical choice for a Coin Master-like progression system.
- The game also uses a cartoony art style, with brighter colors and smoother shapes – one can see the Peak effect here – rather than the comparatively realistic style found in Zen Match.
- While the theming and art style are chosen for improved marketability compared to Zen Match, the product novelty Spyke Games is trying to bring through its core and metagame one-ups is likely to offer a differentiated enough alternative to subgenre first-mover Zen Match.
A Story of Rapid Scaling: Since we last looked at this game, Spyke has been able to rapidly scale the title. It has recently entered the Top 100 US grossing charts and has accumulated little over 2M downloads and $14M in revenue since February of this year. And as can be seen in the image below, the game’s revenue trend is looking very healthy on a declining download trend. That of course speaks volumes to the team’s merchandising and live-ops capabilities, which they again have Peak to thank a lot for.
Retention Needs Work: However, in our piece on the game, we also called out some areas of improvement. Based on data.ai estimates, while D1 iOS US retention rates are relatively similar between Tile Busters and Zen Match (D1 at 35% and 39% respectively), D7 and D30 retention rates (D7 at 12% and 17% respectively, and D30 at 4% and 11% respectively) are still a significant issue. We imagine two possible reasons for the failing medium and long-term retention rates:
- The innovations to the core gameplay could be backfiring for the target casual audience. Introducing a variety of obstacles in order to boost level design variety makes sense. However, these innovations don’t necessarily make the game more appealing to traditional casual players. Due to their highly deterministic nature and lack of randomness, Tile match games are already more thought-intensive than Match-3 games. Therefore, they offer a slower pace and throwing more obstacles in these levels slows down the action even more by asking players to think about an increased number of possible outcomes and strategise further than in a vanilla tile match game.
- The metagame could be balanced too harshly. In Tile Busters, players complete levels to earn Hammers that are then spent on completing City structures, and once all structures in a City are built, players move on to the next one. This is the key long-term progression track for players. However, the costs in Hammers for each structure increase over time, but the reward value a player gets out of completing a cosmetic structure is the same throughout the game. In other words, there is an effort-to-reward ratio problem. This, combined with the more difficult levels, deals a double whammy to players: rewards are harder to get to, but they are also worth less in the context of the game. This is usually a situation where another metagame system (like social systems) is introduced to provide an overarching long-term player aspiration, but Spyke decided to do away with Coin Master’s social attack loops.
Solid, but Aggressive Monetisation:
- If the game’s retention is suffering, one key driver to its scale is likely merchandising – and from what we’ve seen, Tile Busters is definitely aggressive. The game surfaces great value bundles, packed with power-ups, quite early in the player's progression. This, combined with harsher difficulty, is the typical cocktail for strong early monetisation.
- Spyke’s CEO has said in interviews that the team is bold in using deep segmentation and personalisation systems (thank you Peak) to drive monetisation, and it seems to be working very well based on the game’s D30 iOS US RPD of $1.02 vs Zen Match’s meagre $0.30, according to data.ai. Although, based on the top IAPs purchase, it seems like the average transaction size between Tile Busters and Zen Match is relatively comparable. That means the 3.5x higher D30 RPD is likely driven by a higher purchase frequency, which would be justified by the game’s higher level difficulty.
- Tile Busters is already monetising very well, and the next big opportunity lies in improving medium and long-term retention, without significantly harming monetisation. We have also said before that social could be a big opportunity, and Spyke is already experimenting with social gameplay in their next title, Blitz Busters. Tile Busters’ current live ops activity and its ex-Peak product team are a signal that we will continue to see a lot of experimentation happening in the game.
- Let’s also take a moment to recognise just how huge a 3.5x higher D30 RPD would be for Spyke’s continued UA scaling abilities – kudos! While we’d love to see higher retention numbers from Tile Busters, there is no denying that the game has created a solid foundation for Spyke to build its future on. In other words, Tile Busters (irrespective of its retention woes) buys Spyke time to build and perfect its next hit. And we will be following this promising team’s progress with interest.
- In the grander scheme of things for the Tile Match subgenre, the success of this game shows two things – 1) tile match is not an exhausted avenue, and 2) there is an appetite for more strategic tile matching gameplay. However, we’re pretty skeptical about this manifestation of the tile match mechanic dethroning the almighty match-3 mechanic as the next evolution of the Puzzle genre. This is purely due to the gameplay’s lack of randomness and highly deterministic nature, the comparative downsides of which are out of the scope of this piece. But those will need to be solved for if this subgenre is going for the Puzzle crown.