Hi everyone — welcome to another issue of Naavik Digest. If you missed our last one, be sure to check out part two of our live service analysis on Bungie’s Destiny and how the series’ monetization went awry. Also, in case you missed it, we published an in-depth game deconstruction on Bethesda and Alpha Dog’s Mighty Doom earlier this week as well. 

In this issue, we’re analyzing various ways Marvel Snap developer Second Dinner has addressed the popular CCG’s card acquisition hurdles in 2023 and the effects these changes are having on the game. 

Blizzard On Steam / CD Projekt Cuts / EA Post-FIFA / Earnings Reports

Marvel Podcast

In this week’s Roundtable, the squad discusses Tencent becoming a majority shareholder of Techland and what Blizzard bringing some of its games to Steam could mean for the company pre and post-acquisition. Then we explore how CD Projekt making workforce cuts could affect its plans going forward for franchises like The Witcher and Cyberpunk. We dig into how big brand changes can affect future success with a contrast of Twitter becoming X and FIFA 24 becoming FC24. Earnings updates for Ubisoft and Stillfront lead to Aaron warming up for a victory lap and an analysis of where the market is heading with acquisition strategies. Join us for all the latest games business news with Aaron Bush, Anil Das-Gupta, Jonathan Anastas, and host Devin Becker.

As always, you can find the Naavik Gaming Podcast on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, our website, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts. Also, remember to shoot us any questions here.

#1 How Marvel Snap is Solving Card Acquisition

By Nick Statt, Naavik Managing Editor

Marvel Snap
Source: Second Dinner

Second Dinner’s Marvel Snap is just over nine months old, but the collectible card game has had a stellar run thus far, achieving more than $85 million in revenue and amassing nearly 20 million downloads across Android and iOS, according to data.ai. More recently, the developer has made substantial changes to the game’s core progression loop and monetization mechanisms. The results have been a largely positive shift in player sentiment around card acquisition, which has remained a central issue since launch. 

Second Dinner eschewed traditional CCG monetization at worldwide launch in October 2022, opting not to sell cards directly, sell randomized booster packs, or impose any restrictions on players that might encourage them to spend money to keep playing. Instead, the game used a mix of currencies and progression systems (credits for leveling up, gold for store purchases) that have evolved over time. 

This has allowed players to acquire new cards and incentivizes them to keep playing, either as a way to work toward acquiring a newly released card or to obtain cosmetic variants of cards they already own. Because of its savvy design (and likely also its impressive leveraging of Marvel IP), the game has emerged as the leading CCG in 2023. 

Marvel Data
Source: data.ai

But the company’s revenue has been steadily declining, and its revenue per download is beginning to flatten out. (For a deeper analysis on the Strategy/Card mobile genres, including Marvel Snap, look out for our next genre report publishing this week.) In recent months, Second Dinner has gone to great lengths to make the game’s card acquisition fairer, as well as to diversify its gameplay, to address these issues, which go hand-in-hand with its mounting pay-to-win criticisms and engagement and retention issues. 

To stay true to its original pitch as a more accessible and less expensive take on the CCG genre, the studio is trying to adjust. Let’s dive into its strategies there one by one and examine how the developer has balanced its original vision with a monetization scheme that has yielded strong results.

Marvel Token
Source: Game Rant

The Token Shop Changed the Game

Launched in November 2022 just a month after the game’s worldwide release, the Token Shop drastically changed Marvel Snap’s core card acquisition mechanism. 

  • The Token Shop features a rotating list of not-yet-acquired cards, including newly released ones, for a new currency called tokens. This introduced a system whereby players save up tokens and spend them on a specific card of their choosing costing between 3,000 and 6,000 tokens (or 1,000 for unobtained base cards). 
  • Normally, players that collect all base cards can only acquire new ones through rare, randomized drops from leveling up and unlocking collector’s reserves, which requires credits. The Token Shop allowed players to strategize on how to acquire desired cards and fill out their collections without resorting to opening up collector’s reserves and hoping for the best. 
  • Second Dinner has altered the Token Shop significantly in 2023. One notable change has been Series Drops, in which expensive cards are lowered into more affordable rungs of the collection and cost less tokens as a result.
  • The Token Shop and subsequent updates to the store represent far and away the most positive changes Second Dinner has added to Marvel Snap since release. That's also arguably why Marvel Snap achieved an increase in RPD, from $2.83 on iOS in November last year to $8.68 in June 2023, according to data.ai
  • Some reasons why the Token Shop has likely influenced spending is because the acquisition of tokens has been smartly woven into the game’s monetization mechanisms. Tokens are often bundled with card variants and other cosmetics that sell for real-world currency or, more often, for in-game gold. 
  • This allows players to save up gold, spend credits to level up and unlock more collector’s reserves, and progress the season pass in order to earn enough currency to buy a desired bundle, which then allows them to turn around and spend those tokens on a new card. In December 2022, Marvel Snap achieved its highest monthly revenue figure to date with $14 million in spending across Android and iOS, according to data.ai
Marvel Spotlight Cache
Source: Second Dinner

Spotlight Caches: A New Form of Loot Box 

Marvel Snap’s Token Shop went a long way in helping keep players invested in the game’s collection meta and willing to pay $10 per month for its season passes, which reward one new card every month. But it didn’t go far enough to prevent rising concerns that Marvel Snap was slipping into pay-to-win territory and that the game’s card acquisition methods were starting to falter.

  • Even for players who were willing to spend $10 a month for season passes, new cards costing between 3,000 and 6,000 tokens meant that it was not possible to acquire exciting new additions to the collection without spending a healthy chunk of real money.
  • With newer cards like High Evolutionary, Iron Lad, and the Jeff the Baby Land Shark in April and May drastically changing up the meta upon release, it became clear that a new system was needed as users more willing to pay were beginning to dominate the deckbuilding pillar of the game. 
  • Second Dinner’s solution, launched earlier this month, was the Spotlight Cache. Replacing the standard Collector’s Reserves system that awarded tokens, the new system lets players bypass the Token Shop entirely with a 25% chance at one of four rewards that rotate weekly. These rewards now include a newly released Series 5 card (costing 6,000 tokens), two other existing cards (costing between 3,000 and 6,000 tokens), and then a rare variant. 
  • This way, players can progress on the collection ladder by playing the game and earning and spending credits. Every 120 levels, a Spotlight Cache is available. Save up two, three, or even four of them and you are guaranteed to claim all four rewards in a single week. Second Dinner broadcasts the schedule for these rewards in advance so players can decide whether to save up their Spotlight Caches. 
  • This system presented an all-new mechanism for earning the game’s newest and most sought-after cards without having to save up and spend tokens. It also introduced a new element to the collection meta by allowing Second Dinner to put rare, exclusive variants within Spotlight Caches to be unlocked if you already own the card in rotation. 
  • One downside of this system was that it effectively supplanted the Token Shop collection mechanism by drastically reducing the amount of tokens and gold players can receive simply by playing the game and leveling up. 
  • After significant outcry over the change, the studio recently replaced one of the four Spotlight Cache rewards from a random variant to a guaranteed 1,000 tokens to help address concerns. Yet it’s also true that this new system is more reliant on a loot box-style approach than the primarily token-first system it replaced, which may in the long run irk the player base in much the same way as the pay-to-win era earlier this spring. 
  • We’ll have to wait and see, but for now, players seem content saving up Spotlight Caches and opening them during weeks in which they feel the rewards are worth it. 
Source: Second Dinner

Conquest Mode Gave Players a Reason to Stick Around

Over the last six months, with card acquisition hurdles disrupting the core gameplay loops of Marvel Snap, the community came to the conclusion that the game needed more hooks to keep playing. With its single game mode being the ranked competitive mode, some players began to question why they should keep playing, especially if a player hits max rank and no longer has a strong reason to continue competing for the remainder of a season. Enter Conquest Mode. 

  • As Second Dinner was solving its card acquisition issues, it simultaneously debuted a new game mode in June designed to further ease the burden of daily play. Conquest Mode introduced a new tiered tournament with its own unique rewards that exists outside the competitive ladder. 
  • It also introduced a new format, borrowed from the game’s Battle Mode, in which players play numerous rounds against the same opponent, instead of just one. This added an entirely unique dynamic to how the game is played and what decks are viable. 
  • Players start in the Proving Grounds and then advance through Silver and Gold Tiers to accumulate Infinity Tickets. The Silver Tier requires you to win two games in a row, while the Gold Tier requires three wins. In the final week of the season, the Infinity Tier opens with an exclusive seasonal reward that requires five wins in a row. All the while, players can accumulate new currency and spend it on weekly rewards that tie into the game’s overall progression system.  
  • Conquest Mode solved many different problems at once and worked perfectly alongside the card acquisition changes to improve the overall health of Marvel Snap. The mode gave players sick of the competitive ladder an all-new format to try out new decks without the fear of losing rank. 
  • Following a steady decline in active users from January to May, Marvel Snap at last saw a modest increase in active players on both platforms in June, according to data.ai, and its number of monthly downloads increased on both Android and iOS for the first time since launch, too. 
  • It may be too early to judge how well Marvel Snap’s new Spotlight Cache system is affecting player spending, engagement, and retention, or whether there are other mechanisms Second Dinner can experiment with ways to better balance its new system with the token economy. But right now, the game is arguably in the best state it’s ever been with regard to card acquisition, and that bodes well for the future as Marvel Snap heads into its one-year anniversary this fall. 

#2 PS5 Closes In, Sea of Stars’ Unique Milestone & CD Projekt’s Struggles

Marvel Sea of Stars
Source: Sabotage Studio

The PS5 is catching up. Sony said on Thursday that the PS5 had crossed more than 40 million units sold thanks to improving supply and still despite “unprecedented challenges of COVID,” the company said. 

  • Because of supply constraints, the PS5 has fallen behind its predecessor in sales at the same time in its life cycle. It took the PS4 30 months and six days to sell 40 million units, while it took the PS5 32 months and 15 days, according to analyst Daniel Ahmad
  • It’s still an impressive showing for Sony, which has managed to remedy many of the supply issues that kept the PS5 prohibitively difficult to purchase for roughly its first two years on the market. Just in 2023 alone, Sony has sold 10 million units and the PS5 is expected to continue selling well into the fall and holiday season. 
  • “For more months than I care to remember, we kept thanking our community for their patience while working through these issues,” PlayStation chief Jim Ryan said as part of the announcement. “But now PS5 supply is well-stocked and we are seeing that pent up demand finally being met.”
  • Sony has a major first-party exclusive arriving on October 20th with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, which also has a limited-edition console bundle that became available for preorder on Friday. The Insomniac sequel will be one of only a small handful of PS5-only games Sony has released this generation, as other major first-party exclusives have mostly remained cross-gen until now. 
  • Given Sony’s ambitious and potentially record-breaking target of 25 million PS5 sold into retail during FY2024, Spider-Man 2’s success will be essential to hitting that milestone. 

Sea of Stars is all in on subscriptions. The highly anticipated new indie game from The Messenger developer Sabotage Studio will launch on Sony’s PlayStation Plus (Extra and Premium), in addition to launching on Xbox Game Pass. Sabotage made the announcement alongside a reveal of its new PlayStation demo. 

  • That means Sea of Stars is the first-ever game to launch on both Microsoft and Sony’s subscription platforms at the same time, according to Kotaku. Previous games that have launched onto Game Pass — or on PS Plus since Sony revamped its subscription platform last year — have done so as a timed or permanent exclusive.   
  • Sea of Stars is a retro, turn-based role-playing game in the vein of Chrono Trigger and classic Final Fantasy titles. It features some gorgeous-looking pixel art and a unique take on traversal mechanics alongside a narrative being billed as a prequel to The Messenger. 
  • Subscription gaming remains a tiny slice of the overall gaming industry, representing at one point last year just 4% of overall North American and Europe video game spending, or about $3.7 billion, according to Ampere Analysis. We also know from Sony’s past earnings reports that about one-third of PlayStation owners pay for either Extra or Premium, while Game Pass’ last reported subscriber figure was 25 million in January 2022. 
  • Still, for an indie developer like Sabotage, launching its new game onto both subscription platforms may be a savvy strategy more small studios could follow in the future. It seems to suggest that the financial incentives from Microsoft and Sony could outweigh the loss in sales from going all in on subscriptions, and this way millions (or perhaps even tens of millions) more players will get to try Sea of Stars when it launches August 29th. 

CD Projekt Red makes another tough decision. The Witcher and Cyberpunk developer announced on Wednesday that it would be laying off around 100 employees, or 9% of its total workforce, over the next nine months. The decision was not made lightly, CD Projekt CEO Adam Kiciński said. 

  • “There’s no easy way to say this, but today we are overstaffed,” Kiciński said in a message to employees that was later posted to the company’s website. “We have talented people on board who are finishing their tasks and – based on current and expected project needs — we already know we don’t have other opportunities for them in the next year.”
  • CD Projekt Red, the in-house development studio of parent company CD Projekt, has been trying to reverse the damage done in the wake of its buggy Cyberpunk 2077 launch in the fall of 2020. The studio has an ambitious new slate of Witcher projects in the works and its Cyberpunk DLC, Phantom Liberty, launching in September. 
  • Still, CD Projekt has had a rollercoaster of a couple of years on the financial side. The company enjoyed a nice bump from the release of Netflix’s Edgerunners series last September in addition to some major updates to Cyberpunk that brought in new and old players. But sales were down 20% year over year in its most recent quarter, and uncertainties around its new game pipeline have pressured the company to cut costs and streamline operations. 
  • In May, CD Projekt cut roughly half the workforce of its Boston-based subsidiary, The Molasses Flood, and rebooted The Witcher project (codenamed Sirius) that the team is working on. CD Project also said it would wind down support for its card game Gwent, a move that would mean laying off another 30 employees in the coming months. 

You can view our entire job board — all of the open roles, as well as the ability to post new roles — below. We've made the job board free for a limited period, so as to help the industry during this period of layoffs. Every job post garners ~50K impressions over the 45-day time period.

Don’t miss our next issue!

Sign up to receive the #1 games industry newsletter, straight in your inbox.