Since the resounding success of Royal Match, puzzle game companies have been playing catch-up to the number one puzzle game in the world. Many are experimenting with the ‘Royal-Match-but-X’ formula: keeping the Royal Match core, but mixing up the meta.
Games like Playrix’s FamilyScapes and Family Hero, and Tactile Games’ Makeover Match haven’t made it out of soft launch, despite being made by genre-leading companies and sporting high production values. Space Ape Games’ Chrome Valley Customs has been one of few Royal Match fast-follows that have been released globally to some success.
Even Royal Match maker Dream Games has a ‘Royal-Match-but-X’ game, Royal Kingdom, which keeps the Royal Match core and adds the build-and-attack meta of Coin Master.
Enter newcomer studio Every Dog Games. It is owned by Tennis Clash maker Wildlife Studios, and was co-founded by former Zynga social casino execs Jim Terdina and Sean Leslie. Every Dog’s first title Thrill Match is a Royal-Match-but-Coin-Master puzzler that entered soft launch last month.
Coin Master’s meta, in which you spend coins earned from the slot machine core to build villages and attack other players’ turf, has been a very successful design for casual audiences on mobile. It has enabled Coin Master to stay in the top 25 grossing charts for the longest time (more on Coin Master here), and Scopely’s Coin-Master-but-Monopoly response, Monopoly Go, has already become the fastest casual game on mobile to cross $1B in revenue. Clearly, the build and attack meta is engaging and widely adopted by casual audiences on mobile.
So how does Thrill Match integrate the Royal Match core levels with the meta of Coin Master? When a player wins a level, they collect the various colored matching pieces they destroyed while playing the stage. Each color corresponds to a Coin Master meta action, and collecting enough pieces triggers the assigned action:
- Yellow pieces: Attack other players’ Theme Parks
- Red pieces: Raid the‘Coin Master’
- Green pieces: Gain a Shield
As players beat levels, they gain coins to upgrade their Theme Parks and trigger the Coin Master meta actions, like attacks and raids, to steal other players’ coins.
Coin Master’s monetization is primarily linked to the core slot machine, and follows a casino economy of charging players for spins. Spins are used as a resource to play the slot machine and for betting higher spins for increased rewards. This is where the social casino background of Thrill Match’s developer comes into play.
Thrill Match carries the casino monetization from Coin Master’s core slot machine into match-3 by basing the economy around Tickets:
- Every level costs Tickets to play (in lieu of the lives system in match-3 games).
- Winning a level rewards the player with Tickets, Coins and the collected colored pieces.
- Players can use additional Tickets to make bigger bets and boost their winnings from a level, multiplying the collected colored pieces.
- Every transaction in the game, like buying match-3 boosters and five extra moves when failing levels, costs Tickets.
Since match-3 games primarily monetize on buying extra moves, the most impactful recent genre innovation has come from Royal Match charging $2 for five more moves, where previously many puzzlers, including Candy Crush and Homescapes, operated at $1 for five moves. Thrill Match starts at $2 (800 Tickets) but by level 100, the Ticket price increases to $14 (5,600 Tickets).
This also means transitioning players to treat Tickets more like a resource or currency in casino games, and relying less on delivering the impeccable balance of match-3 levels to achieve a set amount of outcomes when players run out of moves. In theory, this could make the match-3 levels even more widely appealing (as there’s less skill involved) and make for a compelling package when combined with the Coin Master meta.
With only a month of release and about 9K downloads, Thrill Match is in a very early testing stage. Tech issues such as losing progress, crashing and glitches reveal its prototype status, making it too early to look at its metrics. But with further iteration and refinement, it is a promising experiment in creating the next big casual game that combines two of the most popular titles right now: Royal Match and Monopoly Go.
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Reverse: 1999 Storms the Downloads Charts
- Developer: Bluepoch
- Publisher: Bluepoch
- Platform: iOS, Android, Windows
- Genre: Turn-based RPG
- Gameplay: Link
A Narrative Heavy Gacha RPG: Reverse: 1999 is a turn-based character collection RPG with a deep narrative, unique watercolor art style, and gacha-based monetisation. It is the first game from Bluepoch, a Chinese developer and publisher formed in 2020, with Tencent among its early backers.
Poor Launch Performance: Reverse: 1999 conducted two beta tests in January and June 2022, was later released in China during May 2023, and got a global release in October. During worldwide launch week the game quickly shot into the US top 10, according to data.ai. This was due to pre-orders and good featuring across app stores, but it has since seen a typical sharkfin download curve. It is now at ~15-20K downloads per day with a total of ~6M downloads. Revenue has mostly followed downloads, which is not atypical for gacha RPGs, and the game is currently averaging ~$100-200K per day with an expected downward trend. What is slightly surprising is that the game has amassed a meagre ~$5M over ~6M downloads: not a great ratio for a gacha RPG. For example, Arknights had a 25x revenue-to-downloads ratio during launch month.
Unusual FTUE Flow Hurts Early Retention: The story is deep and wild, jumping from 1960s London back to 1929 while mentioning real-world events from 1999, and the introduction to the core gameplay takes a while. During the first 20 minutes, players only do two battles and learn about how the turn-based combat mechanic works. This is unusual, and it’s likely that Western audiences start churning out early. This is proven by a very low D7/D1 retention ratio of ~20-25% – a healthy game would be in the ~40-50% range. It is typical for RPG titles in the West to start with combat tutorials and go deeper into the system quickly. Even Eastern games try to kick off the action as soon as possible. With Reverse: 1999 we see the opposite – the focus is on the (very peculiar) story.
Deep Storyline and Unique Art Style:Reverse: 1999‘s rich fantasy world has its own institutions and events that are mixed with our own world. The game opens with a mysterious storm, with the player taken on a journey through it to reappear in the roaring ‘20s. The mystery of what is going on, what the world’s rules are and why the characters you meet are special could be a strong driver for long-term retention, and for the formation of a cult following. The narrative might also be a barrier for more casual players. In terms of tone, Reverse: 1999’s art style is darker than that of other Chinese gacha RPGs like Genshin Impact or Star Rail. It reminds us more of Arknights or Gun Girls Z, however the colours are a fitting match for the setting and the inter-war era. The combat scene environments have similarities with water-based paintings which allows the character models to stand out clearly.
Two-layer Tactical Combat Innovation: During combat you can merge two identical Incantations to increase the power of the overall attack or defense move. This adds an uncommon, but very welcome secondary tactical layer to the turn-based battle RPG gameplay. It allows players to finish battles quickly by merging dupes and going for the highest damage possible, and players can try different card combinations to keep the battle experience fresh. It does however remove a card from the player’s hand, and so in battles with more enemy waves it’s better to use weaker Incantationsagainst weaker enemies and merge them for more powerful moves against tougher enemies. This is the heart of the risk-reward decision-making.
Contemporary Chinese RPGs Get Methodical: Ambitious gacha RPGs made by Chinese game studios are becoming a regular chart presence in the West, and there are many more to come. Although they are also starting to look pretty formulaic – high production values, quality art styles, immaculate voiceovers in different languages (including in Japanese with popular voice actors), deep narratives, minor innovations to well-trodden genre mechanics, packed live ops calendars, and immersive social media presence to build community. Reverse: 1999 is no different, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There will only be a handful that can deliver well on that formula, and the attached revenue rewards are worth competing for.