Hi everyone — welcome to another issue of Naavik Digest! If you missed our last one, be sure to check out our breakdown of the ongoing Microsoft-FTC regulatory hearing and how the antitrust fight could reshape Xbox and console gaming as we know it. We also published a great interview with Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney on the Naavik Gaming Podcast that’s well worth a listen if you haven’t already. 

In this issue, we’re spotlighting three new games from the Turkish free-to-play puzzle scene and breaking down their backstories, monetization, and design.

#1 Lookout for These Upcoming Puzzle Games from Turkey

Written by Harshal Karvande, Lead Game Designer at Rovio

Fionas Farm
Source: Naavik

Turkey has risen as the second-largest gaming ecosystem in Europe, next only to the U.K., and has seen the birth of two unicorns in the last five years — Peak and Dream Games. Games like Toon Blast from Peak, Merge Dragons from Gram Games, and Royal Match from Dream Games have dominated the Puzzle category of Blast, Merge, and Match games, respectively. 

Startup Ecosystem
Source: The State of Turkish Gaming Ecosystem

Turkey’s golden era of mobile gaming startups can be traced back to its biggest exit: The acquisition of Peak by Zynga in June 2020 for $1.8 billion. Over the next few years, 80 ex-Peak employees went on to found 65 tech startups, 28 of which were focused on gaming. This also created a positive feedback loop in terms of investment, with investors in companies like Rollic (also acquired by Zynga) making gaming-focused investment funds. In the first half of 2022, Turkey was No. 1 in Europe for investments in gaming startups

Given the outsized success of the region — and the growing ecosystem of talent and capital — this Digest piece will focus on some of the upcoming puzzle games from Turkey to watch out for, as well as the teams creating them. We’ll explore two main contenders and then end with a few honorable mentions.

Tile Busters

Spyke Games

Spyke Games was founded by several ex-Peak senior leadership members, including Peak co-founder Rina Onur Sirinoglu, who serves as Spyke Games’ CEO. In September 2021, the team started testing its first game, a Coin Master-like social casino game called Royal Riches, in the U.S. and U.K. Spyke then also began testing Tile Busters primarily in the U.S. and U.K. in October 2022.

The game can be best described as Zen Match with blockers and Coin Master’s area completion meta (but not its attack loop meta). As a reminder, blockers are obstacles found in Match & Blast Puzzle games and are typically the targets that need to be destroyed to win levels. These games continuously unlock new blockers as players progress to keep the puzzles fresh and exciting and unlock new challenges.

Why merge Zen Match’s core with Coin Master’s meta? In a nutshell:

  • Zen Match’s core is innovative and proven at scale. Paired with a light meta, solid monetization systems, and extensive live-ops activities, it has ultimately led to ~$100M in IAP revenue for the game since April 2021 and an eventual acquisition by Moon Active.
  • Coin Master’s meta (spin the wheel → earn coins → use the coins to upgrade town scenes, while stealing coins by attacking other player bases) is a highly successful design that has enabled Coin Master to live in the top 25 grossing ranks for the longest time. It is also flexible and can be attached to many different cores. Read more here.
  • Further, Coin Master’s area completion meta is something Spyke Games has already gained experience in implementing through Royal Riches. Spyke seems to be sharing its content and tech wisely between its two titles.

That said, Spyke isn’t simply looking to mash two games into one. Zen Match (Tile Busters’ biggest competitor) has one theoretical downside regarding long-term engagement in a level-based puzzle game: the monotonous progression of levels without blockers. Tile Busters aims to solve for that. However, it is important to note that Zen Match already showcases a D30 retention of ~10%, which is impressive versus genre benchmarks. Therefore, it can be argued that Zen Match’s blocker-less gameplay is doing just fine in terms of driving long-term engagement. Of course, more can always be done, but moving D30 retention from 10% to 15% is a very different (and much harder) challenge compared to moving D30 retention from 5% to 10%. In other words, is Spyke Games focused on solving the right problems?

In the U.S., according to data.ai, Tile Busters’ D7 retention comes in at ~15% (versus Zen Match’s 20%), D30 retention is at ~5% (versus Zen Match’s ~10%), and D90 RPD is $2.00 (versus Zen Match’s $1.50). But when looking at these numbers broken out by platform, the retention number difference between the two games on iOS is much more in line with what is stated above. On Android, almost no retention difference exists, and Tile Busters simply monetizes better than Zen Match.

While there might be UA targeting differences at play to explain the metric differences between platforms, it‘s safe to conclude that Tile Busters is much more aggressive on monetization than Zen Match. It‘s also safe to conclude that introducing blockers into the core gameplay to improve long-term engagement isn’t fully panning out, because the game’s retention numbers are not crossing those of Zen Match’s on either platform. There could be many reasons for this, such as a lack of long-term content or weak live-ops activities, but two sources of the game’s long-term retention woes become quickly apparent:

  1. The lack of Coin Master’s attack loop in Tile Busters’ metagame cannot be understated in terms of long-term retention impact. Moon Active has been quite open about the important role this highly social metagame element played to increase Coin Master’s longevity — more so than the area completion meta. See it in action here.
  2. Tile Busters currently has an effort-to-reward ratio problem in which levels progressively get harder and more time-consuming (more so with blockers), while the rewards per level stay the same. In other words, it takes frustratingly longer and longer for players to progress through the metagame. This is also likely why Tile Busters is aggressively monetizing so early, but it doesn’t seem to be coming from a place of player satisfaction and therefore might be not sustainable long-term.

All that said, none of these are unsolvable problems, and Tile Busters is clearly off to a solid start, as seen in its scaling efforts since February 2023. Spyke Games will have to continue finding the right balance of ingredients to maintain success, but this is certainly a game worth keeping an eye on. 

Fiona’s Farm

Ace Games

Ace Games is a similar story to Spyke Games. The studio was founded by ex-Peak leaders, and another co-founder of Peak, Hakan Bas, serves as Ace Games’ CEO. Since 2020, the studio put out 19 hypercausal titles like Mix and Drink and Prison Life, before starting testing Fiona’s Farm in October 2021 primarily in the U.S.. Fiona’s Farm is best described as the level-based tap-and-blast core gameplay of Toon Blast crossed with Klondike’s adventure simulation metagame (explore, farm, craft, and complete quests).

Built on the solid core of Toon Blast’s level-based core gameplay, Fiona’s Farm innovates on the meta outside of the levels to deliver an adventure simulation akin to Klondike. Players collect energy from winning levels that can be used to clear obstacles like trees and stones to expand the area, grow and craft items, and complete character quests to unravel a family mystery full of Grandma's drama this genre of games is known for. 

There could be a few reasons Ace Games chose to go down this route:

  1. The last experiment that tried something similar was Supercell’s Hay Day Pop, which was ultimately canceled. However, that game was canceled in light of Supercell’s high standards, which don’t necessarily need to be the same standards for most startup studios.
  2. Klondike’s metagame is heavily proven (~$600M in IAP revenue since January 2018), and, quite frankly, not enough games have tried to copy Klondike’s metagame since it came out. So while it’s good to see Ace Games move in this direction, Klondike’s monetization aggressiveness also works for a more niche audience compared to what Ace Games might be targeting.

On Android US (no data available for iOS US), the game’s D90 RPD (~$2.50) is performing much better than that of Toon Blast, Zen Match, or Tile Busters, but still comes in lower than Klondike and Royal Match. A lot of this is expected, but what Fiona’s Farm loses in Klondike’s monetization aggressiveness, it makes up for by speaking to a much larger TAM. Now it just needs to figure out how to monetize at Royal Match levels.

Fiona’s Farm is adding new levels and adventures every month, with a bit of a slower cadence due to the heavy adventure content required. It has also been scaling since July of last year, with lifetime revenues reaching $11.3 million over ~2.7M downloads, according to data.ai. These are great numbers, and it’ll be very interesting to see how Ace Games chooses to globally scale while alleviating its long-term content production concerns.

Other Notable Mentions

Puzzle Games

Of course, there are more than two interesting, new mobile puzzle games being created in Turkey. Here are three more noteworthy candidates: 

There are a lot of candidates for new Turkish mobile puzzle game hits, but Spyke and Ace Games discussed above have solid shots at succeeding. Clearly, there’s a lot of potential, so it makes sense to believe that if there are new mobile puzzle game hits, they have a good chance of coming from the Turkish mobile industry. Additionally, with the positive feedback loop created by the investment funds in the region, we can expect to see great new unicorns emerge with scalable, profitable, and widely entertaining games.

#2: Game of the Week — Final Fantasy XVI

Written by Nick Statt, Naavik Managing Editor

Final Fantasy XVI
Source: Square Enix
  • Platform / Business Model: PS5
  • Developer: Creative Business Unit III
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • State: Worldwide Launch
  • Genre: Action / RPG

What You Need to Know: 

  • Final Fantasy XVI, which launched worldwide last Thursday for the PlayStation 5, is the first mainline game in the long-running RPG series since 2016’s Final Fantasy XV. This installment also happens to be the first single-player entry from the internal Square Enix studio Creative Business Unit III, known best as the developer behind the massively successful MMO, Final Fantasy XIV. 
  • While much of the team behind FFXV went on to form Luminous Productions, the developer of Forspoken (now part of another Square Enix business unit), many of the FFXIV developers were tasked with modernizing the core franchise’s battle system and infusing it with action RPG elements. To do this, Square brought on veterans of other, non-FF game series. That includes Devil May Cry (DMC) veteran Ryota Suzuki as battle designer and Kazutoyo Maehiro of classic Square RPG series SaGa as creative director. 
  • For longtime fans of Final Fantasy, the shift in both tone and style in FFXVI may be jarring. The game eschews turn-based combat almost entirely in favor of a more DMC-inspired system that favors timed dodging, combos, and parrying. 
  • Those who have played Final Fantasy VII Remake should be more comfortable transitioning to this game’s even more action-oriented combat, but die-hard fans of the turn-based Square RPGs of old should beware: This is not your traditional Final Fantasy by any means. For reference, check out a combat gameplay video here
  • The narrative contains all your familiar franchise mainstays like Chocobos, summons, and elemental magic, but producer Naoki Yoshida and the team have made a big deal about drawing inspiration from HBO’s Game of Thrones for a darker, more violent medieval plotline. Anyone who has played the game’s prologue, which was made available via an excellent pre-release demo, should have an idea of the more mature, Machiavellian narrative at play in FFXVI. 

The Verdict: 

  • If you’re a fan of action RPG buildcrafting, min-maxing, and other core pillars of the genre, there’s plenty to love about FFXVI’s more active combat, not to mention the sheer absurdity of its earth-shattering boss battles and cutscenes. 
  • The game is at its best when it’s reveling in spectacle and scale, with Valisthea’s Dominants (magic users who can transform into Valisthea’s summons like Ifrit and Phoenix) clashing in jaw-dropping battles that put most other action games to shame. 
  • But those who yearn for the days of assembling a ragtag collection of party members and engaging in strategic turn-based combat won’t find any of that here and should instead seek out titles like Octopath Traveler II or indie hit Chained Echoes to scratch that itch. 
  • We don’t have a ton of insight into FFXVI’s sales performance quite yet, although we do know that U.K. physical sales are down nearly 75% compared to FFXV. Earlier this week, Square Enix confirmed that it had shipped to retailers and digitally sold a combined 3 million units in the first six or so days of release, which comes in under both FFXV and FFVII Remake (but still making it the fastest-selling PS5 exclusive given how few of those we’ve seen to date). 
  • That’s to be expected. FFXV was a cross-platform game arriving during a console generation that was nowhere near as supply constrained as the PS5 has been, while FFVII Remake had a larger fan base (and a much larger PS4 install base) to cater to. Not to mention that digital sales are a far larger slice of the pie today than they were back during FFXV’s launch in 2016. 
  • Still, we shouldn’t expect FFXVI to perform at the level of this year’s biggest hits like Tears of the Kingdom or Hogwarts Legacy, given the more niche appeal of Final Fantasy and the fact that the game’s console exclusivity means it may likely only sell to around 15-20% of the 40-plus million PS5 owners. Yet a release on Xbox and PC at later dates — as well as a rapid pickup in PS5 sales — could help its sales considerably.

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