Monetization of survival games. Part II

iINCYMO
15.12.2022
10 min.

Loot boxes

There are two main uses for loot boxes in this genre:

1) Selling various useful pieces of equipment;

2) Selling key items for building and opening vehicles with contents.

Sale of useful equipment 

  1. Sale of items: armor, weapons, health restoration items, food, water;
  2. Selling key items to build/open vehicles or structures. They are needed to unlock new content and opportunities: go to new places, get new resources, and get this or that advantage.

An interesting point is the difference between selling good equipment and loot boxes. The player gets certain content for money, thus, the presence of two identical sales can be considered a substitution of one expense for another, and vice versa. But is that really so?

Below is a table comparing the sales of sets and loot boxes:

Item set purchase Loot box purchase
Does the player get everything they need in a single purchase? Yes No
Can a player count how much money they’ll have to spend to collect several item sets? Yes No
Price of a single purchase High Low
The amount of purchases necessary to fulfill the player’s needs at any certain point in time? 1 > 1
The thrill: a chance to get something expensive for a small price? Can the game be “fooled”? No Yes
Purchases by small-paying players?  Almost no Yes
Purchases by middle-paying players?  Sometimes Yes
Purchases by whales? Yes Yes, if the content is exclusive to loot boxes

Expensive loot boxes are more of an exception to the rule. When buying it, the player has a small chance to get a particularly valuable item — a backpack. And this is an example of a “perfect” gacha! It works like this: there is the most coveted reward and another one (in this case — dynamite) that is still valuable and that the player can be happy about if they did not get their desired reward. You can also see gold offered in the screenshot above; that is the most common reward for purchasing this loot box.

What makes such a sale?

It gives the player hope of getting the most important and valuable item at the beginning or midway through the game. But even if the player doesn’t get the best reward, they will still be satisfied with their purchase. Yes, they have been unlucky, but they’ve received game currency at almost the standard price. It is the exception rather than the rule with loot boxes and mainly exists in the survival genre.

On the right side of the screenshot, you can see a specific pack being sold. If purchased, the player is guaranteed to find the entirety of the set of use. A complete pack of weapons and healing items that are the basis of the game, so such a set is useful for all players without exception. Unlike other games and the sets sold in them, there is no chance that the player has any one resource in large quantities. Each item of this purchase is convenient and will be needed.

Sometimes players have a lot of resources from the proposed set and thus do not buy it, even if this resource is only a small part of the offer and is at a large discount. Players choose offers based on price, the presence of a significant discount, the relevance of the set, and the absence of what they already have in abundance.

Above you can see an example of standard for the genre loot boxes.

To build vehicles, players need unique parts that can only be acquired through these loot boxes. If the player is told that the price of the wheel they need is $50, then most users will not buy it!

But with a price of 1$, many will try their luck at getting the part, and if not through one purchase, then through a dozen different ones. The offer focuses on the first 2-4 details, as they are unique to each vehicle. An important point: usually, in this genre, a situation is set up so that the player would lack exactly one unique detail out of several. It is much easier to sell an offer to a player when they feel that only one thing is lacking. Because they have already made an effort, and invested time and this one last step is the only thing missing. This sale could be improved if the sets included the exact name of the vehicle and additionally highlighted the most necessary parts.

Grim Soul does not “openly” preview their loot box rewards. Instead, the player has to first tap on the picture to see the information. This screenshot shows in more detail the possible rewards of the loot box, which will include one of the items necessary for building a stable. There are exactly two of them -— a bridle and a trough; in the screenshot, they are marked separately in orange.

The player gets one within the game for free as they progress, while the second item is offered for purchase. Which one of the two the player gets is entirely up to chance.

Aside from valuable items, loot boxes can also sell player progress.

Blueprints for weapons are sold on the right. Each blueprint increases the player’s strength; a certain item becomes stronger. If the game offered a direct sale of the desired blueprint, it would be a cheap way for the player to get what he wants. Such loot boxes make the process of getting the desired blueprint very expensive. At the same time, getting any blueprint will still be useful to the player, as it allows them to spend more money and develop their account.

So what is the advantage of selling things in sets and loot boxes separately?

  1. Loot boxes bring extra money from players who are only willing to pay small amounts;
  2. Loot boxes bring in more money by selling key items, but at the cost of more money than players were expecting to spend on them;
  3. Packs are a good way to cover certain situations users might encounter, an exact answer to a problem a player faces, the easiest and most understandable way to solve it;
  4. Loot boxes can even be a substitute for direct sales for long-term players.

Monetization of rivalry with other players

This game genre is very hardcore. On the one hand, it attracts players very well — organic installation rates are high; on the other hand, the genre has a very low retention rate; players leave it quickly. The game is too challenging for most. Grim Soul, for example, pushes people away with its high difficulty level; players lose a lot if they make a mistake. Even if a player has paid a lot, they can easily lose everything.

More simple games of this genre (Mutiny, for example) lose players because of their long waiting periods when you can’t collect anything. But the players who do stay in the game bring in a lot of money. It is normal for the genre when more than 80% of the project’s revenue is brought in by its 1-2% of players. At the same time, the harder the game is, the more the developers earn from these payers. The problem with the genre is that there is almost no way to buy installations and gain profit from them. As a result, current flagships “occupied” certain settings (visual style + atmosphere) in which they get their organic installations.

Earning from such players requires additional monetization tools that work with the emotions of paying players. And the highest-paying players are always ready to spend for the opportunity to prove to themselves and other players that they are the strongest here. Many games on the market attract a wide audience with their accessibility but make their money by branching off into PvP. The genre of these specific games works exactly like that: they attract players with the plot and a strong connection to classic computer role-playing games, but almost immediately the player is confronted with the presence of others in the game, which can trigger a sense of rivalry.

Mutiny offers competitive events for various mechanics. As a rule, it is PvE oriented: which of the players completes the most resource locations or goes the farthest in a survival challenge. The game also has leagues: the better and higher up in the roster the player is, the more awards they get, the stronger their real, living co-players will be. This leads to a situation in which the player needs to spend more and more to get rewards. And in the higher leagues, the reward is less than the player’s expenses, but it is the rivalry that makes it worth it.

Grim Soul, on the other hand, very quickly introduces the player to the mechanics of enemy bases. Here, as in many games of the genre, the player is shown that there are “other” players, and you can steal something from them. And as if hinting that, if the player sees them, they can also see — and rob — the player. In most cases, these players are “bots” with their own properties. But this is not always the case. Sometimes the security of the player base gets breached by other mechanics.

Threats demonstrated by the game What happens in reality
Grim Soul The presence of other players on the map means the player can be attacked.The player meets other players out in different locations. The player’s base is always safe, all the other “players” on the map are bots.Players on locations are also bots.
Last Day on Earth A hoard of zombies attacks the player’s base and breaks it.Other players are present on the map. The player gets regularly assaulted by NPCs and other living players; “retaliatory” mechanics available.
Mutiny Other players are present on the map.Other players are present on locations. The more the player attacks other players, the more they get attacked in turn.The “players” on locations are bots.
Frostborn The player is immediately shown to his vault, a safe place to put their things in. The rest of the base is in danger.The player meets other player on location maps. Live players attack the base.Live players on locations.

This small table contains examples of how the image that the game creates and the actual mechanics sometimes differ. The reason for this isn’t always the developer’s desire to make more money. Sometimes it is a matter of balance or a technical limitation of the game engine and server. Customizable bots provide a stable and predictable result, create the desired and fixed difficulty for the player.

The use of bots in competitive and PvP mechanics is common in almost all games. Ordinary users always play in ways the developers did not expect. Bot settings can be adjusted to get the desired activity level and behavior on the leaderboard or during interactions with players.

Last Day introduces the player to their PvP system in two steps. First, the player is informed that zombies are guaranteed to attack his base. The player responds by either upgrading the base or the base gets partially destroyed, and the player feels the need for increased safety.

Then, the player gets to know the bases of other users, can attack and be attacked themself.

Mutiny’s PvP mechanics are unusual for the genre. The player can get a scroll used to find a living player (some of the players are bots), the player can attack that base and get valuable items. But the player can also become the target of an attack themself. Then they have the opportunity to either take revenge or buy back their things. At the same time, the more a player attacks others, the more valuable items they can take from the enemy base, and the more often they’ll be attacked in return.

In the hard-hitting Grim Soul, there are bot players on the map. The difference from other games of the genre is that even the simplest base can only be robbed using various powder bombs. They open very late in the game, require a lot of effort from the player to collect, or are bought in the store.

Easier games usually use various axes and more accessible items to attack enemy bases. However, the need for more complex items, such as bombs, comes gradually. In Grim Soul, you’ll still have to find a key to get the most valuable reward by robbing a chest at the enemy base. To do this, you’ll have to defeat a very strong bot player stationed at the place where the player collects resources. It sounds complicated and confusing; of course the “buy and try” way is easier.

When attacking the base of the enemy “player”, the game often offers exactly these resources: bombs, equipment, axes, and healing items.

Battle Passes Within the Genre

Battle Passes (hereinafter — BP) are relatively new to the genre. Like in other games, they offer customization options or unique items that cannot be obtained at other times. Sometimes those are just items with higher endurance. That way the developers can be sure that the player will spend this item anyway. And it still holds a special value for the player.

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