Vainglory Assessment: IAPs & F2P Options

Content archived from the Original Vainglory forums - originally posted by Smashoody on 16th of June 2017 archived by @DragonBuster

I’d like to offer up a comparative of a couple of other mobile MOBA games versus VainGlory (VG). My main focus here is going to be the IAPs and the F2P options within these games, especially concerning how the solutions of VG’s competitors could benefit VG itself and the VG community.

Before diving in, I’d like to preface this whole article with a simple goal and a simple user persona: a new user (willing to spend some money instead of unwilling to spend any money) who wants to play a mobile MOBA competitively… and wants most of all to assess what game would be best for her/him in the long run while chasing that dream.

This is an important starting point, because becoming “competitive” in any game requires at least one consistent variable across all MOBAs - a somewhat deep knowledge/experience of all of the heroes and all of the items in the game to help guide/formulate individual and team strategies and builds. That translates into investment monies, and also should include the basic equipment costs to play.

Step 1: Game & Hero Acquisition​

Keeping this starting premise in mind, it’s no coincidence that the act of acquiring heroes is designed to be a revenue stream in mobile MOBAs. The nature of keeping competitive games balanced, throughout update cycles, does cost money. However, the nature of sport-like competition, is all about accessibility. If baseball or soccer/futbol costed 200-300 dollars minimum to simply try them enough to figure out if you have any talent at it… they wouldn’t be the giant sports they are today. Anyone can learn to pitch with just a ball, a box, and a chair. Anyone can learn to bend it like Beckham, with just a ball, some space, and a pole.

However in mobile MOBA lands, where the games depend on users already having both a device and an ample connection (which is a ballpark cost of $150/device and let’s lowball ISP service at $20/month - totaling $390 for the first year), hero costs can range anywhere from $2 to roughly $10 dollars each. Multiply the mean ($6) of that per hero cost by an average of 25 heroes, and we can add another $150 to the mix.

Now, grinding for free content is usually possible in mobile MOBAs, and is hard to calculate for this article, but let’s be generous here to get a final number to start playing for a year that’s fair to game companies. Let’s assume you can grind 1 free hero every 3 weeks. BUT a new hero is released each month. That means you can get content for free, but you’ll still need to pay something to keep up with the time your competition will have with those new heroes. So we will add an un-grindable paid hero every 4 months. That brings our first year total to play competitively in a mobile MOBA to a whopping $458 for a mediocre device, a mediocre internet connection/phone plan, and enough of the hero field (at $6/each) to be able to play competitively.

To be blunt, that’s a huge amount of money considering what that investment actually gives you… which is a dramatic demand on a new users available life hours, for the distant possibility of being able to go pro. And to make matters worse, this is an entry cost. This is what it costs TO FIND OUT if you could possibly be good enough.

So before going into IAP and F2P specifics, I’m just going to go ahead and declare that eventually the game company with the balls to offer all heroes for free, will acquire the most competitive play field. Doing this would make the worst-case barrier for entry a flat $390 (lowballed) for the first year for the device and the ISP service. This would radically change how consumers view the game, because subliminally every player would know they only need to invest more time practicing to become competent… just like baseball and soccer. The key is making it easy to get started, but making the gameplay itself extremely hard to master. That is the essence of sport, that I fear game companies abuse when using the term “eSport” to market their product(s).

Step 2: Check-In Rewards​

Now that we’ve covered the first hurdle a new user faces when ramping up to a mobile MOBA, we can get to the more granular stuff. The first to talk about, is known as “Check-in Rewards.” These types of rewards are generally gated by time. Meaning they generate over time, and can be accessed by simply logging into the game and clicking on it. They also tend to have a consequence built into them, meaning you either lose your progress in the sequence of check-ins OR you miss out on rewards that could have been re-generating, because you didn’t login and grab the ones that are currently available.

VG didn’t have any check-in rewards at first. The game was initially focused on grinding time, and added bonuses of in-game currency upon successfully winning matches. It also had a macro account leveling system for rewards earned over lots of game time. Then once Mobile Legends Bang Bang (MLBB) was released, VG started offering check-in rewards in a couple of different ways.

MLBB offers a time-based check-in reward , a consecutive daily check-in reward, and a grind based reward for playing. It also has a macro account leveling system with rewards for play time. VG very clearly adopted some of MLBBs approaches (the chests), and interpreted them in their own way.

Another current mobile MOBA that is trying to compete with VG & MLBB is called Heroes Evolved (HE). HE decided to not offer time-based check-in chests, and instead focused on having lots of daily tasks, and having a full month of check-ins which gives you increasing rewards as the month progresses. I saw this method once before in a mobile game, which was a Chinese game called Eternal Arena. This game was an attempt to make a WoW/MOBA hybrid game for mobile. It has more currencies and more UI elements than MOST games I’ve ever played lol - but it also has a monthly check-in system.

The most important takeaway of HE’s approach (and I suppose Eternal Arena’s, too) was that their monthly check-in systems give significant rewards. In HE you get skins that cannot be acquired any other way, along with currencies, upgrades, etc. In Eternal Arena, you could unlock heroes you’d normally have to get via a RNG-style chest system from the month-long check-ins. Offering substantial rewards for month-long daily check-ins, IMO is really fair and proactive. In both cases, that feature alone kept me logging in… which in turn kept me asking myself if I should put money into the game since I’m opening it up so much.

Another point well worth mentioning, is that these month-long check-in systems allow you to use purchasable in-game currency to make up for any days you missed checking-in. That is a solid business tactic, because I found it very easy to justify spending real money to make up for my own laziness or busy schedule… just to get at those substantive rewards by the end of the month… which were cheaper when acquired this way anyway. And now with leftover in-game currency, I’d ask myself, “Why not spend a little more, since I’m sitting on this currency that isn’t enough to buy anything.” Nicely played, game company! :wink:

I personally would love to see VG stop looking so much at MLBB and start looking at HE as far as how to improve the economics and rewards of playing VG. For example, if VG had a month long check-in system (and d’oh… decided to not make all heroes free) that gives players the new hero of the month (but only when checking in for all days in the month) and if there’s a month without a new hero… one of the skins gets put in for that month… it’d be pretty awesome. Naturally we’d use ice to make up for missing check-ins. And now talents as well as keys, ice, cards, opals, and glory could all be integrated into the daily check-ins over the course of the month. The difference here is that we can “see” our rewards and our progress towards them, instead of relying on blind RNG chests for everything.

Step 3: The RNG to Rule Them All​

Random Number Generated (RNG) reward systems are everywhere. In VG, that statement is literally true. However even though RNG systems are everywhere, some are better than others.

In VG, (I believe) all chests are randomly generated. And all rewards are found in chests (aside from macro account leveling which seems to have only a few randomly assigned prizes within their chest bounties). On the plus side, there is excitement in the unknown, and especially excitement when all of that randomness leads to a very good return of perceived and/or real value.

However, VGs competition has done a better job of visualizing this process. In MLBB, this is known as the “Lucky Spin” and the “Draw” tab of HEs store. I’m not talking about the chests in MLBB at all here (which are RNG chests similar to VGs sans skins and heroes). Also, I fully realize that VG can’t replicate the Lucky Spin and Draw features of the other games, because VG is trying to offer “every” thing that can be acquired in-game within any given RNG transaction.

However and with all due respect to the VG team, that is the problem.

My logic is simple, in the cases of the Lucky Spin and Draw options in MLBB and HE respectively, the HUGE difference is that we can “see” the possibilities of our RNG transaction. Both MLBB and HE display a grid of prizes. We can all look at that grid, see the more valuable prizes, and fully know that we probably won’t get the grand prize. But that’s ok, because we are given enough info to assess if it’s worth it or not to try.
In the case of VG, SEMC has become a bit of a pariah to some folks online, because those same folks have quite frankly had bad luck with the RNG content. Additionally when we add the impact of seeing others showing off their more lucky rewards on twitter or reddit… and you’ve got a perfect storm for frustration, and inevatible lashing out from the masses.

I realize revamping the entire chest system into anything close to the Lucky Spin or Draw features of other games would be problematic. But that’s not the fault of the players, and is instead on SEMCs shoulders to rectify due to trying to include every unlockable into a single universal RNG system.

To eliminate the frustration of risk-adverse behavior… we should look to the mothers of all risk systems… the stock markets. Transparency is the key to the kingdom when working with risk-averse investors (a la the SEC), and VG fails pretty badly in their transparency of possible ROIs (Returns on Investments). SEMC simply said, “Hey it’s all in there… anything is possible.” But to any statistical minds out there, that statement reads as, “Hey, anything you want IS possible, but it IS ALSO much more likely to not end up being what you want/need right now… because every time something is added to the game - the odds for specific rewards get thinner.”

In the case of MLBBs Lucky Spin and HEs Draw features however, we can see in a glance if that particular selection of prizes will suit our needs. Then if we don’t have the cash to buy the thing we want outright, we can gamble on what we do have on hand to try and get the thing we want. Compared to VG, these two other methods are substantially more transparent and more empowering to the user. The added bonus is that MLBB and HE players never feel cheated by poor odds… because the array of prizes was right there the whole time. Even though the odds for different money values of rewards are probably quite similar between all of these games, the way VGs competition presents the gamble makes all the difference.

I honestly feel that VGs method of RNG chests simply has too many possible prizes, and that fact makes each transaction seem radically more risky than a similar transaction in the other two games. Repeat this buying drama and/or buyers remorse a dozen times over, and even if VG is a superior game, it comes with a hidden price tag of being consistently reminded of how unlucky we are, instead of visually teasing us into thinking how lucky we could be. There’s a big difference.

TDLR: Conclusion​

In the end, I personally feel that VG is the most successful implementation of the MOBA genre available on mobile devices, and it has the approachability and ease of use aspects that analog sports have nailed down excellently thanks to its touch controls. It is the ultimate mobile eSport, and in this pro athletes opinion, it is the most “sporty” of all the MOBA games on any platform. However once we get into the world of the app itself, we as users find substantial financial demands to stay competitive, which somewhat makes the game feel less competitive focused and more market focused.

Meanwhile some of VGs competitors have implemented aspects of their financial transactions in more transparent ways than VG has, and overall I think this has negatively impacted the perception of VG, and SEMC, too while simultaneously making their games seem more “fair” and thus more approachable. That’s why other game companies keep using the word “fair” in their tag lines. VG seems unfair to anyone who’s financially challenged and/or puts a value on their time spent doing things.

I think overcoming this negative impact however, is not impossible. Rethinking the level of true competition this game could represent, and considering making all heroes available for free could be a good start (and is a huge discussion in its own right). Also, rethinking time-based (non-grinding) rewards could open up possibilities to make that hero availability change more viable for SEMC, while also reducing the intrinsic frustrations of a completely random chest system. And finally, rethinking the chest system itself and considering replacing RNG “everything” chests with more focused and visually displayed mini-gamble RNG methods could help to re-secure revenue streams that the changes above could impact.

None of this is easy, and I’m really only scratching the surface of these topics even after writing all of this lol, but I wanted to try and bring up some problems (with solution proposals) to the community, in hopes that this would help start convos that are constructive and viable for all parties concerned.

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