Episode 13: Mobile GameDev Awards 2021 Winners – What is their secret? Featuring Luna Labs

Mobile GameDev Playbook podcast by GameRefinery

Episode 13 brings you insight into the winners of GameRefinery’s very first Mobile GameDev Awards in 2021. These new annual awards aim to reward design and innovation in the mobile game industry by developers in the US, China, and Japan. In this episode, GameRefinery’s analysts and partner judge from Luna Labs discuss a few of the award categories and what made the winners stand out from the competition – what is their secret?

Award categories discussed include Innovation and Excellence in Core Gameplay, Best Evolver, and Best in-game Event.

Host Jon Jordan is joined by GameRefinery’s Chief Analysts Erno Kiiski, Kalle Heikkinen, and Teemu Palomäki and special guests John Wright, Vice President of Operations at Luna Labs.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this year’s awards winners, GameRefinery analysts and partners have gathered their thoughts and opinions on all the winners in a report to provide a snapshot of all the winning games, including a top-level overview of the features and events that made them stand out amongst the competition. Get your report copy here.

We’re available on all major podcast platforms – if you enjoy the episode remember to hit subscribe!

Topics we will cover in this episode:

  1. Innovation & Excellence in Core Gameplay winner: Genshin Impact
  2. Biggest Evolver, US winner: Marvel Strike Force
  3. Biggest Evolver, JP winner: Pokémon GO
  4. Biggest Evolver, CH winner: CrossFire Mobile
  5. Best Event, US winner: Genshin Impact, Unreconciled Stars
  6. Best Event, JP winner: FFBE幻影戦争 WAR OF THE VISIONS, Final Fantasy Tactics Collaboration #2

Introduction

Jon Jordan: Hello, and welcome to the Mobile GameDev Playbook. Thanks for tuning in for another episode. This is the podcast that provides insights into what makes a great mobile game, what is and isn’t working for mobile game designers, and all the latest trends. I’m your host, John Jordan, and joining me this week is Erno Kiiski, Chief Analyst for the US GameRefinery. How’s it going, Erno?

Erno Kiiski: It’s going great. How are you doing, Jon?

Jon: Good. We have, Teemu Palomäki, Game Analyst for GameRefinery, Japan. How’s it going, Teemu?

Teemu Palomäki: It’s going great. Great to be here.

Jon: Good, good. Finally, we have, from GameRefinery, Kalle Heikkinen, the Chief Game Analyst for the China region. How’s it going?

Kalle: Excellent. How are you, John?

Jon: Good, good. Yes. We have a full range of people from GameRefinery because we’re going to be talking about something very specific: the GameRefinery Mobile GameDev Awards.

We also have an expert guest with us as well, who was a judge for the awards. We’re going to be covering the games that we’re talking about as well. John Wright, the Vice President of Operations at Luna Labs. How’s it going, John?

John Wright: Hey, Jon. Glad to be here.

Jon: Good. Do you want to give us a bit of a view on what you do at Luna Labs and what Luna Labs does?

John Wright: Yes, sure. I’m vice president of operations, as you said. Essentially we are a creative technology platform that allows mobile developers to produce playable and video ads directly from the unity code. We’re very differently based in the industry compared to the other players. Everything is done from the development angle and reusing the assets that have already been created within the games themselves.

My background is predominantly in user acquisition and monetization strategies within mobile gaming. I’ve been working in the space now for about seven or eight years. Before that, I was an accountant, and I hated my life. I decided to get out of finance and get into gaming, which is my true passion. That’s where we are.

Jon: Good. That’s it. We’ve already got a takeaway from the podcast. If you’re an accountant who hates accounting and you like games, go into games.

John Wright: Exactly.

Jon: [laughs] In the podcast, we will discuss GameRefinery’s new annual awards, the Mobile GameDev Awards. They’re specifically being created to reward design and innovation in the mobile games industry, and obviously, tie into the data and intelligence that the GameRefinery provides for developers. There are six categories which I’ll readout. We’re not going to discuss all of them. They’re pretty interesting categories, I think. I quite like them.

The first one is Innovation in Core Gameplay, and then we have the Most Promising Soft Launch game, then Biggest Evolver, Best Newcomer, Best Innovation, and Best Event. That’s what the awards are covering, and many of those awards are broken down into different regions, which is why we have, our US, Japan, and our China experts to discuss what’s going on in those territories.

Innovation & Excellence in Core Gameplay winner: Genshin Impact

Jon: The first one we’re going to discuss is Innovation and Excellence in the Core Gameplay. There’s just one winner there because you can only have one winner with that category title. That is Genshin Impact. A game we have discussed a lot over the last year it seems. Who’s going to kick us off and talk? I guess, a bit of an introduction for people who haven’t come across Genshin Impact before. Who can do that for us?

Erno: Yes, I can pick that up. As you mentioned, Genshin Impact, is one of the most talked-about games during the last year, and no wonder why? Because that’s the reason why we also picked it up as our award winner in this case. Genshin Impact is a single-player mainly open-world RPG, and then also very notable. It’s a cross-play title. You can play it on your mobile phone, with a PC or even your PlayStation and so on. What makes the game so special then? Why we actually chose it for this category?

Well, if we look at Genshin Impact, especially, I’m coming from the west market analyst point of view, and for the longest period of time, action RPGs or mobile haven’t been really doing well on the Western markets. A lot of the players have been kind of like a feeling that the core gameplay, you’re just automating the core gameplay and you’re playing those games because of the meta side and because of the progression loops, and you enjoy getting stronger and strong, and that kind of aspects of the gameplay.

The actual core gameplay has been a little bit on the sidelines, on the mobile games. That hasn’t really resonated super-strongly on the Western markets, especially. If we think about Genshin, what it actually does differently. How would I like to summarize, Genshin? I think it’s the best of both worlds From console and mobile. If you look at the core gameplay, it is actually a mobile game that can be played in a mobile with core gameplay that is totally comparable with your premium AAA console titles.

“The actual core gameplay of RPGs has been on the sidelines, on the mobile games. That hasn’t really resonated super-strongly on the Western markets.”

Erno on why RPGs haven’t been performing well in western markets.

Then the other side of the coin is the best elements that we have seen on the mobile, which is the long-term progression and those meta mechanics, and then, of course, the free play, monetization, and stuff like that. In a nutshell, Genshin is like combining those two things. If you look at the core gameplay, it’s superfluid gameplay. It feels nice to play. Of course, they have the element system that is basically in the center of everything, so you’re playing around with the elements, combining those elements, and trying to find synergies with those.

Then you have your open world in a single-player, action RPG, which brings a different type of immersion to the core gameplay. When you’re moving around into the world and getting immersed in the game and then you have your puzzles in the exploration part of the open world and stuff like that. Those are the couple key points in a nutshell, why we think that the Genshin Impact is such a remarkable achievement from miHoYo.

Jon: Good. John, how do you see Genshin?

John Wright: From my perspective and also professional work’s perspective, it’s hands down the best title overall release on mobile over the last year.

There’s a couple of aspects that I think we should touch on here. One is that, and I was completely correct in the sense that this is a AAA experience coming to a mobile-first user. There is no need for an OO battle function because the users are in-depth playing it and experiencing and playing it in the same way they would actually from a console experience, which is something that’s very, very, very rare.

The fact is a lot of mobile games in the same vein focus very much on the matter and the fact that these grinding elements and being able to level up your characters and get new characters and strong characters, which this game has superseded given that AAA experience, the other thing for me is the fact is the monetization strategy. Genshin was a $100 million investment. This is for a non-IAP coming from a studio that has not had, I’d say, its biggest projects previously, and to invest $100 million in production before we’re even turning over a dollar is a very, very brave move.

“Genshin was a $100 million investment. This is for a non-IAP coming from a studio that has not had, I’d say its biggest projects previously, and to invest $100 million in production before we’re even turning over a dollar is a very, very brave move.”

John Wright on the investment into Genshin Impact.

However, it ends up being extremely profitable for them, and they made about half a billion within the first two months. Actually, the monetization strategies they have here are entirely; I wouldn’t say utterly foreign to the Western market, but it’s much more suited to the East, the Gacha monetization strategy, which essentially is paying to unlock certain characters through a luck-based system. We would see this as a loot box, which we know has had some controversy in recent times. However, I think their design is beautiful. The monetization is super strong. The gameplay is fantastic.

I can’t wait for it to come out on Switch, and I get very big The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild vibes, which is one of the main influences between the development. All in all, again, probably my favorite title of the last 12 months.

“The monetization strategies they have here are something that’s quite; I wouldn’t say completely foreign to the Western market but, it’s much more suited to the East, which is the Gacha monetization strategy, which essentially is paying to unlock certain characters through a luck-based system. We would see this as a loot box, which we know has had some controversy in recent times.”

John Wright on loot boxes and monetization strategy.

Jon: It’s a good point there, your last point. It does seem very much like a switch with its portability is becoming, it is a mobile, is it a portable console? What I’m trying to say is it’s becoming almost like a stepping stone between mobile and what we might call the bigger home console. I guess we just had Zynga, who just announced they’re doing a mobile game also on Switch. We won’t be going into that. There’ll be another podcast. Kalle, your expertise is, is the China market. How’s Genshin been taken up in China?

Kalle: It has found its success in multiple different markets, not only in the US. It has been a stable top 10 grossing games in there as well. It’s interesting that two or three days ago, in an interview with the president of miHoYo, he said they plan to create a 1 billion person MMO RPG in 10 years. They plan to launch new games every. Was it three years or so? The end goal is that after 10 years, they will have this huge MMO experience. I think that was quite interesting. Also one other point, John you mentioned that the cost was 100 million to make. In that same article, they mentioned that it also costs 200 million per year to do the live ops for that game. That’s quite interesting as well.

Jon: It sounds like he doesn’t lack ambition.

Jon: Erno, has it been such a big hit in Japan?

Erno: It has found success there as well. Japanese people are used to Gacha games. They like their anime. Those are fairly present and Genshin Impact. It’s doing well there as well, all-around certainly.

Jon: [laughs] Global success. I don’t think anyone would argue with Genshin Impact as being the game to win innovation and excellence in core gameplay. I think we’ve covered that one pretty well. An interesting one, I guess that we don’t often see a lot of awards around things like best improved. Maybe that’s the sports equivalent of the most improved player. It’s not exactly the same for our Best Evolver.

Biggest Evolver, US winner: Marvel Strike Force

Jon: The Best Evolver is defined as the game that has developed the most during 2020 in terms of gameplay.

We’ve split these outs as one per region, and we’ll start with the US, so this will be one for Erno to go forward with. Marvel Strike Force is the winner there; it’s been out now for a number of years. Why do we think this is taken off or revitalized in 2020?

Erno: Yes. Definitely. Of course, a lot of games are doing a lot of stuff. It’s always hard to pick one winner, but what we wanted to do was look not just at performance but also at the feature set and how the game has been evolving during that year. Still, actually, Marvel Strike Force fits both of those terms. Of course, the big thing from the start of the year was the acquisition of FoxNext. Scopely acquired FoxNext, which naturally gives access for the game to get access to this goal, plus muscle in LiveOps and UA and stuff like that.

As we can see from the chart and from the rankings, they definitely double down on their UA, and they also rise in the crushing rankings, but also on top of that, they did a bunch of things on the product side. During that last year, they actually implemented asynchronous PvP-mode, which is actually an interesting implementation in a turn-based RPG. It’s not that common. We have seen some games that use this kind of feature in a turn-based RPG setting, but now Strike Force added it into the game.

“During that last year, they actually implemented asynchronous PvP-mode, which is actually an interesting implementation in a turn-based RPG. It’s not that common. We have seen some games that use this kind of feature in a turn-based RPG setting, but now Strike Force added it into the game.”

Erno on interesting features of Marvel Strike Force.

They started by adding it as a feature with the possibility to play against your friends or Guildmates and so on. Later on, during the year, they went on full-on with its separate PvP-mode called the real-time arena, where you are playing this real-time synchronous battles. That game mode Monodox with the battle pass. Each season you get a battle pass with a specific focus on specific characters, and you have your basic; that’s a special broad question. Then you’re getting further and further and acquiring tons of different rewards by playing that game mode.

One thing to notice is that Scopely is definitely still working on this feature. It’s still relatively new. There is no kind of like, for example, rankings for the real-time marine or stuff like that. It’s going to be interesting to see where they take the feature in, for example, this year, and then the second really big addition that they need to during the year was the ISO-8 system. As we know, in all RPGs, there are a lot of upgrading layers. There are a lot of things that you can do with your character and stuff like that, but actually, quite a few games have this kind of customization, usually like the upgrading, it’s linear, and you have these specific things that you can do and so on, and so on.

Of course, some games bring customization, like, for example, Genshin with their equipment items and so on. This ISO-8 system that they added is basically similar to that. You can collect these ISO-8 items, and then you can select which kind of specific traits and specific passive skills you want to unlock for each character. Then as you have your team of five characters and so on, let’s say, I want this character to have a little bit more like held, for example, by adding a specific ISO-8 item to that character. Then this next one, let’s say I wanted it to be doing a little bit more damage and so on. This brings another addition of customer customization, a little bit more strategy. Then, of course, that even combined with the real-time arena brings these interesting possibilities for players to play around and think about what to do.

Jon: You should point out to people who maybe are unaware of everything going on in mobile games. The game developer for Marvel Strike Force was FoxNext. FoxNext was part of the Fox company structure. Then another mobile game, Scopely, pretty well known quite aggressively expanding the moment, bought FoxNet, and acquired Marvel Strike Force.

I guess what you’re saying now, it wins the prize because it had a whole bunch of features that were already in development and launch, but also it was boosted by the fact that it seems to have the acquisition by Scopely to have fired up the business side of things and the marketing side, and those two things combined quite nicely to really boost up a game.

Again, there’s always, I’ve not played it for a while, but it always felt like a very high-quality game that never quite had reached its market fit. It seems odd for a Marvel game if it has great mobile characters, and it never really thought that it’s not that okay than middling, but it felt that it could do better. I guess that’s what’s happening now. John, have you played a lot of Marvel Strike Force?

John Wright: Yes. For me, I completely agree with a lot of statements. I think the ISO-8 system really made a much deeper gaming experience, especially from the PvP aspects. The fact that you can actually customize different types of equipment, quick limbs of different characters in different ways that you yield different results when combining this with PvP obviously can get one up on your opponent with the right selection of equipment and the right strategy. It gives the game a lot more depth. I think one or two other interesting things to me are obvious because it’s part of the Marvel Universe, and it lends itself to the UIP very well.

There are, I think, 200 plus characters that you can unlock within the game itself. If you’re a collector persona in terms of the way that you play games, you like collecting things; then this game can give you hundreds of hours of enjoyment by going through that experience and using the daily achievements to unlock different characters and your favorite Marvel heroes. They also, for me, with the launch of the dark dimension feature, which, to be completely honest, I haven’t even been able to unlock personally because you have to be level 65.

What they’ve done here very well, Scopely, I feel like because it’s an older game, they’ve lent it to the players who previously felt unchallenged because they played the game a lot when it first came out or in the first couple of years, now they’re launching new features, which lend itself for the more experienced and hardcore player to keep them from being bought. That sits with the longevity of player usage and retention. It’s a very, very, very cool system, especially with the real-time arena, as I’ve said, which again brings another aspect to the game. It brings people coming back, playing with their friends, and increasing engagement.

“They’ve lent it to the players who previously felt unchallenged because they played the game a lot when it first came out or in the first couple of years, now they’re launching new features, which lend itself for the more experienced and hardcore player to keep them from being bought. That sits with the longevity of player usage and retention.”

John Wright on how Marvel Strike Force updates have increased game longevity.

Biggest Evolver, JP winner: Pokémon GO

Jon: Good. Excellent. Marvel Strike Force is the winner in the US region. Let’s move on to Japan. Teemu’s would be one for you. The winner of the game that evolved the most in 2020 is Pokémon GO. I guess that from Pokémon GO, you’re kind of everywhere, but particularly as the Japanese and Pokémon GO well together. Can you explain a bit about what they did to win that award?

Teemu: Yes, well, the year 2020 that everyone will surely remember for a long time. I didn’t know there was this small thing called the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering Pokémon GO is a game that depends on you moving around in different locations and maybe doing raids together with some people in populated spots, that the game would have severe challenges in such a year. Well, that turned out not to be the case.

“Considering Pokémon GO is a game that depends on you moving around in different locations, you’d think that the game would have severe challenges in such a year. Well, that turned out not to be the case. The game was able to adapt to the situation…They were able to bring some stuff that helped people really enjoy the game safely from home with remote raid passes.”

Teemu on the success of Pokémon GO during COVID-19.

The game was able to adapt to the situation, and they might have had some of these features planned, even beforehand, a little bit. They were able to bring some stuff that helped people really enjoy the game safely from home with remote raid passes. Well, for example, I was able to help my brother who lives in a different city, when they were participating in a raid, they didn’t have enough people, he sent me an invite, I was able to join there. It added a distance social element in a way. Overall, they were just doing really great and making sure that people could enjoy the game safely. They had, I think, it was a record year for them, which is well done during a pandemic.

Jon: It must be very interesting to have a global situation happen that basically totally stopped enjoying the entire business model. The one thing people like about Pokémon GO is, it gets people outside and wandering around trying to find these different real-world locations. It is the one successful location-based game that we have. Lots of people have tried, only Pokémon GO has worked, and then suddenly, people basically are not able to leave their house [laughs] it is a pretty fundamental change.

To some degree, some of the features they put into allow people to play within their homes; they must be thinking about that beforehand. I just can’t think you could engineer stuff that quickly, but I guess a lot of it was speeded up and was fairly important for them on the business side to get in.

It’s interesting because the whole idea of the team behind Pokémon GO is very much about getting people outside. They have these wellness ideals baked into what they’re trying to do as a company at a very deep level. That must have been hard for them to do that. It’s interesting that maybe the other reaction to it was people are probably going to love it.

They could have really enjoyed the fact that this game has changed dramatically. That gave them some sense of agency and urgency, and they can still play their favorite game. That game was reacting to the situation and that kind of thing. Obviously, games, in general, have been important for people who do feel actually limited otherwise, I mean, 2020. John, have you been playing Pokémon GO during various lockdowns?

John Wright: Yes. I’m in my early phase; I was in the generation where Pokémon was a huge part of my life; I do have the shiny Charizard in my collection somewhere. For me, again, I couldn’t agree more. I think the agility of the antique and the way that they responded to COVID was just phenomenal.

The ability to create local gyms in and around your house or make it in your home when you got to a certain level was a great addition that allowed people to engage and do stuff without having to go outside. The remote passes that allow you to do gym bows in off-site locations with your friends brought a lot of people back, including me.

My friends and I came back after a hiatus of about a year or two because we were able to use remote passes. Also, the fact that they monetize through IAP was amazing because we spent a bunch more money than we ever would have previously. The fact that Team Rocket was excited to actually have the balloon turn up to where you were rather than where you were going also gave this sort of battle element to the overall experience, which as some as the original protagonists, antagonists, sorry, of the actual storyline. It was very fun to put that back.

Also, they experienced something new with some of the events that they put together, like, for example, the brand event with Gucci. For me, this was something that a lot of people have been talking about for a long time. It is about getting brand dollars within the mobile gaming ecosystem. Gucci, which are a high-end fashion label, actually paid Niantic or Pokémon Company millions of dollars for the ability to have their clothing label on the avatars, which is something that we’ve seen maybe once or twice with other brands that we saw the NFL takeover Rovio of Angry Birds and Gucci actually did another one with Tennis clash. It’s something that a lot of agencies and brand bucks are not being spent on because of COVID. All this money was taken back by these big advertisers, and seeing that money invested in mobile gaming is just amazing for our ecosystem. It’s a widening in the eyes of people that mobile gaming is not just for 15-year-old kids in their basement. It’s a very good thing for me.

“They created something new with some of the events that they put together, like, for example, the brand event with Gucci. For me, this was something that a lot of people have been talking about for a long time. It is about getting brand dollars within the mobile gaming ecosystem. Gucci, which is a high-end fashion label, actually paid Niantic or Pokémon Company millions of dollars for the ability to have their clothing label on the avatars,”

John Wright on the collaboration with Gucci.

Biggest Evolver, CH winner: CrossFire Mobile

Jon: Excellent. Okay, so the final game we’re going to look at in the biggest evolver category is from China or in the Chinese region, and that’s CrossFire. That’s one for Kalle.

Kalle: Yes. It’s best if I just give some context on the game because there might be some people in the audience who are not that familiar with CrossFire. I think in the West if we would be listing out iconic shooter games, we would probably be throwing out names like Counter-Strike or Overwatch or Fortnight, but in China, that list definitely includes CrossFire as well. It’s a game that was originally released for PC back in 2007, but in 2015, it found its way into mobile as well.

Smilegate, the developer itself, says that the game has 8 million concurrent players at 650 million real-time registered players. This is for the franchise as a whole, not only for the mobile version, but I think it gives you a nice indication of what kind of a franchise we’re talking about.

The mobile version that we have in China was developed and published together with Tencent that was instinctive of crossing it from the get-go. It’s pretty much been at the 50 crossing games ever since. In 2020, that was an excellent year for this shooter; it included some really interesting and excellent updates, new content, which all resulted in outstanding financial performance for the game. It’s now basically a top 20 grossing staple. The game also gained a boost from the Crossfire TV series that premiered in the summer of last year.

Now, product-wise, as I mentioned, it has a couple of really interesting game modes that were introduced via the updates. I’m not going to go too deep into this, but just give you a general idea. One of these was a mode that mashed up the interactive story and narrative elements and character relationship-building elements with the shooter gameplay, which I think was really interesting. There was another one that combined this; it was a Co-op PVE mode that had these elements from the actual playbook. You went through these levels, and after levels, if you were successful, you could choose different kinds of boosts for yourself.

“When Call of Duty Mobile was launched, it was interesting to see that it really didn’t affect the market share of CrossFire, but it was more about taking market share away from a Game for Peace.”

Kalle on the market share of CrossFire once Call of Duty Mobile was introduced.

Now, Call of Duty mobile is a game that was introduced to China just a couple of months ago. There are now three top shooters in China, Call of Duty Mobile, Game for Peace, which is the PUBG in China, and then CrossFire. When Call of Duty Mobile was launched, it was interesting to see that it really didn’t affect the market share of CrossFire, but it was more about taking market share away from a Game for Peace, actually. I think that also talks about the defensibility of the CrossFire brand as well.

All in all, the CrossFire brand is really strong in China; it has a strong fan base. The feature set is very competitive, and it has been just rolling out excellent updates constantly, so I think the future looks very bright for this game as well.

“The CrossFire brand is really strong in China; it has a strong fan base. The feature set is very competitive, and it has been just rolling out excellent updates constantly, so I think the future looks very bright for this game as well”

Kalle on the CrossFire brand.

Jon: I guess it comes as part of if you have a category called Biggest Evolver, and there’s not going to be games that have probably just been released. It is interesting that these games that have been around, CrossFire, has been around in various forms for over a decade now. It’s interesting how developers can keep these games refreshing, and it’s interesting you said, John, that you bought back into Pokémon GO. I guess we’ve all had these games that we’ve dabbled with or played at quite a lot. I played Marvel Strike Force quite a lot when it was first released.

At some point, you churn out, but because it had these massive audiences, if they can do something that catches our attention, we can get drawn back in again; it is interesting. I think mobile games, in particular, do that well with the LiveOps stuff that maybe that’s something other game designers and other game operators can learn from.

Best Event, US winner: Genshin Impact, Unreconciled Stars

Jon: Anyways, that’s Biggest Evolver; let’s move on to again, something else that mobile has done particularly well, which is Best Event which is the in-game event. We will look at two games here. One we’ve already discussed. Anyway, the US winner here was Genshin Impact, and I think the event was called an Unreconciled Stars. Erno, do you want to give us a bit of a lowdown on what that was?

Erno: Yes. Again, there are a lot of similarities that we already talked about goes into this election. Well, we think about LiveOps overall in the mobile games, and, of course, it’s one of the biggest things, one of the most important things. We have seen with the Biggest Evolver category and so on. Thinking about events, many of the games, of course, they have there, for example, season 11 format and they used to say, mechanics. They roll around that with a different type of team and so on. Again, what really impressed me personally, for example, with Genshin Impact, was also how much effort, how much ambition they also put into their live events, and the LiveOps stuff.

This event that we chose was the first event that came into the game. What actually makes the event so amazing in terms of production value is that if you look at the event, basically it’s this, a three-layered world event where something happens in the world, and then you are completing these quests, and stuff like that. On top of that, we have totally set a new storyline. That everything is voice-acted, all the similar production quality cut scenes, stuff like that, that we are used to when we played the main story, for example, with Genshin Impact. Now with just the event story with the cut scenes and stuff like that.

Then on top of that, I think the game has had the three of these big events, and then all the new characters that they are introducing to the game that become part of the event story usually. That is the way to introduce the players to the characters, then that they monetize with the new Gachas, a new banner Gacha that they are offering, and so on. Definitely, the biggest impression and the reason behind this choice was similar to the choice for the core gameplay and so on. It’s the effort that miHoYo has clearly put into these events and the level of quality that oozes from the events and so on.

This same brand is going on, like I said now, three events they have released, and the latest event was actually even bigger than this one. It was during this year. During the Lunar New Year, they had this event with a separate tower defense game mode and stuff like that, but let’s not go into that one.

Jon: [chuckles] One for next year, maybe. [chuckles]

Erno: Yes, maybe. Maybe.

Jon: John, have you felt your play with the game had been affected by these? I mean, some of these games within games thing going on.

John Wright: Yes. I think if we look at it from a purely user retention and engagement perspective there, they work, right? The ability to give unique content for a limited time period to re-engage with an audience is extremely powerful. The way that they market these is also very strong.

The fact that people can sign up in a limited time period and have this unique experience, and then also get the reward of some sort of unique item or items as part of that, is something that’s very, very cool. It’s a tried and tested model.

“The ability to give unique content for a limited time period to re-engage with an audience is extremely powerful. The way that they market these is also very strong. The fact that people can sign up in a limited time period and have this unique experience, and then also get the reward of some sort of unique item or items as part of that, is something that’s very, very cool. It’s a tried and tested model”

John Wright on Genshin Impact in-game event.

I think Genshin has adopted it very well. However, I do think there is more left in the tank for them. I’m sure they’ve got some exciting stuff on the roadmap for this year.

Best Event, JP winner: FFBE幻影戦争 WAR OF THE VISIONS, Final Fantasy Tactics Collaboration #2

Jon: The final game we’re going to look at is in, again, the Best Event, and this time for Japan. I guess the Japanese developers are the prime movers of this in-game event and keep their audience engaged.

The winner here is Deep breath, Final Fantasy Brave Exvius: War of the Visions. I guess that’s going to be one for you, Teemu, to unpick that event. I think the event was a collaboration with Final Fantasy Tactics.

Teemu: Yes. The Japanese version of the game had a Final Fantasy Tactics event, a collaboration event. First of all, collaboration events are very popular in Japan. You see them a lot, and this one was really nice. Again, the game itself, for those that don’t know, it’s a strategic RPG. Reminds a bit of chess, maybe. This was really similar to the Final Fantasy Tactics, maybe a LandRacer, and maybe a little bit advanced Fire Emblem, those kinds of games that used to be more popular in the ’90s. The Alchemist Code is on mobile that is really similar to this, but what was– Well, this is a sequel to Final Fantasy, Brave Exvius, which has different mechanics, but it’s also a mobile game. That was interesting.

The reason this was able to do a collaboration event is that it has its own characters. Whereas, say, Final Fantasy Record Keeper or many of the Final Fantasy mobile games tend to have all the Final Fantasy characters there, and you collect them. This one has its own unique story. Bringing over existing Final Fantasy characters has really had an impact there. For this event, specifically tactics, collaboration, it was a rerun that we wanted to focus on. They had done that same event earlier. It had resonated well.

There were some really cool characters that people liked, and those characters were still quite relevant when the event ran again. People knew those characters were cool. They liked them; they were quite meta. Everyone was using them, so they knew they had to get them. At the same time, they also brought in new content, new characters from the game. People had more to collect.

I think what made the event also work is the excellent brand synergy it had. Of course, there’s the obvious Final Fantasy, but also the collaboration source game had very similar gameplay mechanics. It resonated well with the audience of this game. The art style is basically the same, so it has a lot more impact than just throwing in maybe some other, well, final fantasy or some other similar RPG game there. Thinking about brand synergy is really important, and they even perform well. It was a good example of how to do a collaboration event properly.

Jon: Yes, I guess to do some of the things, it has to be similar enough that the audience understands why the collaboration is happening, but different enough that it’s different from what the kind of game is. It’s a bit of a balancing act there. You can’t just have something really wacky because it doesn’t appeal to your existing audience.

The one thing with Final Fantasy, there’s just now such an enormous, probably 30 years of back history and thousands of different characters. There’s plenty of potential; it’s just working out which ones work. If you have two slightly different gameplay mechanics in there, you can match in, and different characters work well. John, you are an expert in this field. How did you find this?

John Wright: I’ve personally sunk about 250 days into this. I should be able to give some insight here. In terms of just focusing on the event itself, everything they’ve said was completely correct. The fact that there was the ability to unlock different characters, and there was also, there’s daily challenges and event challenges that allow you to get more crystals that allow you to unlock, you know the sort of level up and awaken is the term within the game itself but that awaken the character. You have Rum’s Beowulf, who’s the main protagonist of War of the Lions, was the UR, so the ultimate rare character. The one that everyone got. I did get him. I was very happy about this.

There were another two other characters, Gaffgarion, one of the protagonists, and another character that I didn’t get – another one of the protagonists from the series. All in all, the way that they actually support the event. Obviously, there are custom storylines in the far plain. The far plain is where you have your event-based levels and experiences, which was fantastic. There’s a 10-level based experience that goes through the story of War the Lions, which, if you’ve never played, it’s the best Final Fantasy game from the ’90s. I was a massive fan of the original. This is why I like this game because of that connection.

Then, obviously, the unique characters, the unique weapons, and everything that goes around the event and the different challenges and stuff that you can do within the game just all brought it all together. I would like to comment from Teemu around the different characters because, as he said, we’d like a record keeper and some of the other Final Fantasy series is all about using other characters from other games, whereas in this game, they actually made a completely new story.

It’s very much like a lot of the other Final Fantasy games in theory in terms of loci sordid/ACB strategy games. The fact that there are all of these other new characters including the story’s own protagonist, which is Mont, his family, which are the royal family, and then obviously, all of the enemies and different characters that come into the story. I think there are 11 chapters in the game. Each chapter has three scenes. Each scene has 10 levels. There’s a tremendous amount of content.

From an events perspective yet, whenever these crossover events happen, they’re extremely impactful, everyone wants to get involved, and the engagement and monetization abilities of the game kick in, and people spend more. One thing I would say is, if anyone from Square Enix is listening, we would like to more events like this.

Jon: You want to dump more time and money into it?

John Wright: Exactly, yes. Exactly. That’s exactly it.

Jon: Excellent, good. Well, thanks to everyone for their expertise; we’ve gone into a lot of depth on a lot of games. Hopefully, that’s going to have brought out for people what some of the best mobile games of last year were or what were some of the best kinds of techniques and the best ways of re-engaging audiences and give you some methods that may be useful, hopefully, in the games that you’re working on.

This is what we do at the Mobile GameDev Playbook. In every podcast, we’re going deep into certain aspects of mobile games and trying to unpick what’s going on there and try and give you some useful data. Thanks very much to our experts from GameRefinery. Erno, Teemu, and Kalle. Thank you.

Teemu: Thank you.

Kalle: Thank you.

Erno: Thank you.

Jon: Thanks very much to John, our expert.

John Wright: Yes. Thank you, everyone. It was a pleasure.

Jon: Obviously, thanks to you guys for listening. I hope the stuff is useful, and we hope you’re gaining benefit from it. Every podcast we are delving into what’s going on, you can get us through all your usual podcasts, subscription kind of platforms, so please do subscribe, and give us a review obviously, because you’d like to and you’re a nice person.

Thanks for listening, and come back next time to hear what’s going on in the world of mobile games.

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