Deconstructing Battle Passes

In case you haven’t noticed, Deconstructor of Fun just published a deep analysis on Battle Passes written by yours truly. It tackles the design decisions and balance on each of its components, and presents some ideas on why they work and where will they go next.

You can check out the full article on the DoF blog: [LINK]
And the article came together with an exclusive podcast episode: [LINK]

An introduction to Passes

Battle Passes were first introduced in Valve’s Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2 and later popularized by Fortnite (which still today holds one of the most advanced and constantly improving designs). But they’ve long since stopped being exclusive to mid-core, cosmetic-driven games and nowadays are present in a constantly growing amount of genres and games.

The fact that Battle Passes have been successful on audiences so alien to each other like MOBAs and Match-3 Puzzle fans shows how versatile its design can be. Passes can generate different player experiences, follow a different balance, and emphasize different components depending on the genre and audience.

When considering Passes, it’s important to note that they are not exclusively a monetization feature. For most players (including payers) the Pass is primarily retention and an engagement mechanism. So it must provide the right incentives to engage them in fun activities and keep them interested in the rewards.

It’s also important to understand that Passes are not a straightforward feature to balance that can be applied to any game without risks. If not handled correctly, Battle Passes may end up generating a negative effect on game revenue. It can happen even to the best:

There’s a strong temporal correlation between the introduction of Battle Pass in Clash Royale and a drop in their total revenue per month. Source: SensorTower.

And also, they’re here to stay. We predict that Battle Passes and other soft and broad appeal monetization tools will become even more relevant in the future; since the growing hardship of launching successful new titles will push games to implement more user-friendly monetization approaches aiming to protect and grow their most valuable resource (players), and actively avoid aggressive, fast burn models.

In the article, we will catalog the key components of Battle Passes and how they’re applied to different games, share some tips on how to balance them and provide our ideas on how they may evolve in the future.

Exec Summary

  • Passes are a versatile feature effective for monetization, but also for engagement and retention. So they need to provide not only a great value proposition but also an enjoyable experience that keeps players engaged for long while not feeling too grindy.

  • As a monetization tool, Passes generate strong conversion but are very limited in ARPPU potential. Most revenue is made with the upfront purchase, so successful upsell strategies rely on securing recurrent purchases, increasing the number of Passes sold, and providing alternative higher upfront prices.

  • Passes tend to cannibalize other purchases and may end up damaging the total revenue, particularly if the game has low spending depth or low pressure to progress. So it’s a good idea to ABtest them, monitor the total revenue and player inventories, and the ARPPU of high spending profiles, to guarantee a positive tradeoff.

  • Designing a Pass requires many decisions on each of its components (explored in the article). It’s key to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the game, and the characteristics and expectations of its audience, to make the right choices.

  • Most games in the top-grossing already have Passes. We believe they will grow even more in relevance and depth, as the industry shifts towards retention-friendly and broad appeal monetization tactics to counter the growing difficulty to acquire specific audiences with high spending profiles.

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