Hit or Miss: Fire Emblem Heroes

Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Heroes launched two weeks ago, the company’s most recent attempt at mobile gaming super-stardom. Our assessment: Fire Emblem Heroes is a solid single but won’t be a homerun. Tweet: @GamingOutLoud's early assessment of FireEmblemHeroes: solid single but not a homerun #FireEmblemHeroes #nintendo https://ctt.ec/yohvf+

To conduct the analysis, we used our (brand new) Hit Potential score to rate Fire Emblem Heroes’ launch metrics. Hit Potential scores are derived by looking at the launch patterns of over 1,100 games that launched and made the Top Grossing Game List. We look at how games monetize, how they add new users, and we’ve identified patterns that indicate longer-term success.

Fire Emblem Heroes is right in the middle: it monetizes well enough to support paid user acquisition and avoid flop, but isn’t strong enough to create a blockbuster. We expect it will soon descent to the lower echelons of top grossing games (e.g. 40-60 in the US). If Nintendo pursues paid user acquisition, it may stay there indefinitely.

That’s a nice success that many smaller developers would be thrilled with. But the game will fall well short of Nintendo’s success with Pokémon GO and the industry-leading Clash Royale.

We’ll continue keep an eye on this one as Nintendo just released new characters yesterday. Let’s see if this helps to up the engagement level and/or in-app purchases.

We will be rolling out our Hit Potential scoring to all new releases over the coming week. If you’re interest in learning more, click here to schedule a demo.

The Resurgence of Card Battlers

2017 looks to be the year of the Card Battler. Since January of 2016, we’ve seen share of revenue for the Card Battler category grow from 1% share among Top Grossing Games in the US to almost 16% share a year later. Tweet: Is 2017 the year of the Card Battler? https://ctt.ec/fc6MI+

After early success, the genre had been in steady decline. First generation card battlers Rage of Bahamut, Marvel: War of Heroes, and Blood Brothers were among the first mobile gaming mega-hits, but were eclipsed as base-building titles like Clash of Clans and Game of War captured a more mainstream audience.

Card Battler US iPhone Revenue Share of US iPhone Top Grossing Revenue Share of US iPhone Mobile Game Installs
January 2013 $9.4MM 4.6% 2.4%
January 2014 $7.7MM 3.9% 1.7%
January 2015 $7.7MM 2.2% 1.3%
January 2016 $3.1MM 1.0% 1.4%
January 2017 $61.8MM 15.8% 3.6%

Source: Think Gaming

Supercell’s launch of Clash Royale in March 2016 created the first mega-hit for the category in years. Hearthstone laid the foundation, bringing a simplified style to broaden the appeal to a wider audience. Clash Royale combined a casual, frenetic match style with a huge audience of paying users from Clash of Clans to create a rocket ship.

Even excluding Clash Royale, category revenue has increased by 80% since since last January. Think Gaming’s player lifetime value (LTV) estimates have increased across the category.   

And the trend continues. Last weeks’s hottest new top grossing games were card battlers: Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links and Star Wars: Force Arena. Both are seeing strong early results.  

Stay tuned – in our next blog post we’ll explore how the new generation of Card Battlers combines the best parts of the original hits with best practices discovered in the interim. 

Interested in learning more about Think Gaming? SCHEDULE A DEMO.


What lifetime value do I need to have a top grossing game?

What does it take – in terms of lifetime value (LTV) – to have a top grossing game? It’s a topic of interest to game developers and publishers. It helps them benchmark their newest games against the current crop of winners, understand the competitive landscape for marketing spend, and forecast payback on marketing spend.

Since Think Gaming provides LTV and retention estimates on thousands of games, we looked at the distribution of LTV on the top grossing charts (US/iPhone). We looked at ~300 games that were in the top grossing charts in January, where we had LTV estimates [Some details on methodology at the bottom of the post for the wonky]. We divided those games into deciles and published the mean LTV for each decile in the chart below.



LTV distribution for Top Grossing Games

Lifetime value by decile


A few things stood out:
1) As in everything app store related, the rich are really rich. The top 10-20 games make a ton of money per user. Interestingly, though, these aren’t necessarily the top games on the charts. Some of the best monetizing games are in niche categories where the average revenue per user (ARPU) is very high but the market for new users is fairly small.
2) There are a surprising number of games succeeding with LTVs that don’t support buying users via paid advertising. Some of these are games that were once huge and are in decline, but others have managed to acquire an audience without having to compete with the Supercell’s and Machine Zone’s of the world. These tend to either be viral “gimmicky” apps or licensed IP with built-in audiences.

Hope you find this interesting!

Updated: We’ve added a graph showing the percentage of revenue earned by games in each decile. ~75% of revenue is earned by games in the top 50%.


A few notes on methodology:
1) This is gross revenue, prior to the app store’s 30% cut, and it is in-app purchase revenue only. We recently started estimating ad revenue, but it’s not included in our LTV calculations yet.
2) We estimate LTV as the revenue earned by an “average” player over the course of 1-year.
3) These lifetime values are much higher than “average games”, as these are top grossing games, even more so because this analysis focused solely on US/iPhone, one of the richest markets.
4) Generally we need to know the game’s genre and have 90 days of data to make accurate estimates.

Talking the business of mobile apps

The business of mobile games and apps is changing fast, so we’re always looking for smart folks who are on top of smart trends. If you’re interested in publishing mobile apps, you’ll want to check out App Business Podcast.

Think Gaming co-founder Tim Ogilvie recently talked with ABP about game publishing, how to know whether your game is ready for external investment, and some ideas on how to place some smart development bets in the mobile gaming space.

Listen to the episode here!