King’s Pet Rescue Saga (PRS) is without a doubt a hit game. On Facebook alone it has had over 6M daily players since February and it has over 30M monthly players – thus boasting a healthy 19% DAU/MAU rate on the platform. In fact, it’s the third biggest title on Facebook, falling just a bit short of its kingpin cousin Candy Crush Saga (CCS).
In case you’re not familiar with Candy Crush Saga, the GameAnalytics blog features an analysis of the game: Beating Candy Crush Saga.
Pet Rescue Saga has been a true hit on Facebook (source: metricsmonk)
Yet, on mobile, the situation looks different. PRS was launched on iOS in mid-June and hasn’t even nearly reached the heights of CCS’s success in terms of revenue and active players. In this post I will go through the six key elements which are holding Pet Rescue Saga back from becoming the next Candy Crush Saga.
Pet Rescue Saga has broken into top 50 grossing, which is a great accomplishment. Yet the revenue growth speed is lower than with Candy Crush Saga, which reached top 50 grossing in a matter of days (source: metricsmonk)
1. Lack of strategy
By definition, strategy is as a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim (Oxford Dictionaries). And strategy is without a doubt what makes CCS so compelling.
By strategy I mean how players strive to make combinations of four or five candies so to create the special candies, which cause massive destruction. When playing CCS you constantly feel that every move counts – a feeling caused by the combination of match-three mechanics and a limited number of moves.
In PRS on the other hand, the pace is a lot faster. Players can tap almost any tiles on the field (minimum of 2 tiles in a row), which reduces the thinking involved before making a move. By reducing the amount of thinking and planning for good moves, PRS also downplays the strategic part of the game.
In my opinion, a fast pace mechanic works well in a puzzle game if combined with a timer, like in e.g.Diamond Dash or Bejeweled Blitz. The lack of the timer in PRS just creates a feeling of randomness and lack of control of your moves.
2. Increased Difficulty
In CCS, difficulty is increased by the various limitations that are added to the levels: level shapes, timers, limited moves, and different types of candy locks. Yet from the players’ perspective, the game is pretty much all about creating those combination candies that clear lines and rows of tiles with one single blow.
PRS follows the exact same route for increasing difficulty but, in my opinion, it does it partly wrong. PRS strays from the golden path of CCS by adding benefiting elements such as bombs and rockets. They change the gameplay from trying to match and brake as many tiles as possible to figuring out how to properly use a specific added element that actually isn’t part of the core game.
Bombs and wide selection of power ups add to the complexity pretty early on in the game.
3. Confusing Story
In my opinion, the storyline of casual games play very little role in the success of that game. Sure it’s nice to have a background or a purpose to the game, but most of the time working on a storyline doesn’t pay off. Our players just want to have some fun: they want some good old action, clear goals, and a bit of thinking on how to reach those goals. Taking the time to discover the game’s world and storyline is simply a turn-off when you only have about 5 minutes to play a game.
PRS doesn’t go overboard with the story – I mean there hardly is one. But there’s just enough story to make it all quite confusing. Players are supposed to rescue pets. Okay. But from whom? Where do the rescued pets go? Whose are the pets in the first place? Why does the progress map have nothing to do with rescuing pets? Why are the pets pigs and seagulls? I mean who has a seagull as a pet!?! You get my point…
4. Lack of visual and audio feeback
Probably the most satisfying feeling in CCS is when players manage to create a crazy combination of candies and make them pop, clearing away several rows and lines of candies. The graphical and audio feedback that follows these combinations is simply over the top. That massive fanfare of feedback is also particularly important for our casual gamers, as they aren’t traditionally good at playing games. With this kind of gameplay feedback we can make them feel good about themselves – we can make them feel like true masters.
The visual and audio feedback in Candy Crush Saga makes even the most inexperienced player feel good about themselves.
In PRS even the biggest combinations don’t feel satisfying. Whether you clear two or twenty tiles with one touch, the feedback from the game is exactly the same in terms of graphics and audio. The feedback doesn’t encourage the players to go for the combinations of massive destruction and thus the game doesn’t guide players towards mastering the game.
In my opinion, overkills are like headshots for casual games. Think about Call of Duty without headshots and all the awesome graphical and audio feedback players get from executing them. Exactly…
5. Poor Graphics
I usually don’t like to comment much on the graphics of games as there are plenty of phenomenal games with very simple graphics and plenty of horrible games with stunning graphics. I’m just a big believer in engaging game mechanics and solid game economies over cinematic visuals.
Having said that, I still have to comment on the graphics of PRS. First of all, the game map looks quite bad. The map seems to be inspired by the maps of theme parks, yet the result is confusing and in my opinion even a bit creepy. Second, the pets don’t really look cute at all. Even with the big heads and big eyes there’s just something off about them. Third, the poor resolution of the graphics makes the game look simply ugly on the big bright screen of an iPad.
The progress map in Pet Rescue Saga is pretty poorly done.
6. No Pay-to-Continue Mechanics
Monetization is mainly about retention. The longer players play, the more likely they’ll invest some money into the game. Yet retention isn’t enough. You also have to create demand for players to spend money, and you need to create moments where players are truly encouraged to convert from a free user to a paying one.
Pay-to-continue mechanics are perfected in Candy Crush Saga.
In CCS the conversion moments occur each time players fail a level and they are offered the possibility to pay $0.99 for a few extra moves. It’s the same game mechanics that we got used to at the arcades. Remember Tekken, Time Cop and Virtual Fighert? The big counter ticking from 10 to 0 and the hurry you had to drop an additional token to continue the game.
PRS uses the same pay-to-continue mechanic as CCS but it just doesn’t suit the game as well. This is simply because additional moves are of no use in most of the cases when a player doesn’t have enough tiles to make combinations. So the major difference in monetization between these two titles is the fact that in PRS players fail the level and have to restart while in CCS when players fail the level they can simply pay to continue.
Conclusion: Too much focus on monetization
I can only imagine how hard it is to follow in the footsteps of a major hit like Candy Crush Saga and in my honest opinion the guys and gals behind Pet Rescue Saga have made an awesome job. It’s a fun game and clearly a hit on Facebook and King’s own portal.
Yet at the same time, I feel that the pressure from the benchmark title has gotten to the team. You can see that the game pushes power ups to players by teaching them on specific levels early on and by having the power up bar option constantly available. To me this is a sign of an unhealthy revenue competition, where game teams concentrate on beating revenue targets instead of the much more important retention targets. I feel that by concentrating on monetization, they’ve lost the focus and simply copied the mechanics from CCS without actually making sure that they fit the game. It feels as if Pet Rescue Saga wants to beat Candy Crash Saga in monetization, but not in fun factor.
Michail Katkoff is product manager at Supercell and specializes in metrics and user driven service design, building and managing virtual economies and deconstructing moment-to-moment gameplay. He's exceptional at creating fun while providing options for monetization.
Michail Katkoff is back with more game analytics goodies. In this post specifically, he will dissect one of the most succesful games of all time, Candy Crush Saga, and give you tips on dethroning the king of social gaming, none other than King (pun intended). So read on.
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