The Saga Framework – Part 2: Social Layer & Monetization

As discussed in the earlier part, King developed a framework which allows it to take promising games from their portal, and shape them to successful social and mobile games. The Saga Framework is a system built around the games, adding a social layer and a monetization layer which are based on techniques King keeps optimizing all the time. In this post I’ll cover the Social Layer and Monetization Layer.

Social Layer

Session Start Flow

Every time a Saga game loads this exact flow takes place:

 

Mass Request

Once the loading of the game is complete, the first pop-up players see is the Mass Request (One exception: first-time players get the tutorial. No pop-ups). There are two types of Mass Request panels: Mass Invite and Mass Gift.

Mass Invite

Virality tool. The pop-up presents 8 – 12 random friends who don’t have the game installed, with a check box next to each. The default state is of the check boxes is “Select All” but the player can check/uncheck any of their friends. Pressing “Invite” brings up a Facebook dialog for the player to approve the requests, and then sends an Invite to all the listed friends. KPI Affected: Virality, New Users, DAU.

Mass Invite Farm Heroes Mass Invite
Pet Rescue Mass Invite Papa Pear Mass Invite

Mass Gift

Retention Tool. While visually and functionally identical to the Mass Invite, this time the players aren’t asked to simply invite their friends, but to send them a gift. The exact gift is selected randomly and presented to the players so they’ll knows what they’re sending. This can be Free Life, Extra moves, Game currency etc. The fact that this is a gift-sending request increases the effectiveness. The sending player has higher chance of sending (thus helping her friends) and the receiving friend has a higher chance of accepting the gift and entering the game. KPI Affected: Retention, DAU.

Mass Gift Farm Heroes Mass Gift
Pet Rescue Mass Gift Papa Pear Mass Gift
Pyramid Solitaire Mass Gift

Inbox

King seems to run two types of inboxes:

List-Based Inbox

This is a simple list of all the gifts the player received as well as requests for help her friends sent her. Target KPIs: Retention, Engagement.

Farm Heroes Mass Gift

Groups-Based Inbox

King experiments with several group types but these are very clear:

  • Help Friends – Requests from friends for more lives, extra moves, game currency etc. King groups these requests and the player can gift back with one button.
    Target KPI: Retention
  • Gifts from Friends – These gifts can be easily claimed (and sent back) with one button.
    Target KPIs: Retention, Engagement.
  • Content Unlock Request – In some games King gates the progress and conditions it on either paying game currency (which you often need to buy for real money) or getting “tickets” from other players (social payment). These tickets are holding players in place and it’s important to king these players will not have to wait for too long. Therefore, tickets for unlocking content get their own group to increase visibility and have the players send them more quickly.
    Target KPIs: Retention, Engagement.
Inbox Farm Heroes Mass Gift

Social Ranking

Our position within a group is a key element in our identity as human beings. Most modern /western cultures are based on the idea that social position is dynamic and that members of a group should always aspire to improve their position within it. This motivation to improve social ranking is a very strong driving force in games if implemented correctly, and King makes a big effort to do just that. There are two levels of social ranking – Global (= by level unlocked) and Local (= within each level)

Global Ranking

The Lobby Map is where players visually see how far they progressed in the game, and where their friends are. Since there is only one clear path that connects all the levels, without any intersections, players that have completed more levels are visibly ahead of players who didn’t yet. This serves both as a reminder for players of their position and a clear goal of who they need to pass next to get ahead. Kings makes sure passing a friend on the map becomes a positive event for the player as well as an opportunity to increase virality/discovery. Whenever players passes their friends a special panel appears highlighting the event and offering to brag about it.

Local Ranking

In addition to the global ranking, each level has its own internal ranking based on score, mirroring the same mechanics used in the global ranking. Each level has a leaderboard, which is presented as an add-on to every other level-related panel (for a full list and screenshots check the first part of this analysis). Players can see their rank in each level and are urged to beat their friends. Exactly like in the Global Ranking, when a player beats a friend’s score in a certain level, the game presents a special Beat a Friend panel to make it a positive experience and encourage the players to ‘share’ the even on the social channels.

 

Gifts

The world is divided to 2 groups of people: Those who beg everyone for extra lives on Candy Crush, and those who already found the date-changing trick on mobile. Gifts are only received from the Inbox. Players can, however, send gifts from several places:

  • Mass Gift Panel
  • Inbox – As an “Accept and Gift Back” mechanism. Clicking the button to accept a gift automatically sends one back.
  • Leaderboard – Next to each friend listed in the leaderboard there is a heart that allows sending that friend an extra life.
  • Map – Just like in the leaderboard, images of friends are shown on the map has a tiny red heart on the bottom right. Clicking that heart sends a life to that player. Players who already received a life that day will have a green check mark on them and won’t be clickable.
  • No More Lives – When players have used up all the lives they had, the game will show this panel, offering players to refill their lives by paying, or requesting lives from friends.

In general, these are the common types of gifts available in the Saga games: Extra Life Sending and receiving gifts is an important element in the success of the Saga games, but there’s no doubt that sending/receiving lives is the most important one by far. The constant need for lives generates a continuous stream of requests and makes players’ attitude towards sending mass gift much more positive. Extra Moves Allowing a few extra moves for one game. Players must claim them in the Level Intro screen and it adds to the total number of moves allowed for the level. Extra Soft Currency In games that Soft Currency is in use, players can send some to their friends. The amount isn’t big (e.g. 100 beans in Farm Heroes Saga) but collecting from many friends can make it a significant amount.

Monetization

Some terms:
Buy Panel – Where players can buy a virtual item with real money. Almost always these panels are used for selling virtual currencies. Shop – Where players can buy a virtual item with virtual currency. Almost always these panels are used for selling in-game virtual items, either consumable or persistent.

Hard Currency (Gold Bars)

All of King’s games on Facebook have a currency called Gold Bars. Gold Bars are used to buy lives, boosters and unlock levels. While Candy Crush Saga got famous for not having any kind of currency, it actually had Gold Bars added to it recently. Seems experiments (probably with Farm Heroes Saga, among others) proved that a currency will allow the game to monetize even better.

Players can buy Gold Bars at any point in the game by clicking the (+) sign next to the amount. Here are a few examples of Buy Panels:

Gold Bars Gold Bars
Pet Rescue Gold Bars Pyramid Solitaire Gold Bars

There seems to be a difference between Buy Panels of games that are available on mobile (Candy Crush, Pet Rescue) and games who aren’t. The games that are available on mobile have only 4 price options and share the following structure:

Offer Structure

 

They differ from the other Buy Panels in what they don’t have: No visual discounts (“+ 100 free”), no visual emphasis on options (“Best Value”, “Most Popular”) and very clean design.

Soft Currency

A few games (Farm Heroes, Pet Rescue) use an additional currency, which players earn during gameplay. Players can use it for various actions that are not covered by the Gold Bars, such as affecting difficulty in key levels (Farm Heroes) or buying extra Block Buster boosters (Pet Rescue). Soft Currency is sold in a different Buy Panel than hard currency, which still follows the same structure.

Here is an example of how King uses Soft Currency in Farm Heroes Saga:

Win Magic Beans
Win Magic Beans (Farm Heroes Saga)
Get Beans from friends
Get Beans from friends
Or Buy Beans
Or Buy Beans
And use them in specific Levels
And use them in specific Levels

Boosters

Boosters are power-ups that give the players a considerable advantage when trying to solve a puzzle. According to many sources, selling boosters is the main monetization source of all King’s games.

Boosters can be bought using Gold Bars, though some are given to players at several points in the first few levels. Players always get 1 or more of each booster when the game introduce it the first time, in order to let them experiance it (and then crave for it when they get stuck).

Each game has different boosters, but there is one which is common in all games – Additional Moves booster. This booster grants X more moves, increasing the players’ chance of completing the level successfully.

As a way to push boosters in front of players King presents them in the following locations:

Level Intro Panel
A list of available boosters are presented in the Level Intro Panel.

Win Magic Beans (Farm Heroes Saga) Get Beans from friends
Get Beans from friends

In-Level HUD
During normal play of a level the boosters are shown as part of the HUD and players can either activate or purchase any of them:

Win Magic Beans (Farm Heroes Saga)

Out of Moves Panel
In the Out of Moves panel players are offered to continue playing from that exact point by purchasing an Additional Moves booster. It’s interesting to note that in Candy Crash the cost of Additional Moves booster during the game is lower than buying it in the Out of Moves panel, effectively charging more at the highest pain point.

Gold Bars Gold Bars

No More Lives
When players have used up all their lives they will get this panel, giving them 3 options:

  • Wait for the next life to be generated (showing the countdown)
  • Request lives from friends
  • Refill lives by paying Gold Bars

Clicking on the Request lives from friends will bring up the Mass Gift panel for sending lives. Clicking on the Gold Bars will consume the number of Gold Bar stated and will refill the lives, or will bring up the Buy Panel if the player doesn’t own enough Gold Bars.

Gold Bars Gold Bars

Note: During a period at the end October/beginning of November, King replaced the option to request lives from friends with a cross promotion campaign (possibly to boost the amount of players they have before the IPO). Players got the option to install and play other King’s games and reach level 8 – and in return have all their lives restored. When players returned to the original game and used up all their lives again, the option changed to another King’s game the player didn’t install yet. Once the player had all of king’s games installed, the option to request lives from friends returned.

Shop

Shop is another GUI Element that only appears in some of the games. In games it does appear it’s located on the top left (just below the HUD) it is animated and features a game’s character.

Gold Bars Gold Bars

The shop in Candy Crush used to offer permanent boosts (like increasing the max amount of life a player can have, etc.), but these were both too expensive and possibly too powerful. According to various posts, players who bought these had a much lower difficulty across all levels, which reduced the motivation to spend more.

Today, the shop allows players to use Gold Bars to buy packs of boosters.

Gold Bars Gold Bars

 

 

More Reading

There are plenty of articles online analysing Candy Crush Saga and other games from King, these are only to get you started:

  • stot

    verrrry good article and written very well.