Collectible Card Games Are Driving the Next Generation of Mobile Games

What are CCGs?

CCGs (Collectible Card Games) are a gaming genre based on the strategic usage of a player’s deck of cards, which can represent characters, items, conditions and locations (to name but a few). Upgrading, combining and trading cards figure among the genre’s hallmarks.

Although there is nothing new about digital CCGs, they have experienced new levels of success thanks to the free to play business model on smartphones, with titles such as Rage of Bahamut, Blood Brothers and Marvel War of Heroes.

We’ve already seen CCG mechanics surface in hit games outside of the genre. Puzzle & Dragonstook the now standard CCG mechanics of core gaming element collection, fusion and monetization and applied them to an interesting genre mash-up of Match 3 puzzle and RPGs. The result is the first mobile game to generate US$1 billion in revenue.

We may now witness the next big mobile hits to leverage CCG mechanics, as pinball RPG Monster Strike is rapidly gaining popularity in Japan on both iOS and Android platforms. Meanwhile, publishing giant Square Enix has recently released first person shooter and CCG hybrid Deadman’s Cross.

Canadian developers have also recognized the genre’s strength. For example, Kickstarter success Afterland and Hothead Games’ Big Win series of sports games based on CCG gaming mechanics.


Why are CCGs important?

In the post-Zynga era, mobile and social gamers are looking for more varied experiences as their tastes mature, while lapsed adult gamers are in search of games that provide a deeper experience than do Angry Birds or FarmVille for example, without however requiring the time commitment of console games. These desires have lead to the creation of the “mid-core” demographic that settles in between casual and hardcore. This has fueled the success of titles such as Clash of Clans and Kingdoms of Camelot. Given these circumstances, digital CCGs are “in the right place, at the right time.”

The idea of one game as a hobby in which a player engages and spends over the long term is the Holy Grail of the “games as a service” era. This expression refers to the fact that digitally distributed games are not one-off, boxed products; they can be updated on the fly to meet players’ demands and tastes as a constantly evolving entertainment service.

These evergreen games need a number of things to be successful: replayability, robust analytics, highly reusable coding and art as well as a development cost structure that allows for constant updates and maintenance—among other things.

However, the crux is ultimately a game design that allows for a high level of scalability and expansion via downloadable updates (while remaining reasonably affordable to support).

CCGs with their relatively linear gameplay and monetization around highly expandable core game elements (see below) are ideal vehicles for creating a game that fits this product vision.

In addition, the gameplay mechanics of CCGs are a natural fit for free-to-play (F2P) and contribute greatly to their overall success as a genre. The biggest things that CCGs get right in this regard are the monetization of core game elements and collectable aspects.

Core game elements are the linchpins through which the player interacts with a game. In the case of a CCG, the cards represent these linchpins. There is obviously strong monetization potential in putting such elements up for purchase. It’s the rough equivalent of having players pay per soldier in Clash of Clans or per bullet in a first-person shooter.

A strong collectable aspect is also important, as keeping a game evergreen requires a drip feed of new content and goals for players. By consistently releasing new cards, the “end game” of acquiring the best deck possible is a moving target that keeps players engaged.

Forecasting the Future

Given the success of the genre and its influence on other F2P games, CCG conventions are becoming more and more accepted and palatable to a wider audience, in line with the tastes of this rising mid-core demographic.

The collectible, character-based nature of CCGs lends itself well to a multitude of opportunities for innovation and differentiation across F2P gaming in general:

  • The vacuum in digital CCGs caused by megabrands such as Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! not being available digitally
  • Continuing advances in augmented reality and Internet of things should help to drive CCGs as the technology is a natural fit with physical cards and toys
  • In addition, California-based NukoToys has a capacitive ink technology that enables the touch-screen scanning of physical trading cards. The cards are laid down on the screen to trigger actions and events in the app

The latter two points offer tremendous opportunity as traditional video games and toys converge in the wake of Skylanders’ success. In terms of licensing, any IP with a strong roster of characters and lore to draw from will work well with CCG-style collection mechanics and monetization (as seen with Marvel, Transformers, G.I. Joe and others).

The traditionally strategic and stats-heavy nature of the CCG genre may keep it from experiencing the level of success achieved by Angry Birds, for example. However, the core mechanics will stick around and continue to exert an influence because they fit perfectly into the F2P business model.

Kevin Oke
Kevin Oke is co-founder of Victoria BC-based LlamaZOO Interactive, an award-winning educational technology start-up. Kevin has worked as an employee and consultant in digital interactive entertainment for 10 years. He has worked with Fox, Electronic Arts, Sky Sports and Nickelodeon on 40+ projects.
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