Product Teardown 06 — Thunder Fighter

Thunder fighter is a flight shoot game published by Tencent last year. It’s a popular game and today it is still a top-2o mobile game in China App Store.

In this article, we will look at some of the success factors of this game. We will also discuss aspectst that can be improved.

Core loop

The game is built around a simple core loop: conduct a flight battle, which consumes energy and generate loots. Players use loots to upgrade their flight and join the battle again.

Retention

Goals

The core loop immediately creates 2 goals for players: (1) upgrade your flight to highest rank and enjoy the grand visual transformation; (2) win as many battles as possible or become the best pilot among your friends.

In the short term, players go through battles to advance in games. As they play, they upgrade flights to compete in more advanced battles. In the long run, they might want to compelte all campaign battles or become best polit among their friends.

In order for users to complete short-mid term goals, the game also need to keep users playing the game many times a day, many days a week.

Session Length Control

Players are given 100 energy points at the begining. A battle session consumes an energy point from 6~ 20, on average 10 points. The session length is carefully controlled around 1.5 mins. Since players need to move his flight to hit enemy and dodge bullet, a 2 mins session is actually pretty intense. With 100 points, a player can play about 8~10 sessions, which are around 10~ 15 mins. The energy is recharged 1 point every 5 mins. So to play another session, players need to wait about 1 hour.

The 2 mins session keeps the play short and enjoyable, allowing users to pick up the game any time, anywhere, i.e. waiting for bus, waiting for your coffee. The 15 mins sesssion allows them to play the game as long as possible every time a user lauch the game. The continuity helps educating users about the game play, so they become more familiar with the game. The 1 hour interval drives users to come back multiple times per day. Only if a user play multiple times a day, can he form a habit to play the game in the long run.

Overall, the session is carefully designed.

Campaign Mode and Endless Mode

This game has( as many Chinese mobile games do) two battle modes: campaign mode and endless mode.

Campaign mode consists of a series of stages. It has a story line, which present the backgroud and character settings. It also makes playing a little bit more engaging.

However, since each session is only 2 mins, players can advance so quickly that they will soon reach the end of story and run out of content.( you can imagine this will impact the product lifecycle and also put a lot pressure on content creation). To keep players from advancing too fast, the game uses NPC-boss index and player stats to gate the progression. To win some battle sessions, your player stats needs to be higher than NPC-boss index, otherwise, chances of winning are small. ( some other games user play level to gate progresson. Same logic)

What would players do to increase the index and advance? They can repeat previous sessions. However, players would get bored easily. Or other than the main story line, you could have many other quests. But this also needs a lot of content creation. A quick method to fix the problem is to have an endless mode.

In an endless mode, designed pull all enemy bosses together and ask players to battle against them until player’s avatar dies. The goal is to advance as far as you can. Players can keeping do this until their index meets the requirement.

( some games have great story lines so it’s relatively easy to create many quests, such as Lord of Ring, Elder Scroll, TLBB 3D; some other games have great player freedom and customization, which create a feeling that each time you would experience different things even you’re doing the repetitive work, such as battles in Clash of Clans, Boom Beach, or quest in Farmville2)

Monetization

Thunder Fighter uses diamond as hard currency. The other resources — energy and coins — can be purchased through diamonds. ( $0.014 = 1 diamond)

In general, there are two categories to consume diamonds

One time / Permanent purchase

(1) VIP account: VIP account provides users additional service, such as more energy points recharges per day. There are 12 levels. A user need to spend thousands of dollars to reach VIP level 12.

Repeat purchase

(2) Consumable boosters:users can purchase boosters to increase chances of success. Usually cost 10 diamonds.

(3)Pay-to-continue: for each session, if users failed, they can pay as many as three times to continue. Each costs about 30 diamonds. This micro transaction, I believe, contribute a big portion of early revenues for paying users.

(4)Pay-to-win: I believe bulk of revenue comes from this type of transaction. The game has very carefully designed monetization strategies:

First, To win the game, players needs higher stats, so they need to upgrate their flights, weapons, etc. The flights are designed into several grades. Each grade has 75 levels. Players need 2 or 3 same grade flights to craft one in a higher grade.

Second, those resource can be got through endless battle mode. The higher points you get in endless mode, the more likelihood you get the resources. But this is catch 22. To win, you need resources, To get resource, you need to win.

Third, you can win those resources through in-game lottery!! Think of this as a in-game slot machine. You want to play the slot machine? you need to pay diamond. You don’t get your desired resource? Pay to play again. You want to increase changes of getting resources? Pay to play different ties of slot machines.

I saw one user spend 560 diamonds to get only one of the resources that are required in upgrading. Don’t forget, there are many resources are required for leveling up within one grade, and there are many grades waiting for you.

This game has a very aggressive monetization strategy, aiming those whale users( people who pay a lot). At some point in the game, there is no way for free user or even low spending users to advance further in the game.

Social

Social feaures in thunder flight serve more as competition purpose than as collabration. You can compare progression with your friends on campaign mode. You can also compare ranking with them. There is very little collabration between players.

Thoughts on Improvement

The game can be improved upon its social features. Social is about collabration and competition. For example, the game can improve its clan features. Everytime a member purchases, other members get some kind of gifts. Or, every dungeon the clan wins, the whole team gets rewards.

Another aspect that thunder fighter can work on is the storyline. Currently, there is only an endless mode as quest. It would be great to see other storylines, characters so that minor quests can be designed around. That would drive user retention and also improve game’s lifetime.

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