Card battling is a corner stone of what it is to be a nerd. However, the cost of having a competitive deck alone turns many casual players away while the twitching intensity of hard core players is enough to put off the rest. In steps the mobile card battle game, could this be the answer to the off-putting accessibility of the paper derivative?

NGmoco’s merge with Japanese mobile giant DeNA has opened the floodgates of Japanese mobile games. The resulting influx of titles coming from the East has created a culture clash igniting huge fan bases in the West in a very short time frame. Cygames’ Rage of Bahamut produced by NGmoco on the Mobage gaming platform has turned a niche market into a top selling product. The secret is in the price… nothing, nada, free. Or as Marketing Strategist Sami Mahmood is quick to point out: “Freemium”.

Tom Reed: I loved the look of Rage of Bahamut but when it came to duking it out I wasn’t quite sure what the winning conditions were and what determined whether I won or lost, could you clear that up for me?

Sami Mahmood: Well I found that the first 20 minutes there was a lot of information to figure out, but it suddenly clicks and then gets addictive. Stick at it and it should become clear – hard to explain in text.

TR: The art is great but something seems to be missing from Rage of Bahamut… the sound, where is it?

SM: Doesn’t exist!! (laughs)

TR: Was there ever sound that was lost in the transition?

SM: Not that I am aware of. I guess as it’s a trading card game, it hasn’t hurt.

The art style is beautiful but the omission of sound is a strange oversight

TR: Point Taken. Can you explain how Rage of Bahamut has taken on such broad appeal?

SM: Not entirely no. Rage of Bahamut is culturally somewhat unique and we would expect fans of that style of game to enjoy it. What has astonished us as a company is how it has become the number one top grossing game in the US, the top 10 in the majority of Europe. It’s just been phenomenally successful, and we’re delighted of course.

TR: Due to those numbers maybe we should reconsider card battling as a niche market?

SM: Absolutely.

TR: Is the “freemium” model of free to play but pay to proceed a reality for all future games by NGmoco?

SM: We were early pioneers of freemium and it’s worked very well for us (and the rest of the industry has followed).  If you want to play and enjoy our titles you can do so without it costing you a penny. If you want to speed up certain aspects of the game or enhance the experience in some way there is the option to do that with a small transaction. It’s working for us, and I wouldn’t say we have ‘pay to proceed’ in the sense that the game is a trial.  It’s the full game, free, and you can choose to enhance the experience if you like.

TR: Do you feel the success of Rage of the Bahamut will lead to your own studios adopting a Japanese style?

SM: I’m not sure the art style is purely the reason for Rage’s success. Approximately one in four of the population of Japan is a DeNA subscriber. A quarter of Japan is playing our titles on their mobile device. But even if a game is very popular over there it’s hard to say if it will share the same success in the west. I mean, we knew Rage was good but it’s incredible success has lead us to wanting to learn what made it so successful, but not necessarily shift to that art style.

TR: In games the western market outweighs the Japanese market significantly and yet we still care what they think. Why do you think that is?

SM: The Japanese have been early adopters with mobile gaming, and seem to be a few years ahead of the west in many ways. NGmoco’s vision is to take the learnings from the most advanced market, and combine them with the passion for games and delighting consumers which our company was built on.

TR: Thanks for your Time Sami.

SM: Any time.

The Fremium model presents a distinct issue amongst hard-core gamers who will not welcome being beaten because their opponent has spent more money than them. But then isn’t that true of the paper based versions of card battling games?

The emergence of the free to play strategy in home consoles looms with CCP’s Dust 514 currently in its beta.  With the first planned DLC worth £35 according to CCP although they offer it at a discounted rate of £14. One can only imagine how much it will cost to remain competitive over an extended period of time. One thing is certain: Games seem to be getting a hell of a lot more expensive under the guise of being absolutely free.

As always, let us and each other know what you think about the direction games are taking to maximize revenue.

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