In March 2020, "Sharpen Blade", published by ZPLAY and developed by Dayless, quickly reached the sixth on the North American free charts. At the same time, throughout 2020, "Sharpen Blade" is also the first game that entered the top ten in the App Store charts in North America. As the game publisher, Jack Ho, CEO of ZPLAY, shared his experience with media worker "Gameunited".
There were two reasons for initially choosing "Sharpen Blade":
First, the gameplay of this product was quite innovative at the time, as the hyper-casual game is all about creativity. As a rule of thumb, if the gameplay is not unique in this field, it is difficult to promote this product even if we change its theme.
Second, due to the unique and creative gameplay, the CPI of this product is relatively low. Usually, the biggest problem for products with non-unique gameplay through the feedback of data is the increase of CPI.
The repeated polish:
When we first saw "Sharpen Blade" and decided to publish it, its gameplay was quite different from now. Statistically, the initial retention rate was about 20%, and the D1 retention rate of the final version has increased to 55%. This is because we had thorough communication with the developer and made further improvements to the product.
1. Rationalization of the gameplay
2. Enrich the content
Then, we further enrich the shape of blades that can be sharpened in the game. The developer made it quite simple about this part in its earliest version. But after making changes to the gameplay, we further brought in the effect of blades that can be cut and polished according to their different parts.
In other words, in the previous version, the material of the blade was quite simple, but after bringing in the effect of cutting and polishing in different parts, the types of blades that users can polish are further enriched. Thus, we can add more blades to the game for users to choose from so as to enrich the game. The daily average online time in "Sharpen Blade" has significantly increased after this change.
3. Positive feedback and incentives
For hyper-casual games that focus on creativeness, how to create a flashpoint or an "Aha moment" for users is a problem. We have brought in a part in the game, that is, after the user finished sharpening the blade, they could swipe the screen to chop an item. The developer didn't understand the reason when we decided to bring it in, but we finally convinced them.
"If you let the user spend a long time sharpening a blade, but there is no feedback. And after the star rating, they must start to polish the next one. For users, this lacks clear feedback and incentives."
We have also changed many times on the chopping process, and the final decision is to chop piles of hamburgers, goblets, and other items in a modern environment. After we brought in this gameplay, the retention rate rose directly to over 50%.
So, in this chopping process, how do we prevent players from having a sense of isolation in the game experience? First, it must be strictly bound to the gameplay. In the case of "Sharpen Blade", there is a possibility that the items cannot be chopped in this part. The key to whether the item can be chopped depends on the quality of the blades that users sharpened. So, in order to reach the "Aha moment", the user will definitely sharpen the blade seriously.
As for how to make users reach this moment? It’s not hard. We just need a basic upgrade in the original work. As a hyper-casual game, the only way to make it feel satisfying is to drag, swipe, or click on the screen. Clicking is denied first as there is no room for game control. The drag has already been used during the sharpening process, so there is only one way left—to swipe. At this point, the developer had the same thought as ours.
4. Bringing in the creative mode
Creative mode is gameplay aimed at the market. When players first enter the game, they will sharpen their blades according to the default design. But this kind of fun will gradually disappear over time. In this case, we bring in creative mode to fully stimulate their creativity.
On the other hand, as a hyper-casual game, it is increasingly important to have connections with influencers today. We also enhance our cooperation with KOLs and streamers on "Sharpen Blade" overseas publishing. In the end, we’ve been rapidly recognized by users in the market and earned a sweeping victory in publicity and promotion. You could see all kinds of bizarre blades on Tik Tok and Youtube lives. Frankly speaking, we never thought that it would turn out like this.
The creative model also plays a role in localization, as the habits of Chinese users and overseas users are different. Take Chinese users as an example, though we have designed a task mode in the game and provided the users with models of the blades for them to polish. A lot of users are unwilling to limit themselves to the models and are more willing to sharpen a unique blade in their own way.
But it’s not the case for overseas users. Under the premise of setting tasks, they are strictly limited to the task model and find it hard to break the rules. So, we simply brought in the creative mode to help overseas users break the routine. And this change proves to be quite helpful in the market by increasing our organic users by 10%.
Publicity & Promotion
This time, we cooperated with KOLs to promote "Sharpen Blade" due to our experience of promoting "Will Hero" in the Korean market earlier, which has dominated the local list for three months. When we do the retrospective, our team believed that its success was based on the spontaneous dissemination of influencers. Through a large amount of video forwarding, it formed an effect similar to "viral marketing".
After that, we began to cooperate with influencers intentionally. For "Sharpen Blade", there are two standards we refer to. First, does this influencer love to play games? Second, if they meet the first requirement, what kind of game do they stream? If they are streamers of SLG or competitive games, it won’t work.
Apart from "Sharpen Blade", we also have to consider whether the gameplay of a product is suitable to stream. For example, for some idle games, due to the limitations of their gameplay, I am afraid the results won’t be satisfactory even if we cooperate with a KOL.
Chinese market & Overseas market
The result of releasing "Sharpen Blade" in China is also impressive, we reached No.1 in China ios for one month. However, Chinese users and American users of hyper-casual games are completely different. The reason is that these two markets have completely different perceptions of hyper-casual games, and they are familiar with different product models.
Chinese users have relatively high demands for numerical values in the game. But not for overseas users, they don't have much obsession with values and upgrades.
In this case, the first difference lies in the way of monetization. In the overseas markets, you can achieve monetization through insert and banner ads. But in China, it’ll ruin the user experience and monetization can only be achieved through rewarded videos. But the problem is, it is difficult to achieve monetization through rewarded videos without a numerical system.
Due to the difference in users, we also apply different channels of user acquisition.
First, in terms of the choice of product type, "Sharpen Blade" obviously has a majority of male users, so it is necessary to target ads to male users. Through the ad network, it is easy to target specific user groups according to product types.
Second, in terms of the choice of ad network, different channels of user acquisition do have different characteristics. In the end, we decided to focus on some of them. We only choose those large platforms, like Facebook, Google, Apple, and the newly rising Snapchat. This is because the ad network today are already quite transparent, especially in overseas markets. Therefore, if we’re doing a good job on those large platforms, it can cover the vast majority of users. On the other hand, as a medium-sized company, we are also limited by manpower, and it is too busy for us to access some new, small, and medium-sized platforms.
What did we learn?
1. Unique gameplay is extremely important in hyper-casual games. If the gameplay is not unique, it will be difficult to promote it even if we change a theme.
2. Rationalizing the gameplay, enriching the content, providing positive feedback and incentives, and offering players a space to show their creativeness can all help your game get good data and improvements.
3. When your gameplay is suitable to cooperate with KOLs for promotion, take action immediately, which will make it more effective.
4. As a huge market, there’s infinite potential in Chinese players. However, its users are quite different from those overseas, and developers and publishers must do thorough investigations and tests when entering this market.
Or you can contact us directly, an experienced global publisher based in China, let’s work together and create the next hit!