Tag: Gaming Economies

The True Cost of a Shadow Game — Gaming Economies

The True Cost of a Shadow Game — Gaming Economies

I’ve wanted to write something on this topic for some time now, and after I declared Duel Links my favorite game of 2017 I figure it’s as good a time as ever to do something with the game. As strange as it sounds when mentioning that I’ll be talking about a nostalgic anime-based card game simulator, Duel Links in particular has piqued my interest regarding the different versions of in-game economies utilized by microtransaction-based games.

I can actually pinpoint exactly when I decided I was interested in delving into this topic. It was on October 23, when I took this screenshot of exactly what inspired me:

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For those of you who don’t play Duel Links and don’t understand exactly what this shows, I’ll elaborate on the subject in stages to give everyone a full understanding.

The main economy in Duel Links is based on gems. They are arguably the most valuable collectible in the game because you use them to purchase packs of cards from boxes.


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What are Card Boxes?

Yu-Gi-Oh! is a card game with a long, long history and easily hundreds of thousands of cards in its overall catalog. These cards are released in boxes that often correspond to one theme or another, and those themes can contain a variety of cards that fit together in closer-knit groups called archetypes.

As an easy example, a card pack that’s themed around Spellcasters might contain a number of monsters, spells or traps that support the Dark Magician archetype (made popular by the headlining character of the original anime series).

The mobile game Duel Links works in the same way, with Konami releasing boxes of cards at least once a month to try and catch up to the amount available in the real life trading card game. These boxes switch off on each release between a full box and a mini box. They are headlined by one monster that tends to have the most additional support in the pack. However, in full packs especially there are often a number of archetypes given support.

Servant of Kings was the seventh mini box in the game and one of 17 available as of December 31. It features Dark Magician of Chaos, which ties into the Dark Magician archetype I mentioned earlier, but beyond that frankly has a much more eclectic range of supportive cards than most mini boxes do.

With that general game context out of the way, now I can delve into the economy itself.

When buying card boxes, gems are your best friend.


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How are gems utilized?

The two kinds of boxes in Duel Links are similar but ultimately different animals.

~ In a single main box, there are 600 cards available which are split into 200 packs that players can open. Of the four card rarities, things break down like this:

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Cards from the “Galactic Origin” Main Box
  • 10 cards are “Ultra Rare” with one of each kind of UR card available
  • 24 cards are “Super Rare” with two of each kind of SR card available
  • 192 cards are “Rare” with six of each kind of R card available
  • 374 cards are “Not Rare” with eight or nine of each kind of N card available
  • Regardless of rarity, there are 100 unique cards to get in the box.

~ In a single mini box, there are 240 cards available which are split into 80 packs that players can open. Of the four card rarities, things break down like this:

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Cards from the “Echoes of Silence” Mini Box
  • Two cards are “Ultra Rare” with one of each kind of UR card available
  • Eight cards are “Super Rare” with one of each kind of SR card available
  • 70 cards are “Rare” with five of each kind of R card available
  • 160 cards are “Not Rare” with 10 of each kind of N card available
  • Regardless of rarity, there are 40 unique cards to get in the box.

Each individual pack contains three cards and can be purchased for 50 gems. A single pack purchase is always available to players, but as more gems are collected a larger collective buying option becomes available.

By that, I don’t mean you get a discount for larger purchases. Purchasing discounts are exclusive to spending real money on cards.

Rather, you simply get to do larger pack opening sessions the more gems you have. When you have 100 gems you can open two packs at a time, when you have 150 gems you can open three packs at a time, and so on. There’s a cap at 10 packs, which costs 500 gems.

In one sense, it seems strange to cap things off there. Yet 10 packs is a perfect place to cap things off because it breaks down the boxes in a digestible way.

Under the way this system has been set up, 500 gems becomes a recognizable baseline that players (or at least that I) aim for before opening packs.

By waiting to get to 500 gems before buying, the 600 cards in a main box are distilled into 24 pack opening sessions and the 240 cards in a mini box are distilled into eight pack opening sessions. That kind of bite-sized dividing is very clever because it gives players a goal to work up to and makes an intimidatingly large task into an easier, far more enjoyable series of tasks.

After all, it’s much more of an accomplishable idea to collect 500 gems eight or 24 times than it is to collect 4,000 gems for a full mini box or 12,000 gems for a full main box. Add onto that the graphical interface involved with each pack opening and you get that small scale addicting purchase system mobile games like this are known for.

That said, I haven’t even mentioning the fact that every box, in theory, should be opened three times.

In Duel Links, the deck you can build based on the cards you collect are limited.

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There’s a maximum of 30 cards usable per deck (with five extra deck cards for fusion monsters), and you can only have three of a given card in each deck – with the exception of a few cards that are on a limited list, of course.

When you start a duel, each player’s deck is shuffled and four cards are drawn. As a result, a deck should be built to offer the greatest odds of having cards that are needed to win in an opening hand.

As the game’s metagame had come to dictate, that means decks typically stick to the minimum 20 card requirement and have two-to-three copies of the important cards.

So, if you want those three copies of the ever-present Super Rare card Wall of Disruption in your deck, you need to reset the “Servants of Kings” mini box three times, since each box only has one copy. If that Super Rare is the last card you pull in all three of those boxes by sheer dumb luck, you’ll have to spend 12,000 gems in all.

Of course that also means it might not take every pack in the box to get all of the Super Rare and Ultra Rare cards, you could get them all right when you start opening packs for a given box.

That’s where I cycle back to what inspired me to do this post in the first place.

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In this run at the “Servants of Kings” box, I wound up having to spend exactly 4,000 gems to clean out everything because one of the two Ultra Rare cards was the last one I needed. Instead of getting a veritable bargain of 3,950 gems, I got stuck with full price.

Something about that really got into my head, and I decided to analyze this economic system after getting stuck in that position. I find that overall Duel Links has a far more reasonable economy in place than most mobile games, despite the fact that this project’s inspiration began with my being screwed over.


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How can you collect gems?

There are many ways to collect gems in Duel Links, and I would argue one of the best aspects of the game is the fact that there are certain means of collection that are limitless.

The chief means of collecting gems is leveling up.

Players advance through a series of stages in the game, with multiple missions offering challenges that impede advancement. These missions always include one that provides gems for completing every other challenge in a stage.

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However, the biggest collection of gems come from leveling up Legendary Duelist characters.

There is currently a level 40 cap on these characters (which has the potential to increase). As they advance through these levels players gain access to multiple rewards, including new cards and skills to fit that character or related archetypes, multiple concurrent deck building options for the character and gems.

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Levels 28 through 30 are the most satisfying when it comes to gem collecting.

All together, each character can gross 2,290 gems by leveling up to 40. With the recent additions of Bonz and Arcana as playable Legendary Duelists, there are 25 characters available in Duel Links.

Thus, you can get a grand total of 57,250 gems by leveling up each character to the max. Plus a couple dozen extra gems from overall player missions that additionally reward leveling up these characters.

While this is the primary pool of gems available in Duel Links, at the end it amounts to the equivalent of completely buying out four mini boxes if a player wants three copies of the Super and Ultra Rare cards.

In hindsight, not necessarily the most lucrative deal in a game with eight mini boxes and nine main boxes, with more being released about once a month.

Luckily, more characters are released fairly regularly and there are plenty of other gem deposits available to cash in on.

One of the more valuable but less consistent sources of gems are special giveaways for holidays, in-game events, the release of a new box and compensation for mistakes Konami has made (such as the game going offline unexpectedly).

 

A cache of gems also becomes available every month when the Ranked Dueling arena resets.

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As you play against other duelists around the world, you can get gems through ranking up and as rewards for reaching a certain amount of wins in a season. In fact, once you get the final displayed reward at 120 victories, every couple dozen victories will also give you 30 gems at a pop.

Similarly, a number of gems become available as periodic score-based rewards during things like Duel-A-Thons, Duelist Chronicles or limited time character unlocking events.

 

Beyond that, there are three “daily” small sources of gems to make use of.

I use daily in quotes because technically only one of these sources is a truly daily activity. That activity is watching a random duel recording from a match between two other players.

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Learn all the fanciest Player-versus-Player duel strategies from this fancy television box on the PvP Arena screen.

The other sources are technically daily but with some technicalities.

In the Duel School, players can take on a duel with a borrowed deck once a day that offers a random reward. On occasion, that reward is three gems:

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The other rewards this challenge cycles through includes 20 general keys, seven colored keys and 5,000 gold (easily the most useful of the three).

Not a lot, but it’s something.

As an added note, the Duel School also opens a few missions allowing players to practice new strategies available when a new purchasable card box opens.

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The new card box challenges include full duels with loaner decks and limited turn tests meant to show off specific combinations of cards.

The third “daily” source of gems is tapping environmental features on each screen of the overworld.

 

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  • The fountain next to the Legendary Duelist gate
  • The lanterns in front of the PvP Arena
  • The hologram card on top of the Shop
  • The trash can in front of the Card Studio

As an added note, the pictures I’ve displayed are from the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX world. The objects I mentioned are exactly the same in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! world.

These four can be activated at least once a day to get between one and five gems each, with the objects refreshing multiple times a day. That means if someone is lucky they can get 20 gems in a shot throughout the day.

Fair warning, however, more often than not each object only gives one gem at a time.

What really makes the system of gem collection in Duel Links special, however, is the fact that farming Legendary Duelists at the Gate offers an infinite source of potential gems.

When you spend a certain amount of keys collected by dueling Standard Duelists, you can battle one of the Legendary Duelist characters from the first two anime series. Duking it out with these higher level Duelists has a random chance of providing players with boxes of five, 10 or 15 gems a pop in their eight potential assessment rewards.

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The chance of getting gems is increased when considering the fact that bonus gems are rewarded in place of a skill that had already been unlocked.

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Even if this kind of gem earning is considerably more tedious than something like leveling up a character for large stipends, as I mentioned before one can battle Legendary Duelists as often as they want so long as they have the keys to spare.

Trust me, after a fair amount of time has been invested in the game, keys are no longer a concern.

If a player desires, they can grind up gems infinitely between taking on Legendary Duelists and Ranked Duels. When that idea meshes with the finite amount of collectibles available in Duel Links at one time, the true genius of the system shines through.

While nobody will likely ever collect every box-purchasable card through grinding alone because of how long it would take, it’s entirely possible to do so. The goal is achievable because you’re guaranteed to get everything in a given box eventually.

It’s way different than the system in other free-to-play mobile titles where random number generation applies to what you get at one time during a purchase, but the amount of options that random generation chooses between stays in a large pool each time.


Currently, this kind of system where I can consistently set goals and earn my way up to them in bits at a time is my absolute favorite form of microtransaction-based gaming because when I do feel frustrated seeing this:

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Recurring through-line for the win.

I’ll always know that I’m guaranteed to get that Man-Eater Bug in my next purchase no matter what. Then, once I have all three of them in my collection, I never have to look at that particular box ever again.

In my head, that’s a real, tangible sense of accomplishment.

Plus, let’s not forget that even if you don’t want to spend any gems, you can get tons of cards through Legendary Duelists, leveling up characters and through special events. These cards can either stand on their own or support card archetypes in certain boxes, so a player can pick and choose what boxes they want to buy from to build the decks they want.

I don’t throw the term around that often, but it’s a fairly genius way to handle things in my opinion.

Even if Konami releases card boxes a bit too frequently to make total purchase completion an achievable goal in a set timeframe without potentially spending some money anyway.

As one final note for any players curious about jumping into Duel Links: Do not ever look at the incessant phishing offers in the global chats.

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Those are always scams. End of story.

Based on this (I believe fairly comprehensive) guide I’ve put together on the economy of Duel Links, what do you think of the system they’ve put together?

In your opinion, are there other games that do the microtransaction push more fairly for players?

This kind of analysis is a longer project that I’m interested in delving into for other games as well, so if you enjoyed the post or have suggestions for how to make it better, please feel free to let me know!