In December 2014, the developer Game Hive that created ‘Beat the Boss’ game series released the RPG clicker ‘Tap Titans’. The game has plenty of interesting and uncommon gamedesign decisions, so we’ve decided to deconsrtuct it.
The problematics of clickers
The disadvantage of the majority of clickers is that they get boring very quickly. Almost all clickers play quite similarly: one tap (click) gives you one unit of soft game currency. The faster you tap, the more currency you get, which you will use to buy instruments. Their function is to generate soft currency automatically while you keep smashing the screen.
At this stage, tapping as a gameplay feature basically loses sense. The user can simply leave his instruments alone for a couple of hours, and then return to buy a new one that will increase the pace of production of soft currency.
As the player progresses through the game, his instruments begin to generate more currency units per second than he can ever tap single-handedly. From this moment on, tapping completely loses its point. Beginning with the very first in-game purchase, the focus of the user’s attention shifts to the management of resource-generating instruments, which poses no harder challenge than pressing a “buy” button.
As a result, the game cycle usually looks like this:
As you can see, the cycle is pretty much simplistic. This is both positive and negative for the genre. On one hand, the rules are easy to understand for any user. On the other hand, such content cannot keep the player engaged for longer than a couple of weeks.
However, developers of clickers prioritize low entry requirements higher than player retention. After all, the genre has few more considerable advantages:
- Meditative gameplay (watching the number of cookies, gold coins or dollars grow is a mesmerising experience);
- Flexible length of game sessions (you can choose to spend in the game few second or few hours);
- Relatively cheap and simple development process.
So, it is no surprise that clickers are often released on the mobile market. Despite all that is mentioned above, we are certain that all studios deem it important to tackle the retention issue. However, one team did find a proper solution and implemented it in their project Tap Titans.
Guys from Game Hive built a clicker that is much wider and deeper than it is implied by the standard concept.
The differences come in plenty. First of all, the players do not just tap: they have to slay monsters. Each tap damages a creature for a portion of its healthbar; only earliest of the enemies die from one tap. That way, the game currency is earned not by tapping but by killing monsters (they do not fight back).
The game is divided into levels. Each level contains ten monsters. Every tenth monster is a boss, and every fifth boss is an uber-boss. Every following enemy has more health points than the previous one, requiring more and more effort to be killed. This stimulates the player to spend gold on the following:
- Purchasing and improving companions – fighters who will automatically attack monsters and earn gold in the player’s absence;
- Purchasing and improving skills that have a certain, time-limited effect on the battlefield;
- Increasing the strength of the player’s own blow (tap).
Those are the basics of gameplay the newcomers will learn during their first hour in Tap Titans. To them, the game cycle look like this:
What you see there is the new layer of gameplay: the developers have put a barrier (in the shape of monsters) between a tap and its result. This has opened new opportunities of interaction between the player and the game (meanwhile staying in the borders of the same genre).
Solution to “loss of sense”
As we mentioned earlier, tapping in clickers loses its point after quite a short period of time in the game. Instruments generate resources faster than any user can tap manually. Some clickers offer an obvious option: in addition to automatic instruments, the player can spend soft currency on items which upgrade the effect of the tap itself.
The makers of Tap Titans found a curious, though perhaps not very delicate solution. The two major characteristics in the game are:
- Damage from blows (damage dealt by a single user’s tap);
- Damage per second (DPS) dealt by the user’s companions.
There is also an indicator of total DPS but it is just a decoration. It is worth your attention only if you are tapping the hell out of your screen, and want to look how much damage the monsters are taking from you and your companions.
At first glance, these characteristics are not connected. The progression of damage from taps is indicated in one part of the interface, and the heroes are purchased in another. However, there are nuances.
Firstly, you can spend gold on the upgrading of both your heroes and companions. Every level-up increases the companion’s DPS. Moreover, every single companion unlocks a new ability every 10th, 25th, 50th level and further. For example, tap damage or total damage may be increased by a certain percent. Some abilities directly affect the player (for example, “add 0.4% from DPS to damage dealt by a single tap”).
In other words, the more advanced companions you have, the stronger your taps get.
Secondly, there are active skills that represent a pure direct interaction between the player and the monsters. There are six skills; each lasts for a limited amount of time (beginning from few seconds) and then go on a long cooldown.
The skills accelerate gameplay. Some of them work automatically, others require active tapping (for instance, there is no point activating additional critical damage if you are not tapping).
Thirdly, there are bosses which have to be killed for a limited amount of time. If you don’t make it, you will get stuck in the game. It is usually quite difficult to slay a boss. Companions cannot do it alone; you will have to tap along with them and use active skills, such as one that increases your army’s total DPS.
Everything described above is just the tip of the iceberg – complex of solutions to the basic problems of clickers. Game Hive went further. The new game cycle has enabled them to introduce additional features that have turned a simplistic project into a true mid-core title.
What kind of features are those?
Before we get to them, let us point out that they are not all accessible from the very beginning. Days or even weeks will pass until you discover them.
There are two reasons why this development decision is brilliant:
Firstly, newcomers don’t get lost in countless opportunities. Secondly, non-active buttons stimulate curiosity, encouraging the users to play more if they want to unlock them.
Interestingly, the first impression left by Tap Titans is that of quite a minimalistic game. The hero has neither companions nor active skills. You can’t do anything but tap. However, as you make your progress, there is more and more content. It is enough to get lost in, but worry not: the supply of new content is well measured.
Back to the features.
There are three of them, and they are difficult to get (it may take you a whole week on the first run). They work in synergy and are fundamental to your success.
- Artifacts. These items increase the characteristics of the hero and companions. There are many of them, but you cannot choose which one to buy. You can only pay in relics (special game currency, see below) and receive a random artifact.
- Prestige. Prestige is the reset of the game progress. Having activated the prestige, you are left with hard currency (crystals), artifacts and relics. All companions and active skills disappear. You begin anew at level one.
- Tournaments. We will return to them later, after we have elaborated on artifacts and prestige.
What have they been designed for?
In many freemium titles, sooner or later there comes a moment when progression becomes painfully slow. Usually, it means that there is a paywall. Many leave because they have neither money nor patience to keep on playing.
Progression in Tap Titans also comes to a near stall at some moment, but spending real money is not the best way out of that situation. The thing is that purchasing crystals (to buy gold which, in its turn, buys companions) gives only a slight momentum that expires very soon.
The most efficient way to keep the fast pace of progression is to activate prestige.
Because upon activation of prestige, the player gets relics. Their amount depends on the level of the hero. Relics are also given for the “full team” (see below).
Remember that relics, as well as artifacts, are in your permanent possession, and artifacts boost your characteristics.
As a result, a hero with artifacts progresses several times more quickly. Without artifacts, you have to spend weeks to reach decent levels; with them, the same achievement will require no more than few days.
Thus, the user defines the dynamic of the game.
In order to prevent abuse of prestige by players, the developers have made this feature hard to get access to. Moreover, it is more rewarding for the player to activate prestige as late in the game as possible, because the higher the player’s level is, the more relics he will receive.
At last, it is time to return to tournaments. This feature is unlocked upon the first activation of prestige.
Tournaments are competitions among players in the speed of progression through levels. When players enter a tournament, prestige is automatically activated for all of them. In other words, players reset their progress to compete (and, of course, receive relics for that). Obviously, if you have more artifacts, and they are more advanced (can be upgraded for relics), you will rise higher on the ladder. Players who keep top positions at the end of each tournament are rewarded with weapons for companions, crystals and relics.
Weapons for companions are not a definitive gameplay element, but they are still quite efficient in the framework of the basic game cycle. Weapons give companions up to 50% increase in power.
The function of the three described features is to preserve the dynamic of the game. Of them, tournaments are greatest motivators. Users who want to rank high in the game’s top are motivated to play very much, activate prestige time after time, receive relics and buy artifacts – all to achieve decent results.
This has been the description of the second basic game cycle.
One of the variables that affects the amount of relics received upon activation of prestige is so-called “full team”. What does this mean?
The thing is that beginning from a certain level (quite difficult one to reach), bosses can “kill” (put out of the game) one of the companions. If that happens, it is better for you not to go for prestige because the “full team” variable is the most important factor to consider when it concerns relics.
Loss of companions before a tournament means loss of relics. The only solution to this problem is to pay a hard game currency to resurrect a companion.
This method of monetization is both non-intrusive and efficient. To the developers’ honor, bosses are not some fiendish slayers of companions.
Another gameplay element that stimulates players to spend money and activate prestige is “Character customization”. The player can gear up his hero to increase characteristics. Access to a gear is unlocked in any of two cases: either upon a certain time of activation of prestige (reset progress ten times and get a fashionable critical damage increasing scarf), or for a hard currency.
As you have probably noticed, players in Tap Titans are given a gameplay alternative in the form of prestige. While traditional free-to-play titles with sky-high paywalls offer a familiar dilemma (pay or pain), the product of Game Hive offers another kind of choice: pay or reset. Interestingly, investing real money is not always a winning strategy.
To elaborate on monetization, we would mark out three monetization vortexes:
- Slowing progression (late game enemies have giant healthbars and drop too little gold to buy a new, more powerful companion);
- Purchasable boosters (gold, opportunity to insta-kill a strong monster, shield against bosses, resetting cooldowns on active skills, and so on);
- Purchasable custom items for characters.
That would be all. As you can see, none of these vortexes affects the keystone of the game – relics.
Another widespread problem of clickers is the extremely fast consumption of content by players. Prestige covers this issue to a certain extent, as maximum level cannot be obtained without constant resetting of progress. Well, perhaps it can, but it would take too much time. So, prestige is indeed a beautiful decision, that is made even more delicate by the 1000th level companion reset.
It looks pretty much like this: when a companion reaches level 1000, its attack is pretty weak, while its skills work properly. If the user decides to reset the level of that companion, the latter becomes very strong. However, it has to be upgraded from the very start, which costs a lot. Yes, that companion receives a new status (manifested in a nice golden frame), but it takes a huge amount of resources and time to level it up.
Game Hive have developed a great title that merges the mundane gameplay basics of clickers with a number of fresh solutions. As result, Tap Titans appeal to a larger audience in comparison with other games of the same genre.