Studio and project
Black Temple is a small studio from St. Petersburg. Two out of four developers are popular vloggers with 3+ million followers.
Epic Mine is their fourth project — a casual game designed for the Minecraft fans, young players up to 16 years.
The core gameplay is mining ore. The essence boils down to tapping the screen when the aim coincides with the burning points. Doing this, the player destroys obstacles in the hero’s way and gets resources, finds chests and opens new mines.
The meta game is resource management in the village. Here the player smelts the received resources into ingots, creates new picks, and cracks chests. Without cracking chests, you can’t get the keys. The latter is necessary for opening new floors with new mines.
The first launch of the game was planned by the studio for the Belarusian app stores. To get a better understanding of players’ reactions and their behavior, the studio integrated devtodev’s SDK into the project.
During the soft launch, the team was primarily worried about the tutorial funnel. They knew that it’s possible to maximize the Day 1 Retention during this stage.
Just to recall, it’s one of the key parameters for any game. It makes sense to tackle the settings of other metrics and game elements only if the Day 1 Retention is high enough: if your users are not ready to return to the game after their first session, it makes no sense to change anything else (monetization, graphics, currency balance at the Level 10 and so on).
During the Epic Mine tutorial, players pass one floor (six mines) completely. While doing this, they learn how to create a pickaxe, remelt resources, level-up their skills, and crack chests.
In the first version of the game, the tutorial funnel looked like this:
The first column is the number of the tutorial step. The second and third ones contain the number of players who have been on this step in numeric and percentage values. The fourth column is the Churn Rate or the percentage of those players who have dropped on this step.
Do not be confused by the 17th and 18th steps: these are the players who have been killed by the Boss once or twice respectively. These steps are optional and not everyone has them.
Here’s the full list of the tutorial steps:
- The cinematic trailer has been watched.
- Learning tips have been passed.
- The Blacksmith meets us after passing the mine.
- The Blacksmith sends us into the mine.
- 2nd mine is completed
- 50 stones from residents have been received.
- Smelting explained.
- Smelted resources have been taken.
- A stone pickaxe has been created.
- The player found the first chest.
- The chest is being open.
- The chest has been open for hard currency.
- The keys have been received.
- Skills demonstration.
- Daily bonuses demonstration.
- Meeting with the Boss.
- The Boss has killed the player for the first time.
- The Boss has killed the player for the second time.
- The second level has become available,
- Fireball has become available.
Here are the four main places where players churn, not counting the stages with the Boss.
After studying the results of the report, the studio formed the hypotheses describing what’s wrong in the game.
- The beginning of the game demands way too much of the player’s reaction and interaction. At the same time, the developers thought that the game was ‘too simple’ during the tutorial.
- There’s a sharp leap in complexity between the introductory mine and the one that was meant to be completed without any guidance whatsoever. The first mine had 5 walls to destroy, and the second one had 10 already.
- Those who passed the second mine didn’t see the point of digging into the third one, although according to the plan, it was where they should have found their first chest.
- After the third mine, people lost interest and motivation to go further, as since this moment the game was not leading them by hand anymore. The developers expected that players would want to reach the end of the floor by themselves.
- It was too hard to pass the Boss.
Next, the devs found some let’s play tutorials on Epic Mine and saw a few more problems.
For example, the players did not understand that the primary way to make money was to smelt ore into ingots and sell them. The developers have added this information into the tutorial.
Another problem was a non-intuitive pickaxe system. The team wanted players to craft pickaxes that they visually like, and gave up as rarely as possible on one pickaxe in favor of another one just because of their characteristics. Therefore, all the picks were divided into several groups. In each group, all the pickaxes had the same coefficient by which the player’s damage was multiplied. The damage depended on the strength that could be leveled up for gold and resources.
However, the players thought that the primary way of leveling up was to make new pickaxes, and they were very upset when, having spent time and resources for creating a new pickaxe, they did not receive a sensible increase in damage.
The devs had to rework this. Now the damage is 80% dependent on the pickaxe, and each pickaxe has the required level of strength. The main game loop now looks like this:
Break walls> Get resources> Make a more powerful pickaxe> Break stronger walls
Another drawback was the initially unclear star receiving system. At the end of the mine, three empty stars appeared next to it. Stars were earned by passing the mine once again infinitely after the first completion. The more walls a player breaks, the more stars they get.
Now it’s completely different. The number of stars depends on the accuracy of the walkthrough: the more lives are left by the end of the mine, the more stars you get. However, the developers have not yet made any explanation on how to get stars within the game. But at least now players get the stars during the walkthrough and, judging by new let’s plays, they understand what they are given for.
In the end, admitting all the hypotheses, the developers started to fix all the controversial points. After a few iterations of reworking the tutorial, the funnel began to look like this:
The churn rates at the four problematic steps have been smoothed out. Total conversion increased to almost 66%.
This result was achieved due to the changes made.
Here’s what’s been done :
- complexity began to grow very smoothly;
- the game leads the player ‘by hand’ until the very end of the tutorial;
- now there are more arrows, especially in the most obvious places ;
- screen lock appeared, preventing the players from losing their way in the tutorial;
- “boring” moments were improved with dialogues and quests;
- the Boss cannot be defeated “on the move” anymore — you should level up first. After your hero gets stronger, the fight becomes very easy. The importance of leveling up is shown to the player again; previously it was just introduced on the village screen.
While searching for problematic areas, both analytics and videos were equally important. The first one allowed us to pinpoint the areas where the problems are. The second one helped explain what was wrong with them.
Once again, the optimization of retention (especially short-term retention) should begin with the optimization of the first session. It is usually not very time-consuming or resource-intensive, but it almost immediately leads to an increase in business metrics.
In the described case, the correction of the tutorial took only a few weeks, but the developers managed to increase the share of players who were staying in the game more than twice.