In-Depth Analysis on AFK Arena's Monetization Strategy

Metagamer

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The world of mobile gaming is full of copycats.

AFK Arena is definitely not one of them. This successful game is all about innovation — from gameplay to monetization.

You’re in for a deep analysis of AFK Arena monetization strategy that drives its success.

Let’s start.

How Successful Is AFK Arena?

AFK Arena was launched in April 2019 by Lilith Games. I’m sure you’ve heard of their popular titles like Rise of Kingdoms or Art of Conquest.

This game falls into the RPG genre and squad RPG subgenre. One thing is for sure — AFK Arena brought some original concepts to the role-playing landscape.

The AFK (away from keyboard) in the name of the game tells you a lot about it. The game is centered around its idle mechanics that play a huge role in player progression. Besides this, the game feels unusually simple and casual for a mid-core game.

Here’s just how successful AFK Arena is. The game got to:

  • 35,42 million downloads
  • $710,3 million in revenue

The year 2020 was an especially good one for AFK Arena. Just in the first half of 2020, the game generated $333,9 million. This is almost half of the game’s all-time revenue!

The game’s advertising strategy also plays an important role in its success. The AFK Arena ads mostly show off the game’s idle features. Obviously — it works.

The AKF Arena monetization strategy doesn’t lack great features either. Some even say it is the best in class.

Keep reading to find out why.

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First Impressions

After you launch the game, a fantasy backstory begins. A story about the ancient evil in the world of Esperia. It comes in the form of a skippable video with stunning visuals.

As a player, you have to fight against evil forces. To help you with that, you immediately get two heroes added to your collection.

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Game Tutorial

One of your heroes teaches you the basics. Next, you are thrown right into your first battles. The tutorial phase teaches you two things: how to fight and how to level up your heroes.

That’s it. You’re ready to play on your own. This whole phase is short and simple — it lasts less than 5 minutes.

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Art Style

Personal opinion — a game set in the fantasy world has to come with an amazing art style.

Lilith Games takes great pride in the game’s art style. The game’s app store descriptions describe the game as “A classic RPG with stunning visuals.”

In the case of AFK Arena, the art style is 2D and anime-like. It is much simpler than what you would usually expect from an RPG but still comes in high quality.

The battles are especially visually attractive. While you fight, you get to see plenty of special effects which enhance the overall adrenaline rush.

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UI/UX

AFK Arena comes with typical RPG features — but simplified. This is exactly why you don’t need an extensive tutorial. You can figure it all out just by playing.

At the start, the home screen has a minimal number of features. There are two centers of attention on the screen:

  • Chest (AFK rewards)
  • Begin button (battle)

At the top of the screen, you can see how many resources you have. The top left is reserved for the in-game shop and events, whereas quests are positioned on the top right.

On the bottom, you can enter different sections: Campaign, Heroes, maps, and chat.

AFK Arena: Main Game Mechanics

At the core, AFK Arena is just like any other turn-based RPG game. It works on a familiar principle:

  • Collect loot
  • Collect and upgrade heroes
  • Battle
  • Repeat

What makes it so innovative then? The game has an interesting approach to player progression and pace of playing.

Let me take you through the game’s main mechanics that make this possible.

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Idle (Appointment) Mechanics

Once you start playing this game, your progression never stops. Even when you’re sleeping.

The thing is, even when you’re not playing, your chest is automatically filling up with loot (e.g., coins, equipment, EXP). After 12 hours, it becomes completely full.

This way, players are encouraged to play two long sessions in a day. For example, one at 9 a.m. and then another one at 9 p.m.

Every time your progress stops, you will need to upgrade heroes or their gear. You can’t even buy this by using real money. Oftentimes in the game, your only option is to wait until your chest fills up with rewards.

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Battle Mechanics

After you’ve upgraded your heroes — it’s time to fight in a 5v5 battle. But first, you tactically choose your formation.

The battles in the AFK arena are quick and automated. The only thing you need to do in a battle is to trigger the heroes’ special attacks. If you want to lay back, you can just set it to autopilot and leave it to the machines.

Want to hear the best thing? If you lose, the game doesn’t punish you. You can keep battling…until your team is strong enough to win battles. Also, every new battle you win brings you more loot.

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Different Progression Modes

When it comes to progress, it all comes down to upgrading your team. As every new level gets more difficult, the team has to keep up.

Besides the standard progression mode — Campaign, AFK Arena has designed more modes to keep players busy. Not only do they provide additional battle rewards, but are also a great retention technique.

The modes include a Tower mode, PVP mode, Labyrinth mode, etc. The game even recently added a match-3 mode — Forest Mania. Yes, you read it right, a match-3 mode in an idle RPG.

Interested in more AFK Arena mechanics? Here is a detailed guide.

AFK Arena Monetization Strategy Dissection

The innovations in AFK Arena don’t stop at game mechanics. The game’s monetization strategy comes with a few surprising features as well.

Typically, RPG games make progression harder and harder — until it becomes almost impossible. When that happens, they offer in-app purchases that will instantly help players move on.

In AFK Arena, you can’t buy your way out of these kinds of situations. Yes, really.

How does it work then? Let’s analyze to find out.

Which Monetization Models AFK Arena Uses?

Just like most RPGs, AFK Arena monetizes with in-app purchases and subscriptions.

Nevertheless, it also utilizes the power of luck — the gacha system.

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AFK Arena In-App Purchases Strategy and Setup

The in-game store offer tells you a lot about a game’s monetization strategy.

Here, it tells you right away — the game has a very complex economy. This includes many different resources that can be obtained in more than one way.

Some of the main resources in the game are:

  • Diamonds, Hero Shards (used for summoning new heroes)
  • Dust, Hero XP, and Gold (used to upgrade heroes)

All of these can be either bought, received as idle rewards, with quest completion, or with some gacha luck. If you have one but lack another resource, you can trade them in the game’s stores.

The game has not two, not three, but five different in-game stores. Six, if you count the one where you can spend real money.

Let’s analyze that one.

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Purchase Gift

When you first start playing AFK Arena, there is not even a store icon on the screen, just this one.

If you buy anything from the store, you will get a bonus hero and rewards. This is pretty generous. Definitely gives new players an extra push they need to make their first purchase.

When you proceed, it leads you to the game’s store. The store consists of three sections: Visiting Merchants, Merchant Ship, and Monthly Card.

Let me guide you through the offers in these sections.

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Voyager’s Set

This set of bundle deals comes as six different offers. Their prices range from $0.99 to $99.99.

The Voyager’s set replaced a previous “Newcomer’s Bundle”, but the purpose seems to be the same. It comes with a 14-day timer, giving players just enough time to make a purchase decision.

Paired up with the purchase gift, it seems to be a great bait for converting new players.

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Advancement Rewards

This offer is also valid for 14 days only. If you have FOMO, you really don’t want to miss out on this one.

The Advancement Rewards are actually a simplified battle pass. Only here, there is nothing for non-payers. After you pay $19.99 once, you will receive diamonds every time you complete certain chapters.

The value? Up to 30 times more than what you would normally receive. This offer is great for players who started playing and already know they won’t be playing casually.

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Customizable Bundles

The name says it all — you get to create your own custom bundles.

First, you get a taste of it, so you get one free bundle to craft. The other 4 bundles go from $14.99 to $99.99. This offer is definitely an original concept that gives players a sense of power. However, any way you customize it, it is less valuable than the previous offers.

This offer appears a few days into playing. For me, it appeared in the store only after I’ve reached level 21. Besides this, the offer is valid for only three days, which creates a sense of urgency.

All of these offers have one thing in common — they all include diamonds. Hence, diamonds are the game’s main revenue generator.

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Dimensional Deals

During the time I played, there was only one offer in this section.

The deal brings one hero and a whole lot of VIP points. I’m guessing that if you play for longer than a week, this section expands.

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Diamond Deals

This is probably what we would call the standard store offer. It features six different packs of diamonds, ranging from $4.99 to $99.99. To make them more appealing, each of them comes with a +200% tag. However, this is just a good old sales trick.

Let’s compare values. The $4.99 Voyager’s set brings you 600 diamonds along with three other resources. On the other hand, a $4.99 Diamond deal brings you only 600 gems.

Next, we have a whole subscription section.

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Monthly Card

Here, you will find two monthly cards: for $4.99 or $14.99 a month. Both provide daily diamonds, VIP points, and additional rewards.

One thing is for sure — the value of this purchase is way higher than the previous ones.

Let’s say you want to buy 2,700 diamonds to summon heroes in the gacha section. Typically, this would cost you more than $20. With the $14.99 subscription, you would have enough in three days’ time. Not only that, but you would collect 18,980 diamonds over a month’s time.

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Subscriptions

This section is for those players who want to enjoy special privileges but aren’t willing to spend much. A weekly subscription costs only $0.99, while the monthly one costs $2.99.

The benefits? Eight of them, including 10% on base AFK gold. In order to encourage non-payers to try them out, they come with 3-day free trials.

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A Limited Offer

This is the only offer in the game that came as a pop-up. It appeared after I’ve reached a milestone level — 20.

The offer brings a hero duplicate and 60 VIP points for just $0.99. Usually, just summoning a random hero would cost you at least double. However, if you want to buy it, you have to hurry up. The offer is very exclusive, as it lasts for 2 hours only.

These are all the monetization features I got to unlock within 7 days of playing the game. Naturally, playing longer will unlock additional AFK Arena monetization features.

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Battle Pass: Regal Rewards

Unfortunately, I didn’t play long enough to unlock this feature. The game has another type of subscription, a standard battle pass called the Regal Rewards.

Every time players unlock Medals of Valor, they receive rewards. As long as they are engaged and complete daily/weekly quests, they can profit from the battle pass. They have 49 days (7 weeks) to unlock as many rewards as possible.

Players can take their pick between a free and a premium ($24.99) version. Obviously, a premium version grants premium rewards.

It’s interesting to notice that adding this feature didn’t cost the developer much. They simply took something they already have (daily/weekly quests) and added a battle pass layer to it.

Additional Monetization Features in AFK Arena

The in-game store is only the final destination of an effective monetization strategy.

Here are two main mechanics that bring players to check out the store.

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The VIP System

Even though this is not a direct monetization feature, AFK Arena ties it very close to it.

The VIP system provides players with valuable perks. These include raising the 12-hour cap on AFK rewards, more XP, gold, gear, etc. However, for a free-to-play player, it’s really hard to level up.

After a week of playing, I didn’t move from VIP 1. The thing is, making in-app purchases is the only way to raise the VIP level faster. In fact, a player who is not going to spend money can reach a max VIP level 10 out of 20.

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Gacha

What is an RPG without gacha? In AFK Arena, gacha is used to summon heroes.

There are two types of gacha pulls in the game:

  • Randomized
  • From a rarity bracket

Gacha also plays a big role in upgrading heroes. The thing is, they will reach a level cap.

When that happens, you will need to ascend them to boost their stats. In order to do that, you need 3 hero copies. The odds? Well, odds are, you will be tempted to make a purchase.

AFK Arena User Retention

AFK Arena is one of those games that are super retention-focused. Some even say they put retention above monetization.

Be that as it may — retention supports monetization. Ultimately, happy and engaged players are more likely to become paying players.

Here’s how the strategy works for AFK Arena:

  • After day 1, the game keeps an average of 53% of players
  • After a week, 33% of players continue playing
  • 30 days later, 17% of players are still playing

These numbers beat the averages for the top 2% of strategy games (Benchmarks+ data). These games manage to keep 51% of players after day one and about 25% after 7 days.

I’m impressed, how about you?

Let me give you a glimpse into the game’s main retention methods that drive these numbers.

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New, Unique Content

There is always something to do in AFK Arena, even if you’re stuck on a level. As you progress, you unlock and discover more and more content. You get to play all those different game modes I’ve mentioned earlier.

Also, you can participate in special events. When you first start playing, there are a few events, 1 daily and 2 newbie events. A few days, the game adds more and more events, some time-limited, others unlimited.

Why would players participate? Well, rewards, excitement, or killing time. Also, participating in some events can bring you super rare heroes.

Social Features

Just like most RPGs, the game constantly encourages you to get more social. It will reward you for any kind of social interaction — joining a guild, adding friends, sharing on social media, etc.

Joining a guild is necessary to get rewards from daily missions and guild wars. Moreover, there is an active in-game community and a chat feature.

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Making it Daily

Thanks to the AFK rewards, the first login of the day feels really enjoyable.

To motivate you to actually play that day, the game included daily quests and daily rewards. Besides this, some of the game’s events reward your daily efforts as well.

Social Features

Just like most RPGs, the game constantly encourages you to get more social. It will reward you for any kind of social interaction — joining a guild, adding friends, sharing on social media, etc.

Joining a guild is necessary to get rewards from daily missions and guild wars. Moreover, there is an active in-game community and a chat feature.

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Push Notifications

The AFK Arena uses push notifications to nudge its players.

As expected, the game notifies you when their AFK rewards are full. This is definitely a must-have type of notification for an idle game. However, I have received several notifications with the exact same content. It wouldn’t hurt to mix it up a bit.

Another type of notification I received was guild chat notifications. Frankly, I don’t think these notifications are important enough to buzz you in the middle of the night.

AFK Arena Monetization: Key Strategies

As you have probably noticed, AFK Arena monetization is all but simple.

Let me sum it all up for you — here’s an overview of the game’s monetization strategy.

Diverse Players, Diverse Offers

Players get to pick between different offers, special deals, bundles, and subscriptions. The prices are equally diverse, from $0.99 to $99.99. There is something for everyone — from new players to the whales.

It’s interesting that a $0.99 pack is the game’s bestseller. I got to see three completely different offers at this price, so it’s safe to say — the game doesn’t neglect small spenders.

Also, AFK Arena took the trend of in-game subscriptions and brought it to a whole new level. I mean, the game has 4 different types of subscriptions!

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IAPs Help Players Progress

Did you notice none of the game’s offers help players to progress instantly? This is AFK Arena innovation at its finest.

For the most part, AFK Arena monetization is based on progression blockers. However, serious blockers don’t occur until mid-game. Therefore, early in the game, players don’t have a strong motivation to make purchases.

Let’s talk about what happens when you’re stuck on a level. In such a situation, spending real money can get you two things:

  • Resources for hero upgrades (gear, instant AFK rewards…)
  • Resources for summoning new heroes (diamonds, scrolls…)

Both of these will have an impact on your game, but none guarantee you will reach the next level. As you can see, you will have to try a bit harder than just making a purchase.

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The Help of the Gacha

An even bigger progression challenge than being stuck on a level is hitting a hero level cap.

We know one thing about the players who get to this point for sure — they’re very into the game. This is the players’ biggest blocker and the game’s key monetization point.

To get three identical heroes you can then ascend, you will have to pull gachas. Quite a lot of them, actually. If you don’t make a purchase, this will make everything slower. Plus, some heroes are really hard to get.

As players progress through the game, the need for pulling the gachas will get bigger and bigger.

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The Role of Wait Timers

On top of all of this, there are wait times. The game’s progression and monetization strategy are strongly connected to the idle mechanic.

Sometimes, no matter what you purchase and how much you try, there is no other choice but to wait for additional AFK rewards. This way, players are eager to return to the game daily.

Combined with making IAPs, this is the fastest way to progress in AFK Arena.

Wrapping up on AFK Arena Monetization

AFK Arena is one of those games that play by their own rules. This is obvious in different aspects of the game — from mechanics to monetization.

Altogether, it seems to be a perfect blend for making big bucks.

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