Space Ape didn't miss a Beat

Monday, 24th of May 2021, 23:23 +02:00

It's February 2021, the world is in the middle of the longest lockdown we've ever experienced and it's been about a year since we've gone out to dance. I -an avid fan of Space Ape Games' work and game development philosophy- discover their new game in my Play Store. The app icon is unconventional, as it just shows the word 'BEATSTAR' instead of a graphical representation of its gameplay, which intrigues me as a game designer who is used to seeing Hypercasual icons fly by. I'd call myself a respectable rhythm gamer, having spent thousands of hours in Guitar Hero back in the day, but a mobile rhythm game is new to me. Curiously I open the app and find something even better than what I was hoping to find.

Space Ape goes Donkey Konga

Space Ape has made most of their past revenue with complex city builders and strategy games and has clearly decided to take a different direction this time. For the first time since Fastlane: Road to Revenge, its game doesn't require complex tutorials or an elaborate FTUE and throws you right into the action.

Beatstar has a very pleasant and generous free-to-play model; players can keep playing songs indefinitely without being gated by anything or without having their core gameplay modified. Only if they miss a note (making it fall off the screen) the player is asked to undo the mistake using their gems. The first mistake costs 1 gem to undo, which is a pretty low amount. The second mistake costs 5 gems, which is one day's worth of free gems. The price keeps increasing with every Undo. The more dedicated the player is to completing the song, the more easily they will use this purchasable hard currency to keep going.

Missed a beat! Undoing a mistake in Beatstar.

Songs are categorised into three difficulty levels; Normal, Hard and Extreme. Normal songs are relaxed and won't require any elaborate patterns. Hard songs are fun, dynamic and challenging. The handful of Extreme songs in the game can be completed quite easily, although perfect streaks will be rare and getting 5 stars is a lickety-split endeavour to say the least. Given the game's more casual target audience, the difficulty of Extreme songs is much lower than in other rhythm games (especially on console), as these usually feature more tracks. Beatstar's difficulty never becomes overwhelming, simply because it never asks for more than two notes simultaneously and only has 3 tracks in total.

Psy's 'Gangnam Style' is one of the hardest (and most fun) songs in the game

The game's graphics are slick and the visual effects are very pleasant. On top of that it's a true gem in its usability. Just writing about it can't convey how special it feels to finger dance your way through songs at speeds and rhythms you didn't know you were capable of. It's a true case of 'try it to believe it'.

Picking up the pace for global UA

The game's meta has evolved quite a bit over the last months. Most notably, coloured badges showcasing the player's proficiency have made place for a saga-style progression based on a number of stars collected. This change was made to create reward space for a newly added, recurring PvP tournament mode (called Venues). Beatstar doesn't feature any irregularly occurring, more seasonal live-ops events yet but about twice every day players can compete against each other during a 4-hour time window. After players opt in, three or four songs in the game's library are turned into Venue songs. Playing these songs will temporarily cost energy, which regenerates over time. This prevents players from trying over and over again and cranks up the stakes to score as high as possible in the Venue leaderboard.

Venues push competitive players into a time-limited leaderboard.

Additionally, the Venues feature gives players a chance to play songs they haven't unlocked yet (for 3 energy instead of 1) and win a repeatable amount of stars depending on their final ranking. This makes grinding tournaments a pretty effective way of progressing through the game when the player reaches the point of achieving the maximum amount of stars they can on all their unlocked songs.

Next to having added the star-based saga progression and the Venues, Space Ape paced out Beatstar's content pipeline more optimally over the last months. Where the Clash-style (awarded on engagement, unlocked over time) boxes would earlier give out exactly 1 song per box, the reward space has recently been tokenised to be able to provide more gradual rewards. This suggests that the team should by now know what they are up against when the game opens up globally (which will be 'soon').

Not calling these boxes 'Beatboxes' is a truly missed opportunity.

On the money...?

For premium players, the game features a store where additional gems can be purchased. For F2P players the game provides a daily trickle of gems which allows limited utility of the Undo or Unlimited Energy feature. Space Ape is gunning for players to want to play their favourite songs, which can either be found in the library and are able to be fished out ahead of time using special 'Wishlist' boxes or featured in the store as a premium purchase for 1 to 2 dollars worth of gems.

Beatstar's slick-looking record store.

The one problem the game could currently have is that it can be played quite loosely without requiring purchases from even highly engaged players. Space Ape could be more stringent when it comes to monetising Beatstar's players. This is rather something that should be considered before opening up globally than after, to avoid disappointing large amounts of players. On top of that the game doesn't feature any incentivised ads, which is a missed opportunity. Placing an ad during a song when the player needs an Undo would be too intrusive since players need to stay focused, but Space Ape could e.g. consider having a limited option to shorten a song box's cooldown timer by watching an ad. Keeping the core loop unlimited and free was a crucial and correct decision, but the game probably doesn't monetise its power players as much as it could. This doesn't have to be a huge issue yet, as games like these characteristically utilise engagement-first & long-term marketing schemes.

To summarise, considering all features, the game's full loop can be visualised as follows:

Progression in Beatstar

Space Ape has delivered a very elegant attempt at a F2P, casual rhythm game for mobile devices; it's hitting all the right notes! This one is going to be BIG, for at least 3 reasons:

    1. It'll be the first to market. In the modern age of F2P, no one has ever ventured to make a rhythm game for mobile devices that features the most popular songs whilst so elegantly adhering to the F2P playbook.
    2. It's highly marketable, because of its novelty but even more so because of its high virality. Players will want to show their friends how this game lets them experience their favourite songs. They simply need to give someone the phone, let them pick a song they like and spectate without the need to explain anything. Even if the CPI proves to be a little high, the game's eCPI will most likely be multiple factors lower.
    3. It's very scalable. A song's level needs to be designed and yes, licencing is an added cost, but it's a relatively simple equation when knowing the game's ARPDAU. The more this game will make, the more popular songs they will be able to add to it.

Beatstar is an amazing product that is practically ready for marketing on a global scale. It could still use some more irregularly occurring live-ops to create peaks in engagement and a more varied experience as a whole. Moreover, as mentioned there might still exist a challenge in terms of player LTV, given its currently charitable nature, but at scale things might just pay off fine.

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