Rocket Ninja Seeing Retention Rise After Launching 3D Mode in Wrestler: Unstoppable
Social game developer Rocket Ninja debuted its proprietary 3D Facebook game engine, Shr3d, this month in pro wrestling combat game Wrestler: Unstoppable. The company reports that just 10 days live, the game is already seeing a spike in retention rates.
Wrestler: Unstoppable was originally a 2D one-on-one fighting game where players customized an avatar and sent them into turn-based combat with other players’ avatars either in offline or live mode. Players start out with a list of move types like holds and throws and unlock different moves within the type as they win fights and gain experience points. During combat, the player can use as many moves as they like during their turn, but player statistic such as stamina and fatigue combined with statistics for each specific move determine the success or failure of a move. If the player fails a move, their turn ends and the other player is free to attack. The game originally didn’t have viral features and monetization was limited mostly to costume items for avatars.
Rocket Ninja bought the game from developer SteamStreet last year around the time the former secured $3.5 million in funding to invest in new technology. The result is Shr3d, a streaming 3D engine that runs entirely through Flash with no need for plugins or art asset installs. Rocket Ninja introduced the engine into Wrestler: Unstoppable on May 5 to coincide with the Cinco de Mayo holiday, but kept in the old 2D wrestling game as an option to keep its existing user base happy. The engine recasts all avatars and items in 3D and adds animations to the combat that vary by move and by character body type.
This may prove to be a crucial decision for Rocket Ninja’s overall retention. Prior to any changes the developer made to the existing game, Wrestler: Unstoppable already enjoyed a very small but loyal fanbase that was deeply involved with the game’s core mechanics. Fan pages and spreadsheets documented the game’s move sets and many statistics that determine the success or failure of a move and some players arranged in-game marriages and weekly podcasts. Rocket Ninja maintained the integrity of the game mechanics when introducing the new engine, although it did redesign the appearance and location of move statistics during combat. The developer also responded to user feedback from players that wanted to keep the 2D combat mode because it was faster and allowed for players to conduct multiple asynchronous games at once whereas the 3D mode can only run one game at a time.
On the whole, however, Rocket Ninja says the 3D engine has increased player retention. From what we can see in our traffic tracking service, AppData, Wrestler: Unstoppable saw an initial drop in monthly active users right when Shr3d launched while daily active users climbed. The MAU figure now reflects a growth trend consistent with new or returning players visiting the game for a look at the new system. Rocket Ninja did not provide more detailed metrics for player retention, but said that all features in the game are experiencing a marked lift in the past 10 days alone.
Most interestingly, the Shr3d update introduces a viral sharing mechanism that feeds into a core gameplay system. When viewing wrestler profiles either of their own characters or of other players’, a Wrestler: Unstoppable player can Like that individual wrestler. This creates a News Feed story that looks like a trading card, featuring an animation of that wrestler than anybody can manipulate by rotating the character model. The Liked wrestlers form the basis for the Stables and Companies gameplay functions.
Stables are player groups of friends’ wrestlers. Companies are larger groups where players essentially form guilds that match stables against one another, creating rivalries and back stories that fuel player competition. Some of this system existed while the game was still under SteamStreet, but Rocket Ninja introduced formalized game systems that made it easier for Companies to host tournaments and some additional features to incentivize player-formed Companies.
For example, a player-formed Company (called a Private Company) can offer players with a lot of fans of their wrestler a Contract for joining, which automatically pays out the game’s standard currency to that character on a timed basis. Players can only join or form Companies by paying soft currency to unlock one or two initial Company options, and then paying real money to acquire the game’s premium currency to spend on more Company slots or on the option to form a new Company. Both Stables and Companies can direct players to wrestlers to drive up Likes or fans on that wrestler, thus increasing the value of the Company or Stable that acquires that wrestler. Players have also used the Companies function to form meta-games, like The Wrestler Apprentice — a game that mimics the TV show The Apprentice by awarding the winning player with ownership of the Company that hosted the game.
Assuming the growth pattern remains consistent, Rocket Ninja has other features it plans to introduce to Wrestler: Unstoppable. For example, the game is getting an update next week that will introduce sound to the 3D animation sequences, like crowds cheering and booing and wrestler grunts and shouts. Rocket Ninja was not prepared to discuss plans for cross-platform development or additional game plans at this time, but it is possible that the developer might acquire other games in which to introduce Shr3d. Any in-game features the developer is likely to audition within its “test environment” game, Ocean Kingdom.
Stay tuned for an interview with Rocket Ninja.
Correction: A previous version of this story misconstrued the connection between Liking a wrestler and “becoming a fan” of a wrestler in connection to the Companies function. These are actually two separate activities.