Match-3 games can be more than just candies and saga maps. Playrix’s Gardenscapes and Homescapes were the first games on the market to prove this. Playrix brought innovation to both gameplay and monetization. In this article, we are going to dissect Homescapes monetization strategy.
But first, let’s run through a few facts about the game.
How Successful Is Homescapes?
The story of “scapes” began back in 2016 when Playrix released Gardenscapes. Soon after, in September 2017, they launched the game’s spin-off – Homescapes.
Homescapes comes with a similar gameplay concept as Gardenscapes. The game combines traditional puzzle match-3 core with decoration and narrative meta elements. It even features the same protagonist – Austin the butler. The game follows a heartwarming narrative where players help Austin the butler renovate his childhood home.
Wondering how successful this game is? Let’s look at some numbers.
All-time Homescapes downloads stand at more than 540 million, which is impressive and a testament to this game’s popularity. However, since the second half of 2021, the downloads have been dropping. This is a market-wide problem.
The majority of downloads are coming from India, followed by the United States, Russia, Brazil, China, Mexico, and Indonesia.
Now let’s talk about what keeps every publisher’s heart warm – the revenue.
To this day, Homescapes has earned more than $2.5 billion in revenue.
The majority of revenue comes from the United States (more than $1 billion), which is expected. Other big markets for Homescapes in terms of revenue are Japan, Germany, China, the United Kingdom, and South Korea. Interestingly, even though India is the number one country in terms of Homescapes downloads, it is the 35th country in terms of revenue, bringing ‘only’ $5.5 million.
Without a doubt, the game’s advertising strategy played a huge role in all of this. In 2020, Playrix’s ads were the talk of the town in the gaming industry. They got banned for being misleading and “not representing actual gameplay”. To resolve this, the publisher had to make quite a lot of live ops to the games. Read all about it in our detailed analysis.
We’re here to talk about other factors that drive this game’s success. Are they controversial as well? Keep reading to find out.
Childhood. Memories. Home.
Homescapes starts with an intro video that evokes these nostalgic feelings. Austin the butler returns to his childhood mansion to give it a complete makeover.
You can help him out with some puzzle-solving and interior design picks.
Austin is also your tutorial character.
At the start, he guides you through everything you need to do with some pointers and explanations. Later in the game, he keeps on introducing you to every new feature that appears in the game.
If it weren’t a game, Homescapes could easily pass for a cartoon.
However, the game’s cartoonish style is very well polished. For example, all the furniture in the house is drawn with realistic shading and tiny details.
Moreover, the match-3 board is colorful and diverse. It becomes even more colorful when different boosters cause explosions on the board.
The user experience in Homescapes is intuitive and simple. This is very important for any game with a casual audience. You cannot afford bad UX and have UI confuse players or cause misunderstandings.
Here’s a basic overview of the game’s user interface:
- Lives, coins (top left)
- Stars (top right)
- Tablet with tasks (bottom left)
- Match-3 board (bottom right)
Besides this, the interface is flexible for any kind of add-ons. For example, you will see features like in-game events and IAP offers come and go.
Main Game Mechanics
In Homescapes, the match-3 board is the heart of gameplay and monetization.
The narrative is an attractive hook that rounds up the whole game. However, the board is where the most action happens. After you play a level on the match-3 board, you earn coins and a star.
After you use a star to complete a meta task, you’re back on the board to earn another one.
Here’s an overview of the main game mechanics used in Homescapes.
Homescapes sticks to swapping, a traditional match-3 mechanic. They are not the only ones. According to GameRefinery, 59% of 500 top-grossing Match-3 games (US, iOS) use this mechanic.
You know the drill – when you’re on the board, you swap pieces to get a lineup in the same color in any direction. Three pieces are good, four and five are even better. As you swap the board pieces into lineups, the whole construction moves down a block.
This game consists of thousands of levels (almost 6,000 right now). Also, new levels are added every week. In order to challenge (and monetize) players, the level difficulty increases as they progress.
Besides that, every new puzzle also comes with an original setup. It all starts with basic board pieces and an occasional booster. As you progress, you will see new goals and new elements appear. For example carpets, chains, jelly layers, donuts, etc.
All of this is done to keep players excited about the game, but also to encourage in-game spending.
Life Points (Energy)
Every time you press the retry button on the match-3 board, you lose a life.
You have a total of 5 life points. When you use all of them, a timer appears on the screen. You can wait for one more life (20 minutes) or for a full refill (1 hour and 40 minutes).
If you want to skip wait times, you have two options: request lives from friends or spend your hard-earned coins.
This mechanic was the talk of the town for Playrix. The thing is Playrix used these mini-games in their ads as the main hook to attract players. However, they used to be super rare and appeared in later levels only. Therefore, when players first started playing, they probably wondered: “Where is the game I saw in the ads?”
For this reason, mini-games are now more frequent. Also, they are one of the first things you experience when you start playing Homescapes. Just like the match-3 mechanic, these mini-games bring you stars to complete tasks in the narrative.
Meta – The Narrative
When Gardenscapes and Homescapes first appeared, they started a whole new industry trend – meta-driven match-3 games.
Here’s how Igor Elovikov, Playrix’s Creative Director compares the game with traditional match-3 games (for Venturebeat):
“Our gameplay is … much different from Candy Crush since our metagame is so different…You want to find out what is happening with the characters in the story.”
The Homescapes narrative comes with an early-game plot. The protagonist’s parents decide to sell his childhood home. Meanwhile, he will do anything to prevent that from happening.
This is also a monetization hook because players want to find out what will happen next – and some are willing to pay for this to happen.
Besides the storyline, you’re in for some serious interior design decisions. Every new renovation task offers several options for you to choose from.
Some players only care about the match-3, some care about both, while others only enjoy the meta. Either way, Playrix has something for each of them.
Homescapes Monetization Strategy Breakdown
All of these mechanics and meta-features play a role in the game’s ultimate goal – monetization.
What are the game’s key monetization points? How does it monetize its player base? Can you enjoy the game as a F2P player?
We’ve got this, and even more, covered.
Which Monetization Models Homescapes Uses?
In this game, Playrix showed there is more than one way to monetize puzzle players. It is noteworthy that this game uses a very similar monetization approach to its forerunner – Gardenscapes.
Homescapes monetization is set around in-app purchases and the match-3 board. Nevertheless, the game recently added a subscription option to the mix.
Now let’s see about how all of this blends together.
Homescapes In-App Purchases Strategy and Setup
Nothing reflects a game’s monetization strategy like its in-game store. In Homescapes, the in-game store is called the Bank.
The thing is, the game only has one currency – coins. Therefore, you will visit the Bank to get some coins.
In most mobile games, you will find multiple currencies. Here’s how Playrix’s Creative Director explains their approach (for PocketGamer):
“Players need to put in effort to earn the coins, there are limited ways to do that, and we balance it to ensure the value of the coins doesn’t drop. To put it simply, we just thought having a single currency would be more elegant.”
The main way of earning coins is completing levels. Besides that, you can buy them with real money in the Bank. You need coins for quite a lot of things: to purchase extra lives, extra moves, as well as extra boosters. Believe me, you will feel the need for it in a matter of days.
In the Bank, you will also find bundles that include coins and boosters.
Pricing Structure for In-App Purchases
When you first enter the bank, you will see five offers. There are two bundle deals and three coins-only offers. Here are the offers and their price points:
- Starter Pack ($1.99)
- Apprentice Pack ($6.99)
- Coins ($0.99)
- Coins ($4.99)
- Coins ($9.99)
The first three offers are the game’s top sellers. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that they are highlighted.
A more offers button leads you to, well, more offers. There are a total of six bundle deals ranging from $1.99 to $99.99.
Their names are interesting as well. Each bundle targets players at different levels, from starter (cheapest) to pro, veteran, or champion (most expensive). Therefore, if you feel like a champion player, buying a starter pack just feels wrong, right?
Finally, there are six different-sized offers of coins. Players can pick from price points ranging from $0.99 all the way up to $74.99.
How In-App Purchases Really Work in Homescapes
Now that we’ve got the in-app store covered, let’s talk about what brings players there in the first place.
To get a peek into how it all works, I played the game for 7 days. Here’s what I found out about Homescapes monetization strategy.
After the intro phase is finished, you start solving puzzles. It’s interesting that the first puzzle you solve is not a match-3. Instead, first, you play a mini-game. Obviously, this mechanic was implemented early to resolve the misleading ads controversy. However, mini-games are not a major monetization point for the game like the match-3 board.
Next, I played match-3 levels and they were all easy and enjoyable. The game doesn’t try to monetize players on the first day. Instead, the strategy is to let players play first, retain them, and then monetization kicks in.
On my second day of playing, I spent most of the time on the match-3 board.
At one point, I ran out of moves on the boars. I bought +5 moves with coins and finished the game. You will notice the amount of coins you get from the game at the very start is generous. Later on, this will change.
This was the first hint of monetization in the game. However, I wasn’t forced to buy anything yet because I had plenty of in-game currency.
At the end of day two, a very important monetization feature appeared – Gold Reserve. This name stands for a common puzzle games feature, a piggy bank. From this moment on, a share of the coins I earn will go to the Gold Reserve. To fill up faster, it multiplies the amounts by 4 times.
Want to break the piggy? This will cost you $2.99. You can collect up to 5,000 coins in the bank. Buying the piggy pays off more than the offers in the store. There, you would pay $4.99 for 5,500 coins.
From this moment on, you will definitely feel those coins lacking. The Gold Reserve will slow down your progress, so you will be constantly tempted to purchase it.
On this day, I was already low on coins. As soon as this happened, monetization kicked in a bit harder. Quickly after I claimed my daily bonus, a pop-up appeared.
It featured Farm Bargains – two bundle offers at $2.99 and $4.99. These are ideal price points for new players getting stuck in the game for the first time. They certainly are more valuable than the regular offers in the store. However, they came with 50% and 70% discount tags. If you compare them to the offers in the store, you will see these can’t exactly be true. To make the offers even more tempting, they came with a 10-hour timer.
On the same day, an event called Fireworks Show appeared. It consists of mini-tasks that bring boosters and help you progress.
By the end of the day, it became more and more clear why both of these features that bring boosters appeared. The levels got almost impossible to finish without them. I was even out of lives for the first time in the game.
Therefore it comes as no surprise that another event appeared – Flint’s Adventures. This event brings extra rewards, but only if you complete levels on your first attempt.
If I had to describe day 4 in one word, it would be – frustrating. Up to this point, I got to level 28.
Even though I know that the level mechanics make certain levels more difficult, this one felt like a bit much for this phase. Basically, I spent the whole day and all of my boosters trying to complete it. I failed.
Now, this is the type of situation where players would either churn or make their first purchase. As a F2P player, my choice was to wait until tomorrow.
The game’s daily bonus booster helped me finally complete the difficult level.
On this day, a Cake O’Clock event appeared in the game. This event grants you rewards as you complete levels.
It was interesting to notice that the next few levels were not difficult at all. It seems as the strategy is to make certain levels extremely difficult to try and convert players.
On my fifth day, the storyline somehow led to – pigs. This was an intro for the game’s subscription feature – The Farm Season. It lasts for 16 days and is split into stages. You can play it for free or with a Golden Ticket. All you need to do is keep completing levels, and you will be rewarded. Note that you have to reach at least level 29 to play the Farm Season. This makes sense because, at this point, you’re quite engaged with the game.
If you purchase the Golden Ticket for $4.99, this will bring more value, but also some special rewards. As you continue playing without it, the game will constantly remind you about how much you would have earned if you had activated the Golden Ticket.
On day 6, my Gold Reserve was completely full and ready to be bought. This news came as a pop-up. This also happened a few times after completing a level.
Also, the game is constantly encouraging you to finish levels on your first attempt. If you’re out of moves and want to restart, you will always get notified that you’re losing something – either event rewards, Farm season rewards, or boosters you collected.
The point? Promoting the +5 moves purchase.
After completing a few levels, you’re thrown back to the Farm Season overview. Here, you claim your rewards. Equally important, you get to see what you could have won with the premium option.
On my last day of playing, two new events appeared. The first one was Paper Plane Generator and the other one was Flying High.
The Paper Plane Generator is an event with significant monetization potential. It motivates you to complete levels on the first try to boost the generator’s power. If you lose it, the game punishes you. The generator turns off until you reach the next level. In other words, it motivates you to make a +5 moves purchase. According to all of this, this IAP offer seems to be the game’s top monetization priority.
User Retention in Homescapes
To be able to monetize your game, you have to keep players first. This is everything but easy, even for the most popular games out there.
Here’s how well Homescapes retains its players across the app stores.
- After day 1, 44% of new players continue playing
- On day 7, the game keeps about 23% of players
- After 30 days, 14% still play
These numbers put Homescapes slightly below the top 2% of games in the puzzle genre. These games typically manage to retain an average of 53% of players on the first day, 30% after 7 days, and 20% after 28 days (Benchmarks+ platform).
Playrix is working on this by constantly adding new content. Here’s what Playrix’s CMO, Alexander Derkach says about this in an interview for App Annie:
“We’ve developed an intense live ops schedule with regular, themed, and special in-game events to keep our players engaged and make sure they can find something new and exciting going on in the game.”
Let me take you through some of the game’s retention features.
Sending Out Push Notifications
In Homescapes, push notifications are related to in-game happenings.
As such, I received two types of notifications. One was about life refills, while all other ones were event-related. For example, “unlimited lives expire in an hour”, or “finish the cake before the event is over”.
This means, if you play the game 1-2 times a day and complete a few levels, you can expect about 2-3 notifications. With this strategy, Homescapes speaks to active players, encouraging them to play even more. The alerts are quite moderate and don’t feel pushy.
Many, Many Events
Homescapes is very active in live ops, especially in adding new events to the game. During 7 days of playing, I participated in quite a lot of events – five of them.
The game’s event structure is great for engagement, retention, and monetization. Players love them because they bring them boosters that help players progress.
Playrix loves them because they also help drive the game’s revenues. Most of the events are focused on completing levels on the first attempt. This is done with a single purpose – fueling 5 extra moves purchases.
There are a few social aspects in the game. The first one is encouraging players to sign in with Facebook. This brings coins, playing with friends, and exchanging lives.
The second one are the characters’ social network pages in the game’s Newsfeed section. Here, you can see some of their random thoughts, e.g., Austin’s dad, “I was very slim when I was young”. Besides these typical FB statuses, you can also see announcements of in-game events.
Third, when you reach level 38, you are invited to join a team. By joining a team, you can get free lives, chat, and play team events. In fact, these teams work similarly to guilds from mid-core games. Guild mechanics are becoming more and more popular across casual games, especially those coming from Playrix.
A Personal Touch
After completing level 1, you get to enter your name. Later on, your name is all over the narrative. Sometimes, the characters speak directly to you in casual chit-chat. More so, the game even allows you to name the family’s cat.
Besides these, Homescapes’ mini-games, daily bonuses, level completion rewards, and other features also contribute to player retention.
Homescapes Monetization Strategy: Recap
Looking for key takeaways from Homescapes monetization strategy? Here they come.
- Use the narrative as a monetization hook
- Include time-limited bundle deals
- Have only one purchasable currency
- Include a subscription offer for engaged players
- Offer a piggy bank feature
- Remind players of current IAP offers
Wrapping up On Homescapes Monetization
Playrix definitely didn’t need to reinvent the wheel in Homescapes monetization strategy. They simply took an aproach that works for their other games. What makes it so good is – they keep on adapting and enhancing it.
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