Week of March 28th 2019: Tap Sports Baseball 19

Tap Sports has been hugely successful since last year and an integral part of Glu’s recent success (read my post on TSB’18). It’s also quite telling it managed to not drop too much after the World Series. It’s a game I really appreciate – both as a player and as someone in the industry. It’s an RPG that doesn’t feel like one, that does a tremendously good job at leveraging its IP, and that perfectly leverages the mobile format: gameplay (when you don’t want to auto-play) is about one simple action that is hugely rewarding. The game is pretty much identical to TSB’18. But to a certain extent that just shows a lot of maturity from the team and a (I feel justified) confidence in the format the game is built upon.

So here goes, 3 things I like about TSB,19

1) Tap is where it’s at

Swiping is hard. There’s a lot of stuff to pay attention to. You need to have a starting point, an end point, and a path between the 2 (it’s not always a straight line). And you can also add a speed/timing dimension to that. On the other hand, tapping is straightforward. It’s one action – in its ideal form, the hit box can be the entire screen. The one big factor when it comes to tapping is timing. The action is simple, to be optimal you need to do it at the right moment.

This is what I’m walking away with for TSB’19 (for some reason, I couldn’t put my finger on it in TSB ’18 – I don’t always think in a straight line…). And the more I think about it, it’s perhaps no coincidence that two of the top games based on a strong and compelling IP use that mechanic. In both CSR and TSB, players don’t need a big cognitive effort to get what the unique gameplay action is all about. That in turn means in both CSR and TSB, the IP does the heavy lifting when it comes to generating user engagement.

The tap gameplay is basic but enjoyable. There is really nothing interfering with the IP – which is really the main driver for users to install and play. Tap gameplay doesn’t interfere with players enjoying the IP – it only adds to it. It’s basic, easy to understand and modest. The king content is the IP, not the gameplay. And when you have a strong IP, that’s perhaps the best way to leverage it and make sure it stays front and center throughout.

And yes, both shifting gears and batting are actions that lend themselves well to a tap mechanic in which timing is crucial. But to a certain extent, you can find a tap action that matches any game or thematic – or even better, create one. Tap is fun, simple, there isn’t a real learning curve. And that’s perhaps one of the types of gameplay that matches the most a casual understanding of mobile gaming.

2) Carry over progress from TSB’18

I think restarting over as the new season begins is part of the fun here. The fun here is to reset your team/progress as much as it is to have a big team. The fun is in the building – not just the outcome. But if you’ve played TSB’18, you don’t completely start over. You’re given an option to carry over 3 of your best (or favorite – it’s not necessarily the same) players. Those players have their stats reduced by a factor. And that factor will be reduced over time (not quite clear on the exact details how that works).

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This feels like a great way to reward fans of the franchise. Keeper players’ stats are reset, so players still need to invest in them. The “Keeper Factor” ensures you can’t capitalize on your previous players too much in the long run. But it feels like a great short-term advantage that gives loyal fans a bit of a head start. Down the road those extra 5-stars in your roster won’t have a huge impact because of the Keeper factor. But early on when you start over again, those 3 extra 5-star players can make a good difference.

 

3) Companion app for the baseball fan

The one thing TSB does well – perhaps one of the best in the market at the moment – is leverage its IP. The game is all about baseball. As far as the content goes. But also it’s all about baseball as far as the game’s “internal clock” goes. It ties into MLB events in real time. There is a batting boost while you favorite team is playing – accompanied by a push notification.

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Another really good tie-in with the MLB is the “Pick ‘Em” feature. Where players are asked to anticipate events in the league: which team will win, will a given player have 2 or more hits, etc. This is a great way to leverage the IP in the game. All that while making it more about the IP than the game itself. Every other day, players have to pick for 2 different questions. When the player gets all 3 right, s/he gets some rewards and collectibles. It’s totally peripheral to what the game is. But it’s an added bonus and an extra opportunity for the fan to engage with the MLB. And all that through the game.

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Really the only thing that’s missing is a comprehensive ESPN-like results tab (and of course the betting that goes with it).

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