Space Ape’s Beatstar hits $100m – despite an underwhelming start

 

Beatstar has now passed $100m in total revenue, despite being “a long way off” Space Ape’s expectations in its first few months on the market.

Space Ape boss Simon Hade has told us that the ambitious music game is now the studio’s biggest hit to date. But it wasn’t a roaring success from day one.

“Now the dust has settled and the game has generated $100m revenue I can say this was a success,” Hade tells us. “But it wasn’t clear when we launched the game in September 2021 that it would even surpass Transformers Earth Wars, which was our most successful game to that point – and which took six years to gross $100m.”

“Over the first few months the game performed… just okay,” he continues. “It wasn’t an embarrassment, grossing a few million a month for the first few months, but that was a long way off our expectations and what we thought the genre would support.”

Hade says that the introduction of the Tour Pass – Beatstar’s version of the Battle Pass – was vital to the game’s growth since, plus the addition of events, ad optimisations and end game content systems.

Beatstar was in development for years, and started out as a music-themed RPG before a hard pivot.

“Our initial hypothesis was that Beatstar wouldn’t benefit from lots of complex systems,” he told us. “This hypothesis wasn’t entirely wrong, but it was true only up to a point.”

“The game reached a plateau pretty quickly a couple of months in and it didn’t seem like it could grow. The fact that the systems were so thin meant we had few levers to pull to optimise the game outside of new songs and difficulty balancing.”

Space Ape was initially adding songs to the end of the campaign and remixing and repurposing other songs.

But dedicated players quickly burned through that content leading to two “obvious rules” Hade and his team quickly learned to live by: don’t take longer to make new content than players take to consume it, and don’t spend more to make the content than players spend on it.

Beatstar session times had plateaued before the battle pass was introduced.

These rules underpinned Space Ape’s spin on the battle pass. “We introduced Tour Pass four months after launch, and the impact was profound and immediate,” says Hade. “We went from making $120-150k per day to $250-300k, with daily revenue breaching $500k at the start of new seasons.”

Now, instead of buying specific songs, players would pay $15 for a month’s worth of gameplay. Space Ape was now, in Hade’s words, “Selling gameplay, not content”.

Tour Pass also increased the baseline time that people spent in the game by 22% and boosted spender engagement.

End game players were churning out dramatically, but new difficulty modes and other gameplay remixes rectified that.

The team’s next problem was end game content: players reaching the end of the game were churning out badly.

“The difference with puzzle and midcore games is there is a decade or more of well referenced, well understood systems for dealing with this problem,” says Hade. “For Beatstar we will always be constrained by the pace at which we can add new songs, and so we needed to find systems that worked within those constraints.”

Leaderboard battle events added a new way for players to compete and spend.

The answer was events, which were basically leaderboard battles, and were added into the game after about a year. And these also acted as a way for Space Ape to build hype around new songs and artist partnerships, like this week’s event with Nicki Minaj.

Space Ape is also trialling a ‘Deluxe mode’ live op, which adds in multiple added layers of difficulty for each song.

Tailoring ads to player preferences brought ad revenue up to roughly the same as IAP income.

The final monetisation lever to pull was ads, which now represent roughly half of Beatstar’s revenue. Space Ape has identified a cohort of players happier to watch and engage with ads, and is able to personalise the game to show them more.

“I’d encourage all game devs, especially those with broad funnels like Beatstar, to use surveys and look for similar signals in the first time experience to tailor the game,” he adds.

“In our case segmentation comes not only from the self reported demographic data but also their early song choices, install sources and early skill rating.”