Exclusive: Unwrapping The Weapon Forge App, Outnumbered Arcade

Earlier this Summer, it was revealed that LAI Games had launched a new light-gun arcade game by the name of Outnumbered. I discussed it in a VLOG post, following up with a mention on a Newsbytes post a little later. Today, we have a deeper look at it for the blog, which includes a lot of exclusive information that I’ve not seen published anywhere else, so let’s get to it!

As I demonstrated in that initial VLOG about the game, Outnumbered is an arcade exclusive title that focuses on speed & accuracy. While such gameplay can be fun in and of itself, LAI Games is taking the idea of driving repeat play to a new level thanks in good part to the the free companion smartphone app, the Weapon Forge. You don’t need the game to download it, where it is available for both iOS and Android devices for free.

The idea of a companion apps is still very new to the arcade industry, but this isn’t LAI Games first app. The company cut their teeth on the idea with their Snapshot Photo Booth app that allows players to access their photos on their phones, among other user-centric features. Where that helped the booth see increased repeat use, LAI Games decided to try their hand at it with a video game. In this case, the Weapon Forge app really ups the ante to provide for a game experience like nothing else that exists today, as we’ll get into. I was surprised to find out just how detailed this is, which is why it warranted a post.

Before that though, here’s a short video that explains the app that was posted to the Outnumbered Facebook page a few months ago:

Now let’s dive much deeper into what the app entails.

A revolving door for gameplay

Anyone in the industry knows that repeat play is essential for a game to be considered successful in this business. If everyone plays a game just once, then it will quickly burn out and become a prop instead of an entertainment product. Redemption games tend to have such replay value built-in, since the players are motivated to accumulate tickets. Accumulating a high score used to be a strong motivator for everyone in video games, but that has diminished as the player base has become more casual in their tastes.

The answer, from LAI Games’ point-of-view, is to tap into the abilities that an app can provide and use that to enhance replay value beyond what the game itself already does. They also are tapping into crafting culture that has become popular across many video games on the console side of things (many MMOs have elaborate crafting systems; you also have the likes of Borderlands, Monster Hunter, etc.)

After a player finishes their first game of Outnumbered, they’re notified that they’ve unlocked in-game rewards that can be claimed in the free app. After they download the app, they’re taken through a tutorial on how to forge a custom weapon that they can use in their next game. After that game is played, they unlock a few more items and can continue to upgrade their weapon or forge new ones. “Play, Unlock, Forge, Repeat.” is the motto that is being applied here.

Forging custom weapons

So how does it work? Forging a custom weapon creates a Loadout, which is comprised of 3 components: A sight, body and ammo.

The ammo that’s used dictates the texture of the weapon, the bullet trail effects, and target explosion. Sights come in a variety of configurations, and while there is no technical advantage with different weapon components, some of the ammo effects “feel” more powerful when played in the game. This in turn creates drive to explore the effects as well as the aesthetics.

Loadout styles include:

Different bullet trail effects
Unique particle effects (when targets break) with different types of ammo
Bullet sounds effects are different with each unique ammo
Ammo controls the texture of the weapon
Rare and exclusive content for dedicated/”highly engaged” players

Live global leader boards and career progress

High score tables (well, leader boards as everyone calls them now) have been an essential part of arcade games since Exidy’s Star Fire let users input their initials next to a score. There have been a few changes since 1980, such as expanding the number of letters you can input, having a board for every level in a game and the very occasional online leaderboard. The problem with the latter is that they are usually handled through QR codes that you have to use a 3rd party scanning app to scan’n share. By my own observations (having several games at my arcade that offer QR sharing), most players never use it or even realize that it’s there. I even forget to use them, and I’m Mr. Arcade Hero 😛

For Outnumbered, the app keeps it all “in-house.” When you’re not forging a new weapon, you can easily track your own progress against the best players in the world thanks to the live global leader boards. By going to the leader boards tab in the app, pick the level (currently High Noon, Deep Space, Quarantine Zone) then check out all of the current highest scores from players all around the planet, along with the loadouts/guns they used to reach that score. There are also extensive statistics on your personal career progress, compared to a global average.

Logging in at the game

Logging into the app is simple enough, although keep in mind that the first time you log in, you’ll need to give it an e-mail and input a verification code that is sent to said e-mail. When that is out of the way, players simply click the login button on the app and scan the QR code that appears on screen in the game and they’re instantly recognized and linked. You don’t have to use a 3rd party app to do it, which is where I think this gets the advantage, but we’ll have to see how it works in practice with the public. Anyways, once scanned, the user can then choose a loadout from their inventory and play a stage of their choosing. It does not use Bluetooth or NFC connectivity, just the QR feature.

In-app purchases

In-app purchases are a standard feature in mobile gaming, but not so much arcades. The closest we’ve got are in-game microtransactions where you can insert more credits to buy parts for your vehicle, but that’s been it (and even then, not used in every racing game. That link gets into the most recent one, Super Bikes 3). It can be a touchy subject, although I don’t see any info about Outnumbered using things like Loot Boxes (which are the touchiest subject of all).

With the Weapon Forge, it introduces the concept of in-app purchases to the arcade environment in a way that should be familiar with mobile gamers. I haven’t really gamed too much on my phone, so this isn’t something that I have done, but plenty of people do, as the stats show that in-app purchases keep plenty of games earnings well after they were released.

LAI’s aim is to benefit both the player and the operator. The app’s primary purpose is allowing player’s to build custom weapons, but in order to use the weapon, they must return to the arcade. Looking at it from a value viewpoint, players have a deeper investment into the game they’ve spent the extra money on, while the operator will see that investment in repeat business.

Aside from driving traffic back to the venue, in-app purchases also fund:

Ongoing app development
Covers app store and text messaging fees
Community management (LAI’s marketing efforts to engage the player community)
The Outnumbered microsite (currently in development)

This would indicate that there is not any monthly fee that the operator has to pay to access these features or to have this content produced. I also am open as an operator to seeing what ideas can bring people back to the arcade, as so many people tell me they visit an arcade once or twice a year at most.

Basic and premium in-app currency

There are 2 types of in-game currency in the Weapon Forge: Shrapnel, the basic currency earned for free by playing the game, and Shells, a premium currency that players can buy with real money. Upgrading weapons in the app requires players to spend their in-game currency. Both currencies will allow you to purchase and upgrade weapons, but Shells allow you to do it more quickly, and also access content bundles with XP Boosts, which adds a multiplier onto a player’s game score, allowing them to level up even more quickly.

The way it shakes out sounds like what we’ve seen with games like Warframe or Destiny. You don’t have to pay to earn the Shrapnel (aka “grinding”), but if you prefer to speed things up, then you go for the Shells. This system has been a big success for many console & mobile games, but where we’ve not seen this exact kind of system used in arcades, I would really like to see the results.

I do have some thoughts about this at the bottom of the post; I put them there so as to not distract from the primary kernel of the article at this point, but scroll to the bottom if you’re curious.

Reaching Players Outside the Arcade

Since the “Golden Age” of gaming, the arcade industry has generally stuck to the same formula when it comes to marketing. Keep a game secret until it’s in production, get it out to locations, then wait for word-of-mouth to bolster it further. That has improved a little bit in the Internet Age, with videos and social media occasionally engaging players (or operators), but it still tends to be a challenge for games to reach a general audience. At my arcade, I’ll occasionally see people come across a game that’s been on the market for two years and they had no idea of its existence until finding it at my place.

This next portion gets a little more “inside baseball” than we usually have the privilege of seeing on new games, but still is fascinating to show how testing and data has affected the direction the overall game has taken:. The overarching theme I was able to glean from the research I’ve done on this is that LAI is focused on engaging players and driving repeat plays on Outnumbered. To this end, logic has been built into game to “reward users at strategic points to foster the best possible engagement and adoption.” Players are rewarded early and often to start, but rewards become harder to get, with more exclusive content available as they climb the higher levels.

Thanks to their initial location tests*, LAI has identified a basic metric for active, engaged and highly engaged players based on patterns seen during those tests:

*Statistics from initial few months of testing in early 2019

Some additional stats that they’ve gathered, as of Sept 13, 2019. These will certainly come in much higher numbers after the game is launched to hundreds of locations at the end of this year.

Number of weapons forged to date
6,406
Total number of app downloads
7,407
Total number of logged in game plays
40,793
Total number of users who have logged into the app
7,217
% of logged-in players who have played 5 or more times
29.26%
% of logged-in players who have played 50 or more times
0.72%
Highest number of repeat plays
61
Highest number of games by one person (in 71 days)
252

So while not every person that plays Outnumbered downloads the app, quite a few people do, and that seems to keep them engaged. To further play on how people like to show off, the game cabinet features a secondary monitor that displays their current weapon while logged in, so bystanders can check it out; Each month, LAI also recognizes the leader board winners on the dedicated Outnumbered Facebook page.

Push notifications
Just like any other app, the Weapon Forge can tap into push notifications and engage users directly, as content updates become available or new features are released. LAI recently increased the level cap along with the release of 3 new pieces of weapon content and saw a major spike in traffic when the notification went out.

As an operator, that’s usually something I have to try and do using my social media, but it’s never been terribly effective (in part because a lot of followers are out-of-state; not complaining about the follows, but if I post about a game on sale, someone in the UK can’t drop by to take advantage of that). If my games were interacting with those who are local to my games though, it would be a different story.

Find a game near you
It’s been a while since we’ve had an arcade title that has a locator map (Maximum Tune 5, I think?), but having the app in-hand again makes it easier to locate a game than a separate website. As it is, the Weapon Forge uses familiar maps that allow players to locate games near them. This feature, along with push notifications have the potential to drive traffic to operators that they might not otherwise see, reaching outside their potential customer base.

Where the game has received a limited release overseas and it will be hitting North America at the end of this year, LAI expects to have plenty of games all over the world for players to locate an Outnumbered machine in their area.

Built for Continual Growth

LAI Games has planned on keeping interest in Outnumbered high by continual support & updates after the release. This includes the addition of new stages, weapons and rewards inside the game and app, with a development team is actively working on new features and content. Of course the better that the game sells, the more content you can expect to see to keep up with demand.

Player Testimony

Since the game is still hard to find outside of the Timezone release, it’s hard to find a lot of feedback on it so far, but I did find this:  “Personally, I feel that Outnumbered is one of, if not the greatest arcade rail-shooter of all time, and I say that having sunk hundreds of dollars-worth of credits into games like Time Crisis, Point Blank and House of the Dead.”
Coleonsea, Winner of Melbourne Regional Tournament

I’m not sure who this person is, but that’s really high praise for any game; I’ll get a chance to see for myself at IAAPA 2019…perhaps a little sooner 😉

To download the app, jump on your phone and search Outnumbered Weapon Forge in the app or play store, or visit http://outnumbered.laigames.com/download-app

Tangent for some thoughts 

As I was writing this article and came across the In-app Purchases section, I was trying to imagine your reactions to it out there. I get the pros and cons of such purchases, but where this is being approached in a new way, at least for video arcades, it warranted some extra thought.

Research has shown that people who purchase app content gain a deeper attachment to that game that they purchased the content for. I imagine it comes down to the psychology of value in giving someone something for free vs. them earning/buying it. Arcade games have featured unlockable content built right into the game for ages now, although it’s become less common to find these days compared to the past. Content requires effort to produce (developers/artists producing the content, and they like to eat, so they need to be paid), which that bullet point list also highlights.

As mentioned at the beginning of the post, one issue that video games face in today’s world is that they are routinely beaten in earnings by redemption games. You can have the dumbest, simplest mechanical game that only has gameplay last for a total of 5 seconds totally annihilate the most engaging and deep video game when it comes to the weekly cashbox. It’s sad for a gamer like myself to see that, but it’s generally the reality. That’s why so many venues are stuffed to the brim with redemption content, with video often as an afterthought.

Addendum: I meant to add something here, but didn’t in the original post. At my arcade, I don’t have any ticket redemption games; I have a couple of merchandisers that are there via other operators. In this situation, my video games do really well, and a few games regularly outperform the merchandisers – Jurassic Park, Cruis’n Blast, Maximum Tune 5 – all do very well. What I mentioned in the previous paragraph is the general thinking about video vs. redemption though, but is not meant to imply it’s like that every where in every situation.

So how do you get video to compete against the redemptive juggernaut (as the general perception goes)? Most games these days “hook” players with an attractive license, a fun or unique gimmick, creating a simulator experience out of the game. But that’s often what you need to get someone started. How do you get them to keep playing? For redemption, it’s tickets & prizes. But video needs more. How do you get replay value? You build on a solid and fun game with high scores, player accounts, leveling up/ranking system, unlockables, grinding for collectibles and tournaments (did I miss anything?). But we’ve had those things for a long time now and they still haven’t always been enough, even combined with billion dollar franchise licenses.

One thing that they’ve tried lately to bring people back is increasing the amount of game you have to play to reach the end. I imagine that the thinking is that with enough content, you might not be able to finish it, so you’ll want to come back to it later, or re-explore something you missed. Halo: Fireteam Raven and Tomb Raider Arcade both take about an hour to complete, which is a little more than twice that of any light-gun game in the 90’s.

Then of course we have the videmption trend, and almost every video game to hit the market in the past year, year and half has a redemption option built into it. Those results are mixed from what I hear (sometimes a game earns better when tickets are off, because the base game just wasn’t designed for ticket play, so the redemption players go and play the games that they know have better payouts).

One example of a game that hits many of the right notes for me as a gamer is Maximum Tune 5. It has a lengthy story mode, online play, leveling up your vehicle, competition against other player ghost cars, an elaborate parts dress-up system, tons of vehicles, and a card system to track it all. It’s an excellent game, there’s no question about that. But the most disappointing thing about it is that Bandai Namco has seemingly abandoned MT outside of Japan/SouthEast Asia. I got the game a year ago and in that time there have been no software updates – no new cars, tracks, parts, tournaments…anything. While the base game did give me plenty to explore, many gamers who already played the game somewhere else haven’t been given much of a reason to come back to it, since they completed everything already. Mind you there is a fee per seat on that game, which supposedly is supposed to provide new content. But when? Never, it seems. Granted, I understand that eventually games will not be updated as you move onto sequels. But in those cases, don’t make a promise that cannot be kept (monthly fee funding new content).

In the information posted about Outnumbered above, there was an interesting note – that when they pushed out some content updates, along with push notifications, that drove play to the game again. The advantage that this has over Maximum Tune is that it can alert players through the push notifications, while on MT5, you have to go to the machine to find out that someone has challenged you or beat your record. Using apps is a much more effective way to achieve this.

Are in-app purchases the answer to earnings woes? I can’t answer yes or no on that yet. In mobile gaming, the concept often gives games a major boost and contributes to their longevity. Thus, I’m willing to see where this goes and to give it a chance. I think it will depend on how “micro” the transactions really are, along what you get for it. It’s important to remember that unlockable or DLC content is not “free” for the developer to produce. As the first bullet point list showed, LAI will be using the revenue from the in-app purchases to fund the creation of more levels, crafting parts and so on. As long as they deliver on those promises, then I see no reason to be bothered about it.

I also do appreciate that you can grind for it – not in the sense that I’m always a fan of grinding (you have to be careful there as a developer to not overdo it; I played Warframe up until some weapon I was grinding for changed the rules midway through and I just didn’t look forward to spending another 10-20 hours on grinding for parts, so I just stopped playing all together as I felt burned), but that you don’t have to pay for it all.

But I also don’t want to get too much into the weeds about one part of the app. I like the idea of crafting, and the app in general, unifying all of those features into one place. By what I’ve used of it and read, it provides for replay value in a modern way, so props to LAI for trying that. I don’t know how many of my customers would bother with the app, but one thing is for sure, they all have smartphones. 😉

Do you agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments and thanks for reading!

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