· 7 min read

How to Use Collectibles in Mobile Games to Keep Players Coming Back

Collectibles in mobile games can improve pretty much all your metrics – if you design them right. Here’s our quick guide to weaving collectibles into your core gameplay.

It’s easy to think of collectibles as frivolous add-ons to mobile games, and games in general. But when you get them right, collectibles can make your game more enjoyable, more sustainable, and more lucrative. Here’s a rundown of the key things to consider when you integrate collectibles into your game.

What do we mean by collectibles?

There are many different ways you can use the term. But let’s go with this as a general definition:

Any bits of content that aren’t essential to progression through your game.

That’s pretty broad. But it needs to be. Collectibles can include any of these things (and many more):

  • Cosmetic items, like skins
  • Heroes and characters
  • Upgrades and power-ups
  • Resources
  • Achievements
  • Informative items that expand your game’s lore
  • Playful items that bring an amusing surprise

In this blog, we’ve covered a few reasons why you should use collectibles, and also what mistakes you should avoid. If you’re already convinced, feel free to skip ahead to the tips.

Why use collectibles?

You don’t need to have collectibles in your game for it to be successful. A minimalist approach to content can even be a strength. Monument Valley is a good example of this – a linear, single-player game with an innovative core gameplay loop, a strong visual style, and a little bit of story. That’s it. It’s simple and it works.

But if collectibles are a good fit for your game, they can boost almost any metric you can measure: in-app purchases, average session length, retention – the list goes on.

Give your game a hugely increased lifespan

Games like Monument Valley have finite gameplay. You work through the levels, reach the end and that’s it. You can replay it, but it’ll be exactly the same the second time around. With collectibles, you don’t need to change the core gameplay to add more content. So it’s quick and easy to keep players coming back for more.

Embrace people’s innate love of collecting things

People collect everything from comics and memorabilia to stones and snail shells. Something about human psychology just makes us enjoy collecting things. And it’s especially enjoyable when there’s a sense of challenge and reward to it.

Reward players for engaging more with your game

Think about Doom 2, all the way back in 1994: you get plonked into the first level, you go forward and start killing demons. But if you’re curious enough to first turn around and see what’s behind you, you discover a small hallway that leads you to a chainsaw. This is a classic example of rewarding a player for exploring and engaging with every inch of the content.

Use new content to reinvigorate old content

The core gameplay that your players are familiar with doesn’t necessarily need to change – adding new content can bring the breath of fresh air that your game might need. When Pokémon Go releases new Pokémon, for example, it changes the metagame and creates fresh challenges. All the hundreds of Pokémon that already exist in the game can be buffed or nerfed by the new arrivals. The old content is the same, but it has a new lease of life.

Help players to express their individuality

All players want to be unique. Collectibles can give players the chance to cultivate their own looks, strategies, and personalities. Fall Guys was the hit game of summer 2020, and it embraced these things expertly. Skins and emotes don’t make the game any easier or harder. But they add an extra level of personalization that players will play longer for and make in-app purchases for.

Fall guys - Mobile game collectibles

Tweak difficulty without making fundamental changes

Different players find different aspects of gameplay easy and difficult. Balancing difficulty is really tricky, and requires a lot of testing and iterating. The beauty of power-up collectibles is that players can use them whenever they most need them. When players excel at one thing, you can reward them with something to help them when they struggle elsewhere.

Seven ways to avoid common mistakes

1. Keep your metagame diverse and balanced

The more powerful a character, power-up, or weapon is, the more people will want it. But that’s a short-term gain in exchange for a huge loss. When an item is so powerful it makes the game easy, the challenge is gone. And players lose interest.

Context is key, you can still make collectibles super-powerful if the moment is right. By restricting the usability of the collectible to certain enemies or times, you can avoid flooding your game with over-powerful items. Alternatively, you could make an item’s power relative to your player’s level.

2. Don’t de-value old collectibles

Players can work really hard to gain one specific collectible – so they’ll feel they’ve wasted their time if a new collectible comes out and makes their old one redundant or underpowered.

At the very least, a collectible should be valuable for a few months. If that’s genuinely not possible, you can give players rewards for discarding old collectibles. AFK Arena is a good example of this – when you retire a hero, you get awarded some points for unlocking more characters.

AFK Arena - Mobile game collectibles

It’s also worth remembering that players will have favorite characters. So you want to always give them the option to upgrade them and invest in what they’ve earned.

3. Don’t make duplicates worthless

You’ll probably need duplicates for your game to survive. If you remove an item from the pool once a player already has it, they’ll be able to max out their collection far too quickly. But you don’t want duplicates to have no value at all, because players will find it frustrating and lose interest.

So make duplicate items useful. In AFK Arena, you can fuse cards together to make stronger ones. In Pokémon Go, catching a weaker duplicate of a Pokémon you already have at least gives you candies – so you can power up your stronger version.

4. Don’t make your random drops totally random

If a player’s percentage chance of getting a certain collectible is too low, they’ll get annoyed and become disengaged.

So put some ‘safety net’ rules in place. For example, every 50th drop a player could be guaranteed a legendary item. You can keep these rules invisible to the player, or you can use visible counters – so they know they’ll soon be getting something really good. This is a great way to drive up in-app purchases.

5. Create events for limited-time, super rare collectibles

Even if you’ve balanced your collectibles system just right, it can still get stale over time. And even the rarest items become less rare as players build out their collections.

So to make items even rarer, give them a specific time window. Games like Overwatch often tie themed collectibles to yearly times like Christmas and Halloween. You can also tie these collectible to time-limited challenges – like ‘get X number of victories within the next week’. These are all good ways to keep players coming back for more.

Overwatch - Mobile game collectibles

6. Explain the more complex mechanics

If you have a complex metagame, you’re asking players for a big-time investment to understand the mechanics and become skilled players. And the more confused and unskilled they feel, the less engaged they’ll be.

You can solve this problem by creating quick-reference guides where players can get answers to their most common questions. What are the characters’ strengths and weaknesses? What item combinations work best? What different strategies and character builds are possible?

Players will often build out forums and wikis when you have a big enough community. But if you’re bringing a new game to market, give players the information they need to understand why they might want certain collectibles.

7. And finally: Get the right tools to take away the guesswork

Getting the right balance for your collectibles takes time, testing, and iterating. You need to follow all your metrics closely and keep track of exactly what’s pushing them up or down.

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