More than just Hearthstone – The $1.4bn digital collectible card game industry

Superdata released a report in January which assesses that the digital collectible card (CCG) game industry will bring in $1.4bn (£1.1bn) in revenue in 2017.

Naturally the heavy hitter and tier one esport Hearthstone makes up the lion’s share. But beneath this there are a number of titles doing a lot more than just picking up the crumbs. Of these the likeliest to ever mount any potential threat are Duelyst and Shadowverse. Even Octavian “Kripparian” Morosan, a popular Hearthstone streamer, speculated to PC Gamer in the autumn of 2016 that an indie card game could outpace it eventually.

Whether or not this happens, Blizzard needn’t be overly worried as the latest Superdata numbers indicate that there is more than enough interest in CCGs to go round.

This is a genre which is most popular in Asia with an audience of 11.6 million, though North America has the largest physical player base at 9.1 million. The SuperData report predicts that between 2017 and 2020, the worldwide digital CCG revenue will grow by 4%.

Another significant point made in the report was that a huge 86% of players watch videos about the genre whilst 59% watch videos to learn new strategies. This suggests that there is an opportunity for more quality content in this space, and for professional coaching and analysis too. These type of gamers are also said to be likelier to spend money on in-game content than fans of other genres.

Of the new kids on the block, Duelyst is a title from developer Counterplay which was released in late April 2016. Games are short and sharp, it has some excellent animation, and new cards are released regularly but steadily.

Keith Lee, CEO of Counterplay told [a]listdaily: “We don’t consider ourselves an esport, since that’s a very top-down approach and mentality that we don’t believe in. We take a bottom-up approach by nurturing, growing, and supporting the needs and aspirations for all types of players in our community. If competitive participation grows month-to-month, then we’re already successful.”

The other which has come an exceptionally long way in a short time is Shadowverse. Released by Cygames midway through 2016 it still managed to stump up over $100m in revenue. Not bad for around six months of work.

Developers should also consider how this genre could migrate in future too. A mobile approach is one being taken by Hi-Rez Studios, a developer that is currently working on Smite Rivals. This title will also be available on PC but you’ll be able to switch between platforms and pick up where you left off. 

For a game released in just 2014 you wouldn’t think Hearthstone could be classified as old hat but when it comes to digital card games it’s just that. Fans don’t seem bored yet though; the Blizzard title brought in around $395m in 2016 and as of April in the same year it was said to have over 50 million players globally. It has a sizable competitive scene too with a $1 million plus prize pool for its world championships.

Hearthstone was somewhat inspired by World of Warcraft, and in turn has inspired the likes of Duelyst and Shadowverse. Whether either of these can surpass the collectible card game giant anytime soon is unlikely, though we’ll be keeping a close eye on the numbers in the coming months.