The more I think about it, the more I think the main issue with Clash Royale’s business model is based on presentation rather than actual function. The game hits you right away with big timers, and is also misleading in how you should play and when. The actual model, where spending gets you closer to the hard end-point faster (Pay-2-Skip), isn’t really the problem, just like it isn’t in Clash of Clans or Boom Beach.
Let’s start at the beginning. Almost right away CR gives you chests with 3 or 8 hour timers, and limits you to holding only four of those at a time. Within 5 minutes or so of playing for the first time, you will fill up on chests. Then, to make this worse, the game gives you a notification/warning that playing more won’t earn you more chests, leading a player to believe that they should stop and either pay to open a chest or come back to the game in a few hours. That’s a really bad first impression, and this continues as you play, with that message coming up every time you try to queue up and already have four chests.
First and foremost, that notification should be removed, because not only is it annoying, it’s misleading. Yes, you can’t earn more than four chests at a time, but a new chest isn’t the only reward for winning matches. Unless you are Tobold-dumb, you will rather quickly realize that moving up in rank/arenas is a good thing, so playing to earn trophies is also a good thing. Depending on your deck and skill level, you will likely hit a point where it’s very difficult to progress higher, but you should always try to be at that break-point to get the most value out of your chests. Plus the more you play, the better you should get, which will naturally increase your cap.
More broadly, the model as-is isn’t bad. Imagine if instead of chests with timers you had a chance to get a card after every win. Not only would this encourage win-trading, but would also mean that progressing to the end-point of power would be even more heavily skewed towards those with more time. Today you can play for a short burst daily and ‘keep up’, under a different model that might not be the case.
This model (system limits on progression based on time) has proven very successful in both CoC and BB. In both those games you can’t simply play more to advance faster, as the games limit you with training times. In addition to this balancing the game around the business model (motivation to spend to speed up for the impatient), it also helps players not burn themselves out. CoC has now been a top mobile game for over two years, and I believe a large part of that success is the game’s pacing. (This also relates back to the success and recent failure of the MMO genre, progression is simply too fast and you can ‘finish’ a game in a short burst, which kills retention and the overall MMO model for success).
CR makes your lack of cards/levels more clear because it’s a direct PvP game. When they lose, many will instantly blame their lack of deck strength, rather than personal mistakes made during the game. Even when card levels are fairly equal, if someone is using a card you don’t have, it’s natural to blame the game or business model for not giving you that card yet, instead of again noting that you didn’t counter what the other players was doing well.
Now certainly there will be games where the opponent’s deck is so far above yours that winning is nearly impossible (although even now I’ve beaten people with cards 2-3 levels higher, so what is possible vs what people believe is possible is also an important distinction), but those instances are actually fairly rare given how the trophy system works beyond the first few arenas. The far more likely issue is one of perception; someone will look at a winner’s deck, see a card or two a level higher, and come to the conclusion that it was deck strength that was the difference. Human nature makes people more likely to deflect blame rather than accept it, and CR gives your brain a lot of ‘easy outs’ to do so.
Finally, what is important to keep in mind is that diminishing returns are in high effect in CR, while a hard-stop also exists. Moving a card from level 10 to 11 takes a huge amount of cards and gold, but the power increase is fairly minimal. At the same time, once a card is maxed, that’s it. More money can’t be spent to further increase power, and there is nothing that you can buy that a non-paying player doesn’t have access to. There is no gold ammo or shop-only stat gear in CR, just like there isn’t in CoC or BB. A CR whale that spends thousands to almost instantly get a max deck will simply play against others with high or max decks (assuming they aren’t a Tobold that loses to far weaker decks and can’t even make it that far up), and how those other players got their doesn’t matter. A free player with a max deck is the same as a whale with a max deck, and they can’t spend/play more to get more power.
The big difference between CR and CoC/BB is that CR is faster to point out your lack of player ability, and this makes it easier to shift blame from your personal lack of skill to the business model being unfair. It also gives spenders a short term ‘feel good about yourself’ boost, because for a very limited window of time after they spend, they will win more as they shift higher up in trophies. Ultimately however spending to move up won’t work, so not only can you not ‘win’ CR by spending, you can’t even come close. At best you can pay to skip to the ‘end-game’ of facing other max decks, and much like paying to skip ahead in CoC/BB, doing so more often than not leads to some hilarious results (for others, not for the spender).