Extensive look at progression systems in Disney Heroes — Part 2

Jean-Baptiste Oger
16 min readFeb 14, 2020

I’ve covered in Part 1 how much you can invest in each hero’s many progression layers, check it out if you haven’t already:

In this second part, you’ll learn about the activities and how they encourage you, not only to upgrade them as much as you can, but also to play with many of them.

PART 2 — ACTIVITIES

Disney Heroes’ activities are designed to keep the game varied and players busy, obviously but also to ensure they use and invest in as many heroes as possible.

The home screen of the game

Of course you’ll benefit from investing a lot on a handful of efficient heroes but upgrading secondary heroes is needed to overcome some of the challenges the game has to offer and make your “main” heroes progress along the way too.

Let’s discover, one activity after they other, how each one brings its unique twist on the game loop, be it specific rules, restrictions or rewards.

Normal Campaign

Chapters & levels

The normal campaign is the first mode of Disney Heroes. It’s split in several chapters, new ones are added in updates.

Each chapter features in 7 levels and 2 inter-levels between each. They’re unlocked consecutively and while levels can be replayed, inter-levels can’t: they just delay progress the first time.

In each level screen, the player can preview the enemies to defeat and the badges to loot as rewards there (in no particular order). Playing the level costs Stamina and while each loot isn’t guaranteed, the drop rates are generous enough.

Loot distribution analysis

The data below has been collected by playing 200 times the Level “Triton Station” (showcased in the screenshot above). It’s a level around the middle of the campaign and here is what I looted from it:

  • 80 Air Hercs Bit (purple badge)
  • 104 Sorceror’s Hat (green badge)
  • 79 Flubber Plan Bit (purple badge)
  • Bonus: 135 bonus white badges & 26 bonus green badges

We can assume individual drop rates around 26% for the purple badges and around 35% for the green ones.

The distribution isn’t a consistent pattern but it’s still too perfect to be pure random either, there is some form of random control.

When I analyse the frequency of interval lengths between two drops (how many times I play the level before dropping the badge again), I have a hard time assuming the method used.

What I can affirm that there are hard limits on the number of repetitions you can have without dropping the badge and that different badge rarities have different random rules.

Infected levels

Campaign levels can be randomly “infected” (~two levels every day). Their difficulty is increased for the next battle and they give Disk Power currency as a bonus reward.

This is also a change of pace since infected levels need to be cleaned before playing them normally again to farm badges for instance.

Elite Campaign

The Elite campaign has the same levels as the Normal campaign, except they’re more difficult, cost a lot more stamina and have extra hero chips rewards.

Which chip drops in which level is clearly shown in the UI and the distribution is regularly shuffled via updates. The player can play each Elite level only 3 times a day, even if he doesn’t drop the hero chips he’s looking for (drop rates are in the 30% ballpark too).

Friends Campaign

Friendship system is one of the reasons you’ll need to upgrade more heroes than just the ones you commonly use. The campaign is structured in 8 episodes of 5 levels.

To play each level, you spend another refillable energy system called “friend stamina”. By completing them (they’re not replayable), you gain gold, badges and friendship XP.

The biggest reward is at the end of the whole campaign: the powerful Memory Disk (see Part 1 for details).

Here is the catch: unlike all other game modes, you’re forced to use the two friends and some predetermined allies to play the level. Friends campaign can be quite challenging, that’s how it pushes you to spend resources to upgrade secondary (and otherwise useless) heroes.

The only heroes you’re allowed to use to progress in the campaign

Friends Missions

Friends missions is one of the few game modes in which you can’t play your, nor even see your heroes fighting.

Each mission:

  • requires 2–5 specific heroes: a hero can’t be in two ongoing missions at the same time, that’s the thing to manage
  • consumes badges and sometimes hero chips
  • lasts 2 to 24 hours
  • grants Friend XP, Disk Power and/or Memories
  • has a success rate based on heroes power

Friend missions are unlocked at certain Friend XP thresholds and can be upgraded, to increase the rewards without changing the requirements.

The mission is upgraded every 3 times you play it (level 5 maximum).

Friend missions are built on 8 different templates represented by a letter, each with the same requirements & rewards structure.

The impact of leveling up the mission is straightforward: Friend XP & Disk Power are multiplied by the current level of the mission (x1, x2, …,x5), while the quantity of Memories & requirements remains the same.

Requirements & rewards for the Friend Missions level 1

The Port

The Port has just two levels which push player towards specialized team compositions in exchange for a lot of one type of rewards:

  • The Docks: enemies immune to fantastic damages, XP boosters reward
  • The Warehouse: enemies immune to normal damages, Gold reward

Each level is open every other day (both are open on Sundays) and you can only complete each twice a day.

Harder levels of difficulty unlock based on your team XP level: it both increases the challenge and the rewards.

Trials

Trials mode has a very similar structure than the Port, with different parameters:

  • Levels schedule: open every other two days (all open on Sundays), up to 6 attempts per day
  • Heroes rule: only heroes of the correct team color are allowed
  • Rewards: a specific set of badges (number & quantity of each badge increase in higher difficulties)

City Watch

In this mode, you face 15 consecutive battles of increasing difficulty. Each battle rewards the player with gold and every 3 fights, you gain City Watch Tokens, a currency to use in the dedicated shop.

The specificity of this mode is the persistence: both the player and the enemies keep their health points between combats. Once a hero is KO’ed, he remains KO’ed for the next battles in this run. Each fight can be replayed to try different compositions or attempt a better result but the mode is tweaked in such a way that you’d need more than just the same 5 characters to finish it.

The City Watch has its own increasing difficulty to select too but unlike Port & Trials, the entire mode is still scaled to your current power. It’s up to the player to pick the level of challenge he feels comfortable with.

  • Easy: default gold rewards & token rewards, heroes health regenerate slightly between fights
  • Medium: +50% gold, Disk Power & token rewards, heroes health does not regenerate
  • Hard:+100% gold, +100% Disk Power & token rewards, no regen and there is a special modifier each week to make it ven hader (enemies buff or malus on player)

You can reset the City Watch, and select the difficulty, once every 18 hours.

The City Watch shop, where you spend your tokens has the same structure as most other shops in the game and it’s refreshed daily: you can buy a selection of hero chips, badges, consumable XP/gold and the Heist ticket to get an extra try at the Heist game mode (see next part).

Heist

I never quite understood what the heist mode was about nor how it was played, I just know it’s similar to the City Watch in lots of ways (increasing difficulty levels & rewards, reset daily, has a dedicated Heist currency top spend in the Heist shop).

Two interesting facts to note regarding the heroes restrictions:

  • It’s a 5-players coop mode where duplicate heroes aren’t allowed, which pushes you to use more varied characters and upgrade them enough
  • Every day, about a third of all heroes in the game are randomly banned: they can’t be used by anyone, again to encourage variety

Solo PVP modes- Arena & Coliseum

Both of these game modes follow the same structure: players compete with one another asynchronously in order to climb in the rankings.

  • Arena is played with one team of 5 heroes
  • Coliseum is played with 3 teams of 5 heroes

You can see the composition of the opponent before choosing your own to try and beat them: if you win, you take their spot and all players below are shifted down a rank. If you stay in the top 5 for 24 consecutive hours, you climb to the next division (Gold III, II, I, then Platinum V, VI, etc)

At the end of each day, you gain rewards based on their division (the rank impacts less than 5%). The most important rewards are the Arena/Coliseum Tokens to spend in the dedicated shops (which features hero chips, badges & XP/gold consumables, refreshed daily, you got it by now).

Both of these modes are the most competitive ones: it’s key to figure out the few best heroes & upgrading them to the maximum of their potential.

Creep Surge

Creep Surge is a mode played within the guild. Players in the guild (up to 50) have 16 hours to finish 15 “waves”, by clearing 4 regions and each region is composed of 4–6 battles of various levels of difficulty.

Everyone can chose and fight as many battles as they want but each player can only use a hero once (again pushing players to unlock & upgrade more heroes).

At the end of the surge, each player who participated with at least one attack is rewarded with the same:

  • 10 Surge Tokens per region cleared collectively
  • 30 bonus Surge Tokens for clearing all waves

Surge shop features the same kind of rewards are the other shops: hero chips, badges & XP/gold consumables (refreshed daily).

Guild leaders can also set the difficulty level in order to increase rewards, if the level of their guild members allow it.

Guild war

There is a lot going on there too, but I’m not a specialist of the rules & strategies as I’ve never been in charge of a guild, I’ll focus just on the rewards.

When winning a war, each participating player in the guild is rewarded with war crates, they contain badges, hero chips, consumable XP/gold and War Tokens (which, you guessed it, are spent in the associated War shop).

Invasion

Invasion is an interesting game mode with its own internal progression system. Each week, players have 5 days to progress as far as possible to gain rewards, one new mod and everything to upgrade it (Mod Power currency, fragments & upgrade pieces).

Game loop

The game loop is quite simple and clearly explained in the screenshot below.

1.Breaker quests

Breaker quests unlock linearly and their difficulty is progressive.

Each Breaker quest completed grants 1 Breaker and 1 Boost (details on boosts below). Every 20 quests completed, the player gets 5 extra Breakers & 5 extra Boosts.

Players can chose to use additional stamina to play bonus battles called “Ward Fights” and disable the associated enemy buff. It makes the Breaker quests easier but costs more in the end.

2. Boss battles

Boss also unlock one after the other: every time you finish a boss you’ve discovered, you get a new one, with +5/+10 levels.

You can get an attempt at beating a boss either by spending 1 Breaker or 3 Breakers (you get x5 damages bonus for the extra cost). The bosses you do not manage to kill in one attack become visible to the whole guild: other members can help defeating them.

A defeated boss grants you rewards (invasion stamina, boss tech, invasion points, random boosts) based on the criteria seen in the screenshot below.

The back & forth between the two modes is therefore quite simple:

  1. Use your stamina to play breaker quests
  2. You gain breakers
  3. Use your breakers to defeat bosses
  4. You gain stamina (and rewards)

The cycle usually breaks once the difficulty of either part is too hard and consumes more resources than it offers (need to spend stamina in ward fights or need to use more breakers to finish the boss).

3.Invasion rewards

Players unlock rewards with the Invasion points gained in boss battles. The reward structure always follow the same pattern each week, with the Mod always as the Tier 4 reward.

While the Mod power reward is linear (+500 each tier), the points requirement for each tier increases progressively.

4.Progression within Invasion

But wait there is more! Invasion has its own dedicated progression system to deepen the strategies and encourage monetization.

All progression layers listed below are temporary: they only apply to the current invasion and everything is reset at the end.

1.Three type of Boosts

  1. Power-up: permanent upgrades to your heroes
  2. Hero revive: to revive or heal deceased heroes (HP is persistent is between battles)
  3. Combat boosts: to gain a buff or put a malus on the enemies, for the duration of the next breaker quest or boss fight only

2. Power-ups details

Power-ups are the only way to keep up with the rapidly increasing level of challenge. It’s symbolized with a number in a flame next to each hero.

When using the Power-up, the player is presented with 4 options:

  • give +1 to all heroes of the featured team of the week (Red, Blue, Yellow)
  • or give+5 to one of the 3 randomly selected heroes (heroes from the “featured team” have more chances to appear in the selection)

This simple rule pushes players to find a team of heroes who all belong to the colored team featured this week, that’s the most efficient way to benefit from Power-ups.

3. Invasion shop

Yet another shop in this game, but in this one you can only purchase items useful to progress in the Invasion (Boosts, Breakers & Invasion stamina), nothing that would help you outside of this mode.

This shop is refreshed daily and the currency “Boss tech”, gained in boss fights as it name suggests, is reset at the end of the Invasion.

Challenges

Challenges make good use of the many systems & activities in the game: the player is required to perform certain tasks in a limited-time period, often an unusual way to play. Each player gets two weekly challenges and can purchase additional ones for hard currency.

The rewards for completing challenges is once again a specific currency, Challenge Tokens, to spend in the associated Challenge Shop (which contains a weekly-refreshed selection of hero chips, badges & memories).

Completed challenges are also displayed in the player social profile for anyone to check (despite having few “bragging power” compared to other progression systems in the game).

Collections

Here is again a system which encourages players to unlock, level up and use suboptimal heroes in order to help improving their main heroes.

Collections are group of heroes which have the same role (damage, tank, etc) or belong to the same franchise (Toy Story, Zootopia, etc).

Each collection has 4 tiers (bronze, silver, gold & platinium) and 3 levels to complete in order to gain rewards.

1.Completing a collection level

To complete a collection level, the player needs to “master” the indicated number of compatible heroes: the ones who belong to the collection and have a minimum of stars.

Heroes are considered “mastered” when you’ve completed the demanded number of battles, but only these specific game modes count:

  • Creep Surge
  • City Watch
  • Breaker Fights

As you can notice, the modes are somewhat limited and remain challenging enough (compared to Normal campaign for instance): the player not only needs to add stars to their heroes but also to upgrade them enough or he won’t be able to win battles & “master” them.

2.Unlocking collection levels

The collection system is structured in tiers & levels. Each level you’ll need to play more and more battles to master heroes and each tier requires heroes with more stars.

The amount of mastered heroes needed to complete a level varies from a collection to another (roughly based on the total amount of heroes who belong to this collection).

3.Receive rewards

When completing each level, the player can gain usual consumables (gold, xp, stamina, etc) and yet another currency, Mastery tokens, to spend in a purely cosmetic (and quite useless) shop for avatar pictures & borders.

The important reward though is the permanent stat boost gained for all heroes who belong to that collection. Symbolized with a black & green icon, these minor stat buffs end up stacking and make for an interesting upgrade to your heroes.

A permanent stat boost to gain for each level in the collection

Quests

Quests in the game are reset daily and have very small requirements, just enough to encourage the player to play a little bit of each mode and use a little bit each feature, in order to gain Team XP & small additional rewards.

What’s interesting to note here is yet another layer of additional progression & rewards: the amount of quests you complete within a week is tracked and you gain bonus rewards (stamina, consumables, hero chips, etc) for passing thresholds.

Contests

And finally, the last interesting game mode to have a look at are the Contests.

This mode is opened and renewed every week-end and while each one is different, they’re built on the same blueprint:

  • You gain points for doing various things, such as spending a currency, winning a type of battle, etc. The requirements change every contest.
  • Progress rewards are unlocked when you reach a point threshold. It’s often some of the most interesting rewards you can get in the game: full badges, many hero chips, a lot of a currency, etc.
  • Rank rewards are awarded at the end of the contest, based on how your end score compare to the rest of the participants (Top 1%, 5%, 10%, 25% & 50%, with additional rewards for players ranked 1–10) to keep an incentive beyond the last threshold.

Contest is the source of the best rewards you can get in the game, both qualitatively & quantitatively.

PART 2 TAKEAWAYS

  1. If the main game mode gives the player full autonomy on how to approach it, there is no problem adding a lot of modes each with some sorts of restrictions: it will push for a greater variety actually.
  2. A different reward for each mode is as important as different requirements to create variety: you can have either a lot of something or introduce specific currencies. Just avoid to hard lock something behind a precise activity permanently, rotate rewards!
  3. Activities themselves need to evolve to stay fresh, and not only the challenge/rewards parameter: you can also vary the method to make them progress.
  4. Creating a game within the game is a great way to give even more to play to those who want to. You can create fun progression loops and still keep the overall progress in the rest of the game somewhat minor.
  5. To introduce and refresh a lot of content frequently, you need to figure out some recipes to do so efficiently. The repetitiveness won’t matter that much and you can’t afford to reinvent the wheel every time anyway.

You can now find all my articles on Substack, I send a new game design analysis every other week.

--

--

Jean-Baptiste Oger

Game Director. I write mainly about the design of video & board games. Aspiring to better understand the world around & human psychology.