Castle Clash VS game of War
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As aspiring mobile developers are looking at the app stores for inspiration, there is no way any of them missed the Finish miracle Supercell. The company has dominated the strategy tycoon top grossing charts for over two years with two quite similar and yet profoundly different strategy tycoon titles: Clash of Clans (soft-launched in June 2012) and Boom Beach (soft-launched in November 2013). In this series, I will juxtapose the two games and attempt to reverse engineer the reasoning and thought process that led Supercell to implement changes in their second endeavor on the strategy tycoon front - Boom Beach.
Following the HHH framework outlined in my recently published book - Freemium Mobile Games: Design & Monetization, I will first compare the designs of the hook, habit and hobby phases of both games and only then examine what the new mechanics and game design elements actually mean for the user experience and the game's retention and monetization. In an attempt to keep even the casual readers involved, I will split this rather detailed investigation into four parts. The first three will examine each game phase separately, detail all the changes and Supercell's rationale for implementing them. Then in the last summarizing part I will criticize Clash of Clans' mistakes, discuss how some of those mistakes were partially repaired in Boom Beach and exhibit the most brilliant and unfathomably dull designs in both titles.
Building on all their Clash of Clans user behavior data, the backbone of the first time flow of Boom Beach tightly follows the Clash of Clans first time flow: getting attacked, building a base, building an army and attacking in return to conclude the tutorial, but the devil lies in the details and there are several seemingly minor differences that make Boom Beach's first time flow better polished, an effect which is unfortunately countered by Supercell's flawed decision to remove a crucial for the hook phase element - the high conversion item. Let us start at the very beginning…
The entry point has been changed from green goblins that attack you in Clash of Clans to a name-yourself window in Boom Beach. This is important because the ritual of naming a virtual city or character inevitably gets players emotionally invested into a game even if they have not played that game yet, as in the case of Boom Beach. Keeping the very same backbone of actions and the name-yourself window as a part of the initial flow tells us that the trick of naming the virtual character / base for emotional attachment definitely worked for Supercell and they have kept it in order to improve the game's early churn, retention and monetization. Switching the name-yourself action from much later in the first time flow (second half of the Clash of Clans' tutorial), towards the very first action (as done in Boom Beach) tells us that they too have observed, similarly to my own experience, increased churn at that action. In discussions with colleagues that deal with very different game genres and very different audiences, this seems to be a common sighting experienced by all titles that include the naming process as a part of the tutorial. Although I have heard many theories regarding the spike in churn when players are faced with the name-yourself window, the most likely cause is that bringing the keyboard on screen breaks the game flow and forces users out of the virtual domain the game had enveloped them in, essentially providing them with a clear-cut exit point. Couple this with the fact that naming your virtual self in a game requires mental effort to recall a suitable name and a physical effort to type it and the user behavior bottleneck at that point becomes much clearer. The solution chosen by the Boom Beach team is as simple and as effective as they come. By switching the naming process to the very beginning of the first time flow, Supercell simultaneously attaches players emotionally to the game and minimizes the probability of their exit as at that point they do have the cognitive capacity and curiosity to complete the task. A brilliant move, especially for a company that has already made a name for itself and the process of typing a name will not stop players from testing the third big title it releases.
There is a big difference in terms of tutorial length between the two games. While the Boom Beach tutorial is usually finished in less than 2 minutes, the Clash of Clans tutorial lasts for more than 6 minutes. This shift in tutorial length can mostly be explained with the maturation of the audience between the release of the two titles and one should really appreciate the adaptive capabilities of Supercell. While at the launch of Clans of Clans some of the game's mechanics constituted a novelty for the mobile market, at the end of 2013 when Boom Beach first launched the mobile gaming market was much more developed and the audience was a lot more sophisticated. Back in mid-2012 the casual audience was considered the main revenue stream for any title, but later on Game of War and Clash of Clans itself showed that making big money from mid-core players is a sustainable business venture. This new perspective (and probably unsatisfactory results from the lengthy Clash of Clans' tutorial as of late) inspired a major shift in Supercell's appropriate introduction to the mid-core players and brought about a solid decrease in tutorial length achieved via three key changes in Boom Beach.
1) Tycoon is almost non-present in Boom Beach's tutorial. While in Clash of Clans, half of the tutorial deals with building resource generators, resource storages and barracks, in Boom Beach more time is devoted to the story (which surprisingly for a freemium game, somewhat makes sense) than to its tycoon. Most of the player's buildings present at the end of the tutorial are pre-built at start and there is no mention of any resource buildings at all. Talking about collectors and storages is not only unnecessary for newcomers, as the vast majority of players today have a perfect understanding of all the elements that constitute an economy, but it is also harmful to the game as the more sophisticated audience today might perceive a hand-in-pocket attitude as early as the first time flow and this will inevitably cause a churn spike right then and there.