03 September 2014

Improving the end-game of social strategy games

Improving the end-game of social strategy games

I removed Clash of Clans (CoC) from my iPad on August 20, 2014. The game had just reached two years old, and I had been playing it since February 2013. I played very actively (2-3 hours per day on average) until December 2013, then considerably slowed down (1 hour per week).

No new content

I think I slowed down, and eventually stopped playing mostly because no significantly new content was introduced. New content mattered a lot to me because I had reached Town Hall 10, the very end of the game, for many months. So far, the game has received four updates in 2014.

Month Description
January Introduced Hero abilities, which are not really a new gameplay feature, but rather a design fix to encourage players to use and upgrade their heroes. Great, and perhaps even necessary, but no impact on battle strategy or base design.
April Introduced Clan Wars, a feature asked by players since the game came out. My clan was very excited, but we stopped Clan Wars after a couple weeks. We realized that the match-making algorithm alternated pairing our clan against once a much stronger clan, once a moderately weaker clan. Clan Wars require a lot of time and in-game resources, so we kept asking for enemy clans, but only attacked when we were sure to win. After a few weeks, we realized the Clan Wars rewards were not worth the frustration, so we stopped match-making.
May Mostly usability tweaks.
July Improved Hero abilities. Once again, this was more a design fix to encourage the use and upgrading of Heroes than a new feature.

Moreover, in these four updates, the Hog Rider received three nerfs, but my base still got trampled by mass-hog armies. (Yes, anti-hog base designs exist, but these designs are very vulnerable to air attacks). The Valkyrie was buffed twice, but it still was not enough to make her useful for her cost. To sum up the last 8 months, no new mechanic, be it a unit or a tower, was introduced, and I did not find the balance tweaks adequate.

Lessons for social strategy games

Troop synergies

The game was released with 10 basic units that make sense when used together. For example, the Giants are slow and target defenses so that the Healer can follow them without being hit. These synergies are expected: the team had time to iterate and polish before launch. But introducing new troops after launch is tricky: the new troops must 1) have an interesting gameplay element, 2) complement existing troops, and 3) keep existing troops useful.

The Minion is a perfect example: it is cheap and flying. This makes it a great complement for farming with Barbarians and Archers (called the BAM strategy). It is also great for high-level PvP when paired with Balloons (Balloonion strategy). And since it costs dark elixir and has low HP, it can't be used by itself.

The pricey Golem is another great example: it synergizes well with Wizards and Pekkas (GoWiWi strategy), which are necessary troops in high-level PvP. The Golem's production stats are perfect: 45 minutes to make, and a cost of 2.5 hours-worth of dark elixir, which is the same as Pekka. The Golem was clearly designed to be trained in parallel of Pekka. Plus Supercell must have made a lot of money from players gemming it!

On the other hand, the moderately expensive wall-jumping Hog Rider does not complement any other troop. Neither does the Valkyrie. Interesting ideas, but no synergy! Supercell keeps trying to fix them, so they may have realized that. Or maybe Supercell abandoned them completely, and has been working on more troops, such as the Spider, Centaur, or Yeti, which have not been released yet, but were leaked in July 2014.

More things to do in the end game

As the Town Hall levels go by, so does the average duration of building upgrades. For example, upgrades take 3-10 hours at TH3, 1-3 days at TH6, and 7-14 days at TH10. By TH10, the player should have 5 Builders, so the average time between two building upgrades is still 2-3 days. During these 2-3 days, players come back to the game only because their troops are ready for battle, not because they have something to do with their base. But by TH10, players have spent months being progressively conditioned to come back for their troops and not their base. So they still come back, but more and more reluctantly, since the rewards are less and less frequent. At some point, they unlearn the habit of coming back to play: what's the point when nothing seems to be happening? They eventually stop playing.

Possible solutions involve shortening upgrade times or providing more builders, but both may seem like Supercell would lose money. The game should at least give players things to do with their buildings (beyond collecting resources twice a day). The Bomb very short upgrade times have been a step in that direction. A crafting system like in Monster Legacy, or Angry Birds Epic, but applied to strengthening buildings, or increasing towers' rate of fire, may increase the game's lifespan even more.

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