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Predictions on Supercell's new Clash Games

by Javier Barnes on 04/19/21 06:45:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Earlier this month, Supercell announced 3 new games based on the Clash Franchise, which included the debut titles of their Shanghai Studio. And while fans like me were able to process what that meant, they already softlaunched one of them (Clash Quest).

Currently, I am working on a new big article (to be released soon) in which I’ll analyze in-depth everything we have seen so far about Clash Mini.
This will be the promised second part of the one where we analyzed the status and challenges of the Auto Chess as a genre.

But before that, I wanted to indulge providing my POV about the projects that were announced, as well as my conclusions after having played Clash Quest for a bunch of hours.
I will not be talking about the financial situation at Supercell or what this means for their company strategy, but rather analyze in a soft way the games themselves based on what has been revealed, and if I personally believe they can become hits.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, here’s the video. We recommend you to watch it before reading this. On it they present Clash Quest (Puzzle RPG)Clash Mini (Autochess) and Clash Heroes (Action RPG). The last two games will be the debut of Supercell’s new Shanghai studio.

If you’re interested in more details about these three games, I suggest you check their website and this newsletter by DoF, which provides great insights about what’s going on inside Supercell.
I also suggest you check this amazing post from early 2019 by Nan Duan (Game Lead at Supercell & exRiot Games), which I felt is quite revealing about Supercell’s strategy regarding China.

As always, keep in mind that I have no affiliation to Supercell. This article just represents my personal opinion, which may be misguided because I only have the info that has been released publicly, and – as a human being – I’m biased and prone to errors.
I have nothing but the deepest admiration for SC and their products.

WHAT DO I THINK ABOUT THE 3 NEW CLASH GAMES?

Clash Quest (Puzzle RPG)

Clash Quest is a Puzzle RPG that strongly resembles Legend of Solgard. You can check it out by yourself too. It’s currently being softlaunched in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.
I’ve just played it for a couple of hours, but this is what I’ve seen so far:

Contrary to Legend of Solgard or Might & Magic: Clash Heroes (the Nintendo DS game which popularized this type of Puzzle RPG mechanics), the player doesn’t move pieces to arrange combinations, but rather taps on them like in a blast game.

The tapped unit, as well as any adjacent one of the same kind, will then attack one after another. Each unit has a different behavior and even preference when attacking: For example, Archers avoid obstacles and shoot to the nearest enemy in the board, Princes attack on a straight line and damage the first thing they hit…).

There’s a damage bonus based on how many units were blasted, so the player has to carefully plan the blasts to create combinations to max out the damage output.

But blasts can’t be wasted, because the empty spaces are filled with units from a reinforcements storage, which gets increased as the player progresses in the game.
If those reinforcements are depleted, and there are no more friendly units on the board, the player loses the level.

Additionally, there are also useful spells, which have limited uses per level and can be casted during the match. They include things like an area damage bomb or a spell that allows to swap units.

Completing levels makes the player progress in a saga-like map, unlocking new troops & spells, amount of troops on the storage and grants resources for upgrading them.

CAN IT BECOME A HIT?

Overall, I am skeptical about the chances of Clash Quest.
Don’t get me wrong, the game is fun to play (I loved Legend of Solgard, and I’m enjoying this one too), but I feel it has the same problem as Solgard:
It’s game too hardcore for casual puzzle players (Candy CrushHomescapes…), but too casual for hardcore puzzle players (LegendaryEmpires&Puzzles…).

When it was announced, I expected something more in the direction of Might & Magic Clash of Heroes: a much more complex approach that would add more tactical depth than Legend of Solgard, and potentially even include a PVP competitive element.

But it seems kind of the other way around: Because of the lack of unit swapping, Clash Quest seems to have less depth than those games.

So far it’s entertaining to me and there is a degree of mastery (unit reinforcements management, blast strategy to control the board, orthogonal differences in the behavior of the troops…), but the system seems fairly limited on its pieces and with few mechanics that can generate emergent gameplay, so I’m concerned it will have the depth to keep me hooked for a long time.

Another of the problems is the lack of monetization: The game has no retries or boosters, and the player can only pay for progress acceleration (which helps unlocking & upgrading units).
While avoiding pay-to-win makes a lot of sense for competitive, multiplayer games, I’m unsure it’s the way to go for single player games, especially in the puzzle genre.
(Lack of monetization may be because it’s a soft launch, though).

Hopefully I’m wrong and this becomes a hit. And to be fair, perhaps as I unlock more troops and spells I’ll change my current impression.

But so far, I think this has many numbers to end up like other cancelled puzzle Supercell games like Smash Land or Spooky Pop (whose design approach is surprisingly similar): Really fun and well done games but which ultimately failed to find a suitable market spot.

RIP Smash Land, RIP Spooky Pop: Both fun puzzle-like games with saga maps but which ultimately didn’t live up to the standards and were canned by Supercell. Alas, quality is worth killing for.

In my humble opinion, in order to become really successful in the puzzle genre, Supercell should consider:

  • Target either puzzle casual audience or hardcore puzzle audience.
    Casual audience (Homescapes, Candy Crush…) requires approachable mechanics, contained complexity, themes and narrative appealing for older, non-gamer profiles…
    Hardcore casual audience (more tactical depth, competitiveness, deeper upgrading systems, emergent gameplay…).
  • Integrate a meaningful metagame, not focus exclusively on the gameplay.
    For example, puzzle games oriented to hardcore audiences integrate multiple upgrade systems, RPG mechanics, 4X mechanics, etc.
    And when it comes to puzzle games oriented to casual audiences, the current trend is having a meta layer based on decoration and/or narrative…
  • Reinforce monetization through the monetization practices that are standard on the puzzle genre (retries, boosters…), instead of applying the no-pay-to-win monetization model of a competitive game.
    Unless the plan is to add PVP, in which case it should be on the softlaunch…
  • Acquire a company with expertise on puzzle games (like Scopely did with Genjoy), instead of building that knowledge from scratch.

Clash Heroes (ACTION RPG)

Clash Heroes is an Action RPG / Marvel Strike type of game which (based on the videos) could be described as Brawl Stars meets Diablo. Check it out:

Out of all the games that were announced, this is clearly the most ambitious and the one that defies the most SC’s famous cell structure (small, highly autonomous teams, games that use elegant minimalistic design, but which generates a lot of depth to keep players hooked despite not having wide amounts of different content…)

Creating an Action RPG requires a different beast:
These are games carried out by big teams, and which require high volumes of content (many levels & quests, a range types of enemies with different behaviors, characters with multiple skills and styles of play, equippable items to collect and upgrade…).

Considering that this game is being developed at SC’s Shanghai studio, we can take for granted that they will deeply redefine their production model, involving a bigger team and a higher degree of outsourcing.

Ultimately, Clash Heroes is the most ambitious of all the new games announced, and the one that can bring Supercell to a whole new level in terms of the scale of the gaming experiences that they deliver.

It also represents a great opportunity for SC to develop the Clash IP by adding lore, actual storylines, characters with names and relationships, and proper worldbuilding.
This is something that the company hasn’t explored yet (possibly because the games they had didn’t require it), but which is almost unavoidable on this type of product.

CAN IT BECOME A HIT?

All things considered, I believe Clash Heroes may be the one of the three with the most chances to become a hit.
This is because it’s not that far away from their main area of expertise in terms of gameplay, and it so far seems compatible with their established audiences:

Based on what I’ve seen around, Clash Heroes seems the one that has excited most fans so far.

But its success is far from guaranteed.
On top of the production challenges, an Action RPG requires a degree of complexity in the meta that Supercell hasn’t shown on any of their previous games (several RPG systems, and potentially with layers of MMO).

And Clash Heroes will face a fierce competition, as it enters a market space with well established games like Genshin Impact, and upcoming challengers like Diablo Immortal.

Clash Mini (Autochess)

As we already explained in our previous article about this genre, all major autochess games (Autochess OriginsTFTDOTA Underlords…), although having specific characteristics on their design, are quite similar between them.
This means that they share several flaws and missed opportunities, among them the fact that they were not very well adapted to mobile (very long matches, complex UX…).

What’s interesting is that Clash Mini seems to have chosen a very different approach to the rest, clearly attempting to bring the genre to a wider audience by removing entry barriersmaking more streamlined or removing some of the most complex mechanics and making it a mobile-first game.
It remains to be seen if this is achievable without losing any of the original sauce.

From what we have seen so far, Clash Mini seems to way more accessible and straightforward than its competitors. This can roll both ways: It can remove entry barriers and attract new audiences, but it can also be unable to keep the audience hooked if it means they’re sacrificing game depth to achieve it.

CAN IT BECOME A HIT?

It is a bit hard for me to judge on this one, because as a fan of the genre I’m hyped and therefore biased.

Although I do strongly believe in the core oppornity, I have concerns over what we’ve seen so far about the game. So ultimately I’m giving Clash Mini a 50% chance of success. It can go either way.
And even if the game is successful, I’m not entirely sure it’s a billion dollar genre.

But I see some legit points why Clash Mini could be a surprise:

  • None of the big titles in the genre have integrated standard F2P monetization mechanics rather going for a hardcore cosmetics only approach.
    Competitors also lack progression mechanics: All units are unlocked from the beginning, there is no upgrade system, no collection, players can’t show off what they’ve achieved…

    This means that perhaps none of them have really tapped on the true potential of Auto Chess as a properly monetized genre.
    At least based on the performance of their monthly pass in mobile, I assume that TFT has a pretty big paying user population. This hints at a high retention and monetization capacity for their core audience.

    If Clash Mini is smart about introducing things like unit inventory & unlock and even an upgrade system in a way that doesn’t make the game a pay-to-win and doesn’t disrupt the foundations of the Autochess genre, we may have a surprise with the KPIs of this title.

    I think that it is possible. For example: Unit inventory & unlock without losing the essential ‘making picks to remove combinations from opponents‘ strategy should be possible if the playable match’s unit set is made by the shared pool of the decks from all players.

    Summarizing, if Clash Mini is able to attract those players, keep them hooked and add more spending depth than TFT, it could bring a lot of revenue.
  • Most games in the genre are very similar and none is in their best moment, at least in mobile: Auto Chess: Origins is nowhere near the numbers of 2019, while DOTA Underlords haven’t been updated in more than 5 months.
    And although TFT’s revenue seems stable with every new season, the game gets just a tiny fraction of the downloads it got in the months after the launch…

    All those are indicators that the genre is ripe for disruption. A new and fresh proposal could both steal the current audience, attract disengaged fans, or bring new audiences.
Golden Zerus - Hearthstone Battlegrounds : hearthstone
Heartstone’s Battlegrounds mode was an adaptation of the genre to CCG, and instantly became a hit. Today it remains one of the most popular modes in the game. This is an example that the core of the genre works even when away from the already established formula.

To me, the key question here is if the specific approach that Clash Mini has chosen will work or not. Based on what we have seen so far, Clash Mini focus seems to be on:

  • Making it a mobile first game through shorter matches, easy-to-understand UI, etc…
  • Removing the huge entry barrier that the genre has by streamlining the most complex mechanics and creating units whose behavior is easily understood visually.
  • Integrating F2P monetization and progression mechanics that go beyond what their competitors have done, without going into the realm of pay2win invasive monetization.

All those are good ideas on their own.
My concern is that everything we’ve seen so far seems too casual:
Small board, few unit stats, few pick slots, no sinergies (although sinergies might be based on the actual fighting behavior of the units, which would be interesting and pretty much in line with other Supercell games)…

Clash Mini self declared motto is to be an autochess “that everyone can play”. That sounds bit scary, because Autochess is a very hardcore type of game that requires lots of thinking, plannification and strategic skills. That’s not what everyone wants to play.

Going too casual might create a game that is unable to provide to the core audience with enough gameplay depth to catch their interest or keep it for a long time.
While also being unable to attract a casual audience that may prefer lighter experiences (puzzle), or a young audience which prefers action based experiences.

Nevertheless, I give Clash Mini the benefit of the doubt: If Supercell games are known for something, is for being deceivingly simple and casual at a first glance, but having an incredible depth later on.

Rant’s over. This is my current POV on the announced games, but I’m more interested in what do you think? Do you agree? Is there something I’m not seeing?
Reach out and let me know! : )

Meanwhile, I keep on working on the promised second part of my autochess article: An deep analysis of everything we’ve seen about Clash Mini so far, and some ideas on how I think they should solve some of the challenges of the genre. See you soon!


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