In this guest post, Michail Katkoff combines his game analytics wisdom with the hands-on experience of Timur Haussila, Product Lead at Supercell, to tell you the story of the studio’s game Hay Day, from the very first idea to launch. Read on to see the results of this uncanny balet of ideas.
Can Supercell do it again? Boom Beach analyzed
I too see a pattern here (pun intended). This post is hugely inspired by my good friend Michail’s epic post on Clash of Clans winning formula and I have chosen a similar structure as Boom Beach is very comparable to Clash of Clans. A first for me, so expect some rough edges in the post.
I will however reveal that I do not believe that Supercell will pull it off again.
Two days ago I came across a blogpost mentioning the most successful publishers on iOS, naming Supercell of Finland the no. 1 in revenue with only 3 titles. 3? Yes, in the dark of night, Supercell had soft-launched their new title Boom Beach in Canada. The strategy of Supercell has become leading star on how to successfully launch free to play games and make a ton of money, but no-one has been able to re-enact Supercell’s feat. For those who are not familiar with Supercell and their story, read this article on their recent $1.5B investment by GungHo.
Disclaimer: As it is “soft-launched”, some of the findings and conclusions may prove slightly off when the game is launched globally after hefty polishing. Adding to that, I’ve only been playing the game for 2 days – enough to make some preliminary findings, but not enough to make any final calls.
I will make an additional post when I reach the 30-day mark with Boom Beach. I suspect they will try to keep me playing.
If you don’t have access to the Canadian App Store, you can watch a video with the game here .
Supercell’s recipe for success
It boils down to a very strict process of replicating a successful social game theme, in this case conveniently grabbing the best of their current successes, Clash of Clans & Hay Day, and perhaps a few other titles – I haven’t yet been able to find out which. Then they look at what works in the marketplace, again Supercell looks in the mirror, and they mix the best into a core loop that engages and retains players. Supercell is known to kill projects if they do not, within Supercell, get high appraisal and good retention. By combining the loop with nifty spins on mechanics and great graphics, Supercell deems the project ready for the next phase.
Then follows a soft-launch, in this case in Canada, where they test and polish the hell out of the game to make it ready for a global launch. Currently the game is #13 on top grossing in Canada – a place in the ranks ahead of Minecraft, Pet Rescue and Kingdoms of Camelot and behind blockbusters like Candy Crush Saga and the two Supercell games, Clash of Clans and Hay Day. Admittedly, I don’t know the “potential criteria” that Supercell has, but #13 is not bad in such a field of competitors. However, I do believe that a new game has to perform better or at least tie with their current titles.
The Core Loop
In Boom Beach, resource collection(“farming”) is a vital part of the game with 4(5) soft currencies – 2 are introduced immediately; Gold & Wood – and 2 more are introduced at a later point; Stone & Iron. Furthermore, a 5th element is earned when winning battles; Crystal. As far as I have gathered these green crystals cannot be purchased.
Similar to CoC, the player builds production buildings and storage – both can and have to be upgraded almost synchronously as increased production demands increased storage. The “farming” mechanics are automated, but the player has to visit the game not to “stall” production as it only fills up storage – overproduction will be lost.
A new thing is also that conquered bases will produce a small amount of gold and later wood for you as a thank you for saving their people. These bases will be lost over time, if you fail to visit the game often.
One thing that I like is the gradual introduction of resources, instead of overloading the player with things to remember and do.
Building, Training & Upgrading
Again, very much like CoC, the soft currencies are used in an endless loop of building structures, upgrading them, buying units, upgrading units and then having to restart the upgrade loop to get to the next upgrade “tier”. Furthermore, as one enters a new tier, all prices are also higher – somewhere between 5x and 10x. But contrary to CoC, the player now has to manage 4 different production lines of resources and, as a result, upgrade production and storage across to be able to upgrade again. And again. Interdependent as hell.
As with CoC, the number of ongoing building/upgrade projects is limited to 2. The ability to buy more builders, I’ve so far not been able to identify.
And herein lies one of the key trigger points of monetization: impatience. When you upgrade a structure or buy troops, it takes time. But conveniently, you are prompted with the ability to “instabuild” – spend a few or a lot of Gems and get it over with.
Gems are earned thru battles, random discovery on the map or “buy” with hard currency. I spent CAD 40. That’s how impatient I am.
One new party-trick in Boom Beach is the sculptor, allowing the player to build special statues that give boosts to your entire base in the form of higher production rates or increases in the health of all buildings.
Contrary to CoC, the player explores a world map instead of the combination of ladder-battles and the determined route of PvC battles. In Boom Beach, the player has a certain reach of his radar and can see PvC bases and at later stages also PvP bases, other players that you can engage.
Expanding how much you can see costs gold and expanding the reach of the radar also requires upgrades.
To me, this merge of PvC and PvP seem much more elegant and effective as it is one continuous flow between the to battle-types.
This is where I see some improvement from CoC. The player can scout bases and pays a price for attacking. When attacking, the player has a combination of the Gunboat that can fire shells and other nifty things and landing troops on the beach. The landing crafts hold a certain number of troops and can of course be upgraded, as can the Gunboat.
The bases are similar to your own with a mix of production, HQ and defensive structures.
Different strategies can be used to conquer the enemy depending on the players temperament.
A major change has been made to one of the most annoying things about CoC; troops are consumed. In Boom Beach they can die, but if they don’t you will have them for your next battle. If one or two dies, you can refill your unit making it ready for the next tour of duty. Another great improvement is the introduction of flares, fired from the Gunboat that allows the player to direct the units towards defensive structures instead of just the line of movement.
For the economy of the game, this must undoubtedly be less effective, but I would bet money on the retention improving due to this. My guess is that the decreased use of resources from battles is just included in the prices elsewhere in the game.
Again, very similar to CoC. Small base, introduced to the basics; resources, building, training, upgrading, defense and battles. To me, this flow is pretty much perfect in balance between creating enough attachment between the player to retain him and being advanced and intriguing enough while introducing features.
After the first time flow, the player continues the loop and will, as impatience over time grows, probably end up spending a few bucks on gems to speed up things.
Transformed, the players base will after hours of play have developed into a big Pearl Harbour size one.
Retention is, as described earlier, the holy grail of free-to-play and I’m fairly certain that Boom Beach is hitting good numbers here. The game seems very well balanced.
I am not sure what has been intended here – 2 days of play have not yet revealed any features of that nature. It could also be that it hasn’t been fully introduced in the soft-launch.
As a player you can either wait or spend Gems on speeding up completions of upgrades, structures or units. The more a player has invested in the game and in a game session, the higher the likelihood of spending some gems on getting the job done.
Gems are collected throughout the game, but you quickly feel you don’t have enough and then you are lured into buying more – at least I was. In the beginning the instabuilds feel reasonably priced, but as you progress it starts being really expensive.
Just as in CoC, Gems can be converted into Gold, Wood, Stone and Iron to fill up the gaps when trying to build stuff. And when you are doing that why not finish the job by spending a few more Gems.
Conclusion: Why it will or will not become a successor to the throne.
The game seems well made. The core loops are balanced and the way one is introduced to the depth(or lack thereof) is masterfully crafted. Players who have played any kind of “Clash of Clan”-looking games will instantly understand how to play it and perhaps find the small details, such as flares to move troops to another target or the faster pace when moving between game modes, very appealing.
However, if I had invested a ton of money in Clash of Clans, I would find it unlikely that I would do that again in a game that is so similar. Furthermore, it is very hard to see how the game has evolved from its roots. The graphics are maybe slightly better, but all in all it feels very much like a deja vu even though they’ve made some improvements all over the board.
I suspect I might be wrong. The fact of them making #13 in a soft-launch probably indicates that I’m wrong and, furthermore, since Clash of Clans came out there is probably another 100M+ new players that have never played CoC and they are likely targets of Supercell’s massive marketing and user acquisition machine that will run as soon as the game launches.
To me this is a quite elegant way of using a successful recipe and just adding a few new ingredients. Is it enough? I actually doubt it. I have a feeling that we’ve seen “Peak F2P” at least for this kind of games. I think people want something more interesting that just a repackaged sequel and Supercell will have a hard time making another Top1 game.
- Looks very much like Clash of Clans in a “modern day” environment
- Predictable loop – no surprises or real news
- Endless upgrade of upgrade to upgrade loops
- Lack of units
- The WW2/war theme of the game might have a broader appeal
- Looks very much like Clash of Clans, which means, a lot of players will understand
- Supercell cannot afford to screw up a launch, so they will be polishing until it shines
About the author
CPO & founder of GameAnalytics - former pro-gamer.