Clash of Clans (CoC) has been the leading videogame for mobile platforms for the last five years. For long time it was gamed by people of all origins and age and, for nothing else, made huge amounts of money.
Despite the growing number of people who stop gaming it (just see the number of your Facebook contacts who have little or no activity in the game), still maintains a core of gamers that is completely loyal and that invests several minutes a day in wars or in stealing resources. Minutes and money, certainly.
For the hard core of CoC fans the game is so addictive that they have up to two, three, four or more villages. And they spend time in developing them all at par.
In addition to having developed a very active and highly addicted community, Clash of Clans has penetrated popular culture as few video games for mobile devices have done before. In November 2015 the Midnight Game Music Concert was held in Helsinski, Finland. On that occasion, symphony orchestras and music bands performed live the soundtrack of several of the best known video games in history, such as Mario Bros or Angry Birds. But it was the music of Clash of Clans that get the top compliments, especially after the well known quartet Apocallyptica played its main theme. Also, some of its advertising pieces have been exhibited at prime time of the main mass events in the world, such as the Superbowl.
Almost as a rule, each new mobile strategy game that appears “has been inspired” in some element or concept introduced by Clash of Clans, from the logic of the game to the business model, through the advertising strategy and the characters. The goal is clear: snatch a piece of the market.
However, they can not even get close to the first place that Clash of Clans scores since it was released. Indeed, according to Uptodown ranking of the most downloaded mobile games in 2016, Clash of Clans still ranks first in the category of strategy games.
What is the reason for the success that was so resounding and so widespread of the king of real-time strategy games? Here we analyze its main hits. And also its miscues.
Clash of Clans is a hybrid real-time strategy and village building game developed by Supercell, a mobile video game company based in Helsinski, Finland.
It was released on August 2, 2012 for the iOS platform and on September 20, 2013 for Android platform. You can download it for free at the Apple App Store (for iPhone / iPad) or Google Play (for Android devices).
The game is about building and developing a village. To build buildings, defense weapons and walls will require resources. The same as to improve those already built.
The resources can be of three types, each of which has different goals: gold, elixir and dark elixir. You can obtain them from three sources: producing them in the village itself, robbing them from other gamers or gaining them as loot in wars against other clans. In the first case, mines and extractors must be built and then upgraded. In the other two cases it is necessary to unlock troops and spells, and, of course, to improve them.
There is also the alternative of using gems to buy resources, to accelerate their production or to pay to finish the improvements before normal time. This may hinder the growth and improvement of the village.
The game gives the opportunity to collect gems through different mechanisms. The first is cleaning the village of plants or gems boxes that appear with a more or less established regularity. The second one, which was implemented with the last major update of October 2016, is succeeding in different challenges that the game itself proposes.
But gems can be bought. And here lies the CoC’s strategy of monetization: anyone who loses his/her patience and wants to quickly improve their village, can invest money. And we know of gamers who, like Pat Chief, have spent up to $ 18,000 in gems.
You must be part of a clan in order to participate in wars. Clans are organized by ranks (leader, co-leader, elder and member) and have a chat to talk and coordinate attacks and donations of troops.
2. Clash of Clans as a model of simplicity
There are several reasons for the success of this game. But probably the main one is simplicity. While most real-time strategy games introduce and develop a large number of game variables, Clash of Clans tries to stay simple all the time. The logic of the game is the same in all cases since “Civilization” times: attack and defend, and to improve attacks and defenses it is necessary to generate and/or steal resources. However, only in Clash of Clans this logic of gameplay remains simple:
– only three types of resources are exploited and/or stolen: gold, elixir and dark elixir;
– to attack, you only need two things: troops and spells;
– only two types of troops are trained, those of normal elixir and those of dark elixir;
– buildings and defenses are improved with a single resource: in some cases gold, in other normal elixir and other dark elixir, but never two or three resources together;
– troops and spells are improved only in one installation: the laboratory;
– apart from upgrading troops and buildings, the game consists of two things: participating in clan wars and stealing resources.
In contrast, games that try to dethrone Clash of Clans present an evident greater complexity. As an example, take the case of another game on the market (whose name, for the moment, will be kept in reserve). These are their equivalent features:
– the resources that are exploited are stones, metals, agricultural foods, animal foods and wood;
– the attacks are made with three types of troops: infantry, cavalry and artillery; you can also make air raids;
– each of these troops is trained in different buildings;
– to improve buildings and defenses it is necessary to have stones, gold, food and wood together
– the troops are improved in laboratories, but the machines are repaired in workshops and the cavalry is serviced in blacksmiths;
– the game is played fulfilling different missions, each one different from the other…
In addition to that, this competitor adds game elements that are not present in CoC: nursing, commerce, air expeditions, alliances and diplomacy…
Clash of Clans, with its simplicity, has generated an entertaining easy to understand, high gameplay and allows gamers to concentrate on the game itself: studying and testing attacks or experimenting with village designs for a better defend. It has a learning curve of high achievements in short periods of time.
3. Graphic tidiness
Supercell games are recognized for their graphic quality, even by those who criticize them for their monetization model. And this is definitely the second factor that explains the success of Clash of Clans: his worked aesthetics and constant improvement in graphics.
In general terms, the game graphics emulate the playful aesthetics of comics, with a little naive touch. Their characters of fantasy, although they present human traits, are look like personages of comic strips. The same as the buildings and other components of the village.
But CoC emulates the cartoon’s graphic style while keeping its fundamental philosophy: simplicity. And it adds a very important new element: elegance. Simplicity mixed with elegance can be seen in virtually every detail of the game’s graphical interface.
The village is built on a checkerboard with a background of urban vegetation. The buildings and the defenses, also of a very careful design, make a striking contrast with the greenish background. And each has a particular aesthetic, which make the whole not only look colorful and striking but also harmonious.
Clash of Clans definitely enters through the eyes. And far from the times of pong, this is a fundamental requisite for a videogame today.
Another important singularity that differentiates Clash of Clans from other games and that surely brings to its resounding success is the possibility of customization. While in most strategy games buildings can be arranged in fixed locations and walls simply improve, without moving or accommodating, in CoC villages can be designed to pleasure. This not only allows you to put the personal stamp in each village, but also to try different designs to define which one is the one that best defends. And that takes gamers to experiment, study, spend long periods of time thinking about how best to organize the village, or simply copying other designs.
But customization is also important in attacks. In most of the strategy games for mobile devices the attacks of the troops are done automatically. The most that can define each gamer is the composition of the troop: how many elements of cavalry, how many of infantry, how many of artillery. But in the very process of making the attack, the gamer practically does not participate.
In Clash of Clans, on the other hand, the fundamental thing of the game is how the gamer executes the attack. What comes out in this attack depends not only on the composition of the armies but mainly on the skill of each gamer in deploying them to achieve their goal, be it stealing resources, increase trophies, or win stars in wars.
The most part of the game then consists of testing different attacks and learning the behavior of each troop to deploy it better. And the CoC gamer community give flashy and quirky names to every type of attack (lavalloon, gowiwi, gowipe, queen walking, mega, govahog), eloquent evidence of the development of a subculture around the game.
That each gamer is responsible for executing their attacks is definitely a plus that the other strategy games lack.
5. Fantasy and creativity
During its almost five years of existence, CoC has evolved significantly. And every step that has taken in that evolutionary direction has meant an important expansion of the game. Expansion in game elements, expansion of buildings and defenses, and expansion of troops.
Game updates are always highly anticipated and commented by their gamers because they bring eye-popping innovations. The most important are the troops, which not only bring force in the attacks but also are presented as characters, with their own personality.
Supercell usually accompanies the presentation of his characters with audiovisual campaigns that its gamers follow and comment profusely. As an example, we invite you to watch the video of the campaign “You and this army”.
In summary, in the professional team of Clash of Clans have as much protagonism the scriptwriters as the developers and designers. The family of characters in the game not only grows frequently but with a lot of inventiveness. And the expectation of new troops (and their respective characters) captures the attention of the gamers, who, before the announcement of each new update, speculates on the possible novelties and dynamizes with it the conversation around the game.
In recent years, Supercell has exploited this vein of fantasy and wit by creating a kind of sit-com with leading Clash of Clans and Clash Royale carachters. It is called “Clash-a-rama” and can be followed On the youtube channel of the Finnish company.
6. Awareness on gamers community
Another of Supercell’s great hits is the constant attention to feedback from his gamers. Many updates that affect CoC are a response to the opinions and complaints of “clashers” community. It’s highly probably that the gaming forum , which is very active, is constantly monitored by the Finnish company to keep abreast of opinion trends about the game. And as a result, the evolution of the game also follows the core feelings of fans and gamers. In part, loyalty has probably also been gained thanks to constantly paying attention to their opinion.
7. Taking advantage of social instincts
The idea of introducing clans, first, and “clan wars,” later, has made Clash of Clans a highly social game. Most of the games are still played in isolation. Even on-line competitions do not involve collaborative gaming. Clan wars, on the other hand, demand constant interaction and coordination of gamers, who in this way develop social bonds that end up transcending the game itself. In a sense, CoC has become a vehicle for socialization.
Clash of Clans would not have grown the way it did if it had not been from its beginnings a completely multilingual game. At present it is possible to game it in up to 18 languages. The editorial team of Love4Gaming has checked the game in six of them (English, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and German) and the translations are very correct in every case.
In this CoC also contrasts with many other strategy games that today want to snatch part of the market. Some of them, when they are just released, can be gamed only in English, and after a while (sometimes a big while) they are translated into other languages. And in a few cases the translations are deficient, probably made through automatic translation software.
In the middle of 2017, it is not possible to become a global-hit-videogame without pretending to be universal, without speaking all the major languages of the world, without being multilingual.
9. Prudence in promoting monetization
Finally, a delicate and important issue that Supercell has managed wisely in all its games is the promotion of its income generation tools. Most of the games that, like CoC, use the pay-to-win model, as a rule abuses of strategies very similar to nagware: constant invasion of the game screen with ads for gems, coins or whatever they sells to generate income.
Clash of Clans, on the contrary, until the October 2016 last major update, practically did not promote the sale of gems, which is how it is monetized, in the graphical interface of the game. If someone wanted to buy, he or she should look for how. After that update appeared a new shortcut (lower right side) called “Store” and leads to the offers of the game. Each time a new offer appears, the top of the shortcut is painted red.
We’re not talking about something not noticed, but it’s definitely nothing like the invasive bombing of the other games. Definitively the promotion that existed before (none) was better for the gamer than the current one, but Supercell has been careful to keep it subtle and little or nothing invasive.
10. Things to improve
CoC is a superlative and addictive game. That’s why Love4Gaming considers it the king of strategy games. But, of course, that does not mean it’s a perfect game. It can improve more than a few details, some of them not minor. Here the main ones:
10.1. Sounds and sound effects
The Clash of Clans soundtrack is a little gem. It stands out to such a level for its symphonic arrangements that, as we told you at the beginning of this review, was the protagonist in The Midnight Game Music Concert in November 2015. You can watch the interpretation of the game’s main theme by the Tapiola Sinfonietta in the following video.
In radical contrast to the high quality of its soundtrack, the sound effects are very poor. Each character, when attacking, has its own sound; also every resource generator (mines and elixir extractors). Therefore, when an attack is carried out with large numbers of troops or when resources are collected quickly, the sound effects run over each other and come out combined and saturated. The result is far from pleasant to the ear. It is annoying because it completely lacks of order and harmony.
To make matters worse, the game clearly uses an audio compression codec that generates low-quality sounds. It is true that in the perceived quality of sound plays an important role the audio card of each device. But the general rule is that the game’s sound effects are listened distorted and with poor quality on most phones and tablets in which the editorial team of Love4Gaming has tried the game.
The quality of sound and sound effects are so poor that no one on the Love4Gaming team knows of gamers who have them activated. And not many people have the music activated either, because most of them -we have asked- consider that after a couple of weeks playing the soundtrack gets gamers bored.
10.2. Monetization strategy
As mentioned, Supercell has been very prudent by not using highly invasive strategies to promote the sale of gems. Since the most veteran member of Love4Gaming plays Clash of Clans (December 2014), he has never seen an ad selling gems above the game interface. It was mentioned that with the October 2016 update the game included a shortcut that leads to offers to buy, but it is a very subtle button. In terms of interaction with the game’s graphical interface, therefore, the CoC monetization strategy approves.
But not all is so simple. Supercell has decided to monetize all its games using a different trick: to exploit the impatience of gamers. Everything in CoC takes time: building and improving buildings or troops, producing resources, training troops, recovering heroes. And everything can be accelerated with gems.
This trick has always generated many complaints in the community of gamers. Before the October 2016 update, training a competitive army for war took no less than 90 minutes if, for example, it was composed of 10 dragons.
The irruption of Clash Royale, a more immediate game, which does not require time to begin a battle after another, clearly diminished the number of active CoC gamers, situation that affected their ability to generate incomes. Supercell let see this when it chose not to take advantage of gamers impatience and reduced the training time of a competitive army to approximately 25 or 30 minutes. Of course, all the gamers rejoiced and intensified their regularity of game. But it also became clear that the Finish company was exploiting their deepest desires and impulses.
In the long run, Supercell’s strategy, which is not graphically invasive but psychologically manipulative, has ended up yielding to pressures for shortening waiting times. It is not sustainable over time because, with a serious competition, it encourages gamers to look for other game alternatives. For the moment they have opted for Clash Royale and, therefore, the house still wins. But if a competitive game of another company were to appear, the Finnish company would have to say good-bye to its golden egg hen. In short, it must still meet the challenge of finding a better balance between its need to generate income and its gamers’ satisfaction.
Beyond the important things that can improve, it is undeniable that Clash of Clans is a mature, proven, robust and very difficult to displace game. The constant improvement of the gameplay, the graphics, all the elements of the game shows a remarkable commitment on the part of the team behind its development. And in that fact probably lies its – still – leadership in the competitive genre of strategy games. Probably also helped the marketing and the large sums of money that Supercell invests in promoting and advertising CoC. But in the core, it has earned its leadership with its own merits.
The level of addiction of its most loyal supporters and adherents, which, even after five years of its launch, add up to a considerable number, is comparable to several of the most classic videogames, those that have marked a milestone in the history of this industry such as Zelda, Mario Bros, Resident Evil or Halo. As a result, Clash of Clans can not only be considered the leading strategy game on mobile platforms of the last decade, but also as a classic game already…