Lion of the Blogosphere

Psychological review of Clash of Clans

Supercell, the Finnish company behind the iPad/iPhone game Clash of Clans, is the number one highest grossing iOS publisher, because of its one hit game, passing Electronic Arts and all other more established game companies.

Clash of Clans is one of the games highlighted in the recent Wired article about people who spend thousands of dollars on in-app game purchases:

It was a typical weekday night after work: Lee slipped off his shoes, climbed into bed with his iPad, and booted up Clash of Clans. The free-to-play strategy game, in which he went by the name “Metamorphaz,” had quickly become a favorite stress-reliever for him. After the game’s logo faded away, a sprawling virtual village popped into view.

… Then, he pulled up Clash of Clan‘s built-in, real-money shop. While the game is free to download, its maker Supercell profits by selling virtual items to the most engaged players. Tonight, Lee’s iPad questioned him with a blue pop-up window: “Do you want to buy one Chest of Gems for $99.99?”

Lee could use those gems to immediately fortify his army. He tapped “Yes,” almost without thinking. In less than a month of playing around two hours a day, he’d spent nearly a thousand dollars.

Game developers have a word for players like Lee: whales.

Yet not only is Clash of Clans free to download and play, there’s nothing in the game you can’t do for free. There are no levels to unlock or anything like that. The only thing you can buy with real money is the ability to speed things up a bit. Lee could have built up his army without the $99.99 purchase but he just didn’t want to wait hours for his army to build up. (Alternatively, he could have just loaded up on fast-building “Barbarians” in less than 15 minutes.)

Clash of Clans has mediocre sound and graphics. They are good enough, and probably would have been considered first class back in the 1990s, but they are a long way behind World of Warcraft which was released in November 2004 and is now more than eight years old.

I also question the extent to which it’s a “strategy” game. Even a moron with no strategy at all will advance in the game with time. As long as you log in every so often and make sure your virtual “builders” are building something, your game power will increase. That’s all there is to it. The people who are the most powerful players in the game are, for the most part, the people who have been playing the longest, plus those who paid real money to buy extra builders. (You start with two builders, and a second one can be bought for 500 gems which cost $4.99 and the next one costs 1000 gems.) With four builders, you will advance in the game nearly twice as fast as a guy with two builders.

In fact, we’ve now discovered one key to the game’s success: no matter how stupid you are (so long as you are smart enough to vaguely figure out what you’re supposed to be doing), you will feel like you are advancing in the game because of your “smart” strategies.

The second key to this game’s success is that it creates the illusion that it’s a multiplayer game. I say it’s an illusion because you don’t do anything directly with another player. You don’t fight and explore simultaneously like you would in World of Warcraft, of play against another player even in on a turn-by-turn basis like in Chess. When you raid another player’s village, that player is offline and you may as well just be raiding a random computer-generated village.

But Supercell, by creating the illusion of a multiplayer game, taps into the instinctual male drive to rise in the status hierarchy, and although it’s impossible to get to the top of this hierarchy unless you have been logging in every day since the game came out plus you invested real money in extra builders, the desire to get just a little bit further compels enough people to spend real money on virtual “gems” that this game is the top-grossing app at the App Store.

ADVICE FOR PLAYING

If you are still going to play after this review, then these tips will help you rise in the status hierarchy just a little bit faster, and possibly enjoy the game a little bit more:

1. You start with nearly enough gems to buy an extra builder. Don’t waste any of the gems at all on rush-building anything, because if you save them you will eventually obtain enough free extra gems to buy that extra builder for free. Most notably, you get free gems for clearing obstructions like rocks and trees, and after you clear them all out they grow back and you can re-clear them and get more gems.

2. The single-player goblin campaign is a waste. You get way more resources attacking real players. So ignore the campaign.

3. There are no consequences at all to attacking other players and losing, so just attack and enjoy it. Win or lose, you will lose all of the troops you use in the attack because they are only good for one mission, but you should be able to steal more resources from the enemy village than what it cost to build the troops. And then you just build more troops in your barracks. It’s a smart idea to have them queued up before you attack so you are rebuilding your troops during the battle.

4. By stealing resources from raiding other players’ villages, you don’t have to upgrade your gold mines and elixir collectors, and thus you can direct your builders to work on other buildings.

5. Don’t worry about winning or losing “trophies” because they are irrelevant. It’s more important to get resources so you can build up your village.

6. You don’t necessarily need any of the advanced troops to win victories. A mass number of barbarians, your first-level troop, can totally destroy an enemy village, and strangely it’s quite enjoyable to watch the virtual carnage.

7. You should build as many “camps” as you are allowed and upgrade your camps so you can have large numbers of barbarians. And build as many barracks you are allowed so you can turn out those barbarians faster. And upgrade the barracks so you can queue as many barbarians as you have space in your camps.

8. You also want to build and upgrade your laboratory so you can research improved barbarians. Eventually, if you play the game for many months, you might finally achieve the nirvana of five-star barbarians.

STRATEGY UPDATE 5/29/2013

To defeat higher-level villages, it actually helps to have a mix of troops like Barbarians plus Archers plus those suicide wall bombers to bust down walls. Goblins can also be a useful addition to the mix because they attack different buildings. You will know when you need to start worrying about more advanced troops when you can’t win battles with just Barbarians.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

January 1, 2013 at 7:06 PM

Posted in Nerdy stuff

5 Responses

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  1. Always Sunny parodied it.

    dexelpred

    January 1, 2013 at 9:13 PM

  2. Are all the people who get ‘addicted’ to and buy in-game stuff with real money Asian? Seems like it from the examples you’ve cited.

    rob

    January 2, 2013 at 12:49 PM

  3. How ’bout some Civ 4 tips? I’ve lost my mojo after a long hiatus.

    ibejeph

    January 2, 2013 at 1:23 PM

  4. Imogen

    January 4, 2013 at 6:46 AM

  5. […] previously wrote about Clash of Clans, the top-Grossing iOS app that perhaps 95% play for free, but the remaining 5% spend tens, […]


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