How Clash of Clans' clan wars got me addicted all over again

(commentary) CNET editor Roger Cheng says the mobile smash hit’s latest update has him hooked -- and that it provides a textbook lesson on how developers can prevent gamer burnout.

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Supercell

Just when I thought I was out, a bunch of goblins and barbarians pull me back in.

I'm talking about "Clash of Clans," the mobile game found on the iPhone and on Android devices that lets you manage a kingdom and try out various strategies. Its creator, Supercell, is the poster child for hitting the mobile app jackpot.

The game's achievements are already well known. It sits atop both Apple's App Store and the Google Play store as the top-grossing app in both markets. It's routinely among the top 25 free apps despite having been around for nearly two years -- an extremely impressive feat at a time when many apps fade away in months. In October, Japanese company SoftBank purchased a 51 percent stake in Helsinki, Finland-based Supercell for $1.5 billion.

Yet, I was getting tired of the game.

It's not unusual for people to suffer burnout from a game, particularly one such as "Clash," where the cycle of fighting; collecting gold and potion; and building is perpetual. After a while, I started wondering: what's the point?

But the latest update from Supercell, which was released earlier this month, literally changed the game for me. Since its launch in August 2012, "Clash" was largely defined by the ability to invade another player's base in an effort to loot and to raze their structures. There were "Clans" in place, but they served as groups where their individual achievements counted toward a total score.

The latest "Clash" update shook things up by enabling clans to fight other clans, bringing a new level of strategy to the game. For the first time, clan members had to coordinate with one another to attack different players in an opposing clan. The system is balanced so more-advanced players can't just pick on weaker ones. The subtle, but significant change re-energized my interest and is a textbook lesson on how an app developer can keep interest alive in an aging game.

Despite having started my own clan, my activity level had slowly dropped off prior to the update. The clan was largely filled with my friends, and there weren't that many players in it. I kept it casual and restricted to friends or friends of friends on purpose.

Yet with the clan vs. clan dynamic, I have a renewed focus. I participate on the messaging system more often, exchanging tips and commentary with my fellow clan members, and have been open to recruiting more players. The fact that I now have to rely on others, and they have to rely on me, gives me a more vested interest in staying on what is essentially a hamster wheel-like game.

It's a brilliant move by Supercell, and my hat is off to the developers who managed to drastically change the game with such a small tweak.

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Cultivating and maintaining that sense of vested interest is key to Supercell's business model. "Clash" is a "freemium game," which is a kind of app that can be downloaded and played without any cost. Players wishing to obtain upgrades or better troops can opt to pay cash to progress faster. Given its position as the top grosser in the app store, "Clash" has proved to be effective at convincing players to pony up.

Full disclosure: I've never spent money on the game, and probably never will. But that hasn't dampened my experience.

Supercell hasn't revealed the number of active gamers on "Clash," but a recent hack of its site, news of which was posted on tech news site Recode, showed that the company boasted 29.4 million daily active users and daily revenue of $5.15 million. The number may not reflect just "Clash," as the company also offers two other games, "Hay Day" and "Boom Beach."

A Supercell spokesman wasn't available to comment on its base of gamers or the hacked information. In 2012, the company generated $101 million in revenue, according to Reuters. In 2013, its revenue jumped to $892 million.

The Finnish company is often compared to the other success story in the country, Rovio and its Angry Birds franchise. But while Rovio has chosen to expand through both new games and a dizzying array of licensed merchandise, Supercell has opted to refine and update its core game.

Other freemium games have offered updates to keep things interesting, including Electronic Arts' "Simpsons: Tapped Out" or King's "Candy Crush," but often the additions come in the form of new levels or tasks, extending the gameplay, but not necessarily changing it.

The "Clash" update is different, yet familiar, and will likely get players to dive right back in to upgrading their bases and looting resources.

Now excuse me while I prepare for my next raid.

Tags:
Gaming
Mobile
About the author

Roger Cheng is the executive editor in charge of breaking news for CNET News. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade. He's a devoted Trojan alum and Los Angeles Lakers fan.

 

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