Supercell’s Clash of Clans is one of the top iOS gaming success stories of 2012. Although released in early August 2012, this strategy MMO game was the 8th highest grossing game of the past year. It quickly climbed the grossing charts in the US to reach No.1 Top Grossing and has stayed there since.
Clash of Clans US App Store ranking according to App Annie
Given the seemingly overwhelming success of the game, it is hard to speak of the game in negative terms. To the risk of sounding grumpy, this is however what I am going to do here.
Note that in this article I suppose that players have some notion of the game. If not, feel free to have a look at game reviews to get an idea of the game.
The blog Deconstructor of Fun has an excellent article on Clash of Clans, which I can much relate to, except for the importance of the monetization model.
Disclaimer: I have been playing this game without spending any cash on it. My point is to check if a freemium game is actually enjoyable without spending money on it, which is, I think, the staple of good freemium games.
Everything is beautiful
It has been said in countless reviews already: the game looks great. It’s very pretty, the character design is unique and the buildings and backgrounds shine with life. It’s basically a pleasure to look at your village and see it grow.
Gameplay is compelling
It’s an euphemism to call the game “addictive”. In this respect the game is extremely well designed and the game will keep you coming back for as long as you can bear its waiting time.
…until it comes to a crawl
During the first week playing the game, I really enjoyed myself. I could see my village transforming rapidly and although it was nothing like a Starcraft game, the speed of upgrades made the wait bearable.
Then after some time (maybe one week and a half) my village reached around level 30 and that was the start of the stagnation for me.
Since the first week newbie protection shield ran out, I was suddenly faced with daily attacks on my village. With each attack, I would lose resources, making the progression slower.
First, I figured out that I had focused too much on upgrading my resources producing buildings and not enough my defenses.
Then I focused on upgrading my defensive buildings and walls.
Later, I discovered that the higher level units are quite not as good a deal as the cheaper ones. High level units cost a lot of gold and take longer time to train, and also occupy more space –meaning you can have less of them.
Last but not least, high level units are usually not that powerful either compared to their overall cost (in time/space/gold).
To be successful, forget about victories
This holds true for the most part of the game, as long as you are building your village.
Let me explain: the game entices you to destroy the town halls of other players to earn victories, which translate into trophies that accumulate when you win and deplete when you lose, either when attacking or defending.
The catch is that the higher your trophy count, the higher the difficulty might become: if your level is say 20, and you have more than a thousand trophies, the matchmaking algorithm may set you against level 30 players, who will often have defenses too tough for your troops. This means you might lose all your troops just to destroy a town hall, pillage little resources, and face retribution from a potentially higher level player –which might end up with more resource losses.
All this means is that victories do not help you develop your town very fast.
Instead, you are better off focusing on creating Goblin units, as well as a handful of Skeletons (Wall breakers), which is not the most intuitive thing to do but surely the most rewarding.
The strategy is simple: when needed, you blast walls with Skeletons and unleash your Goblins that will deplete your opponent’s resources (by default, Goblins are the only units to focus their attacks on resources buildings). No need to care about Town Halls. All you want in the early stage of the game is to gather resources rapidly to enhance your walls and level up your Town Hall and defensive buildings.
You can also throw in a few other cheap units (Barbarians or Archers) to divert the defenses while your Goblins rob the bank.
As inglorious as it may sound, it is the best way to play the game as long as you need gold for your walls, defenses, and town hall.
Regarding the time problem, though, you’ll just have to wait your 6 days (!!!) to upgrade your Town Hall from level 6 to 7…
Unless you have an infinite amount of cash to throw at the game
If you are among the 1%, have rich parents, or simply love to spend your hard-earned cash on consumable digital items, Clash of Clans has everything to satisfy you.
Simply put, you can buy anything in the game. When I say anything, it’s really anything. The hard currency of the game is called Gems, and those can be bought in packages ranging from $4.99 to $99.99.
With Gems, you can:
- Speed up production of resources for a limited time.
- Speed up training of troops for a limited time.
- Purchase Gold or Elixir (the 2 resources used to build everything from building to troops).
- Instantly finish any construction.
- Buy a protection shield (your village cannot be attacked by other players) for a period of one day to one week.
- Purchase additional “Builders”, unique units necessary to build and upgrade all constructions.
All these are not cosmetic effects: they totally influence the gameplay and player’s progression.
That would not be an issue for me if the game was not focused on competition (clans and player leaderboards).
Nobody is actually angry at Zynga for letting you spend cash to enhance your farm on Farmville because although there is a level system, there is no true competition between players. Here it is different: you have clans, you can attack players and be attacked (whether you like it or not). What is a leaderboard worth when you don’t know if the players at the top really deserve their rank or have simply spent insane amounts of cash to get there?
Clash of Clans is a fun and well-designed game, with many good qualities, but in the long run the focus of monetizing whales kills both the fun and the sense of accomplishment while depriving the game of a real competitive and fair environment.
Not only that, but this system makes me refrain from spending at all.
And this is a shame, because there is obviously a lot of talent put into this title.