糟糕的用戶體驗、讓人摸不著頭腦的玩法、過時的畫面。這只是其中一些對于Machine Zone的大熱門游戲，例如Game of War，Mobile Strike和現在的Final Fantasy XV的主觀看法，來自于我在游戲行業中的同伴們。
然而撇開這些消極評價，Game of War曾在收益最高的5個游戲中有一席之地，并且占據這個位置達兩年多，它的繼任者Mobile Strike也加入了最熱門的免費手游陣營，然后接著第三個游戲，與Square Enix聯合制作Final Fantasy XV：New Empire也來了，直接闖入前50。
Machine Zone靠旗下的兩大巨頭Game of War和Mobile Strike在收益榜上名列前茅。7月，玩家群體把焦點轉移到了即時發布的新手游Final Fantasy XV：New Empire上，這也導致了之前兩款游戲的排名下滑。這只是下一個小臺階還是跌入低谷再也上也不來了？本系列文章將會聚焦在這個問題上，探尋答案。
NGD制作的The Master of Orion系列就是非常典型的4X游戲，涉及到了空間探索和交易。
Game of War自稱是一個“…交互式動作類大型多人在線游戲”，也算是給嘗試描述這類游戲體裁的人開了個好頭。但是我更喜歡用一個稍微不同，更老式的術語：4X。
這個新造術語起源于1990年代，用來描述PC端的策略型游戲，玩家在此類游戲中可以統治帝國，進行探索（eXplore）、拓張（eXpand）、開發（eXploit）、征服（eXterminate）。有些熟悉的游戲就應用了這些機制，包括Age of Empires, Civilisation, Alpha Centauri, Total War: Rome和Master of Orion。
征服指的是攻擊并消滅敵方玩家。（游戲邦注：或者在Game of War中是把另一個玩家“化零”）有些游戲中，到最后所有領域都會被各個玩家占領，要進拓張只有消滅敵方這個選擇。
如今的西方手游，mid-core市場是由4X游戲（例如Game of War， Mobile Strike），建造&戰斗類游戲（例如Clash of Clans，Boom Beach）和同步戰斗類游戲（例如 Clash Royale，Hearthstone也勉強算吧）主導的。
近五年做得最成功的4X手游包括Clash of Kings, Vikings, Mobile Strike和Kingdoms of Camelot。
2011年，Kabam公司在移動平臺上發布了他們之前在Facebook上大獲成功的游戲Kingdoms of Camelot。Facebook游戲是中國PC網游的復刻品，這種網游在東方非常受歡迎。
與其要把戰爭部分做成類似Age of Empire或者Total War里面那樣精細考究，完全靠元游戲交互帶動，你甚至都看不到戰爭是怎么發生的！
現在我們熟悉的這種畫風和城市等距視圖最早是起源于2011年發布的Kingdoms of Camelot手游。這游戲比Game of War早發布了整整三年，Game of War從它那里借鑒了非常多的東西。
這個游戲對Kabam公司來說是一大碩果，于是他們決定給游戲換個包裝，授權制作了與電影配套的游戲The Hobbit: ingdoms of Middle Earth，發布于2012年年底。這款游戲也是個成功之作，為Kabam制作4X手游打下了基礎。
然而，平心而論，盡管這些游戲在市場上取得了巨大成功，但是直到2013年有風投公司支持的Machine Zone發布了Game of War，才讓4X手游大放光彩。
Machine Zone的早期游戲iMob。這是一款類Zynga旗下Facebook平臺作品Mafia Wars游戲的純移動版非即時多人游戲
因此，他們決定制作游戲，并且有自信能夠獲得足夠的用戶基礎，取得成功。于是他們在2012年開始制作Game of War，80個人的團隊花了18個月實現了這個目標。包括建設通訊基礎設施和語言翻譯應用層，讓世界各地的玩家參與到結盟和交流中。但是精彩的還在后頭。
我認為Machine Zone的故事還是很能啟發人的，因為它告訴人們即使你在過去遭遇過挫折，還是能改變境遇，收獲成功。我之前見過他們的CEO Gabe Leydon做演講，他給我的印象是一位激情四射的領導者。很顯然，他在制作Game of War上下了大注，也贏得漂亮。
但是他們是如何實現的呢？你可以在后續發布的文章找到答案，我們深入挖掘了core game的部分內容，還有行業內其中一家巨頭游戲公司背后的游戲系統設計。（原鏈接 ?）
雖然按理說Kabam旗下的Kingdom of Camelot才是第一款在app store獲得成功的4X手游，但是在此文的大部分篇幅中我們還是聚焦在Game of War上，畢竟它是最成功的4X手游并且讓Machine Zone公司聲名遠揚。
很多很多人在Game of War教程時就放棄了。從界面上來看真的是非常過時，游戲玩法也是很簡單的點來點去。它教你一些游戲基本的東西，但是并沒有直接告訴玩家為什么要這么做。實際上，大部分4X手游在呈現游戲內容方面做的都不大好，這是個奇怪的現象。
Game of War的一切都和權力有關。毫不夸張地說，游戲顯示玩家的實力差異已經到了逼殘玩家的地步了，特別是你們在一個N多人的游戲環境里，任何細微的數值差異變化都會讓玩家細致入微地感受到的實力博弈的殘酷。
上面的圖解體現了封建社會下的權力金字塔。Game of War的游戲結構和社會框架和這個圖解十分一致，終極目標就是成為國王。
為了符合中世紀的風格設定，Game of War創造了很多“游戲中的游戲”來支持封建背景下的權力金字塔。事實上，如果你看過Game of Thrones，就能感覺到劇中不同家族之間的關系就和Game of War中不同玩家之間的關系很相似。
Frey家族的領主Walder Frey是個卑鄙小人，只為自己考慮！這也是個表現Game of War和4X游戲中社會局勢可能發生變革的典型例子
Game of War中的王國地圖。每個據點都可以看出玩家們在游戲中投入了很多時間。
Game of War稱它自己是一個大型多人在線策略游戲，這并不是謊言。這游戲是個大型多人在線的永恒世界，所有東西都處于進行時。游戲中的每個行動都會通過廣播系統讓所有玩家知道，就等于每次攻擊、每次行軍還有每次交易都是公開的。
一支軍隊正朝著敵方城市行進，準備發動攻擊。等到軍隊到達目的地時，只剩下2:51?；ㄙM一定時間到達目的地是Game of War和4X手游玩法中很重要的一部分，也對游戲起著平衡作用。
用一張簡單的圖來解釋Game of War中的絕對核心行動（游戲邦注：absolute core actions）。這游戲非常深奧，要把所有東西都放在一張圖里解釋實在是太難了。
本質上來說，Game of War和它的后續產品玩法是很相似的。在這個巨大的游戲世界中，玩家們可以建立自己的據點容納他們的市民。世界被不同玩家的王國瓜分，玩家們不斷升級他們的城市，軍隊和英雄，渴望變得更加強大，最終在這個世界中手握大權，君臨天下。
對于免費游戲來說，利用限時和缺乏耐心是最傳統也是最有效的盈利手段。在Game of War中，執行一項行動需要花費些時間才能完成。
在Game of War中也有加速功能，有短時間的也有長至幾天的。在流程設計上，這樣就可以幫助平衡不同時間長度的單次流程，也有益于獎勵循環和盈利機會。
想要在Game of War中縮短流程并不難，只要把基本行動都安排好，等待它們完成就好了，“每天都需要安排許多小任務”這種模式已經被證明在F2P游戲中屢試不爽。
而且會有哪個F2P游戲不讓你花錢跳過等待時間??？Game of War也提供了這種機會，以防玩家們想要趕進度，快點結束當前的任務。
基本行動和核心游戲緊密聯系。游戲鼓勵玩家們完成遠征任務，這能夠促使他們去完成更多基本行動，累積進度，變得更加強大。如此他們就能在PvP中更加熟練，后期在the Kingdom View的elder game中更加得心應手。
簡單了解一下Game of War中的PvP是怎么運作的?？?，實際上你都看不到戰斗發生。整場戰斗是在一個電子表格中進行的，對玩家隱藏了算法。
簡單看一下Game of War的英雄和制造系統，還有他們是怎么緊密關聯的。
想想《權力的游戲》中Jaime Lannister被Starks抓了，然后Catelyn Stark協商放他走。
來自玩家Snow_1021的截圖，展現了去年為Kingdom of Fire 超級奇跡圣地戰斗的場面?？纯从卸嗌偻婕覟樗尤虢侵?。
可以說Game of War的elder game就是關于領土主權還有其中的權力通道。整個地圖上，能夠提供額外資源或者權利的特殊地域就是奇跡圣地，超級奇跡圣地的優勢更為明顯，能夠直接確定誰會成為Game of War中的帝王或者是女王。
這一系列為了爭奪超級奇跡圣地的攻擊就像是真實生活中一場大規模、史詩級別的戰爭，需要大量團隊協作和周密計劃。感覺像是《權力的游戲》中有一集Stannis Baratheon試圖奪取 Kings Landing，不得不面對Lannisters家族和Tyrells家族的聯合抵御。
在此期間會新形成很多聯盟，也會有很多聯盟產生分裂。這也體現了Game of War和其他4X游戲核心中的社交玩法的深奧之處?？纯催@位玩家寫的詳細記錄，他參與了超級奇跡圣地爭奪戰，對其中涉及的部分有非常棒的見解。
就像是真實的封建戰爭一樣，Game of War中有很多殘酷的現象，要花很多時間很多精力才能達到核心部分。游戲中的損失是不可挽回的，所以損失軍隊或者英雄可能會使你一蹶不振，除非你愿意花錢恢復你損失的所有東西。我記得我有好幾次因此放棄了游戲。
我認為這種方法比起像是Clash of Clans這樣的游戲，還是很有趣的。這樣做非常具有hardcore游戲的風格，讓你感受到強者的力量。你可以把某個人摧毀的如此徹底，讓三個多月的游戲時間在幾分鐘內就都付諸東流，這種成就感與游戲的核心，也就是力量，密切聯系著。
Game of War在技術、研究、英雄技能等等方面經歷了無數次優化提升，就是要向人們展現這游戲的復雜程度。
雖然我還停留在游戲的表層，但是我覺得游戲最顯而易見的就是它的深不可測。事實上，我想說像StarCraft這樣的PC游戲甚至比Game of War這類的游戲更容易搞懂。
收益最高的10款手游有像Game of War和Mobile Strike這樣超級復雜的游戲，也有像Pokemon GO和Candy Crush Saga這樣的大眾游戲。在我看來，這就體現了玩家群體已經擴大了，游戲商有多種途徑可以獲得成功。
在Game of War中，永久性的損耗可以在一定程度上解決上述問題，因為玩家可以把其他人的游戲進度幾乎完全抹滅。然而，聰明的玩家就不會經常那樣做，而是和其他玩家保持和平局面。
例如，我有一段時間在 the top player world 里玩，大概有20億實力值。放到現在那都不算什么，那時我應該下更多的功夫提高競爭力。
Game of War確實靠擴大經濟規模和提高升級難度解決了這些問題，但是做的非常聰明。
Game of War中有一項獨特的功能就是聊天中可以把對方的語言轉化成自己正在使用的語言。
Game of War也非常依賴聯盟特性，讓玩家盡快加入聯盟。游戲利用你的位置來尋找和你同一地理位置/時間區的聯盟，這樣的話你向伙伴求助的時候會比較方便。
同盟成員之間互相贈送是Game of War中非常重要的部分。
還有其他很多說不完的功能都夠體現此游戲社交功能的強大，還有同盟中的玩家彼此之間的緊密關系。如果還有哪個游戲的特色比Game of War還多，那我就馬上去找出來。
Gabe Leydon已經公開表示Game of War的玩家制定了他們自己的游戲規則，甚至是游戲玩法，他們作為開發者只是提供了基礎設施，我十分肯定實際就是這樣的。
對于任何一個開發者，應變式游戲玩法都是一個想要實現的夢想。它意味這游戲可以屹立不倒，因為玩家會一直玩下去。結合可以無限升級的經濟和權力體系，你就很容易明白為什么Game of War經歷了這么長的時間還是熱度不退，而且在之后的好多年它也可以繼續保持下去。
Machine Zone旗下的游戲是multiple deep體系的巔峰代表，這些體系相互配合，努力達成一個大目標：成為游戲中最強的玩家。玩家在游戲中能夠完完全全感受到權力的力量，恃強凌弱是被允許的，這就給相對不那么強的玩家增添了很多壓力，逼他們保持競爭力。
我們的下篇文章會聚焦在Machine Zone游戲的盈利機制上，它們的氪金能力真是無人不知，有謠言說有個玩家在這個游戲上已經花費了超過100萬美元。（原鏈接 ）
這一由眾多部分構成的系列文章將會解析Machine Zone旗下的超級熱門游戲，深入研究由該公司領頭的mid-core類游戲。你可以點這里閱讀第一部分（公司歷史），這里是第二部分(游戲設計 ） 。
在Game of War中花錢其實就跟在賭場里花錢差不了多少。游戲總是盼著你花更多的錢，會給你提供越來越低的折扣，直到你買下。
要討論Game of War就不能不說它的盈利機制。簡單來說就是世界上沒有任何一個游戲可以在單個玩家基礎上掙得比它還多。
實際上，要是這游戲的平均每付費用戶收入（ARPDAU）少于1美元，那我真的會很震驚?？纯次医厝ame of War Real Tips和Stayalive77的采訪對話，后者是這個游戲的頂級玩家之一。
雖然這對我而言貌似有些不可理喻，但這是他們的特權，這就是資本體制的現實，你只能乖乖接受。所以你只能不情愿地為Machine Zone鼓掌，他們的游戲大概就是有這個能力讓玩家投入這么多錢。如果Game of War是個夜店，那么店外就會排上2英里（約3.2公里）的長龍隊伍。
Game of War的營銷策略和設計很獨特，而且罕見地應用得很到位。大部分游戲都有統一價格點（游戲邦注：flat price points）跟核心經濟常量（例如時間）保持平衡。
比如說，如果10個寶石值實時的一分鐘，那么你可以以這個為基準，制作曲線，平衡價格點，這是個靠得住，不會出錯的技巧，很多游戲都用過，Supercell更是運用自如。但是，Game of War根本沒有用這個方法。
Game of War的玩家會收到各種打折和禮包推薦的轟炸，禮包中的物品和資源多到你不敢想象。然而，絕妙之處在于不同玩家提供的折扣也是不同的，表面功夫和內在技術都做足了。
你看，在Game of War當中，盈利可以被描述為“走樓梯”，游戲想要一直讓你往上走。
從PunchAndPie的Game of War博客里截取的：不同賬戶提供的同類折扣對比。
看看這篇Kotaku的文章，有人用偷來的錢，在Game of War花掉了1百萬美元！體會一下這游戲的實際盈利能力有多厲害。
Game of War有一個類似賭博游戲的VIP系統，驅使玩家長期、大量地砸錢。
盡管市面上還有很多盲目的模仿游戲，通常他們的畫面、游戲特色、IP都會比Machine Zone的游戲好，但是沒有一個能夠匹敵Machine Zone的巨額收入。
他們的用戶獲取能力如何？在這個競爭最激烈的領域，他們能有辦法擋開其他對手，這就是最能看出他們能力的地方了。很多公司都模仿Game of War制作游戲，而且對游戲畫面和特色都進行了提升，但是沒有人能夠撼動Game of War的榜首位置。
這就是Game of War的盡頭了嗎？自《最終幻想15》發行以來，Game of War的下載量已經減少，因為公司的資源必須撥一部分給新游戲。
新游戲《最終幻想15：新帝國》用的是Square Enix的IP，盡管有收益共享契約，但要是MZ想要做一個能夠賺更多利潤的游戲我也不會驚訝，畢竟high fantasy題材的CPI是所有類型中最高的。
還有一點值得注意的是由于今年的轉變，MZ的Game of War已經進入了大豐收狀態，但是它提高了新裝備的更新頻率，這讓很多玩家感到心煩。
這個類型的游戲到底有多值錢，就在這篇文章發布之際，以色列游戲開發商Plarium Games以5億美元的價格被收購，差不多是跟他們所有4X游戲（游戲邦注：例如Vikings: War of Clans）的收入持平。
看一下Machine Zone把Game of War改裝的樣子，再次體現了他們對用戶獲取方面的理解以及影響力，他們知道什么主題才是對游戲最好的。
《最終幻想15》是Machine Zone第三款4X手游。除了畫面更好看了，實質上還是跟你所愛的，或者所恨的Game of War和Mobile Strike一樣。盡管如此，它還是吸引了一大批玩家。
Machine Zone的近期作品是和日本Square Enix合作的，借用了他們的《最終幻想》IP。我覺得關于這個游戲的情況還是挺有意思的，盡管它是Game of War和Mobile Strike的克隆品（畫面有所提升），但是表現還不錯。
雖然這里的大多數游戲已經在排行榜上待了很長時間，但是游戲玩法類型各不相同。有休閑益智游戲Candy Crush，大熱門IP游戲Pokemon GO（ARG）和Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle (RPG),建造和戰爭游戲Clash of Clans，4X游戲Game of War / Mobile Strike，還有代表同步對戰游戲的《部落沖突:皇室戰爭》。
Midcore游戲要再一次進化嗎？Brawl Stars和《王者榮耀》已經證明了MOBA和輕MOBA游戲是有市場的，而且Crusaders of Light和《天堂2》也證明了連MMO游戲在某些國家的市場也是有潛力的。盡管《魂斗羅》是個2D射擊游戲，但是在中國手游市場還是大賺了不少。雖然我不看好這些游戲會在西方會成功，但是多少會對下一代的midcore手游趨勢產生影響。
還有值得注意的一件事就是由于《最終幻想15》的發行，Game of War和Mobile Strike的玩家都一致把注意力轉移到了新游戲上，于是這兩個游戲的的當下排名已經掉出了收益榜前10。有沒有可能大眾對midcore游戲的口味又改變了？
看看各個國家的市場，我們可以知道在中國最賺錢的游戲是個MOBA游戲。中國和韓國也有大型的MMO游戲：《夢幻西游》和《天堂2》。雖然亞洲文化和西方文化迥然不同，但是MMO游戲在過去都是風靡一時，像Everquest和World of Warcraft就是很好的例子。
如果要說Game of War教會了我們什么就是玩家是非常愿意長時間地耗在他們的移動設備上，所以誰能說MMO游戲不會成功呢？我個人相信在某個時間點，帶有城市風格大廳，還有類似World of Warcraft的3D玩家化身的MMO手游會最終成為大熱門。得有人去做這件事，先把玩家拿下才行。
舉個例子，在Game of War中，進入游戲安排接下來的一系列行動根本不用花什么時間，只有一個小而簡單的流程。想玩久一點的流程也是有的，但是那不會是游戲的核心部分，所以說為什么增加個戰斗環節就會有問題呢？
最后，由于這篇文章是關于Machine Zone的，我想給你們看看2013年這個游戲剛發布的時候，Machine Zone CEO Zone Gabe的演講視頻。
Machine Zone CEO Zone Gabe的演講視頻
Deconstructing the secrets of MZ’s success part one: The history
This multi-part series will deconstruct Machine Zone’s super successful games and look into the particular mid-core genre dominated by the company.
Obtrusive UX, confusing gameplay, dated graphics. These are just some of the subjective comments I hear from many of my peers in the games industry about Machine Zone’s smash hits Game of War, Mobile Strike and now Final Fantasy XV.
And yet despite these criticisms, Game of War was a top five grossing game for over two years, its successor Mobile Strike has joined it at the top of the free-to-play mobile game pile and the third in the series, a tie-in with Square Enix for Final Fantasy XV: New Empire has seamlessly transitioned into the top 50.
Numerous other companies have copied these games and seen success too. But how and why do these games do so well, and what can we learn from them?
Machine Zone has dominated the revenue charts with their two monster titles Game of War and Mobile Strike. In July the user acquisition focus shifted on their latest title, Final Fantasy, which has caused its other two titles to drop. Is it a dip or a permanent slide? This series will aim to answer that question, among others.
This series of posts takes a holistic view of this game category known as 4X games, breaks down some of the key designs and features of the genre, discusses the monetisation drivers, and finally, makes some predictions of where these games will go in the future.
Throughout the series, I will refer to Machine Zone as the example and a benchmark.
What is a “4X” game?
The Master of Orion series developed by NGD is a classic 4X game involving space exploration and trading.
Game of War calls itself an “… interactive Action Strategy MMO GAME” which is a good start to try to describe the genre type that this game occupies. I’d use a slightly different and more old school term: 4X.
This is a term originally coined in the 1990s to describe PC strategy games in which players control a kingdom and explore, expand, exploit and exterminate. Some games that you may be familiar with that use these mechanics include Age of Empires, Civilisation, Alpha Centauri, Total War: Rome and Master of Orion.
Explore refers to a large world where players scout across a map to reveal surrounding territories, resources and other players. Often the player is unable to view the whole world at the beginning of the game so there is a grandiose feeling of uncovering the mystery and secrets that lie in the game world.
Expand refers to mechanics where players claim new territory by creating new settlements or extending the influence of existing settlements.
Exploit refers to mechanics where players gather and use resources in areas they control to improve the efficiency of that usage. This often presents itself in min / maxing city economy to optimise production of resources and military might.
Exterminate refers to attacking and eliminating rival players. (Or in Game of War “zeroing” another player). Since in some games all territory is eventually claimed, eliminating a rival’s presence may be the only way to achieve further expansion.
Currently, in Western mobile games, the mobile midcore space is dominated by 4X games such as Game of War / Mobile Strike, build and battle games such as Clash of Clans / Boom Beach and synchronous battle games such as Clash Royale (and to a lesser extent Hearthstone).
Whilst a lot of these games are thrown into one melting pot (action strategy / midcore games) and fight over very similar players, it must be noted that each genre of game is completely different to one another with many different nuances and unique game structures.
A brief history of mobile 4X games
Some of the most successful 4X games over the last five years on mobile include Clash of Kings, Vikings, Mobile Strike and Kingdoms of Camelot.
In 2011 Kabam ported their highly successful Facebook game Kingdoms of Camelot to mobile. The Facebook game was a clone of a new wave of Chinese web games on PC that had been very successful in the East.
These web games had been developed by small fledgling games companies that had tried to create online 4X PC games but which had made some changes based on technical ability and resources of the studio.
Rather than making a highly proficient battle game such as in Age of Empire or Total War, battles were a purely metagame-driven interaction – you didn’t even see the battle take place!
Instead, the developers utilised the power of the internet and connectivity to create a game of Alliance and Social interplay where teamwork and betrayal were the order of the day.
The now familiar portrait style and isometric city view can be traced back to Kingdoms of Camelot on mobile, released in 2011. Three whole years before Game of War, and a game that GoW borrowed very heavily from.
Back in 2011, midcore was only getting started on mobile and Kabam’s advantage of having a large userbase playing their game already meant that many players came into their mobile port to give it a big initial boost.
Perhaps unwittingly they had also found that mobile was an even better platform for their game than Facebook or the web. The ability to send push notifications to players or for them to chat to each other via other messaging programs other than using the game made it an even better fit than Facebook.
The game was a big success for Kabam and they decided to reskin the game with a licence to create The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth to tie in with the motion picture release in late 2012. This game was also a big success for the company laying the foundation work for 4X games on mobile.
However, it’s fair to say that despite these games being big successes it wasn’t until 2013 when VC-backed Machine Zone released Game of War that the 4X game truly had it’s day in the sun.
The story of Machine Zone
Machine Zone (or MZ as they are now known) is a fascinating story in itself. Originally founded in 2008, they were originally called Addmired and produced widgets for MySpace call AddHim and AddHer which were Hot-or-Not style plugins.
Whilst it’s fair to say these plugins didn’t set the world alight, the tech stack and social networking know-how clearly ran deep in the company and would later be used in an extremely lucrative way – through connecting players via a social network based around a game.
An early Machine Zone game called iMob. This was a multiplayer game in the vain of Zynga’s Mafia Wars on Facebook but on mobile.
In 2009, the company pivoted to free-to-play games and released titles such as Original Gangstaz and iMob, which were reasonably successful but still nothing like the sort of a success that a VC-backed company is looking for.
It’s rumored that MZ realised that they had the technical know how to make a world-class mobile social network but didn’t have the userbase to make it worthwhile.
They therefore decided to make a game that they were confident would get a big enough userbase to make it worthwhile and began working in 2012 on Game of War with an 80-man team working for 18 months to make it happen, including the creation of a messaging infrastructure and language translation layer that would allow worldwide participation in the game’s alliances and chat. But more about that a bit later on.
Machine Zone has released back-to-back mega hits, but unlike Supercell, remains largely berated by mobile gaming industry professionals.
I find the story of Machine Zone pretty inspiring as it shows that even if you’ve had setbacks in the past, it’s still possible to turn things around. I’ve been to see their CEO Gabe Leydon give a talk before and he comes across as a very passionate leader. Clearly, he bet big on making Game of War, which paid off big time.
If you look at the revenues MZ pull in daily with the small number of games they operate it’s hard not be jealous. They identified a type of game / gameplay that was popular on PC, noticed it had been ported to mobile but improved on it to maximise the amount of money players would spend on it.
They created a blue ocean in a spcific sub-genre of midcore and dominated the sub-genre so much that 4X games are now the most bloody of red oceans for competitors to try to get into.
But how they did they achieve this? Find out in the next part of our look at 4X games as we delve into some of the core game and system designs that are behind one of the biggest in the industry. （原鏈接： http://www.pocketgamer.biz/comment-and-opinion/66356/deconstructing-the-secrets-of-machine-zones-success-part-1-the-history/ ）
Deconstructing the secrets of MZ’s success part two: The game design
This multi-part series will deconstruct Machine Zone’s super successful games and look into the particular midcore genre dominated by the company. You can read part one here.
In part one of this article, we defined the style of Machine Zone’s games as “mobile 4X,” but how do mobile 4X games work?
While Kabam’s Kingdom of Camelot was arguably the first Mobile 4X game to achieve success on the app store, we’re going to concentrate on Game of War for the bulk of this article as it’s the most successful 4X game and has largely defined Machine Zone as a company.
Not just a game of war – a game of power
The most successful 4X games tap into the desire to want to rule and become the king
Many, many people churn out of Game of War during its tutorial, which is very archaic in terms of its appearance and very simple tap-tap-tap gameplay. It gets you to go through the basics but without really intuitively teaching the player why they are doing what they are doing. In fact, 4X games in general strangely don’t do a good job at telling you what the game is really about.
Game of War is all about power. And not just literally, as there is a number representing power shoved in your face at all times, but also the nuances of power and how that is both expressed and felt in a massively multiplayer game with thousands of players playing together all at once.
The above diagram shows the Feudal Power Pyramid. Game of War creates a game structure and social framework that is very much in line with this diagram, where the ultimate aim is to become the king.
Fittingly for a game set in a medieval setting, Game of War creates many “games within a game” which support a Feudal style power pyramid. In fact, if you’ve ever seen the TV show Game of Thrones, then there is a lot in common in terms of the relationships between Houses being akin to relationships between players in Game of War.
The game takes place on a huge map made up of various kingdoms. Each Kingdom has a Wonder which can be battled over, and then the entire world itself has a “Super Wonder” which can be battled for.
The Alliance which controls the Super Wonder effectively rules the game, with the player who is the leader of that Alliance acting as the King or Queen of the game. The game structure supports this throughout as the rulers of the game can impose taxes on everyone in the game, or bestow titles on other players and Alliances.
Walder Frey the leader of House Frey is despicable man who is in it for himself! And a great example of some of the social dynamics possible in Game of War and 4X games
No matter which tier players are in their life-cycle, they have an importance to the game. When starting out you might be small feed in the overall scheme of things, but you still contribute to your Kingdom with the resources you provide.
As you climb the ladder you have more and more of an impact on both your Kingdom and the overall game kingdom. You may be part of an Alliance that has no chance of controlling a Wonder or Super Wonder, but you may be able to influence who does get it. This means that your support is important for those duking it out and means that negotiation between alliances is extremely important.
I will touch on the true strength of social systems in the game in a later section, but the point I want to get across about 4X games is that the dream of being powerful and ruling the roost is incredibly strong as an emotional motivation to play. It’s the central emotional driver on which the game is built around and supports.
As you ascend the game, the feeling of seeing other people literally do your bidding to court your favour is extremely addictive and powerful, just as it is in real life.
They say that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and if you create a game that facilitates that megalomaniacal power struggle and allows you to pay to get ahead… well perhaps it helps explain from the very outset how this game is so successful.
A persistent world
The Kingdom Map in Game of War. Each one of the Strongholds shown here is a real player that has invested many hours into the game.
Game of War calls itself an MMO strategy game and it’s not lying. The game is a huge massively multiplayer online persistent world where things are constantly going on. Every action in the game is broadcast to everyone, meaning that every attack, every march and every trade can be seen.
The world map itself is also huge which means that the 4X mechanics of exploration is there for everyone to experience. From a technical perspective to support this level of concurrency is really impressive and it gives the game a real feeling of being alive at all times.
An army is marching towards an enemy city to attack it. 2:51 remain until the army reaches it’s destination. The amount of time it takes to reach a target is a huge part of gameplay and balance in Game of War and mobile 4X games
This also means that many important game mechanics are tied to the game world. Players control a stronghold which represents their city and people. This is positioned on the game map and the location of it is very important.
Making an attack or traveling somewhere means that your troops or a hero can be seen going on a march in the world map and it takes time to reach the destination. This means that being in a location that is close to people who can help to defend you or close to natural resources is very important.
Players can also control resource tiles that provide additional resources for the city economy and enforce the exploit mechanic of 4X games. Whilst on a march or traveling, your own city can be attacked, or you can be attacked mid-march. It leads to all manner of interesting situations and mechanics.
You can even “fake” a march against an opponent and then march back to march to someone else. And seeing all of this interplay in real-time makes for fascinating emergent gameplay which is all viewable as it occurs in the game.
Game loop and core systems
A simplified diagram of the absolute core actions in Game of War. The game is extremely deep, so it’s hard to encapsulate everything on one diagram.
At its heart Game of War and its follow-up titles use familiar gameplay. Players own a Stronghold which represents their city of people within a vast world. Worlds are divided into Kingdoms of players and it’s the player’s aspiration to get more powerful by upgrading their city, army, and hero to eventually accumulate real tangible power in the world view.
This player is carrying out most of the core actions in the game: building, researching, training an army and crafting. They have the option to speed up some of their actions and can request help for building their Level 4 Academy.
Once players have completed the tutorial, they can undertake up to four core actions at one time. They can build, research, train troops and craft in parallel, but can only do one of each at a time.
Some games, such as Mobile Strike, allow the player to hire an additional builder to multi-build, but let’s assume one for now. Thus a player’s most basic session would involve coming into the game, setting up each of these four actions spending some of their resources, requesting help and then leaving.
Once one of the actions have been completed they can come into the game to set up another action to progress through the game optimally.
Pay to progress
Timers and impatience are the oldest and strongest of monetisation mechanics in freemium gaming. In Game of War, once carrying out an action, it takes time to complete it.
Initially, timers can be skipped for free or are very short to ease the player into the game. But as a player progresses, the timers will slowly increase taking days, months or even years to complete.
Sometimes when playing the game, Alliance members will request help, making the highlighted icon appear. Tapping on it takes the player to the Alliance Help screen where they can help their Alliance members.
The player has a few options available to them to avoid waiting for too long. They can request help from their alliance members. The loop of requesting and giving help to alliance members is a core social interaction with huge value making alliances necessary to progress while also harnessing the power of social reciprocation and altruism to make players co-operate and build bonds between them.
This encourages players to be online and playing the game as much as possible throughout the day. This is a great mechanic for building up engagement and meaningful interactions between alliance members.
Speed-Ups are available in GoW ranging from a very short period of time all the way up to days. This helps balance the session design between short and long sessions as well as benefiting the reward loop and monetisation opportunities
Players can also use speed-up items to speed up the timers in the game. Speed-ups are thrown about liberally in the game through rewards and from in-app purchase bundles and various kickbacks. These speed-ups are a clever piece of game design because they give the player an enormous power into how they want to play during their session.
It’s very easy in Game of War to have short sessions by just queuing up basic actions and waiting for them to complete to adhere to the “many small sessions per day” model that is proven to work well in F2P.
However, it also offers players the opportunity to play for very long sessions as boosts that have been saved up can be used in succession. Perfect for playing on the weekend when players have more time on their hands.
And of course what F2P game would not allow you to pay to skip the timer altogether? Game of War offers that opportunity too, in case players are in a rush to move through the game quickly.
Game loops and gameplay
Basic actions tie into the test of the core game. Players are encouraged to complete quests which push them to make actions that will help them progress and get more powerful. This makes them more proficient in PvP and in the Kingdom View where the elder game lies
At the beginning of the game, players are given a multitude of quests to complete to help them level up their stronghold and hero to get more powerful and set them up with the basics they need to play the game.
Resources are generated every hour and players can choose many strategies as to how they want to progress and expand. They can choose to boost their economy to generate more resources to help fund their Alliance or themselves, or could choose to invest in the military side of the game to get stronger, potentially working with Alliance members who will help fund their efforts to min-max an alliance economy.
A brief look at how PvP works in Game of War. Notice how there is no actual battle. It takes place entirely within a spreadsheet and algorithm hidden to the player
Like many mid-core games, there is also player-versus-player (pvp) element, which contains the real elder game and interactions with the Kingdom Map, other players, and alliances. Something which I find truly fascinating is that most of these games have no actual battle that they can see, they are just sent a battle report.
This probably harks back to web world where budgets and technical know-how meant that making a battle game was a tricky endeavor but on mobile, it perhaps saves teaching the player about another level of game complexity.
Lack of visual makes the game incredibly “meta” as players have to imagine how the battle played out, and although battle reports are sent to players it is hard to understand what they can do to optimise their battle performance.
This adds a lot of hidden depth and mastery in terms of optimising combat performance but makes the game even more complicated to learn initially, so there is a trade off made here.
A look at Game of War’s hero and crafting systems and how they tie together.
Another core mechanic in the game is that of developing the player’s hero. Players are given a hero randomly, to begin with, who represents the player’s general in the game world. The hero can earn skills over time and can be equipped with gear to make them stronger.
Crafting itself is a super deep system into which players can literally spend millions of pounds and hours to get the best items to make them more powerful in the game. Players can also capture and even execute enemy heroes to gain buffs in their war efforts making for some awesome social dynamics.
Think Jaime Lannister being captured by the Starks in Game of Thrones and the negotiation by Catelyn Stark to set him free.
Wonders and territory control
A screenshot from Snow_1021 showing the battle for the Kingdom of Fire Super Wonder last year. Look how many players are battling it out for this one
It could be said that the true elder game of Game of War is about territory control and the passage of power that comes from it. On the map owning certain tiles offers additional resources or powers and none is more obvious than Wonders and particularly the Super Wonder, which decides who will be Emperor or Empress of Game of War.
Opening once a month, the top players and alliances battle over a four day period to see who will rule the real, with the winner being determined based on total time held during the four day period. Given such prestige, many players teleport to the Super Wonder in hopes of holding it for just one second and get a screenshot of their name as Emperor, making it a mad free-for-all.
Becoming the ruler of the game had huge implications. They can bestow titles and buffs / debuffs on other players and alliances. They can even set a tax rate that every single player in the game must contribute to. Thus being a popular King for the “lesser” players can mean a longer time on the throne… but remember, there is always someone out there who wants the top spot!
The whole sequence of attacking to own a Super Wonder feels like a huge and epic real life war with a lot of teamwork and planning required. It feels a bit like the Game of Thrones episode where Stannis Baratheon tries to take Kings Landing and has to fight against a joint force of Lannisters and Tyrells.
Many alliances are made or broken during this period and it really showcases the deep social gameplay that lies at the heart of Game of War and 4X games in general. Take a look at this detailed account from a player who participated to get a good idea of what’s involved.
Just like a real feudal war, Game of War also has a massive harsh and steep learning curve to its core game. Losses in this game are permanent so losing troops or a hero can usually cripple you completely, unless you are willing to pay to recover your losses. It’s definitely resulted in me churning from the game a few times over.
I find this mechanic very interesting when compared to a game such as Clash of Clans. It’s super hardcore but it really does give you the feeling of power as knowing you could destroy someone so totally that over three months of their playtime is rendered moot in just minutes is a very rewarding feeling and ties into what this game is all about – power.
This player lost over 40 BILLION power in an attack against them. It literally makes me cry just thinking about it…
It’s also a big reason why the game monetises so well. After being zeroed you will be offered packs and hero revives to get you back into the game and if you’ve seen months worth of progress it’s really easy to succumb to expensive packs to get you back into the mix or even to give you more power than the person who attacked you to get your revenge.
It makes the game completely pay-to-win, but one could argue that this is reflective of life itself. After all, those with the most money often do find themselves in positions of power…
Depth + complexity
Game of War has a myriad of tech and research improvements, hero abilities, etc. It just goes to show the bewildering depth the game offers
Whilst just scratching the surface of what these games have to offer, I hope the thing that becomes immediately apparent is just how deep these games are. In fact, I would go as far as saying that a game like StarCraft on the PC is probably easier to understand than a game such as Game of War.
The success of these titles shows that there is a real tangible market for complex games on mobile and that the mobile audience is becoming more game savvy.
The current top 10 grossing games list ranges from super-deep and complex games such as Game of War and Mobile Strike to mass-market with Pokemon GO and Candy Crush Saga. In my mind, this is a proof that the audience has expanded to such a point that there are multiple ways to succeed.
I would also argue that one compelling reason to play a 4X game is that the level of mastery is such that players get a lot of enjoyment about sharing their knowledge with each other, tutoring newer players and trying to think of ways to min/max game systems to achieve an edge or advantage.
An infinitely scalable economy
It may sound like a first-world problem, but a genuine worry for developers for a live service game is how to prevent players from completing and having access to everything. Once you’ve got everything you can lose motivation to play and pay which is bad for business and kills the motivation of others to play on.
In Game of War, persistent losses solve some of these problems as players can literally wipe out the progress of other players almost completely. However smart players will often not attack other players who can do that to them, leading to players become pacifists with one another.
The game does often run big events such as Kill-Events and Wonder battling to try and force players into losses, but it’s just one technique used.
A common way developers look to solve this is to introduce power creep by increasing numbers in the game. E.g. you can make more Stronghold levels, stronger gear, more levels, etc. What usually stops this from being a catch-all solution to all problems is that it requires more assets to be developed and broadens the gap between players at the start of the game and players at the end of the game.
For example, during one spell I played the game the top player world had around two Billion Power. These days that is small fry and I would have to do a lot of work to be competitive.
Game of War does solve these issues by scaling up their economy and power level but do so in a very clever way.
The whole game and its infrastructure have been made such that the live service is easy to operate and balance. The game is a thin-client meaning that it’s run entirely on the server so almost any device can connect to the game and meaning that new content and features can be rolled out very quickly without having to get players to upgrade their version.
The game also appears to be made entirely in HTML5 which means that although the graphical fidelity may be lacking compared to some of its rivals, it’s super easy to make new content. The lack of graphics actually help the game in some ways as to make new items such as gear and tech upgrades does not take a lot of production time to do.
The lack of a battle game also helps here. As the game is purely a spreadsheet crunching numbers, new units and battle balance are easy to do. The monetisation model of the game (which I’ll go through in details in the next post) also means that players can be offered tailored packages to boost them up in asymmetrical power levels, which is supported by the game economy and structure.
Overall it’s very cleverly thought out offering both super deep sinks but also allowing for a lot of head room to keep pace with a ravenous and big spending audience.
A unique feature of Game of War is that chat is translated from other languages into the language the player is playing in.
Given that Machine Zone pivoted from a company making social networks to freemium games, their chat and social layer built into their game is second to none. During the game’s beta, they introduced a real-time chat translation tool that players were rewarded with virtual currency for to help complete.
The end result is that when you play the game every single message from anywhere else in the world is translated into the language you are playing in. MZ realised that for a game that was built around being truly social if you came into the game and saw a lot of talk in another language, it would act as a barrier to your enjoyment and understanding.
Although the system is not perfect, being able to communicate to a decent degree of sophistication with anyone else in the world at any time makes the game feel alive.
Game of War also heavily leans in on Alliance Features and getting players into one as soon as possible. The game uses your location to try to find alliances that are within your geo/time zone so you will have an easier time finding friends to help you play the game.
The game also pushes you into an Alliance very quickly – usually during the first session to build up the real support network of other players who can help you.
Gifting to and from Alliance Members is a huge part of Game of War
The game also has a “kick-back” system. If anyone in your Alliance buys an IAP bundle, everyone else in the Alliance gets something. Although this can lead to some players “riding the wave” for freebies, most Alliances are self-regulating so if you aren’t paying, you better be fulfilling another important role and be online a lot as Alliances can’t afford to carry dead weight.
It also means that you are put under a certain pressure to spend to be seen to be contributing to an alliance. There is even the ability to purchase gifts for other players which ties-in very nicely to the rest of the social framework the game creates.
The game also has an absolute tonne of Alliance specific features that help build out the gameplay. With Alliance Cities, players have goals that the entire Alliance can work towards. Alliances can trade items and resources between each other. Alliances can directly message or private message one another to keep each other in the loop.
The list just goes on and on and it makes the game super social and connects every player within the alliance to each other. If there is a game that has more features than Game of War, I am yet to find it.
When you add up all of the features and frameworks that Game of War has you end up with a recipe for one of the killer reasons for its success. The game is incredibly social and as a result introduces a tonne of emergent gameplay that the players themselves determine.
As an example, Alliances often have differing roles between players. One may act as a banker to move currencies around the alliance to keep them safe. Some players may act as “farmers” who deliberately tune their economy to produce a tonne of resources at the expense of military power to help fund the rest of the alliance.
But doing so means that the rest of the alliance has to protect those players to keep their resources intact! Some players will act as scouts who find information out about the game world and report information back to the Alliance so that the alliance as a whole can organise their military maneuvers.
Oftentimes an Alliance will send out a decoy army so that they can issue a real attack against a completely different target.
As a result of all of this, gameplay can vary from kingdom-to-kingdom with a lot of the game actually becoming a meta-game of subterfuge, politics, and planning. Some Kingdoms have NAP’s (non-aggression pacts) where players can’t attack each other or capture heroes. Break these rules and the top dogs in each Kingdom will send in their forces and wipe you out.
Other Kingdoms are free-for-alls where anything goes and players can attack each other at will. Alliances leaders and lieutenants are thus in close contact with one another as often the enemy of your enemy can become your friend!
There is also often drama when big personalities from big Alliances have a falling out and start their own Alliance and take some of the original alliance with them to create the equivalent of a civil war. It’s the closest you can get to living in a real life version of Game of Thrones.
Gabe Leydon has gone on record to say that the players in their game are the ones that really make the rules and even the gameplay, they just provide the infrastructure to do it, and I can totally believe this to be the case.
Emergent gameplay comes from the decisions players themselves make, and if they decide in one kingdom that no one is allowed to capture heroes, then that’s how it will be, regardless of any incentive on offer to break the Kingdom rules!
Emergent gameplay is a dream for any developer to achieve. It means that a game can become evergreen as players can literally play forever. Combined with an economic and power system that is literally infinitely scalable and it’s easy to see why Game of War has been a success for so long and why it can continue to be a success for many years to come.
It’s real goal now is to keep the long-term invested players they have and to try and address the issue of new players being so far away from becoming competitive that they churn out and see a declining DAU. If there is one thing you take away from this look at 4X games as a reason for their ongoing success, emergent social gameplay is it.
Machine Zone’s games are the culmination of multiple deep systems that are in synergy with one another and that support the overall goal of trying to become the most powerful player in the game. The feeling of power is absolute in the game, allowing the top players to bully other people and put huge pressure on them to keep up to stay competitive.
The structure of the game has resulted in an infrastructure where players themselves determine the dynamics and rules of the in-game world, resulting in a very sticky experience for those that commit to it.
In our next article, we take a closer look at the monetisation systems in Machine Zone games, which are notorious for having players spend insane amounts of money, including a player that is rumored to have spent over $1 million in the game.（原鏈接：http://www.pocketgamer.biz/comment-and-opinion/66409/the-secrets-of-machine-zones-success-part-two-design/ ）
Deconstructing the secrets of MZ’s success part three: Monetisation and the future of 4X games
This multi-part series will deconstruct Machine Zone’s super successful games and look into the particular midcore genre dominated by the company. You can read part one here and part two here.
In part two of this series, we looked at the core design of Machine Zone’s 4X games. We delved into the infrastructure they put into place that allows for emergent social gameplay atop a near infinitely scalable game economy and permanent losses that pushes people into spending to catch up.
But Machine Zone and their 4X games are notorious for having some of the best LTV’s of any games in the mobile industry. This article looks at how they achieve that and what the future for 4X and midcore games could be.
Moving You Up the Ladder
Spending in Game of War is handled almost in the same way that a casino would. The game is always looking to move you up to the next tier of spending, and will give you better and better offers until you get there!
You can’t talk about Game of War without talking about its monetisation. Quite simply put there is no other game in the world that monetises better on a per user basis.
In fact, I would be shocked if the ARPDAU of the game is less than $1. Just look at this quote taken from an interview between Game of War Real Tips and Stayalive77, one of the top players in the game:
There is no doubt Stayalive spends a TON of money on Game of War. I asked if he has spent over a half a million, “ya ya, ya ya. It’s a very expensive game.”
Half a Million of Dollars! Into a single mobile game. And this was a few years ago when the quote was made.
The player is now rumored to have spent double that amount in the game. But just let that settle in for a second to truly understand the scale of the economy and sinks in this game. That’s not even possible in 99.9% of games out there and a testament to the design that a well built 4X game can achieve.
Whilst it may well disgust you to think about that money being spent, remember that people can choose to spend money in the way they want to.
For example, if I go out with my friends in London for a really epic night such as someone’s birthday I might spend ￡200. However, a celebrity like a footballer or a movie star might spend something like ￡50,000 in an evening if they were really blowing off steam.
And whilst that might sound outrageous to me, that is their prerogative and something you just have to accept in a capitalist system. And so you have to begrudingly applaud Machine Zone for making a game where it’s even possible to motivate players to want to spend that amount of money. If Game of War was a nightclub… there’d be a queue two miles long to get in!
This is a bill for 0K for a single night out spent by NBA hall-of-famer Lebron James. I wished I was there!
The monetisation strategy and design of Game of War is fairly unique and exceptionally well executed. Most games have flat price points that are balanced around a central economic constant such as time.
For example, if 10 Gems are worth one minute in real game time, then you can use that as a basis to create curves to balance price points around to anchor players to certain packages. It’s a tried and trusted technique used in a multitude of games and one which Supercell absolutely nails. However, Game of War doesn’t use this approach at all.
In Game of War, players are bombarded with offers and bundles for a crazy number of items and resources. However, the genius here is that each offer is tailored to each unique customer via very clever tech and surfacing.
You see, in Game of War, monetisation can be described as a “staircase” where the game wants you to keep moving upwards over time.
Think about a casino. They will often give you free chips, free drinks, and food to make you feel welcome and happy. A casino wants you to be happy and wants you to be fun so that you will spend. Then once you spend, they want you to spend more! Did you just get a thrill out of winning $2,000, even if eventually you end up losing it all? Well, how about the feeling of winning $4,000 at an even bigger table!?
A comparison of the same offer viewed from different accounts taken from PunchAndPie’s Game of War blog
Because the game economy is infinitely scalable, the game can offer you insane deals. This means that if you haven’t converted yet, the offers can go up and up until you do spend.
Then cleverly once you have spent, that bundle and price point is removed. So once you have spent $4.99, you can never get a bundle for that price again, it will cost $9.99 instead, and so on and so forth. Once you’ve converted once you are comfortable at that spending level and it’s only a matter of time before you will want to spend again, which is now at an increased level.
Take a look at this story from Kotaku of someone spending almost a million dollars (!) of stolen money in Game of War to understand just how skillfully this has been executed.
This goes further by targeting players based on circumstance. Haven’t played in six months? Then when you return you will be given a truly insane offer to get you right back into the game, which is clever because it’s better to get $2.99 from someone who would otherwise delete your game than no money from them at all.
Or if you have just been zeroed by a colossal attack, you can be offered the gear or items to launch a killer counter punch which you will be highly motivated to do.
Game of War has a casino-game style VIP system to encourage you to keep spending lots of money.
On top of this, the game also has a killer VIP system which is derived from casino and other real-money based games and encourages the player to keep spending. Not only can you become a VIP but you can climb the ranks of the VIP tier system to keep progressing and to keep getting even larger and more powerful boosts.
On top of this, you are given VIP status and it makes you look like a true killer in a sea of players on the world map. And in a game that is all about power and the social status that comes with that power, makes you a hot shot. It even gives you access to several convenience features such as the ability to fast open all chests or to instantly combine all pieces of gear.
These are things that once you have the power to do are very frustrating to lose hold of and it’s very interesting from a UX perspective that MZ chose to sell these as perks instead of making it part of the regular flow.
When you consider all of the systems in place in the game and the aspiration to be the most powerful, it’s no surprise that so many reviews for the game mention the fact that you need to keep spending money to keep up with the top players, because it’s true.
As the game facilitates the power of being a bully with endless power creep and permanent losses, a kingdom that was once mighty can be small-fry a month later.
But as players have built up social esteem with other players in their alliance and made their own reputation in their kingdom, players don’t want to get left behind and to be seen letting others down. Thus the social aspect of the game drags you back in and motivates you to keep spending.
The best user acquisition in the business
Mobile games once started out being very casual with village games, endless runners and puzzle games taking top spots. But over time more and more midcore games were released and started dominating the chart positions.
It became apparent that midcore players were far happier to spend serious sums of money in game they played. So armed with that knowledge, it led to a fight to find those high spending users and get them to install and play your game. And Machine Zone has proved over the years that this is an area where it is almost untouchable.
In the world of free-to-play, success is largely determined by two numbers your cost per install (CPI) and your LTV (lifetime value). With the depth of spend potential and social pressure to spend, it should come as no surprise that 4X games have the best LTV’s in the business, and this means that Machine Zone can be ruthless when it comes to out bidding rivals to acquire traffic.
In fact, they are notorious for it, with rumours that they brought ALL YouTube traffic when Mobile Strike launched in order to propel it into the top 10 grossing games as fast as possible.
The amount of creatives used and local optimisations MZ run is staggering. Quite simply they are streets ahead of anyone else in this area of mobile.
Quite how many people MZ employ to run user acquisition is unknown, but their power across all advertising networks is frightening. It’s not uncommon to hear of bids of $60 per user and a simple look at the adverts in any F2P game will more often than not contain a vast array of their games.
Whilst it might be easy to think “well sure they can just outbid everyone else,” this doesn’t do the company justice. They run way more creatives than any other company and are constantly updating and optimising them down to the local maxima to keep them fresh.
They clearly are doing better than any other company to optimise their user acquisition and it’s even rumoured that they have their own proprietary technology to help them best identify big spending users to make sure they get them.
Despite a slew of copycat titles, often with better visuals, features and IP than the Machine Zone games, none have seriously dented the huge revenues Machine Zone make.
The power of their UA is best seen in their ability to fend off other competitors in a very competitive genre. Many companies have cloned Game of War and improved upon them with better visuals and features, but no one has taken top spot away from them.
Though it’s possible that the company is spending at break-even or worse to monopolise their position at the top of the charts, the company’s potential market cap of over $10 billion makes it obvious that there is a method to the madness.
Is this the end for Game of War? Since the launch of Final Fantasy XV, downloads have decreased as spend has been allocated for the new title.
However, despite their proficiency in the dark arts of user acquisition, it’s interesting to see that of recent MZ have changed their strategy somewhat.
New title Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire uses the Square Enix IP and though there is a revenue share agreement in place it would not surprise me if MZ has wanted to focus their efforts on games with a higher margin as high fantasy is notorious for having the highest CPIs of any genre.
It’s also notable that since the turn of the year MZ has really been going into full harvest mode on Game of War, dramatically increasing the release rate of new gear and upsetting a number of their players.
It may well be that after years at the top and billions in revenue, it’s time to cash out and move onto the next title. The competitiveness of this sector can’t be downplayed and that MZ both took the crown from Kabam and retained their position on top for so many years despite so many rivals trying to catch them is hugely impressive.
Just to show you how big this category could be worth, Israeli based Plarium Games were acquired for a staggering $500 million in the time this article was published, with most of their revenue in their portfolio coming from 4X games such as Vikings: War of Clans.
Even the infamous Zynga attempted to eat into Machine Zone’s cake with a Mafia Wars version of a 4X game. Unfortunately, this game never passed through the soft launch period as the company decided to discontinue it.
While some people have blamed the visuals, the IP or Zynga’s lack of experience in the genre the real reason may be in user acquisition costs. Having seen a lot of theme testing in user acquisition we’ve noticed that the crime theme is often a poor performing theme, which results in higher CPIs.
When the cost of user acquisition is higher than those of the competitors and when the monetisation is the same at best, there’s no point in going live and entering this super competitive market.
Looking at the genres that Machine Zone has reskinned Game of War into, it again shows their understanding and power in the UA market to know which theme is best to make their game around.
Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire
Final Fantasy XV is Machine Zone’s third 4X title. Despite prettier graphics, it’s the same game game you’ve already come to love or hate in Game of War and Mobile Strike. Despite this, it’s drawn a large numbers of players to the title already.
Machine Zone’s latest title saw a collaboration with Square Enix of Japan to use their Final Fantasy IP. I find this game a very interesting case in it’s own right as despite being a straight clone of Game of War and Mobile Strike (albeit with prettier graphics), it’s doing great.
In fact despite an initially low review score and incurring the scorn of gamers worldwide for essentially making the least “Final Fantasy-ish” game to use the IP ever, it’s found enough installs to move up the charts steadily.
Whilst I hope it does not lead to other famous IPs diluting their brand by directly copying an existing game, it proves that their are still huge audiences that have not played 4X games that can be reached.
I also think it’s proof that many of the mechanics of the game are ripe to be plucked and put into totally different genres. It reminds me a bit of how Call of Duty: Modern Warfare evolved the FPS genre on console with its perks system that is now commonplace in almost all FPS games.
The future of midcore
One thing that I love about the mobile market is that it’s still a puzzle that we game makers need to figure out. Just look at the following for diversity in the marketplace:
A recent look at the top grossing games in the USA.
Whilst a number of these titles have been around for a long time, there is diversity among the gameplay types represented. We have casual puzzle games with Candy Crush, smash hit IP games with Pokemon GO (ARG) and Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle (RPG), Build and Battle with Clash of Clans, 4X games with Game of War / Mobile Strike, and 《部落沖突:皇室戰爭》 representing synchronous battle gaming.
That’s a lot of different genres appealing to many different target demographics. I think this shows that there is plenty of room for both innovation and evolution in the market as both Pokemon GO and 《部落沖突:皇室戰爭》 have created entirely new genres and Gardenscapes has created innovation in what was thought to be the already figured out casual market.
Is midcore evolving once more? Brawl Stars and Arena of Valor have proven hat MOBA and MOBA-light games have appeal and games like Crusaders of Light and Lineage 2 Revolution show that even an MMO has potential in some parts of the world. Contra in China is making bank despite being a 2D shooter on mobile! Whilst I wouldn’t expect many of these titles to succeed in the West, it will influence the next generation of mobile midcore hits.
So what’s next for midcore? Well despite Final Fantasy XV getting off to a good start globally, it’s quite some distance from breaking the top 10
It’s also notable that since the release of the game and the shift away from UA for Game of War and Mobile Strike that those games have now fallen out of the top 10 grossing games as users start to churn from those games en mass. Is it possible that the general public’s taste in midcore games is evolving again?
Since the release of Supercell’s 《部落沖突:皇室戰爭》, we’ve seen that there is a sizeable audience looking for synchronous PvP games are more moment-to-moment focused and less about deeper surrounding systems.
Looking at markets around the world we can see that in China the top grossing game is a MOBA. Both China and Korea also have huge MMO titles in Fantasy Westward Journey and Lineage 2 Revolution. Whilst Asian culture is totally different to the Western culture, MMOs have been popular in the past, with Everquest and World of Warcraft being great examples.
If Game of War has taught us anything it’s that players ARE willing to spend long periods of time on their mobile device, so who’s to say that a “true” MMO would not succeed? I personally believe that at some point in time a mobile MMO with town style lobbies and 3D player avatars akin to World of Warcraft will eventually be a hit at some point. Someone just has to build it and get the users in first.
Lords Mobile by IGG is an example of a ’5X’ game. It has a character battle game loop on top of the traditional as battle reports seen in most 4X games.
Another trend seen over the last 12 months is innovating again within the 4X genre through something I am labeling as a “5X” game. With the 5th “X” standing for “eXcite”.
Whilst MZ 4X games do not have a battle game, many other developers are trying the concept with success seen in Lords Mobile by IGG and innovative use of traditional RTS mechanics in the Zynga’s flagship mid-core title Dawn of Titans.
hough Dawn of Titans has not performed well in the market, Lords Mobile is frequently in the top 25 to 50 grossing positions around the world.
As midcore players get used to more and more complexity, it brings back one of the fundamental parts of the mobile game design to the forefront – session design. Machine Zone has gone on record to say that they have seen players sit through very long sessions (hours+) playing their games, and it’s something I have seen across multiple different games myself.
However, in the West, I think the best mobile games push you through their core loops quickly, but make sessions so addictive you want to do it more than once.
For example in Game of War to come in and set up the next set of actions you need to complete takes no time at all allowing for a short bite-sized session. The longer play habit is also available but it’s not the core to playing the game and hence why adding a battle could be problematic.
Likewise, 《部落沖突:皇室戰爭》 has no restrictions at all for playing the game endlessly, but using its genius Chest Unlock system and making sure that each game takes a maximum of three minutes means that it’s still super easy to have a short but meaningful game session that brings you back.
Hit games in China are moving away from this rule and going for far longer sessions, something that has been tried with Vainglory in the West, but not yet resonating with customers. I do wonder if we will see a shift towards long form gaming or if the bite size session will still prove to be the winning formula.
It’s also worth mentioning synchronous battle games as a “new” type of genre that is fast gaining traction in mid-core. A number of developers have tried to chase the MOBA crowd onto mobile but most thought it was not possible until 《部落沖突:皇室戰爭》 exploded onto our screens and set the charts alight.
Hot on its heels are a number of games that are getting more and more hardcore and I am sure at least one breakout title will appear next year with synchronous gameplay, with Supercell’s own MOBA / vertical shooter-style game Brawl Stars one of those possibilities.
With rising user acquisition costs and a few key companies monopolising the market, the “word-of-mouth” factor is huge and it’s something that I feel games with eSports potential can cover. Supercell is putting a lot of effort into coverage of 《部落沖突:皇室戰爭》 and 30 of the top 100 games in China are eSports-style games.
This is not yet as red an ocean as traditional midcore but it will definitely be a big battleground in the next one to three years.
Mobile 4X games have shown us that complex games with super deep mechanics that are intrinsically social can win big on mobile. Despite being very scary to begin with and almost inaccessible, these games can get players to stick for a very long period of time.
In fact, it shocks me that there isn’t a version of the game that broadens the funnel right out and rethinks the accessibility of the early game because clearly as of here and now 4X gameplay mechanics are popular to a small but heavily monetisable audience.
As for what’s next, it’s possible that the 4X space as we know it is starting to show it’s age. Whilst I would expect a few more titles in this style to come out over the next 12 months, it appears that tastes are beginning to change.
And for those other developers that do still want to go toe-to-toe with Machine Zone, their technology, user base and expertise in the area mean that you are fighting a hard battle to take share away from them, especially with CPIs to acquire these players going through the roof.
As a result, I think games by smaller teams with a heavier emphasis on core gameplay will become more and more popular as these games are easier to develop and have a better word of mouth potential to grow over time.
However, it won’t stop some from trying though and I can see 4X games becoming even more hardcore and concepts from the East such as real-time 3D lobbies becoming a thing. As an example, what would happen if Blizzard made a mobile MMO?
Finally, as this article is about Machine Zone, I want to end with a video given by the CEO of Machine Zone Gabe Leydon in 2013 just as the game was launching.
It’s a great watch to get an insight into how the game was made and why, and proved to be a great piece of research for this article. Even from the video you get a sense of the passion from him that went into making the game.
And regardless of what you think about the company or the games, you can’t question the success the company has had or the impact their titles have made on the mobile app stores.（原鏈接：http://www.pocketgamer.biz/comment-and-opinion/66454/deconstructing-the-secrets-of-mzs-success-part-three/）