解析超級遊戲開發商Machine Zone的成功祕訣(一):歷史

解析超級遊戲開發商Machine Zone的成功祕訣(一):歷史

原作者:Guest Author 譯者:Willow Wu

這一由衆多部分構成的系列文章將會解析Machine Zone旗下的超級熱門遊戲,深入研究由該公司領頭的mid-core類遊戲。

糟糕的用戶體驗、讓人摸不着頭腦的玩法、過時的畫面。這只是其中一些對於Machine Zone的大熱門遊戲,例如Game of War,Mobile Strike和現在的Final Fantasy XV的主觀看法,來自於我在遊戲行業中的同伴們。

然而撇開這些消極評價,Game of War曾在收益最高的5個遊戲中有一席之地,並且佔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遊陣營,然後接着第三個遊戲,與Square Enix聯合制作Final Fantasy XV:New Empire也來了,直接闖入前50。

很多公司也效仿這些遊戲,也獲得了成功。但是這些遊戲是如何獲得如此巨大的成功呢,其原因又是什麼?我們又能從它們中學到什麼?

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,玩家羣體把焦點轉移到了即時發佈的新手遊Final Fantasy XV:New Empire上,這也導致了之前兩款遊戲的排名下滑。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。

本系列文章將會從全局視角出發,探討這類遊戲,也就是4X遊戲,劃分其中的一些關鍵設計和體裁特徵,討論盈利機制,最後對遊戲的未來走向做出預測。

machine zone revenue(from pocketgamer.biz)

machine zone revenue(from pocketgamer.biz)

在整個系列中,我會把Machine Zone當做是參照例子。

“4X”遊戲是什麼?

NGD製作的The Master of Orion系列就是非常典型的4X遊戲,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遊戲”,也算是給嘗試描述這類遊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。

這個新造術語起源於1990年代,用來描述PC端的策略型遊戲,玩家在此類遊戲中可以統治帝國,進行探索(eXplore)、拓張(eXpand)、開發(eXploit)、征服(eXterminate)。有些熟悉的遊戲就應用了這些機制,包括Age of Empires, Civilisation, Alpha Centauri, Total War: Rome和Master of Orion。

探索指的是玩家在地圖中搜尋周圍的領地、資源和其他玩家。通常情況下,玩家在遊戲一開始的時候是沒辦法看見整個世界的,所以當玩家發現了隱藏在遊戲世界中的神祕事物,就會產生一種沾沾自喜的感覺。

拓張指的是玩家通過建造新的定居地或者擴大現有定居地的影響力來擴張自己的領地。

開發指的是玩家收集、利用自己領地中的資源來提高利用率。這一般是可以從城市經濟狀況,資源生產優化程度,軍隊的威力就能看出來。

征服指的是攻擊並消滅敵方玩家。(或者在Game of War中是把另一個玩家“化零”)有些遊戲中,到最後所有領域都會被各個玩家佔領,要進拓張只有消滅敵方這個選擇。

如今的西方手遊,mid-core市場是由4X遊戲(例如Game of War, Mobile Strike),建造&戰鬥類遊戲(例如Clash of Clans,Boom Beach)和同步戰鬥類遊戲(例如 Clash Royale,Hearthstone也勉強算吧)主導的。

雖然這一大堆遊戲都集中在同一個(動作策略/midcore類遊戲)池子裏,爭奪相似的玩家羣體,但是各家的遊戲體裁是完全不同的,在很多細節上都有區別,遊戲結構也是獨一無二。

4X手遊簡史

近五年做得最成功的4X手遊包括Clash of Kings, Vikings, Mobile Strike和Kingdoms of Camelot。

2011年,Kabam公司在移動平臺上發佈了他們之前在Facebook上大獲成功的遊戲Kingdoms of Camelot。Facebook遊戲是中國PC網遊的復刻品,這種網遊在東方非常受歡迎。

這些網遊是由一些剛起步的小公司製作的,他們起初嘗試做的是在線4X PC遊戲,但是鑑於技術能力不強,資源有限,只能改變策略。

與其要把戰爭部分做成類似Age of Empire或者Total War裏面那樣精細考究,完全靠元遊戲交互帶動,你甚至都看不到戰爭是怎麼發生的!

倒不如讓開發者們利用網絡的力量,還有連通性,來創造一個同盟和社會相互作用的遊戲,把團隊協作和背叛當做是遊戲日常的主題。

現在我們熟悉的這種畫風和城市等距視圖最早是起源於2011年發佈的Kingdoms of Camelot手遊。這遊戲比Game of War早發佈了整整三年,Game of War從它那裏借鑑了非常多的東西。

2011年,midcore遊戲在移動平臺上剛剛開始嶄露頭角,Kabam的優勢在於他們已經擁有一大批玩家羣體,意味着會有許許多多的玩家會來光顧他們的移動產品,送他們一個開門紅。

也許不經意間,他們就發現了移動平臺比起Facebook或者網頁端,是一個更吃香的平臺。通過推送通知給玩家,讓他們在其他通訊程序中聊天,而不是在遊戲內部交流,這樣比在Facebook平臺更合適。

這個遊戲對Kabam公司來說是一大碩果,於是他們決定給遊戲換個包裝,授權制作了與電影配套的遊戲The Hobbit: ingdoms of Middle Earth,發佈於2012年年底。這款遊戲也是個成功之作,爲Kabam製作4X手遊打下了基礎。

然而,平心而論,儘管這些遊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發佈了Game of War,才讓4X手遊大放光彩。

Machine Zone的故事

Machine Zone(現在也被熟知爲MZ)本身就是一個非常吸引人的故事。成立於2008年,他們原先的名字是Addmired,爲MySpace製作AddHim和AddHer這兩種Hot-or-Not網站風格的widget插件。

但是客觀地說,這些插件並沒有什麼閃光點。但是技術棧和社交網絡方面的專有技術在公司內部紮根,再後來他們利用這些東西賺了一大筆——圍繞着遊戲話題,通過社交網絡和玩家建立聯繫。

Machine Zone的早期遊戲iMob。這是一款類Zynga旗下Facebook平臺作品Mafia Wars遊戲的純移動版非即時多人遊戲

2009年,MZ轉向免費遊戲,發佈了Original angstaz和iMob,也算是相當成功但是還不是風投公司想要尋找的那種成功。

有謠言說MZ意識到雖然他們擁有專門技術,能夠做出世界級水準的移動社交網絡產品,但是缺少用戶基礎,做起來不划算。

因此,他們決定製作遊戲,並且有自信能夠獲得足夠的用戶基礎,取得成功。於是他們在2012年開始製作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。但是精彩的還在後頭。

Machine Zone接連發布好幾大作,但是跟Supercell公司不同,遭受到手遊行業內專業人士的痛批。

我認爲Machine Zone的故事還是很能啓發人的,因爲它告訴人們即使你在過去遭遇過挫折,還是能改變境遇,收穫成功。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,他在製作Game of War上下了大注,也贏得漂亮。

結論

如果你看到MZ僅靠少數遊戲產生的日常收益數額,想不嫉妒都難。他們鑑別出PC上熱門的遊戲類型/遊戲玩法,注意到它已經移植到移動平臺上了,繼而進行優化提升,把付費用戶的數量最大化。

他們爲midcore的衍生類型遊戲創造了新市場,並且把這個市場帶動起來,讓4X遊戲市場成爲了競爭最激烈的擂臺,人人都想從中分一杯羹。

但是他們是如何實現的呢?你可以在後續發佈的文章找到答案,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遊戲公司背後的遊戲系統設計。

本文由遊戲邦編譯,轉載請註明來源,或諮詢微信zhengjintiao

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.

Conclusion

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.(source:pocketgamer.biz