解析超級遊戲開發商Machine Zone的成功祕訣(二):遊戲設計

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。你可以點這裏閱讀第一部分。

在第一篇文章中,我們把Machine Zone的遊戲類型定義爲“4X手遊”,那麼4X手遊是如何運作的呢?

雖然按理說Kabam旗下的Kingdom of Camelot纔是第一款在app store獲得成功的4X手遊,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手遊並且讓Machine Zone公司聲名遠揚。

這遊戲不只是關於戰爭——還有權力

這款最成功的4X手遊利用了人們想要統治、想要稱王的慾望。

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,遊戲玩法也是很簡單的點來點去。它教你一些遊戲基本的東西,但是並沒有直接告訴玩家爲什麼要這麼做。實際上,大部分4X手遊在呈現遊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。毫不誇張地說,遊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多人的遊戲環境裏,任何細微的數值差異變化都會讓玩家細緻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的遊戲結構和社會框架和這個圖解十分一致,終極目標就是成爲國王。

爲了符合中世紀的風格設定,Game of War創造了很多“遊戲中的遊戲”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係就和Game of War中不同玩家之間的關係很相似。

遊戲是在一張由不同的王國組成巨大地圖上展開的。每個王國都有一處奇蹟聖地,敵國可以通過發起戰爭搶奪。整個遊戲世界有一處超級奇蹟聖地,所有玩家都可以爲它而戰。

Game of War(from pocketgamer.biz)

Game of War(from pocketgamer.biz)

掌控超級奇蹟聖地的聯盟就可以在很大程度上主宰遊戲,該聯盟的領導者就是遊戲中的國王或者王后。整個遊戲體系也是如此,遊戲中的統治者可以對遊戲中的每個人強制徵稅,或者給其他玩家、聯盟安置頭銜。

Frey家族的領主Walder Frey是個卑鄙小人,只爲自己考慮!這也是個表現Game of War和4X遊戲中社會局勢可能發生變革的典型例子

不管玩家是在遊戲中的哪個階段,他們在遊戲中都有重要的作用。剛開始玩的時候你的貢獻可能只是宏觀中很小的一部分,但是你的資源還是對王國有作用的。

你越往上走,對自己王國的影響力就越大,對整個遊戲的王國也是如此。或許你所在的聯盟完全不可能掌控奇蹟聖地或者超級奇蹟聖地,但是你有可能對擁有它的玩家產生影響。這就意味着你的支持對那些爲奇蹟聖地或者超級奇蹟聖地戰鬥的人很重要,還有聯盟之間的協商談判也是不可忽視。

在下一部分我會講到遊戲中社會體系的真正力量,但是我想讓你們明白的是在4X遊戲中,這種實現手握大權,主宰世界的夢想可以從心理上刺激你不斷玩下去。遊戲就是圍繞這種核心情感驅動進行製作,提供支持。

當你攀上王者的寶座,看見其他人用盡一切討好你,這種感覺是非常讓人上癮的,具有強大的吸引力,好像這就是真實生活一樣。

他們說“絕對的權力就是絕對的腐敗”,如果你創造出這樣一種助長王權鬥爭的遊戲,並且可以通過花錢取得有利位置…好吧這也許就解釋了在最初的時候這遊戲爲什麼可以這麼成功了。

一個永恆的世界

Game of War中的王國地圖。每個據點都可以看出玩家們在遊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遊戲,這並不是謊言。這遊戲是個大型多人在線的永恆世界,所有東西都處於進行時。遊戲中的每個行動都會通過廣播系統讓所有玩家知道,就等於每次攻擊、每次行軍還有每次交易都是公開的。

世界地圖也是非常巨大,意味着每個人都可以盡情體驗4X遊戲機制中的探索部分。從技術性角度來讚賞這個級別的併發性感覺是非常令人震撼的,總是給人一種真實生活的錯覺。

一支軍隊正朝着敵方城市行進,準備發動攻擊。等到軍隊到達目的地時,只剩下2:51。花費一定時間到達目的地是Game of War和4X手遊玩法中很重要的一部分,也對遊戲起着平衡作用。

這也意味着很多重要的遊戲機制都和遊戲世界有關。玩家可以掌控一個據點,展示他們的城市和人民,這會在遊戲地圖上標註出來,地理位置也是非常重要的。

到某個地方去或者是對那邊發起攻擊意味着其他玩家可以在地圖上看見你的軍隊或者英雄的行進過程,到達目的地需要花費一些時間。這就意味着如果你經過的地方附近有其他玩家可以幫你防禦或者附近有自然資源,那將是幫助你勝利的重要輔助。

玩家可以控制資源方塊,它可以爲城市經濟提供額外的資源並且加強了4X遊戲的資源開發機制。但是在行軍或者旅途中你可能會遭受攻擊,你自己的城市也可能會被攻擊。這就有了各種各樣好玩的場景和方法。

你甚至可以利用假裝行軍來對付敵人,然後返回原地再出發去別的地方。看到這些實時的相互作用,讓應變式遊戲玩法(遊戲邦注:emergent gameplay)更加有意思,這都能在遊戲中看見。

循環以及核心系統

用一張簡單的圖來解釋Game of War中的絕對核心行動(absolute core actions)。這遊戲非常深奧,要把所有東西都放在一張圖裏解釋實在是太難了。

本質上來說,Game of War和它的後續產品玩法是很相似的。在這個巨大的遊戲世界中,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。

這個玩家正在進行遊戲中的核心行動:建造、探索、訓練軍隊還有製造工具。玩家可以選擇加速這些行動,還可以向他人請求幫助建造4級Academy。

一旦玩家們完成教程,他們就可以一次進行四種核心行動。建造、探索、訓練軍隊、製造工具可以同時進行,但是不能重複安排。

有些遊戲比如說Mobile Strike,允許玩家僱傭額外的建築工人加入現有的工程中,但是我們先假定這遊戲裏也有吧。因此玩家的單次基本流程包括進入遊戲、花掉一些手頭上的資源執行這四項行動、尋求幫助、最後開遊戲。

某一項行動完成後,玩家就可以進入遊戲接着安排另一項,以最佳方式取得遊戲進展。

付錢加速

對於免費遊戲來說,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。

剛開始的時候,可以不用花錢就立即完成行動,或者是爲了讓玩家快速熟悉遊戲,耗時都非常短。但是隨着玩家深入遊戲,行動耗費的時間會越來越長,要花上好幾天,好幾個月甚至是好幾年才能完成。

在遊戲過程中,有時候會收到同盟成員的幫助請求,這時求助圖標就會出現,讓玩家注意到。點擊它就能讓玩家進入到同盟互助(遊戲邦注:Alliance Help)界面,在這裏玩家就可以幫助他們的同盟夥伴。

遊戲會提供給玩家幾個選項避免玩家等待時間過長。他們可以向同盟中的夥伴求助。這種發出請求、給予幫助的循環是一種高價值的核心社交互動,它讓同盟在發展遊戲的過程中成爲了必不可少的部分,同時也利用了社會中的交互作用和利他主義讓玩家一起合作,建立起他們之間的聯繫。

這也能鼓勵玩家們儘可能地花更多的時間在線上玩遊戲。對於建立聯繫,形成同盟成員之間有意義的互動是個很好的方法

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,也有益於獎勵循環和盈利機會。

玩家也可以使用加速道具加速遊戲中的計時器。遊戲會慷慨地贈送加速道具,可以從獎勵、內購包還有其他各種回饋中獲得。這些加速道具是遊戲設計中的點睛之筆,這樣的話在流程中玩家想怎麼玩就能怎麼玩。

想要在Game of War中縮短流程並不難,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遊戲中屢試不爽。

然而,這也可以爲玩家提供機會去打其他比較長的流程,因爲提高資源產量功能的進度條已經滿了,可以多次使用。這對於週末時候玩的話就更好不過了,玩家有更多空閒時間可以耗在流程上。

而且會有哪個F2P遊戲不讓你花錢跳過等待時間啊?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。

Game of War(from pocketgamer.biz)

Game of War(from pocketgamer.biz)

遊戲循環和玩法

基本行動和核心遊戲緊密聯繫。遊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,後期在the Kingdom View的elder game中更加得心應手。

在玩遊戲之初,系統會發給玩家大量的遠征任務,完成它們可以幫助玩家升級據地和英雄,利用遊戲中的基礎任務幫助玩家變得更加強大。

每個小時會產生一定量的資源,玩家可以根據他們自己的進度和擴張意願來選擇遊戲策略。玩家可以選擇推動經濟發展來提高生產率,爲同盟或者他們自己提供資源,或者選擇投資遊戲中的軍事力量,變得更加強大。還有可能會和同盟的夥伴一起合作,幫助調整同盟的整體經濟。

簡單瞭解一下Game of War中的PvP是怎麼運作的。看,實際上你都看不到戰鬥發生。整場戰鬥是在一個電子表格中進行的,對玩家隱藏了算法。

和其他很多mid-core遊戲一樣,遊戲中也有PvP元素,包含了elder game,和王國地圖、其他玩家和同盟之間的互動。我覺得很有趣的地方是,這類遊戲大部分都看不到真正的戰鬥,它們只是發給玩家一份戰報就了事了。

這大概會讓人回憶起在網頁端做戰鬥遊戲是個多棘手的問題,預算和專有技術都讓人頭疼。但是在移動平臺上,就可以省下好多事情了,不用再去教玩家更復雜的東西。

看不到畫面使得這個遊戲更加“meta”,因爲玩家只能靠想象來描繪戰爭是怎麼進行的,儘管系統會發送戰報,但是還是很難搞明白要怎麼做才能在戰鬥中表現得更好。

所以在對戰方面就多了很多隱藏的奧妙和技巧,同時也增加了遊戲入門的複雜程度,因此,遊戲中就有了交易功能。

簡單看一下Game of War的英雄和製造系統,還有他們是怎麼緊密關聯的。

發展玩家的英雄是遊戲中的另一種核心途徑。剛開始遊戲會隨機分配給玩家一位英雄,在遊戲世界中就是玩家的將軍。英雄可以隨着時間累積技能,加上裝備,變得更強。

製造這部分是個無底洞,玩家們真的可以爲了得到最好的道具、提高技能花費上百萬小時和金錢。玩家們也可以俘虜敵方的英雄,甚至是處決,以此來獲得戰鬥力加成,促成一些更好社會規則產生。

想想《權力的遊戲》中Jaime Lannister被Starks抓了,然後Catelyn Stark協商放他走。

奇蹟聖地和領土主權

來自玩家Snow_1021的截圖,展現了去年爲Kingdom of Fire 超級奇蹟聖地戰鬥的場面。看看有多少玩家爲它加入角逐。

可以說Game of War的elder game就是關於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蹟聖地,超級奇蹟聖地的優勢更爲明顯,能夠直接確定誰會成爲Game of War中的帝王或者是女王。

每月一次,排名靠前的玩家和聯盟會進行一場爲期4天的戰爭,決出統治者,勝者會根據四天的總時間所決定。鑑於這樣的榮譽,很多玩家都對超級奇蹟聖地心馳神往,希望至少能擁有它一秒鐘也好,截下他們成爲帝王的那一畫面,製造大混戰。

成爲統治者能對遊戲世界產生巨大的影響。他們能給其他玩家和聯盟賦予頭銜,也能提升/削弱他們的技能。他們可以自定稅率,讓其他玩家都不得不交稅。因此,當一個迎合少數玩家的國王可以讓你在寶座上呆的久一點…但是記住,爭奪王權的人永遠都不會少!

這一系列爲了爭奪超級奇蹟聖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《權力的遊戲》中有一集Stannis Baratheon試圖奪取 Kings Landing,不得不面對Lannisters家族和Tyrells家族的聯合抵禦。

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遊戲核心中的社交玩法的深奧之處。看看這位玩家寫的詳細記錄,他參與了超級奇蹟聖地爭奪戰,對其中涉及的部分有非常棒的見解。

歸零

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。遊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,除非你願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遊戲。

我認爲這種方法比起像是Clash of Clans這樣的遊戲,還是很有趣的。這樣做非常具有hardcore遊戲的風格,讓你感受到強者的力量。你可以把某個人摧毀的如此徹底,讓三個多月的遊戲時間在幾分鐘內就都付諸東流,這種成就感與遊戲的核心,也就是力量,密切聯繫着。

此玩家在對抗戰中損失了400億點實力值。真是想想就可以讓我哭了…

這也是爲什麼這個遊戲這麼賺錢的主要原因之一。當你手頭上的東西都沒了以後,系統會提供給你遊戲包和英雄復活機會讓你返回遊戲,如果你這幾個月的花在遊戲上的時間非常值得,那麼你就很容易向昂貴的遊戲包屈服,回到混戰之中。你甚至會變得比你之前的對手還要強大,走上覆仇之路。

這就讓遊戲完全成爲了“有錢你就是贏家”的局面,但是也有人說其實這也反映了現實本身。畢竟,那些錢最多的人通常都是坐擁權勢。

深度+複雜度

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遊戲的複雜程度。

雖然我還停留在遊戲的表層,但是我覺得遊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遊戲甚至比Game of War這類的遊戲更容易搞懂。

這些遊戲的成功也表明了複雜手遊確實有市場,而且現在的手遊玩家對這類遊戲也比較熟練了。

收益最高的10款手遊有像Game of War和Mobile Strike這樣超級複雜的遊戲,也有像Pokemon GO和Candy Crush Saga這樣的大衆遊戲。在我看來,這就體現了玩家羣體已經擴大了,遊戲商有多種途徑可以獲得成功。

我還要提出一個可以說服其他人去玩4X遊戲的理由:不同熟練程度的玩家都能各種體驗中得到很多樂趣,例如互相分享經驗、帶領新手、思考如何調整遊戲系統來如取得優勢。

可以無限升級的經濟

聽起來是個無關緊要的小問題,但是我由衷地爲開發者們擔心,在線服務遊戲要裏如何防止玩家們完成所有事情,一切都無憂無慮呢?一旦你手頭上什麼都不缺,就會失去了玩遊戲的動力,也不再關注,這對於商人來說是非常糟糕的事情,而且也會打擊其他玩家的積極性。

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,因爲玩家可以把其他人的遊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。

遊戲中確實經常會有大事件例如Kill-Events和奇蹟聖地戰爭,迫使玩家遭受損失,但是這只是一種技巧運用。

開發者們常用的解決辦法就是引入power creep,把遊戲中的各項數值都拉高。舉個例子,你有能力把據地的級別升得更高,製作更好的裝備,有了更高級別,一帆風順。要阻止這種現象,開發者們通常會增加升級所需的資源數量,把新手玩家和後期玩家之間的距離拉大,就這就是能解決所有問題的辦法。

例如,我有一段時間在 the top player world 裏玩,大概有20億實力值。放到現在那都不算什麼,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。

整個遊戲和它的基礎建設讓在線服務的運營和平衡都簡單了很多。遊戲採用的是瘦客戶端(thin-client),意味着它全是在服務器上運行的,所以幾乎是任何設備都可以和遊戲連接,新加入的遊戲內容和特色很快就能出現,不用等玩家更新版本。

整個遊戲也是基於HTML5製作的,意味着儘管從畫面保真上可能遜於它的某些對手,但是要增加新內容沒有任何難度。畫面上的缺失其實在某些方面對遊戲是有幫助的,像是製作新道具比如裝備,還有技術升級,都不用花太多時間就能完成。

缺少戰鬥也是有幫助的。因爲遊戲是完全靠電子表格處理數據,新單元和戰鬥平衡實現起來都很簡單。遊戲的盈利模式(遊戲邦注:我會在下一篇裏細述)也表明了系統可以提供給玩家定製包,根據等級不同提升技能,由遊戲經濟和結構提供支持。

總的來說,提供一個深不見底的池子供他們探索但是同時也留出了上升空間跟上那羣飢渴,大手筆投資的玩家,這樣全面考慮還是很睿智的。

出色的社交功能

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。

鑑於Machine Zone以前是一家給免費遊戲製作社交功能的公司,他們遊戲中的聊天和社交層那可是無人能比。在遊戲測試期間,他們引入了實時聊天翻譯工具,提供幫助的玩家能夠得到虛擬幣獎勵。

最終成果就是當你在玩遊戲的時候,從任何地方發來的任何信息都會被翻譯成你正在使用的語言。MZ意識到要做一個基於真實社交的遊戲,如果你進入遊戲的時候看見一大堆外語對話,那會成爲你享受遊戲和理解遊戲的障礙。

儘管這個系統還不是很完善,但是能夠在任何時間和世界上的任何一位玩家來一場得體對話,這就讓遊戲變得很真實。

Game of War也非常依賴聯盟特性,讓玩家儘快加入聯盟。遊戲利用你的位置來尋找和你同一地理位置/時間區的聯盟,這樣的話你向夥伴求助的時候會比較方便。

遊戲很快就會把你拉進一個聯盟——通常是在第一次加入支援功能,告訴你誰能幫你的時候,你就得進入聯盟了。

同盟成員之間互相贈送是Game of War中非常重要的部分。

遊戲中也有“回饋”系統。如果你聯盟中的某個人買了IAP捆綁包,那麼聯盟中的每個人都會獲得獎勵。雖然這會導致某些玩家專吃白食,但是大部分的聯盟還是比較自律的,所以如果你沒有出錢的話,你最好在其他重要的地方出力,多花點時間在線上,因爲聯盟扛不動吃白食的無用之人。

這也意味着你會承受一定的壓力,要費些力氣才能讓聯盟看到你的貢獻。遊戲中甚至還有給別的玩家買禮物的功能,在其他的社交功能中可以找到。

遊戲中還有許多聯盟特有的功能,爲遊戲玩法增添樂趣。在聯盟城市中,玩家們會有任務目標,聯盟中的成員都可以爲目標作貢獻。同盟成員之間可以交易道具和資源。同盟成員之間可以直接發送消息或者是私聊,確保對方能夠接收到消息。

還有其他很多說不完的功能都夠體現此遊戲社交功能的強大,還有同盟中的玩家彼此之間的緊密關係。如果還有哪個遊戲的特色比Game of War還多,那我就馬上去找出來。

Game of War(from pocketgamer.biz)

Game of War(from pocketgamer.biz)

應變式遊戲玩法

當你搞明白了遊戲中所有的特色和框架,也就意味着你也給遊戲的成功添上了自己的一塊磚。由於社交功能非常出色,導致了遊戲中大量引入應變式遊戲玩法,這都是由玩家決定的。

舉個例子,同盟成員的有各種不同的角色。有人可能是銀行家,把金錢在聯盟內部到處轉移,以確保財富的安全。有些人可能是“農民”,調整經濟,提高生產量,提供大量資源給軍方使用,幫助他們爲其他的聯盟成員出資出力。

但是這樣做的話意味着聯盟剩下的成員都得去保護這些玩家,還要保證他們的資源不受損害。有些玩家是偵查員,蒐集遊戲世界裏的信息然後彙報給聯盟,這樣的話聯盟就可以制定整體的軍事策略。

通常聯盟會設置一個誘餌部隊,這樣他們就能對另外一個目標實施真正的攻擊。

結果就是不同王國會有不同的遊戲玩法,實際上會有很多會變成包含耍花招、政治鬥爭、策略規劃的元遊戲。有些國家有互不侵犯條約,玩家無法攻打對方,也不能俘虜英雄。打破這些條約的話,每個國家的領主會派軍來消滅你。

其他可以自由混戰的國家,玩家可以憑自己的意願隨時開戰。因此,聯盟領導者和軍官之間要隨時保持密切聯繫,因爲你敵人的敵人可以成爲你的朋友!

遊戲中也有戲劇性的部分,某些大聯盟的大人物鬧不和,帶上一些原始成員退出,成立他們自己的聯盟,這相當於發動內戰。這是現實生活中你見過的最接近《權力的遊戲》的畫面了。

Gabe Leydon已經公開表示Game of War的玩家制定了他們自己的遊戲規則,甚至是遊戲玩法,他們作爲開發者只是提供了基礎設施,我十分肯定實際就是這樣的。

應變式遊戲玩法源於玩家本身做的決定,如果他們決定這個國家誰都不能俘虜英雄,那麼事情就這麼定下來了,不管送什麼東西都不能破壞王國的規則!

對於任何一個開發者,應變式遊戲玩法都是一個想要實現的夢想。它意味這遊戲可以屹立不倒,因爲玩家會一直玩下去。結合可以無限升級的經濟和權力體系,你就很容易明白爲什麼Game of War經歷了這麼長的時間還是熱度不退,而且在之後的好多年它也可以繼續保持下去。

製作商現在的真正目標就是留住那些長期投資的玩家羣體,儘量處理那些新手玩家的問題,因爲他們完全不具備競爭力,很容易就拋棄這個遊戲,這樣的話日活躍用戶數量就會減少。如果你要說奪走某樣東西就能阻止4X遊戲繼續成功的腳步,那絕對就是應變式社交玩法。

結論

Machine Zone旗下的遊戲是multiple deep體系的巔峯代表,這些體系相互配合,努力達成一個大目標:成爲遊戲中最強的玩家。玩家在遊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,這就給相對不那麼強的玩家增添了很多壓力,逼他們保持競爭力。

這種遊戲的結構使得玩家們可以在這種基礎環境中制定他們遊戲世界中的規則、制度,同時也會導致其他玩家因爲不得不屈服於他們而有了極不愉快的遊戲體驗。

我們的下篇文章會聚焦在Machine Zone遊戲的盈利機制上,它們的氪金能力真是無人不知,有謠言說有個玩家在這個遊戲上已經花費了超過100萬美元。

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 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.

Getting zeroed

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.

Incredibly social
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.

Emergent gameplay

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.

Conclusion

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.(source: pocketgamer.biz )