解析超級遊戲開發商Machine Zone的成功祕訣(三):盈利

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(公司歷史),這裏是第二部分(遊戲設計 ) 。

在本系列的第二篇中,我們分析了Machine Zone公司4X遊戲中的核心設計。我們深入研究了遊戲中的基礎設施,新興的社交玩法疊加上幾乎是沒有規模限制的遊戲經濟,還有永久性損失,這些都能推動玩家花錢復位。

Machine Zone和旗下4X遊戲的生命週期總價值在整個移動行業內數一數二,這也多少給他們招來了壞名聲。本文意在分析他們是如何達成這種現狀,以及4X和midcore遊戲前景會如何發展。

讓玩家往上爬

在Game of War中花錢其實就跟在賭場裏花錢差不了多少。遊戲總是盼着你花更多的錢,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遊戲可以在單個玩家基礎上掙得比它還多。

實際上,要是這遊戲的平均每付費用戶收入(ARPDAU)少於1美元,那我真的會很震驚。看看我截取Game of War Real Tips和Stayalive77的採訪對話,後者是這個遊戲的頂級玩家之一。

毫無疑問,這位Stayalive玩家已經在遊戲中砸了很多很多的錢。我問他有沒有超過50萬,“有有有有……這遊戲真的很燒錢。”

整整50萬美元啊!都扔進一個手遊裏了!而且這個採訪是幾年前做的了。

有傳聞說現在的玩家花費可是當年的兩倍了。但是先讓我們冷靜一下,真正地去理解遊戲中的經濟規模和貨幣體系。99.9%的遊戲都不可能做到這種程度,但這也證明了只要下功夫去設計,優秀的4X遊戲是可以獲得這樣的成功。

雖說想到那些花出去的錢可能會讓你相當反感,但是不要忘了人們都有自己喜歡的花錢方式。

舉個例子,在倫敦,我和我的朋友要出去過個美好的夜晚,比如說爲某個人慶祝生日,我可能會花掉200英鎊。然而,如果是一個名人,像是足球運動員或者是電影明星,如果他們真的想要盡情揮霍,可能就會一晚上花掉50000英鎊。

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。所以你只能不情願地爲Machine Zone鼓掌,他們的遊戲大概就是有這個能力讓玩家投入這麼多錢。如果Game of War是個夜店,那麼店外就會排上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。大部分遊戲都有統一價格點(遊戲邦注: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,那麼你可以以這個爲基準,製作曲線,平衡價格點,這是個靠得住,不會出錯的技巧,很多遊戲都用過,Supercell更是運用自如。但是,Game of War根本沒有用這個方法。

Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire(from pocketgamer.biz)

Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire(from pocketgamer.biz)

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,絕妙之處在於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,盈利可以被描述爲“走樓梯”,遊戲想要一直讓你往上走。

想想看賭場是什麼樣的。他們會給你免費的薯條、免費的酒水還有免費的食物,讓你感受到他們的熱情款待,感受到快樂。賭場就是希望你玩的開心,玩的愉快,這樣你就會花錢了。一旦你的錢花出去了,他們就會想要你花更多!即使你最後還是把輸光了,但你剛剛是不是因爲贏了2000美金而感到欣喜若狂?好吧,那麼找個更大桌子,贏個4000美金怎麼樣!?

從PunchAndPie的Game of War博客裏截取的:不同賬戶提供的同類折扣對比。

由於這個遊戲的經濟可以無限制地擴大,系統提供的交易只有你想不到,沒有它做不到的。這就意味着如果你還沒改變主意,折扣就會越來越低直到你花錢。

一旦你花錢了,禮包和價格點就會改變。所以一旦你花出去4.99美元,你就永遠都買不到這個價格的禮包了,價格會上升到9.99美元,以此類推。一旦你改變主意了,一旦你適應了這個消費級別,距離你想要再次消費只是時間問題了,等你再次消費又是另外一個級別的價格了。

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!體會一下這遊戲的實際盈利能力有多厲害。

根據不同玩家的情況還可能更厲害。你才玩不到6個月?當你回到遊戲的時候,遊戲會提供給你一個簡直是便宜到喪心病狂的折扣,誘惑你回到遊戲中來,這麼做其實挺聰明的,從別人那裏賺個2.99美元,總比人家直接刪掉你的遊戲,半毛錢都撈不到的要好。

或者如果你遭受敵人的重創,身無分文,不剩一兵一將,遊戲會給你提供裝備或者物品幫你殺回去,對玩家來說這是個很大的誘惑。

Game of War有一個類似賭博遊戲的VIP系統,驅使玩家長期、大量地砸錢。

除此之外,遊戲中有一個相當酷的VIP系統,借鑑了賭場方式和其他用真錢玩的遊戲,鼓勵玩家不斷投錢。你不僅能成爲VIP,你還能升級VIP等級,繼續往上爬,可以拿到更多、更厲害的強化道具。

而且,你也會被附上VIP的標籤,在世界地圖上,茫茫玩家羣體中,你看起來就像是一個真正的殺手。在一個以實力爲中心,實力決定社會地位的遊戲中,VIP能讓你變成大紅人。甚至還能讓你接觸到一些便捷功能,例如能夠快速打開所有寶箱,馬上合成所有裝備碎片。

這些東西如果沒有VIP權力就沒辦法得到,玩家也會對失去特權而感到沮喪,從用戶體驗的角度來看,遊戲把這些東西當作額外福利賣,而不是包含在普通內容裏,這是一件挺有趣的事。

你考慮一下游戲中的所有系統,還有想變成最強玩家的渴望之心,你就不會驚訝這遊戲的那麼多評論都說需要一直花錢才能跟上那些頂級玩家,因爲這就是事實。

遊戲中有不設上限的的power creep,意味着恃強凌弱的局面永遠都不會消失,而且遊戲甚至也在鼓勵這種現象,再加上永久性的損失,一個曾經榮耀一時的王國有可能在一個月後就變成了螻蟻。

但是隨着同盟玩家之間建立起了社會尊重,在王國中有一定聲望以後,他們就不會想要成爲吊尾車,做出讓別人失望的事情。因此,這遊戲的社交功能可以把你拖回遊戲中,而且還能給你繼續花錢的理由。

業內獲取用戶最多的遊戲

手遊曾經是由非常休閒的小鎮養成遊戲、無盡頭的跑酷遊戲還有解密遊戲佔據熱門位置。但是隨着時間久了,越來越多的midcore遊戲發行並且開始在排行榜上領跑。

顯然midcore遊戲玩家非常高興爲手頭上的遊戲花費這麼一筆錢。所以結合上述的信息,結果就是大家都搶着要那些花大錢的玩家,希望能下載他們的遊戲,然後玩起來。Machine Zone已經證明了就算好幾年過去了,他們在這塊領域的地位幾乎還是無人能撼動。

在免費遊戲的世界中,成功很大程度上取決於兩項數據:你的單次安裝成本(CPI)和生命週期總價值(LTV)。鑑於遊戲的消費潛力和能夠促使玩家消費的社交壓力,4X遊戲擁有業內最高的生命週期總價值也就不是什麼令人驚訝的事情了,這也意味着Machine Zone可以在競標的時候無情地踢走競爭對手,達成交易。

事實上,他們在這個方面也是臭名昭著,有傳言說他們在Mobile Strike發行之際把YouTube的所有視頻流量都給了它,爲了讓這個遊戲儘快擠入收益榜的前10。

MZ使用的創意數量和局部最優化程度是非常驚人的。在這方面他們比手遊業內的其他人領先了好多。

MZ究竟僱了多少人投入到用戶獲取的工作中,我們不得而知,但是在所有的廣告平臺上都能看到他們的信息,這是很嚇人的。他們要爭取從每個用戶賺60美元並不是什麼罕見的事,去看看其他F2P遊戲內嵌的廣告,通常大部分都是MZ的遊戲。

可能想起來是很簡單“他們當然可以用高薪去挖牆腳啊,”但是這對公司來說是不公平的。他們公司用的創意人才比其他公司都多,持續地對遊戲進行更新,優化它們達到局部最大值,保持它們的新鮮度。

顯然在優化用戶獲取上,他們比其他任何一家公司做得都好,甚至還有傳言說他們有自己的專利技術幫他們鑑別土豪玩家,這樣他們就能留住這羣財主。

儘管市面上還有很多盲目的模仿遊戲,通常他們的畫面、遊戲特色、IP都會比Machine Zone的遊戲好,但是沒有一個能夠匹敵Machine Zone的鉅額收入。

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製作遊戲,而且對遊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。

雖說有可能公司爲了保持它們的榜首地位投入了很多,甚至是多到打破了收支平衡,但是公司的市場潛力的最高值也超過了100億美元,顯然要取得這麼一種成功也不是沒可能的。

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,因爲公司的資源必須撥一部分給新遊戲。

然而,先不管他們在用戶獲取方面使用的黑科技,看看最近的MZ是要改變他們的策略還是怎樣,也是很有趣的一件事。

新遊戲《最終幻想15:新帝國》用的是Square Enix的IP,儘管有收益共享契約,但要是MZ想要做一個能夠賺更多利潤的遊戲我也不會驚訝,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於今年的轉變,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。

大概是因爲佔了這麼多年的榜首位置,收益都達到了十幾億美元,是時候把注意力放在下一個遊戲了。你不能小看這個領域的競爭有多激烈,MZ兩次從Kabam的手中奪過來冠軍位置並且保持長達這麼多年,那麼多對手努力想要趕上他們也無濟於事,這是非常讓人佩服的。

這個類型的遊戲到底有多值錢,就在這篇文章發佈之際,以色列遊戲開發商Plarium Games以5億美元的價格被收購,差不多是跟他們所有4X遊戲(遊戲邦注:例如Vikings: War of Clans)的收入持平。

甚至連聲名狼藉的Zynga都想利用一款黑手黨版本的4X遊戲搞垮Machine Zone。但很不幸,這遊戲沒能撐過測試發行期,因爲公司叫停了這個項目。

有人怪它的畫面,IP或者是因爲Zynga在4X遊戲上缺乏經驗,但是真正的原因可能是他們的用戶獲取成本。見過了那麼多以用戶獲取爲目的的主題測試,我們注意到以犯罪爲主題的遊戲通常表現得不好,會導致更高的單次安裝成本。

當用戶獲取的成本比那些競爭者還高,而且盈利效果也是一樣好的時候,就沒有必要進入那個競爭超級激烈的市場中。

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,他們知道什麼主題纔是對遊戲最好的。

《最終幻想15:新帝國》

《最終幻想15》是Machine Zone第三款4X手遊。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。儘管如此,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。我覺得關於這個遊戲的情況還是挺有意思的,儘管它是Game of War和Mobile Strike的克隆品(畫面有所提升),但是表現還不錯。

實際上,儘管初期的評分比較低,遭受到了來自世界各地玩家的鄙視,說這個遊戲雖然用了IP,卻一點都不“最終幻想”,但是這遊戲的下載量還是足以讓它在榜單中穩步上升。

然而我還是希望其它著名的IP遊戲不要像這樣把現有的遊戲換了個殼直接套上,削弱自己的品牌,其實還有很多沒有玩過4X遊戲的用戶可以爭取到。

我也在想,這同時證明了這遊戲的很多機制都可以提取出來植入到完全不同的類型中去。這讓我想起了《使命召喚:現代戰爭》是如何利用它的perks系統改良主機端的FPS遊戲,變成現在這種形式,現在幾乎所有FPS遊戲都有perks系統。

Midcore遊戲的未來

關於移動市場,我最喜歡的就是它像是一個謎團,需要我們這羣遊戲製作人去解開。看看我下邊說的這些市場的多樣化吧:

近期美國市場的高收益遊戲。

雖然這裏的大多數遊戲已經在排行榜上待了很長時間,但是遊戲玩法類型各不相同。有休閒益智遊戲Candy Crush,大熱門IP遊戲Pokemon GO(ARG)和Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle (RPG),建造和戰爭遊戲Clash of Clans,4X遊戲Game of War / Mobile Strike,還有代表同步對戰遊戲的《部落衝突:皇室戰爭》。

針對不同年齡段的用戶,市場中有很多不同類型的遊戲。我認爲這就體現了市場中還有革新和發展的空間,因爲Pokemon GO和《部落衝突:皇室戰爭》都是全新體裁,還有Gardenscapes對傳統的休閒遊戲體裁進行了再一次創新,即使這種體裁已經被認爲是過時的。

Midcore遊戲要再一次進化嗎?Brawl Stars和《王者榮耀》已經證明了MOBA和輕MOBA遊戲是有市場的,而且Crusaders of Light和《天堂2》也證明了連MMO遊戲在某些國家的市場也是有潛力的。儘管《魂鬥羅》是個2D射擊遊戲,但是在中國手遊市場還是大賺了不少。雖然我不看好這些遊戲會在西方會成功,但是多少會對下一代的midcore手遊趨勢產生影響。

所以midcore遊戲的下一步該做什麼?儘管《最終幻想15》在全球市場範圍內都開了個好頭,但是距離進入前10還是有一段距離的。

還有值得注意的一件事就是由於《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遊戲上,於是這兩個遊戲的的當下排名已經掉出了收益榜前10。有沒有可能大衆對midcore遊戲的口味又改變了?

自從Supercell旗下的《部落衝突:皇室戰爭》發行以來,我們看見了有大規模玩家尋求同步PvP遊戲,他們更關注即刻發生的遊戲內容,而不太留意精細的遊戲環境。

看看各個國家的市場,我們可以知道在中國最賺錢的遊戲是個MOBA遊戲。中國和韓國也有大型的MMO遊戲:《夢幻西遊》和《天堂2》。雖然亞洲文化和西方文化迥然不同,但是MMO遊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教會了我們什麼就是玩家是非常願意長時間地耗在他們的移動設備上,所以誰能說MMO遊戲不會成功呢?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手遊會最終成爲大熱門。得有人去做這件事,先把玩家拿下才行。

IGG打造的《王國紀元》就是一款“5X”遊戲。在4X遊戲傳統對戰報告的基礎上,《王國紀元》增加了角色對戰循環體系。

在過去一年中興起的另一個苗頭就是4X類型的再次變革,我把它稱爲“5X”遊戲。這第5個“X”代表“刺激(eXcite)”。

雖然MZ的4X遊戲中沒有戰鬥環節,但是很多開發者都在嘗試IGG《王國紀元》中的成功概念,還有Zynga的重磅midcore遊戲《泰坦黎明》中對傳統RTS(即時戰略遊戲)遊戲機制的創新運用。

儘管《泰坦黎明》在市場中的反響並不好,但是《王國紀元》經常在各個國家的收益榜排前25-50的位置。

隨着midcore玩家適應越來越複雜的遊戲內容,這時候就得回到手遊設計的基礎部分之一:流程設計上。Machine Zone說他們見過玩家坐在那兒,玩他們的遊戲,打了好幾個小時的長流程,我自己也是看過了好多不同類型遊戲的玩家也這麼幹。

但是,在西方,我認爲最好的手遊應該是能讓你快速通過遊戲的核心循壞,但是把流程做得相當有吸引力,能讓玩家上癮,想要多玩幾遍。

舉個例子,在Game of War中,進入遊戲安排接下來的一系列行動根本不用花什麼時間,只有一個小而簡單的流程。想玩久一點的流程也是有的,但是那不會是遊戲的核心部分,所以說爲什麼增加個戰鬥環節就會有問題呢?

同樣地,《部落衝突:皇室戰爭》也沒有任何限制,你可以玩到天荒地老,遊戲中使用了絕妙的開箱系統,確保每場戰鬥最多隻有3分鐘時間,這也就意味着玩家很輕易地就可以享受到這種時間短但不缺乏內容的遊戲流程,能夠有效地保證玩家返回遊戲。

在中國市場的話就不能按照這個規則走,需要很長很長的流程,《虛榮》就是這樣的,但是在西方目前還沒引起玩家的共鳴。我確實很好奇,將來長流程玩法會不會變成主流,又或者還是這種短小精悍的流程能夠贏得玩家的心。

還有值得一提的是同步對戰遊戲作爲一個“新”類型的體裁在mid-core遊戲中迅速吸引了玩家的注意力。很多開發商都努力想要跟着MOBA大部隊登上移動平臺,但是大多數人認爲直到《部落衝突:皇室戰爭》出現在我們的屏幕中,MOBA遊戲纔算真正成功地登上了移動平臺,在排行榜上大展拳腳。

緊接着就有很多hardcore程度越來越高的遊戲,我敢肯定至少有一款脫穎而出的遊戲會加入同步玩法,Supercell的MOBA/射擊類型遊戲Brawl Stars就很有可能。

隨着用戶獲取成本的提升,還有幾個主要公司壟斷市場,口碑就變成了非常重要的因素,我覺得那些具有電競潛力的遊戲可以在這方面成功。Supercell目前在努力擴大《部落衝突:皇室戰爭》的覆蓋範圍,在中國排名前100的遊戲有30個都是電競風格的。

電競手遊市場目前還沒有像傳統midcore遊戲市場競爭那麼激烈,但是在接下來的一至三年也肯定會變成一個大戰場。

總結

4X手遊向我們展示了複雜遊戲加上本質上是社交的複雜機制是可以在移動市場收穫碩果的。儘管開頭是一件很可怕的事情,很難實現,但是看看這些遊戲,玩家願意花這麼長的時間在遊戲上。

實際上,我還是很驚訝竟然沒有一個遊戲可以擴大受衆範圍,沒有人去重新思考早期遊戲的易接受度,4X玩法機制現在是小衆,但是能在少數人手裏賺很多。

至於接下來該做什麼,有可能4X類型已經開始走下坡路。但是我還是會期待同樣類型的產品能在接下來的一年中多幾個,看起來人們的偏好已經有了改變的跡象。

至於那些想跟Machine Zone正面對決的開發商,鑑於他們的技術、用戶基礎和專業知識,這就意味着你要打一場硬仗,要搶走他們的份額,尤其是CPI,用來爭取那些花錢不眨眼的玩家。

因此,我認爲更注重核心玩法的小團隊製作出的遊戲會變得越來越受歡迎,因爲這些遊戲開發難度相對較小,口碑潛力也比較好,還可以隨着時間增長。

但是,想要嘗試的人也不會因此停下腳步,我看到4X遊戲甚至比以前還要hardcore,還有東方的概念比如3D實時大廳,也變得越來越重要。舉一個例子吧,要是Blizzard製作一個MMO手遊的話會怎麼樣?

最後,由於這篇文章是關於Machine Zone的,我想給你們看看2013年這個遊戲剛發佈的時候,Machine Zone CEO Zone Gabe的演講視頻。

Machine Zone CEO Zone Gabe的演講視頻

優酷站點鏈接

聽聽他深入講解這個遊戲,如何製作,爲什麼製作,你會覺得作爲這文章研究的一部分也是很棒的。即使是隔着屏幕你也能感受他製作遊戲的熱情。

不管你如何看待這個公司,或者他們的遊戲,你都無法質疑他們取得的巨大成功或者是他們的遊戲對移動應用商店產生的巨大影響力。

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 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 《部落衝突: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 《部落衝突: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 《部落衝突: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, 《部落衝突: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 《部落衝突: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 《部落衝突: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.

Wrapping up

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.(source:pocketgamer.biz