長篇聚合:從歷史,設計和盈利三個層面解析Machine Zone

聚合版:從公司歷史,遊戲設計和盈利模塊三個層面解析Machine Zone

解析超級遊戲開發商Machine Zone的成功祕訣(一):歷史

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。

Game of War(from pocketgamer.biz)

Game of War(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。(遊戲邦注: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。(原鏈接  )

 

解析超級遊戲開發商Machine Zone的成功祕訣(二):遊戲設計

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。

Game of War(from pocketgamer.biz)

Game of War(from pocketgamer.biz)

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。

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(遊戲邦注: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。

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。

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。(原鏈接

解析超級遊戲開發商Machine Zone的成功祕訣(三):盈利

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。

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。

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

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

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http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMzAyMTI5Mjk4OA==.html?spm=a2hzp.8244740.0.0 )

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。(原鏈接

這個系列非常的長,來自我的搭檔Willow的用心編譯

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.

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. (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.

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.(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.(原鏈接:http://www.pocketgamer.biz/comment-and-opinion/66454/deconstructing-the-secrets-of-mzs-success-part-three/