Set Rotations (Pt.2) Clash Royale Idea

(In this article, we will do a proposal on how to adapt the Set Rotation system of MTG to Clash Royale. If you want to get the basics of the system, check out the previous article).

Also, please note that I’m not affiliated on any way with Supercell and I’m unaware of their future plans regarding CR. This is just for fun!

A meme from a reddit user. Ouuuch, it burns >~<

We all love Supercell, and we all love Clash Royale.
But for a company that expects their games to be played for years and years, Clash Royale content structure is not built in a way that can keep the game fun forever, because it can’t sustain an endless flow of new content.

A static endgame and its inability to surprise players with new gameplay are factors seriously harming the performance of Clash Royale, so here I attempt to provide an idea on how to flip that sinking arrow back up : )

CLASH ROYALE AND ITS PROBLEMs

Despite being a great game, the truth is that Clash Royale has been declining in both business metrics and player interest for the past few years, recently reaching its lowest historical mark in terms of revenue (as of April 2020).
This not the trend that we see on Clash of Clans or Brawl Stars, which have in fact reinforced their revenues during the last year (globally speaking).

(Average top grossing ranking position on US, iOS) – As of May 2020

WHY IS IT DECLINING?

In my opinion, the main issue is that the key weaknesses that were already detected by Michail Katkoff from Deconstructor of Fun back in 2016 have not been fixed yet:

  • The endgame eventually turns into a repetitive grindfest.
  • And there’s no incentive to try new decks and strategies.

Once you reach the endgame, the advanced user game experience is far away from the core of Clash Royale’s original fun, which was based discovering and mastering deck strategies and card combos.
This negative situation is the consequence of two big problems in their content management strategy:

  • New cards are introduced in very small doses which are not enough to make the meta move forward, since they don’t introduce new strategies and mechanics that are widely adopted by the whole community.
    Everybody has mastered and uses the same main strategies.
  • New cards (and their combos) are exclusively oriented to high end users, which are the only ones that can afford to max them out for competitive purposes, which is making the game more P2W and pushing out newcomers or lower spending profiles.

As a consequence, Clash Royale’s metagame has become stagnated and players have limited reasons to keep on playing and remain engaged. Nothing new will surprise them.

Recent developments such as the adoption of a seasonal model, Battle Pass and the focus on cosmetics are helping by providing side objectives to remain in the game, but they are palliatives to the core problem, and not actual solutions.
And they haven’t changed the negative trend.

Why don’t just… release more cards?

This sounds like an obvious solution to this gameplay stagnation. Nevertheless, if we take a look at the numbers, it seems that Clash Royale is going the opposite direction.

My assumption is that the team’s idea is to make each card feel truly unique and amazing — at the cost of the quantity. But it might also be motivated the issues linked to an orthogonal differentiation model without a content deprecation system, which we raised on the previous post:

  • It’s increasingly difficult to create balanced cards.
    And it gets even harder with every new one released, because designers first need to make sure that they new card is effective against current dominant strategies, but not too much.

    And then, some time later, designers will need to find a counter for that.
    That is also more effective to the previous ones… and this is eventually not sustainable because you will ran out of valid ideas.
    Or even worse, maybe some great and fun ideas can’t be applied because the power escalation passed them over some time ago.
  • Its harder to make new fun combos, because new cards have less orthogonality. Game complexity would explode if new behaviors and mechanics were constantly introduced, and then they remained forever.

    What this means is that new content relies more on linear escalation, and many of the new cards that are updated and boosted versions of earlier archetypes, or combinations of them, rather than truly new cards…
This is what happens with the Skeleton Dragons (2020) and the Baby Dragon (2016)… two similar flying short ranged area damage units where the main difference is stat (and amount) based…
  • And ultimately, even if fresh, balanced and fun new cards were created, currently there’s no way to distribute them among players.

    They would be highly expensive to get and to upgrade up to competitive levels. So it would make the game more interesting for high end paying users, but not for the average player.

So let’s tackle all these issues:

SET ROTATIONS IN CLASH ROYALE

WHAT TO CHANGE, What to Keep?

Considering the data available, I think it wouldn’t make sense to revamp the early game experience:
The core gameplay that made Clash Royale extremely engaging and popular back in 2016 is still there, and the decline in revenue can be more attributed to a general decrease of interest in the game due to its inability to provide an interesting endgame, rather than the market having moved on from this genre or the release of competitors.

If anything, once the transition to a rotative meta game is completed we might want to review if there would be positive effects on accelerating the progression to 4k trophies, since I suspect that path has been abnormally extended in an attempt to push back the problematic endgame stage as much as possible.

We will not be touching the trophy system or inflation balancing either, since I don’t think the issue is a lack of competitiveness on the higher leagues, but rather that the gameplay becomes very repetitive and P2W at those points.
And even if I believe Clash Royale’s trophy system in leagues is less elegant and predictable than ranks based on amount of victories (like Hearthstone, MTGA…), I don’t see the current trophy balance as a blocker for the introduction of set rotations.

As a consequence, we will focus on the endgame stage, pursuing two objectives:

  1. We want to be able to introduce big batches of new content, which will make the metagame move forward, pushing players to collect and upgrade new cards, build new decks, and master new strategies and card combos.
  2. We want to be able to deprecate big amounts old content to make new content creation and balancing easier, guarantee the metagame rotation and generate a comeback effect among churned players.
    This obsolescence has to be come at a reasonable pace, and old cards should still have an usage, albeit limited.

This is achieved through 3 changes:

CHANGE #1: CONTENT Sets (SAGAS)

In Magic: The Gathering, content is separated in sets of ~270 cards released every 4 months. In Clash Royale, new content would belong to groups I’ve called Sagas.

Each Saga would be recognizable through a combination of name, icon and a year: the Undead Invasions Saga (2020), the Thunder God Saga (2020), the Destroyer of Worlds Saga (2021)…
These names would be related to Clash Royale’s universe lore developments which would be progress together with the Sagas: exploring where do the goblins come from, the tale of a Barbarian tribe clashing with dragons, etc…

Incidentally, this would also be a great opportunity to introduce recurrent and recognizable characters (heroes), which take part on the storyline and contribute building a stronger IP.

Cards from the same saga would have the same icon on the top corner.

Contents of a Saga

The idea would be that each Saga would contain enough new cards to greatly affect the metagame, its cards would include new and exclusive mechanics and the whole set would have a focus on a specific set of 2-3 strategies and combos, so players can choose in which of the strategies they do want to specialize.
For example:

SagaLoreMeta StrategyNew Mechanics
Undead Invasions (2020)Necromancers are invading the Kingdom, building strange altars… Summoning skeletons which get bufs from buildings (Altars)Malevolence (Undead get boosts when Altars are built)
Trolls Rising (2020)Goblins awake their Troll cousins… Will that be enough to stop the Undead?Strong giants with AOE that counter previous meta, but which require hordes of goblins.Sleepiness (Trolls require an amount of units at field or they fall asleep)
The Last Stand (2020)Both armies clash. A lucky goblin will change the course of the battle…Cards which synergize with previous sagas.n/a
Troll Hunters (2021)Evil is stopped, but a new group is hunting the trolls…Area damage dealers + killers that target trollsBounty (hunters get boosts by scoring kills)
(Due to space constraints, here I’m just describing one strategy per saga, but the idea would be that there would be 2-3 valid opposed strategies per saga).

And when it comes to the amount of content, Sagas would have cards from all rarities.
What I would expect is something like this:

RarityAmount of Cards
All~10
Common4
Rare3
Epic2
Legendary1

I am aware that this would mean a significant increase on the pace of card release (from ~5 cards per year to ~40), but take in account that creating cards would be easier than it is currently because:

  • Cards within a saga would be built around new mechanics and synergies.
  • The same strategies and card combos could replicated at different rarities, with differente degrees of power (great for creating quantity of content easily obtainable, and make lower players be part of the latest meta).
  • Card design process would be revamped towards something closer to the Magic R&D set design process, with future leagues of highly engaged users playtesting upcoming content…
    This is a dense topic I’m not going to enter into, but you can find more details on MTG’s incredible set development process all over the internet : )

Releasing and Deprecating Sagas

We would have to take a look at Supercell’s data to get the final numbers of course, since the release and deprecation of the Sagas should be based on how much time do players need to fully master all these cards and combos, and when they’re ready to start a spending rush again.

But in this example, I’m gonna say that a new saga is released every 4 seasons, and that deprecation happens at the end of the year in the name of the saga.
The year of the saga would be a +1 of the current one, meaning that at any given point in time there would always be between 3 and 6 playable sagas:

Cards from a Saga would be obtained through the usual reward systems (Battle Pass, Chests…) but we would add a new thing which are the Saga Chests, that would allow collectors or players looking for just that card to complete my combo to focus more their spending.

The STARTER Saga

If you’ve read to this point you’ll be asking:
But JB, how can we keep the early game unchanged if we’re replacing the entire set of cards every 2 years?“, and maybe even “JB, wouldn’t this many changes make the game core unrecognizable?“.

This is why we would keep a basic set of cards outside of the Saga system.
This group would be composed by the cards that appear on the starting arenas, which teach the player the basic strategies and behaviors of the game (archers, giant…), in a similar way to what HearthStone does with their Basic set.
So no need to touch the early game.

The Basic Set in Hearthstone is composed by the first cards that players get in the game.

Starter Saga cards would be a bit power creeped out by the rest of the Sagas, looking to make that they’re not the best option to play once players reach the metagame.

CHANGE #2: OLD CARDS USAGE

With the introduction of Sagas, we’re pretty much covered when it comes to introduce and deprecate old content. But we still have the issue of having to provide a (limited) usage to old content.
Here, there are two opposed directions that we can follow:

  • Option 1. Dusting:
    When a Saga is deprecated, you transform cards that are no longer valid into resources to gather or upgrade the cards that are still valid.
    Collector players would still get something, like a sticker on an album.
  • Option 2. Use is limited to specific events:
    This is the closest approach to MTG (which doesn’t make it the optimal, though): there might be an unbalanced mode in some events which would allow you to use any historical cards, or those belonging to a specific saga.
    What is achieved with this is that players would still be interested on obtaining and upgrading old cards, which means a huge amount of rewards to grant without hurting the main ingame economy.
Same as in MTG, in Hearthstone players can use their full collection on a secondary mode.

CONCLUSION: DUSTING WITH COLLECTION

Overall, I think the best option would be to go for a Dusting system, since it would make it easier to implement and maintain, and overall follows better the Supercell design philosophy of keeping systems with the lesser amount of pieces possible.

Nevertheless, together with the Dusting I’d strongly recommend adding a card album feature where you unlock forever the cards that you obtain. This would a great objective for collectors , and also allow for the benefits of the Option 2 eventually

We designed a similar feature in Monster Legends a few years ago, and it was a great way to improve player interest over obtaining each of the creatures of the game…

CHANGE #3: ENDGAME ECONOMY REVAMP

One of the reasons why CR is so repetitive towards the endgame is because by that point there are few new cards to unlock, and progression is based on upgrading them.

Card upgrading might be point of the system where most money comes from, but it’s not very fun because – for the most part – doesn’t provide new skill challenges nor the need to learn new combos or techniques.
This is something where Brawl Stars is clearly superior, since the ragers mastery depth grow linked to upgrades, when they unlock the star powers and gadgets.

Rather than by adding star powers to cards, we are trying to solve this issue by boosting the capacity of Clash Royale to integrate new ones, and therefore be able to put more focus on whats fun (unlocking new cards).

As a consequence, the introduction of Sagas should come with an acceleration of the overall upgrading economy, making it faster and cheaper to upgrade cards.
This is a requirement to keep player spending at a reasonable level despite pumping up a lot of extra cards, and make them deal easier with the fact that the content will become mostly unplayable within a year.

I believe this move would be very positive for the monetization, because:

  • It would decrease the pay-to-win factor in the game, allowing lower spending players to become engaged and spend within their budgets. And, like we said, it would decrease the grind, improving player engagement and retention.
    Therefore, it would increase the customer base.
  • The decrease on spending depth per card will be countered by the increase in card quantity. What this means is that if we decrease the card max out cost to 50%, but we increase the amount of cards by 2, we get the same money but there’s more people buying.
    This is healthier for the business and will increase customer satisfaction.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I am aware that the changes I am proposing are quite aggressive, specially on the topics of game economy acceleration and the amount of new cards per year.
And while I think all of them are achievable challenges (specially by the superb team of CR), they would probably clash with the idea of keeping the team at a super-small size, which is part of the genetics of SC…

However, I think now it’s the right moment for Clash Royale to become ambitious on tackling the structural changes necessary to solve the issues that have been in the game since 2016, and never properly tackled.

The potential for Clash Royale to get back player attention, and to return to its former top grossing positions is still there, but I believe it requires making bold moves in the line of what I’ve proposed.

I hope you enjoyed this little exercise, and forgive any mistakes I may have made.

Would you like to see something like this in Clash Royale? Do you think it wouldn’t work? Or there’s something I proposed that you would do better?
Let me know in the comments section!

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