Learnings from Clash Quest

As you may know, a few weeks ago Supercell announced the cancellation of Clash Quest, an RPG Puzzle game that had been in soft launch for about a year and a half.

Anette S, Laura T, and yours truly have teamed up to go all CSI on it, analyzing its soft launch and key reasons that (in our humble opinion) led to the decision. You can check the article at the Deconstructor of Fun blog, and there’s also a podcast episode about it:

To be completely honest about my own bias, I admit that I already made a pessimistic prediction about it when it was launched. Since then I’ve changed my opinion on a few topics that I raised:

For example, I thought that the gameplay wasn’t very deep. But after playing it more and recently watching videos, I actually think that Clash Quest is one of the deepest puzzle games out there if we consider only gameplay. The problem is that it involves depth around managing randomness, and that outside of the gameplay the upgrade and collection layers are quite shallow.

Ultimately though, my POV that the game was too hardcore for casual puzzle players but too casual for Puzzle RPG players still remains.
To me, that was a big red flag: I had been a huge player of Legend of Solgard. A great game that despite the differences with Clash Quest, offered a similar core proposition and wasn’t successful.

If there was an opportunity in a midcore puzzle segment, Legend of Solgard‘s path would’ve been different. It seems to me then that there’s no water in that part of the pool, and when you offer such proposition you’re actually doing it to those 2 established audiences.
So for casual puzzle players it’s too complex and mechanically unappealing, and for puzzle RPG players it’s missing the upgrade and collection components.

Distribution is the key for unicorns

To me, the sad part in this story is that both Clash Quest and Legend of Solgard are really fun games. But in this industry, fun is not the only requirement.

If we think about the unicorn games (the ones that Supercell are looking for), an advantage in distribution is a key part of their success:

  • Riot Games didn’t invent the MOBAs. DOTA had already existed for like a decade already when League of Legends was released. Where they innovated was in adding a new business model (free-to-play) which removed a big entry barrier.
  • Fortnite also didn’t invent Battle Royales. An ARMA modder called PlayerUnknown had done that. A key edge (if not the key edge) of Fornite was to plug that gameplay into their own existing engine and boosting distribution through F2P.
  • And we could make a long list of all the mobile developers that originally launched their hits by bringing to mobile the experiences from other platforms, generally web-browser or Facebook games. Among them, we can count Supercell’s breakthrough hit Clash of Clans (originally a game quite close by Kixeye’s Backyard Monsters gameplay).
  • And more recently, Supercell has been able to leverage an army of content creators and brand power to boost distribution of their titles.

This is not to take away any merit of those companies or developers. Getting to the top it’s always hard, but remaining there is what differentiates good from great.

The point here is that having an edge on distribution is key to a massive hit.

And distribution is very complicated in the puzzle genre: It’s a very crowded segment where established games (and a constant stream of newcomers) bidding for players have created insane CPIs. And content creators are almost meaningless to those audiences.

Historically, Supercell has been most successful when attacking new and unexplored entertainment spaces (tactical strategy to mobile with Clash of Clans, tactical CCG with Clash Royale, top-down shooter MOBA with Brawl Stars).

For that reason, we think that Supercell has more chances of succeeding with Puzzle category (and casual audience overall) through their M&A (Beatstar, Merge Mansion, Love & Pies…), where they’re funding companies that take a more traditional approach to the genre.

Anyway. Enough rant for today. I hope you enjoy the article and as always feedback is very appreciated.

I think that despite the result, the Clash Quest team should feel happy of what they’ve achieved. They had the courage to create something new in a category where is very hard to succeed, the skills to build a fun and very polished game, and the wisdom to know when it was time to call it a day and try another thing.

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