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Boom beach and the innovator’s dilemma

By on January 28, 2014
boombeach
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This is a guest post from consultant Mark Sorrell


I love Clash of Clans. I’ve been playing it for a year and I’ve spent the past month starting to put my thoughts on it together into what is basically a book. Despite that level of immersion, I am still finding new and interesting things in the design. New emergent properties, or checks and balances, or behavioural cues. There’s no way most of it was planned, but it is all there for the finding, should you spend the time. Oh and yeah, as well as being an endlessly dissectible design, it also made more money than any other game on iOS last year. Neat.

But then, suddenly, Boom Beach! A new game from Supercell that’s a lot like Clash of Clans. How terribly exciting! Also, isn’t that really stupid? Isn’t it going to steal Clash of Clans players? It is clearly monetising pretty well. I’ve seen it at 12th in Top Grossing on the Canadian app store, which is a huge distance from something one could sniff at. Why would Supercell release a game that will cannibalise its own game. Its own game that’s the best in the iOS world WHY, OH GOD WHY?

Tell you what though. There’s something very strange about Boom Beach. It’s slicker, smarter and prettier in many ways. And there’s no doubt Boom Beach has lots of Clash. But it doesn’t have an Clans. Any at all. There’s basically no social functions whatsoever. You fight other faceless players, same as you do in Clash of Clans, but you don’t have any friends. What on earth…

As any half decent developer knows, social functions are about retention over acquisition. It’s not the BRING YOUR FRIENDS OR GO AND DIE that the casual end of the market churns through that use social smartly, it’s the mid-core positioning, with everyone standing round in a circle, holding hands and singing, keeping that circle intact, keeping those people coming back, keeping them playing and keeping them paying and paying and paying.

Clash of Clans does a grand job of this. Despite fundamentally being about looting and pillaging other players, you can’t loot and pillage your friends. Yo can only loot and pillage faceless humans with unlikely names and poorly constructed bases. The social functions are all about reciprocity and building a communal identity for you and your friends. It’s us against the world kids!

That doesn’t work for me. It never has. I basically don’t give a shit about my clan, I just have to be in one to get troops. I try my best to be a good clanmate, I donate swiftly and often. But I’m not socially connected to the game. If you place any truck in Bartle types (a useful fallacy, I’d suggest) I’m an Achiever. I want to destroy the world, but the other players don’t matter so much to me.

Channeling just slightly more Sherlock than I usually do (tell me Sherlock’s not an Achiever), I deduce that this lack of social function in Boom Beach is not an accident, but rather an intentional defensive strategy. The intuition is that Clash of Clans monetises and retains social players better than non-social players. That’s hardly surprising.

The sticking-my-neck-on-the-line excitement conclusion is that Boom Beach monetises non-social players better than Clash of Clans (by offering their play-style a better experience, so retaining them better) but doesn’t offer the socially engaged Clash of Clans players a better experience.

Thus, Boom Beach, by offering a variant of Clash of Clans designed to appeal specifically to the players who are most likely to churn out of Clash of Clans, but not the ones that are happily retained and monetising, they can canibalise just the players that would monetise better in a game with a different emphasis, without risking the players that are already pumping money into the game at a furious rate of knots.

Is this actually the intention? Is it even true? I can’t know that. I wish I could. But even if it isn’t, you could try giving it a go on your own titles. Selective, psychographic based, efficiency-led self-cannibalisation? Stick that up your Innovator’s Dilemma…

About Mark Sorrell

Mark Sorrell is a consultant and advisor on freemium game design, behavioural change, value perception and strategy. With over a decade of experience in making games do new things, in new places, for new audiences, for companies across gaming, broadcasting, advertising and finance, if you want to know how games can help your business, start by asking Mark.
  • Sun Tsu

    So, you really love CoC?

  • disqus

    So U R sayin U su ck CoC k?

  • disqus

    Perhaps what I should observe is that it is obvious that you love CoCk.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    In Clan Wars it takes sometimes an hour to plan the attack strategy. And often the execution and timing of tactics must be in matter of fraction of seconds. Slightly wrong timing or placing for healing spell in hog raid and the attack is over. In short, most of the attacks fail, due to mistakes in attack. And of course Clan Wars is pure team work where the attack morale of the clan as a whole matters most.

    In BB on the other hand all “control” that player has for the troops goes mostly to counteract the ridiculous AI. But for the rest attacking in BB is monotonous repeating with single troop setup (my troop combination is 8 Heavies, 30 riflemen, 7 Zookas and two tanks).

    Also in the base design there is little room for creativity. There are few basic layouts, but not that much more to that. The most important strategic tip for base design is that always upgrade your HQ as soon as possible!

    Have you even played Chess? I have Fide rating 1713. So I have little understanding of the basics of the game dynamics of Chess. I would not compare Clash of Clans to Go that I have studied and played actively for the past 10 years, but Chess is quite relevant comparison.

  • Sun Tzu

    CoC give one about the same level of control as one has in a game of Plinko. Do you really think that you can anaylyze an opponents board and come up with a plan that takes into account the game AI and forsee the multitude of movements / counter movements and execute this ingenius plan all within the 30 second window before the battle starts? Oh, and you actually dare to compare CoC to chess? It is obvious that you haven’t played much BB or you would be more familiar with the superior command and control functions it has vs. CoC. These aspects allow one to actually develop and implement a cogent strategy. In any event, it is clear that you love CoC.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    In chess it typically takes about 10 years to be able to play at master level. This does not sound like poor design of game to me. But it is the point of the game!

    I have played some 10 000 games of Chess and I fully understand how much I need to do theoretical and tactical training before I can reach the master level. And this is a lot more than just playing 10 000 games!

  • If you only reach the basic strategic depths of CoC after one year of playing several hours a day, that sounds like poor design to me.

    Or possibly some cognitive dissonance here.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    Do not be ridiculous… you just start learning the basic strategical depths of Clash of Clans when you are reaching the level 100 or so. Or after one or two years of playing on average several hours per day.

    Boom Beach actually has far less control on attacking and it has almost zero strategic depths.

  • Sun Tzu

    Actually, Boom Beach is designed and made for the more mature and intellectual player. It attracts those that are independent and self-sufficient. Boom Beach allows a much better level of control that lets the player implement a personal strategy much better than Clash of Clans.
    I have played Clash of Clans for some time and just like the author of this article, I have no compelling need to “socialize” when I’m gaming. I find Boom Beach to be a much better fit for my grownup gaming style. I would much rather test and improve my own skills rather than be dependent on others for support.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    I would say that boom beach is designed and made more for children. This may be problem with monetization, but at this point Supercell is in rare position that monetization is irrelevant for Supercell. All that matters is how well their games are received and use this as an imago construction.

    And besides, Clash of clans got huge improvement with Clan Wars update. This increased the social aspect of the game by a lot as clan wars is 100 % team work. We have very well organized clan, therefore we are winning most of our clan wars (we have never lost, so it is difficult to estimate the actual winning frequency).

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  • Sik

    That sounds like just filling the gaps. No game ever will be for everybody, but with multiple games (properly marketed) you can cover the entire spectrum if you wish.