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Boom beach and the innovator’s dilemma

By on January 28, 2014

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.