糟糕的用户体验、让人摸不着头脑的玩法、过时的画面。这只是其中一些对于Machine Zone的大热门游戏，例如Game of War，Mobile Strike和现在的Final Fantasy XV的主观看法，来自于我在游戏行业中的同伴们。
然而撇开这些消极评价，Game of War曾在收益最高的5个游戏中有一席之地，并且占据这个位置达两年多，它的继任者Mobile Strike也加入了最热门的免费手游阵营，然后接着第三个游戏，与Square Enix联合制作Final Fantasy XV：New Empire也来了，直接闯入前50。
Machine Zone靠旗下的两大巨头Game of War和Mobile Strike在收益榜上名列前茅。7月，玩家群体把焦点转移到了即时发布的新手游Final Fantasy XV：New Empire上，这也导致了之前两款游戏的排名下滑。这只是下一个小台阶还是跌入低谷再也上也不来了？本系列文章将会聚焦在这个问题上，探寻答案。
NGD制作的The Master of Orion系列就是非常典型的4X游戏，涉及到了空间探索和交易。
Game of War自称是一个“…交互式动作类大型多人在线游戏”，也算是给尝试描述这类游戏体裁的人开了个好头。但是我更喜欢用一个稍微不同，更老式的术语：4X。
这个新造术语起源于1990年代，用来描述PC端的策略型游戏，玩家在此类游戏中可以统治帝国，进行探索（eXplore）、拓张（eXpand）、开发（eXploit）、征服（eXterminate）。有些熟悉的游戏就应用了这些机制，包括Age of Empires, Civilisation, Alpha Centauri, Total War: Rome和Master of Orion。
征服指的是攻击并消灭敌方玩家。（游戏邦注：或者在Game of War中是把另一个玩家“化零”）有些游戏中，到最后所有领域都会被各个玩家占领，要进拓张只有消灭敌方这个选择。
如今的西方手游，mid-core市场是由4X游戏（例如Game of War， Mobile Strike），建造&战斗类游戏（例如Clash of Clans，Boom Beach）和同步战斗类游戏（例如 Clash Royale，Hearthstone也勉强算吧）主导的。
近五年做得最成功的4X手游包括Clash of Kings, Vikings, Mobile Strike和Kingdoms of Camelot。
2011年，Kabam公司在移动平台上发布了他们之前在Facebook上大获成功的游戏Kingdoms of Camelot。Facebook游戏是中国PC网游的复刻品，这种网游在东方非常受欢迎。
与其要把战争部分做成类似Age of Empire或者Total War里面那样精细考究，完全靠元游戏交互带动，你甚至都看不到战争是怎么发生的！
现在我们熟悉的这种画风和城市等距视图最早是起源于2011年发布的Kingdoms of Camelot手游。这游戏比Game of War早发布了整整三年，Game of War从它那里借鉴了非常多的东西。
这个游戏对Kabam公司来说是一大硕果，于是他们决定给游戏换个包装，授权制作了与电影配套的游戏The Hobbit: ingdoms of Middle Earth，发布于2012年年底。这款游戏也是个成功之作，为Kabam制作4X手游打下了基础。
然而，平心而论，尽管这些游戏在市场上取得了巨大成功，但是直到2013年有风投公司支持的Machine Zone发布了Game of War，才让4X手游大放光彩。
Machine Zone的早期游戏iMob。这是一款类Zynga旗下Facebook平台作品Mafia Wars游戏的纯移动版非即时多人游戏
因此，他们决定制作游戏，并且有自信能够获得足够的用户基础，取得成功。于是他们在2012年开始制作Game of War，80个人的团队花了18个月实现了这个目标。包括建设通讯基础设施和语言翻译应用层，让世界各地的玩家参与到结盟和交流中。但是精彩的还在后头。
我认为Machine Zone的故事还是很能启发人的，因为它告诉人们即使你在过去遭遇过挫折，还是能改变境遇，收获成功。我之前见过他们的CEO Gabe Leydon做演讲，他给我的印象是一位激情四射的领导者。很显然，他在制作Game of War上下了大注，也赢得漂亮。
但是他们是如何实现的呢？你可以在后续发布的文章找到答案，我们深入挖掘了core game的部分内容，还有行业内其中一家巨头游戏公司背后的游戏系统设计。（原链接 ）
虽然按理说Kabam旗下的Kingdom of Camelot才是第一款在app store获得成功的4X手游，但是在此文的大部分篇幅中我们还是聚焦在Game of War上，毕竟它是最成功的4X手游并且让Machine Zone公司声名远扬。
很多很多人在Game of War教程时就放弃了。从界面上来看真的是非常过时，游戏玩法也是很简单的点来点去。它教你一些游戏基本的东西，但是并没有直接告诉玩家为什么要这么做。实际上，大部分4X手游在呈现游戏内容方面做的都不大好，这是个奇怪的现象。
Game of War的一切都和权力有关。毫不夸张地说，游戏显示玩家的实力差异已经到了逼残玩家的地步了，特别是你们在一个N多人的游戏环境里，任何细微的数值差异变化都会让玩家细致入微地感受到的实力博弈的残酷。
上面的图解体现了封建社会下的权力金字塔。Game of War的游戏结构和社会框架和这个图解十分一致，终极目标就是成为国王。
为了符合中世纪的风格设定，Game of War创造了很多“游戏中的游戏”来支持封建背景下的权力金字塔。事实上，如果你看过Game of Thrones，就能感觉到剧中不同家族之间的关系就和Game of War中不同玩家之间的关系很相似。
Frey家族的领主Walder Frey是个卑鄙小人，只为自己考虑！这也是个表现Game of War和4X游戏中社会局势可能发生变革的典型例子
Game of War中的王国地图。每个据点都可以看出玩家们在游戏中投入了很多时间。
Game of War称它自己是一个大型多人在线策略游戏，这并不是谎言。这游戏是个大型多人在线的永恒世界，所有东西都处于进行时。游戏中的每个行动都会通过广播系统让所有玩家知道，就等于每次攻击、每次行军还有每次交易都是公开的。
一支军队正朝着敌方城市行进，准备发动攻击。等到军队到达目的地时，只剩下2:51。花费一定时间到达目的地是Game of War和4X手游玩法中很重要的一部分，也对游戏起着平衡作用。
用一张简单的图来解释Game of War中的绝对核心行动（游戏邦注：absolute core actions）。这游戏非常深奥，要把所有东西都放在一张图里解释实在是太难了。
本质上来说，Game of War和它的后续产品玩法是很相似的。在这个巨大的游戏世界中，玩家们可以建立自己的据点容纳他们的市民。世界被不同玩家的王国瓜分，玩家们不断升级他们的城市，军队和英雄，渴望变得更加强大，最终在这个世界中手握大权，君临天下。
对于免费游戏来说，利用限时和缺乏耐心是最传统也是最有效的盈利手段。在Game of War中，执行一项行动需要花费些时间才能完成。
在Game of War中也有加速功能，有短时间的也有长至几天的。在流程设计上，这样就可以帮助平衡不同时间长度的单次流程，也有益于奖励循环和盈利机会。
想要在Game of War中缩短流程并不难，只要把基本行动都安排好，等待它们完成就好了，“每天都需要安排许多小任务”这种模式已经被证明在F2P游戏中屡试不爽。
而且会有哪个F2P游戏不让你花钱跳过等待时间啊？Game of War也提供了这种机会，以防玩家们想要赶进度，快点结束当前的任务。
基本行动和核心游戏紧密联系。游戏鼓励玩家们完成远征任务，这能够促使他们去完成更多基本行动，累积进度，变得更加强大。如此他们就能在PvP中更加熟练，后期在the Kingdom View的elder game中更加得心应手。
简单了解一下Game of War中的PvP是怎么运作的。看，实际上你都看不到战斗发生。整场战斗是在一个电子表格中进行的，对玩家隐藏了算法。
简单看一下Game of War的英雄和制造系统，还有他们是怎么紧密关联的。
想想《权力的游戏》中Jaime Lannister被Starks抓了，然后Catelyn Stark协商放他走。
来自玩家Snow_1021的截图，展现了去年为Kingdom of Fire 超级奇迹圣地战斗的场面。看看有多少玩家为它加入角逐。
可以说Game of War的elder game就是关于领土主权还有其中的权力通道。整个地图上，能够提供额外资源或者权利的特殊地域就是奇迹圣地，超级奇迹圣地的优势更为明显，能够直接确定谁会成为Game of War中的帝王或者是女王。
这一系列为了争夺超级奇迹圣地的攻击就像是真实生活中一场大规模、史诗级别的战争，需要大量团队协作和周密计划。感觉像是《权力的游戏》中有一集Stannis Baratheon试图夺取 Kings Landing，不得不面对Lannisters家族和Tyrells家族的联合抵御。
在此期间会新形成很多联盟，也会有很多联盟产生分裂。这也体现了Game of War和其他4X游戏核心中的社交玩法的深奥之处。看看这位玩家写的详细记录，他参与了超级奇迹圣地争夺战，对其中涉及的部分有非常棒的见解。
就像是真实的封建战争一样，Game of War中有很多残酷的现象，要花很多时间很多精力才能达到核心部分。游戏中的损失是不可挽回的，所以损失军队或者英雄可能会使你一蹶不振，除非你愿意花钱恢复你损失的所有东西。我记得我有好几次因此放弃了游戏。
我认为这种方法比起像是Clash of Clans这样的游戏，还是很有趣的。这样做非常具有hardcore游戏的风格，让你感受到强者的力量。你可以把某个人摧毁的如此彻底，让三个多月的游戏时间在几分钟内就都付诸东流，这种成就感与游戏的核心，也就是力量，密切联系着。
Game of War在技术、研究、英雄技能等等方面经历了无数次优化提升，就是要向人们展现这游戏的复杂程度。
虽然我还停留在游戏的表层，但是我觉得游戏最显而易见的就是它的深不可测。事实上，我想说像StarCraft这样的PC游戏甚至比Game of War这类的游戏更容易搞懂。
收益最高的10款手游有像Game of War和Mobile Strike这样超级复杂的游戏，也有像Pokemon GO和Candy Crush Saga这样的大众游戏。在我看来，这就体现了玩家群体已经扩大了，游戏商有多种途径可以获得成功。
在Game of War中，永久性的损耗可以在一定程度上解决上述问题，因为玩家可以把其他人的游戏进度几乎完全抹灭。然而，聪明的玩家就不会经常那样做，而是和其他玩家保持和平局面。
例如，我有一段时间在 the top player world 里玩，大概有20亿实力值。放到现在那都不算什么，那时我应该下更多的功夫提高竞争力。
Game of War确实靠扩大经济规模和提高升级难度解决了这些问题，但是做的非常聪明。
Game of War中有一项独特的功能就是聊天中可以把对方的语言转化成自己正在使用的语言。
Game of War也非常依赖联盟特性，让玩家尽快加入联盟。游戏利用你的位置来寻找和你同一地理位置/时间区的联盟，这样的话你向伙伴求助的时候会比较方便。
同盟成员之间互相赠送是Game of War中非常重要的部分。
还有其他很多说不完的功能都够体现此游戏社交功能的强大，还有同盟中的玩家彼此之间的紧密关系。如果还有哪个游戏的特色比Game of War还多，那我就马上去找出来。
Gabe Leydon已经公开表示Game of War的玩家制定了他们自己的游戏规则，甚至是游戏玩法，他们作为开发者只是提供了基础设施，我十分肯定实际就是这样的。
对于任何一个开发者，应变式游戏玩法都是一个想要实现的梦想。它意味这游戏可以屹立不倒，因为玩家会一直玩下去。结合可以无限升级的经济和权力体系，你就很容易明白为什么Game of War经历了这么长的时间还是热度不退，而且在之后的好多年它也可以继续保持下去。
Machine Zone旗下的游戏是multiple deep体系的巅峰代表，这些体系相互配合，努力达成一个大目标：成为游戏中最强的玩家。玩家在游戏中能够完完全全感受到权力的力量，恃强凌弱是被允许的，这就给相对不那么强的玩家增添了很多压力，逼他们保持竞争力。
我们的下篇文章会聚焦在Machine Zone游戏的盈利机制上，它们的氪金能力真是无人不知，有谣言说有个玩家在这个游戏上已经花费了超过100万美元。（原链接 ）
这一由众多部分构成的系列文章将会解析Machine Zone旗下的超级热门游戏，深入研究由该公司领头的mid-core类游戏。你可以点这里阅读第一部分（公司历史），这里是第二部分(游戏设计 ） 。
在Game of War中花钱其实就跟在赌场里花钱差不了多少。游戏总是盼着你花更多的钱，会给你提供越来越低的折扣，直到你买下。
要讨论Game of War就不能不说它的盈利机制。简单来说就是世界上没有任何一个游戏可以在单个玩家基础上挣得比它还多。
实际上，要是这游戏的平均每付费用户收入（ARPDAU）少于1美元，那我真的会很震惊。看看我截取Game of War Real Tips和Stayalive77的采访对话，后者是这个游戏的顶级玩家之一。
虽然这对我而言貌似有些不可理喻，但这是他们的特权，这就是资本体制的现实，你只能乖乖接受。所以你只能不情愿地为Machine Zone鼓掌，他们的游戏大概就是有这个能力让玩家投入这么多钱。如果Game of War是个夜店，那么店外就会排上2英里（约3.2公里）的长龙队伍。
Game of War的营销策略和设计很独特，而且罕见地应用得很到位。大部分游戏都有统一价格点（游戏邦注：flat price points）跟核心经济常量（例如时间）保持平衡。
比如说，如果10个宝石值实时的一分钟，那么你可以以这个为基准，制作曲线，平衡价格点，这是个靠得住，不会出错的技巧，很多游戏都用过，Supercell更是运用自如。但是，Game of War根本没有用这个方法。
Game of War的玩家会收到各种打折和礼包推荐的轰炸，礼包中的物品和资源多到你不敢想象。然而，绝妙之处在于不同玩家提供的折扣也是不同的，表面功夫和内在技术都做足了。
你看，在Game of War当中，盈利可以被描述为“走楼梯”，游戏想要一直让你往上走。
从PunchAndPie的Game of War博客里截取的：不同账户提供的同类折扣对比。
看看这篇Kotaku的文章，有人用偷来的钱，在Game of War花掉了1百万美元！体会一下这游戏的实际盈利能力有多厉害。
Game of War有一个类似赌博游戏的VIP系统，驱使玩家长期、大量地砸钱。
尽管市面上还有很多盲目的模仿游戏，通常他们的画面、游戏特色、IP都会比Machine Zone的游戏好，但是没有一个能够匹敌Machine Zone的巨额收入。
他们的用户获取能力如何？在这个竞争最激烈的领域，他们能有办法挡开其他对手，这就是最能看出他们能力的地方了。很多公司都模仿Game of War制作游戏，而且对游戏画面和特色都进行了提升，但是没有人能够撼动Game of War的榜首位置。
这就是Game of War的尽头了吗？自《最终幻想15》发行以来，Game of War的下载量已经减少，因为公司的资源必须拨一部分给新游戏。
新游戏《最终幻想15：新帝国》用的是Square Enix的IP，尽管有收益共享契约，但要是MZ想要做一个能够赚更多利润的游戏我也不会惊讶，毕竟high fantasy题材的CPI是所有类型中最高的。
还有一点值得注意的是由于今年的转变，MZ的Game of War已经进入了大丰收状态，但是它提高了新装备的更新频率，这让很多玩家感到心烦。
这个类型的游戏到底有多值钱，就在这篇文章发布之际，以色列游戏开发商Plarium Games以5亿美元的价格被收购，差不多是跟他们所有4X游戏（游戏邦注：例如Vikings: War of Clans）的收入持平。
看一下Machine Zone把Game of War改装的样子，再次体现了他们对用户获取方面的理解以及影响力，他们知道什么主题才是对游戏最好的。
《最终幻想15》是Machine Zone第三款4X手游。除了画面更好看了，实质上还是跟你所爱的，或者所恨的Game of War和Mobile Strike一样。尽管如此，它还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，借用了他们的《最终幻想》IP。我觉得关于这个游戏的情况还是挺有意思的，尽管它是Game of War和Mobile Strike的克隆品（画面有所提升），但是表现还不错。
虽然这里的大多数游戏已经在排行榜上待了很长时间，但是游戏玩法类型各不相同。有休闲益智游戏Candy Crush，大热门IP游戏Pokemon GO（ARG）和Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle (RPG),建造和战争游戏Clash of Clans，4X游戏Game of War / Mobile Strike，还有代表同步对战游戏的《部落冲突:皇室战争》。
Midcore游戏要再一次进化吗？Brawl Stars和《王者荣耀》已经证明了MOBA和轻MOBA游戏是有市场的，而且Crusaders of Light和《天堂2》也证明了连MMO游戏在某些国家的市场也是有潜力的。尽管《魂斗罗》是个2D射击游戏，但是在中国手游市场还是大赚了不少。虽然我不看好这些游戏会在西方会成功，但是多少会对下一代的midcore手游趋势产生影响。
还有值得注意的一件事就是由于《最终幻想15》的发行，Game of War和Mobile Strike的玩家都一致把注意力转移到了新游戏上，于是这两个游戏的的当下排名已经掉出了收益榜前10。有没有可能大众对midcore游戏的口味又改变了？
看看各个国家的市场，我们可以知道在中国最赚钱的游戏是个MOBA游戏。中国和韩国也有大型的MMO游戏：《梦幻西游》和《天堂2》。虽然亚洲文化和西方文化迥然不同，但是MMO游戏在过去都是风靡一时，像Everquest和World of Warcraft就是很好的例子。
如果要说Game of War教会了我们什么就是玩家是非常愿意长时间地耗在他们的移动设备上，所以谁能说MMO游戏不会成功呢？我个人相信在某个时间点，带有城市风格大厅，还有类似World of Warcraft的3D玩家化身的MMO手游会最终成为大热门。得有人去做这件事，先把玩家拿下才行。
举个例子，在Game of War中，进入游戏安排接下来的一系列行动根本不用花什么时间，只有一个小而简单的流程。想玩久一点的流程也是有的，但是那不会是游戏的核心部分，所以说为什么增加个战斗环节就会有问题呢？
最后，由于这篇文章是关于Machine Zone的，我想给你们看看2013年这个游戏刚发布的时候，Machine Zone CEO Zone Gabe的演讲视频。
Machine Zone CEO Zone Gabe的演讲视频
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.
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. （原链接： 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.（原链接：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 《部落冲突:皇室战争》 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 《部落冲突:皇室战争》 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 《部落冲突:皇室战争》, 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, 《部落冲突:皇室战争》 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 《部落冲突:皇室战争》 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 《部落冲突:皇室战争》 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.
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.（原链接：http://www.pocketgamer.biz/comment-and-opinion/66454/deconstructing-the-secrets-of-mzs-success-part-three/）