原作者：Guest Author 译者Willow Wu
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
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.（source：pocketgamer.biz ）