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How Clash of Clans earns $500,000 a day with in-app purchases (gyrovague.com)
100 points by _0nac on June 5, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments



I really hope this game model suffers the same kind of crash that felled the arcade business in the 80s. At some point I think people are going to collectively realize that they're being manipulated and burn out en masse.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_video_game_crash...

The overwhelming dominance of this kind of app in the app store has killed a lot of my enthusiasm for mobile, unfortunately. There are a lot of very interesting things you could do with a pocket computer that's always online and equipped with a bunch of sensors but nobody cares because if you're not playing these kinds of slimy games with the rest of the top 20 you might as well not exist in the store.


What really annoys me is when a game that might potentially interest me chooses to go the pay2win way.

For instance, tribes:ascend. I wanted to get into it but forums were full of people saying each time they released a paid upgrade the balance went FUBAR.

What annoys me the most is there's no way to do it "the old way" and pay a bigger sum of money once and get the full game without having to upgrade for every single new weapon. That's where you realize that the microtransaction model is a scam, because if you want to buy all the upgrades at once it would cost you several hundreds of dollars.

I wish they'd go back to the older model of freeware demo + one time buy full game. I remember buying Doom that way.


I agree with the general premise that pay2win is annoying as hell.

I think it's hard for a lot of kinds of games to fall back to the traditional model when they're competing against other similar games that are free to play on the surface, but pay to win underneath. Free to play gets people hooked. There's a reason why game developers are doing this, unfortunately, because it works :(

As a stingy bastard I just have to resign myself to finding games that don't give you overwhelming bonuses for fistfuls of cash, and just suck it up for the beginning.

As an aside to your tribes example:

Tribes:Ascend is probably not a good example of this, but for a slightly unique reason. It's not really pay2win, it's still sinklotsofotime2win. Only because it has such a bullshit high difficulty curve that you need to play an inordinate amount of time into the game to be able to do anything, regardless of whether or not you're paying money. By the time you figure out how to move, shoot, and play a single useful role (which is a colossally difficult task), you'll have gotten enough in-game xp to build up enough that buying gold is pointless.

If you were looking forward to Tribes:Ascend, go for it. Don't let people complaining on forums turn you away - people will always complain on the forums, no matter what the game is. Tribes is one of the few games I've played where it's fun to just run circles around the map:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj9DfMAGuGk


I'm creating a strategy game right now and I'm facing this dilemma. I'd like to get $20 from each customer during game lifetime, but it seems that it would be easier to make it free to play and then charge for something in the game. And it's hard to charge for anything that would not make you advance in the game, otherwise it's cosmetics and you're not charging for the game, but almost the same as asking for a donation.

Most people would like to play for free. This model enables you to attract more users, which means a larger pool of potential customers. For example, would you pay $20 for my game (see link at the end), or would you rather play for free and then pay $1-$2 a month for some stuff that advances your gameplay?

BTW, in case you're interested the game should be out in a month. See gos.bigosaur.com/cards.html for more info.


The Kingdom of Loathing's model seems to do pretty well. (And they've been at it for 10 years now, well before "free to play" was a thing.) You can pay for in-game items, but you can also buy them with in-game currency[1].

So you could let players pay to get the special items/upgrades instantly, but still let hardcore players get them without paying through some sort of grinding. So long as you don't have to exchange too much time to be maximally powerful without paying for the privilege, players don't seem to mind in practice. (You will get people loudly bitching about things no matter what you do -- this is the internet.) So: you make it so that players only have a few of the upgrades active at a time, then you can introduce new items in a regular stream without unbalancing things.

1. Well, in KoL you can only buy them from other players with regular currency. Unless your game plans to have a full fledged economy, I guess you'd want to sell them directly.


Thanks for the KoL tip. My game is really rather simple card game strategy, with strict rules and requires skill to play, no luck involved. Players don't have "decks", they all share the same deck of cards. Basically, it plays like chess, all players are equal. So, there's no room for in-game economy between players.

Currently I'm considering the following models:

1. pay for some additional units (cards) which would basically mean that some players who pay have additional strategies available (not necessarily more powerful, but rather more diverse).

2. pay to play more. Amount of duels per day would be limited, and thus the player's progress. The game will feature a ranking system with levels, so paying players could advance faster.

The second one seems closer to KoL model. Which now gives me an idea. I could separate the rankings system (leaderboard) from the player leveling system, so that leaderboard is limited to, say, first 5 matches each day, while you could still play additional duels to level-up faster. Although, leveling-up has no effect on the gameplay, it's purely cosmetic.

I'm still not sure if 1. or 2. would make more money, but making more money is not my primary concern. I just want the game to be sustainable and attract as many players as possible.

I believe many indie developers like me are facing the same questions themselves, esp. when they read that Supercell is making gazilions.


Avoid #2 at all costs. Nothing drives me away from games faster than "Please wait X time (or pay more money) before you can continue playing," whether it's a daily action limit, or some kind of "endurance" hack, or whatnot.

You want people to invest themselves in your game, and being multiplayer having more players online at once is only ever a good thing. Turning away players is counter-productive.


Notably, the designers of KoL have also abided by that -- your actions per day are limited, but there's no way to directly turn real world money into more turns. (There are indirect ways, but you can almost always get them cheaply with in-game currency as well.)


I've had some of the same thoughts about my own card game. Here's one adjustment you could make to your option 1: if one player has purchased the additional units (cards), then both players get to use them. This is what Blizzard has just enabled for Starcraft II, and is what Goko (sigh) did for Dominion. (please do not use Goko as a model overall however - I can't stand the UX)


This is a fairly common model. One of the best examples I've encountered lately is League of Legends. The game is a MOBA (coined: Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) for team fights on a map that is similar to Defense of the Ancients from Warcraft III. The core of the game is that you learn how to play champions, of which there are over 100, and you boost them up a bit with runes. The game has two currencies: Riot Points and Influence Points. Here's how they handle maintaining balance and rewarding payment with acceleration:

- You start with a few Riot Points. Enough to buy a starter champion, but not much else.

- Riot Points can be purchased.

- Influence points are earned along with experience by playing matches.

- Champions can be purchased with either currency. However, most of them take far more Influence Points, so you can achieve instant gratification through cash outlay or you can play for fun over time and pick up a few more advanced champions.

- Runes can only be purchased with Influence Points. Therefore, you cannot simply drop cash and get the best runes, then have an edge over other players. You earn them by playing. You can earn them faster by getting Influence Point boost periods by paying Riot Points, which of course is cash for acceleration, but not instant gratification since it still encourages you to play and practice the game.

- Every week, there is a free rotation of a set of champions. If you are patient enough, you can try out tons of different champions before spending a dime. If you like one enough to want to keep playing it after it rotates back out, you can drop cash to buy it or spend a giant pile of Influence Points that you've earned. Or, you can simply play with them for fun, endlessly, and enjoy the variety.

- The only "pay to play" thing I've found is that you can purchase extra pages for rune configurations. This can't be earned any other way. It's not overly expensive, it's not mandatory, but it seems like you probably need to do it for any serious competitive play in order to be efficient and prepared for different matches and roles. I wasn't put off by this.

I thought this was a pretty good implementation. I've spent a reasonable, tolerable amount of money so far on the game and have more champions than I probably should have right now, due to enjoying them. The experience felt very much not "pay to win" and that it scaled very well with your interest. The one thing I really liked is that even paying to accelerate your experience was always still contingent on you playing lots of games and therefore getting better and trying out lots of roles and champions. That felt very smart because it doesn't burn you out but invests you further.

If you're researching this kind of model, I would highly suggest trying the game out to get a feel for what the customer experience is like. It seems like a good reference implementation that could be adjusted to match games that aren't based on this champion asset model.


Guild Wars 2 is a game that charges for basically cosmetic items. You cannot buy better weapons or better armor, but you can buy costumes that make your armor look cool, or you can buy little things like 2x XP potions (30 minute limit). There is a way to make a game in which in-game purchases don't distort the game mechanics but that people are still interested in.

I believe Team Fortress 2 does something similar, selling hats and such.


Guild wars 2 also sells revive-where-i-am in case you die. (doesn't work in PvP).

http://wiki.guildwars2.com/wiki/Revive_Orb

that's over the line IMO.


It can't be used in PvP so it doesn't give you advantages over other people. It's only useful when you're playing on your own out in the world somewhere. "Revive where I am" is already free if there's another player around willing to revive you.

I'd say it's the opposite of over the line. It's a very useful purchase which doesn't have any big game changing consequences. It's just a replacement for party members. It facilitates solo play for people who enjoy it. And the gem store isn't the only way of acquiring this item.


That's one of the items that probably looks ridiculous if you haven't played, but it took months for the player base to find any good use for it. At the time I was playing, nobody was really using it for anything but terrain exploration - rezzing using the orb after jumping off the map edge.

Here's a thread of players complaining about how weak it is: https://forum-en.guildwars2.com/forum/game/gw2/Revive-Orb-Is...

Tangent: one of the best parts of GW2's paid model is that if you stop playing you can get a full refund including what you spent in the cash shop.


You could do a limited-time free play game. That's what Order and Chaos did long time ago, but since then they switched to in-game store. Maybe it's not that profitable... I don't know. But I can definitely say it was free for (IIRC) a month and was fun enough that I paid the monthly to continue playing.

I came back to it after ~a year and it seems like you can buy lots of items, but they're not really required. The economy is completely messed up on all servers, but that was the case when I started already.


Hey, I've worked on some similar games and can give you some tips - contact me if you're interested.


Some thoughts about the economics (and ethics) of games:

  * if a game isn't fun (to me), I shouldn't have to pay for it
  * if a game is fun, I should pay for it
  * generally, "better" games deserve more money (non-linear)
  * ... but I'm skeptical that $500 is ever the right price (e.g. for every LoL champ)
  * "time spent playing" is a half-assed proxy for "better"...
  * ... but not if you rig your game mechanics around this proxy metric
  * pay-to-win games are "bad" (personal subjective perspective)
  * if I don't have to pay for a game, I probably won't (sorry!)
  * if I'm paying per-month for the game, I feel artificial pressure to play it...
  * ... and if I stop playing, I'll cancel
  * ... so I can't casually pick it up 3 months later
  * ... and I think maybe most people have a limited monthly-subscription budget
  * games that have free options have better word-of-mouth marketing
And a few observations derived from these:

  * gotta have a demo
  * the demo needs to demonstrate the actual gameplay
  * getting demo-length right is really hard
  * if you have the infrastructure to charge $2/month, you've got options
With all that in mind, here's what I would do (hopefully will do, one day):

  * lots of gameplay should be free
  * where it makes sense, put roadblocks that players will hit after a while
  * .... and then some more after some more while
  * charge say $5 to get past each roadblock
  * have say 5 total roadblocks
  * to assuage cheapskates (5-years-ago me!), give alternatives to paying real money
  * maybe crazy grinding?
  * even better would be if you could find a way to give players credit-towards-roadblocks if they are helpful to the game community, or to game development
Be up-front about all of this: "Early parts of the game are free! To feed my family I'll be charging progressively for access to the later parts of the game, but I'll never charge a given player more than $25" (or some other promise you are willing to keep)

---------

By the way, $20 is a lot for an indie game, especially up-front. The humblebundle this week includes ELEVEN games, including several great ones, and the "average price" (unlocks all 11 games) is around $6. So no, I will not pay $20 for your game, are you crazy? Instead I'll go buy the humblebundle for $10, give half of that to charity so I feel like a social justice crusader, throw away 54% of the games in the bundle, and STILL have dozens of hours of gameplay, and $10 in my pocket for the next humblebundle.

Yes, I'm a cheapskate. But this is the reality of the market at work. I'm not saying your game isn't "worth" $20. I bet your game is more fun than a movie-plus-snacks, and people pay $20 for that, right? But your game will be compared to games selling for $10 or less.

Man, I just realized I sound like I'm trying to talk you out of a career in game-dev, and that's not what I want (as a gamer).

---------

One more thought:

You said "(not necessarily more powerful, but rather more diverse)". Yeah, listen, when you play my Rock Paper Scissors online game, you get Rock for free, and pay for Paper and Scissors. They're not necessarily more powerful, just more diverse.


Pay gated content has been tried in the MMO space to varying degrees of success. The main problem with it is that the gates split your community, effectively reducing the userbase of your game. As a non-pay example, take WoW (I did Vanilla->WotLK) where Blizzard continuously reduced barriers to entry for content so that a larger portion of the playerbase could experience it. I honestly haven't seen a gated solution where everybody is happy but I haven't surveyed every game out there and gating works well for single player games.

The other issue is that studios generally feel a need to put a carrot on the other side of the gate. At the moment, I'm tracking Warframe and the current update has (essentially) pay gated zones with a reagent drop that drives both additional character progression and player housing. Neither is necessary to complete any of the other content in the game–the game has a mechanics problem where weapon damage scaling is excessive, the relative ease of content clearing is one–and the playerbase is whining about P2W.

My inclination would be something like:

    * Subscription based
    * Sub payment produces in-game tradeable item, time added on use
    * Subscription use suspends X days after not logging in
    * Payment auto-renewal only triggers when 2 days left
    * You start off with X weeks of playtime
This covers revenue, pay to win, real money trading, free players and (IMO) is both transparent and fair to players. It's basically a F2Pish variant of EVE's PLEX system. The challenge then becomes maintaining engagement and having the economy under control meaning that currency remains useful and inflation remains reasonable.

I haven't actually seen it done, probably because it's not a reliable recurring revenue stream like traditional subscriptions and isn't that strong of an impulse buy. I have seen somewhat similar ideas in a game with limited moves per day but from memory (been a while, blanking on the name) they also used the time item as a catalyst for weapon upgrades which for me veered too far into P2W so I dropped.


Thanks for this comment, it was really useful to me, at least, it gives a better perspective what players want. And it also confirms that people would not pay $20 in advance for a game. But roadblocks seem like a good idea. Maybe I'll try that.

And the last paragraph is hilarious ;) Well put.


I'm an indie game dev working on Tribal Hero ( http://tribalhero.com ). I've actually been getting a lot of players because they played similar games which are pay to win and we aren't and never will be. We'll have paid graphical customizations you can purchase but nothing that you can get an advantage in the game.


I'm facing the same dilema.

I'd be happier if there was an option for a monthly subscription that was somewhat equivalent to the microtransaction route. I'd feel more comfortable with that route than with the micro option, which as you mention, feels like a scam.


Clash of Clans needs a revenue stream since there's a server component. The alternative to in app purchases would be a subscription for everyone. One non cynical way to look at it is: here is a free game for many people that is funded by obsessive/competitive players.


There won't be a similar "crash" because there's no "race to the bottom" in prices. There could be a shakeout where there are a lot of low-quality games that fail and take their companies down with them, but that shouldn't affect the existing games that are already making money.

Also, if you think these games are all that's available, you're missing out. There are plenty of great games for free and purchase. Some of my personal favorites: Fieldrunners 1 & 2, the Angry Birds games, 10000000, Doom, Wolf3D, the Doom and Wolf3D RPG games, and my personal favorites, I Dig It and I Dig It: Expeditions.


The 85 crash wasn't triggered by a race to the bottom in prices. It was triggered by a glut of games that just weren't much fun to play.

Sound familiar?


I couldn't agree more, nothing is more frustrating than getting hooked on a game only to realize that progress is essentially crippled without massive amounts of free time or a few in app purchases. I would much rather pay an up front fee (or perhaps instead of crippling the game, a one time fee to unlock the rest of the game).


That model doesn't really work for apps which are dependent on external servers for multiplayer, etc. as the vendor has on-going costs. Hence revenue needs to be recurring as well.

In practice that means ads, subscriptions or IAP.


If you look at the rankings for free (non-iap) apps, those charts are also dominated by games as well.

Fundamentally people like playing games more than using "tech demo" apps.


"... I can’t really complain about the hours of entertainment I’ve gotten in exchange."

"Yet I still can’t help but cringe as I run into all the ways the game is intentionally crippled to get you to pay up, and the way its Pavlovian triggers to come back for more operate on fear."

So, sir, you like war games. You observe that this game makes you cringe, and is designed entirely to make you pay up through the experience of fear. Despite this you are willing to pay $4.99 "largely as a token of appreciation to the game’s makers".

Game companies that make games that don't intend to extort money out of you are laying people off left and right, and here you are "appreciating" developers that make you cringe. This makes me feel mad and sad.

If you are willing to pay $4.99 for a game that makes you cringe, might you be willing to pay $5.99 or even $39.99 for a game designed to make you experience joy?

The classic Master of Orion I&II are available for $5.99 from GoG. If you demand a modern experience, the latest XCOM is a bargain at $39.99 on Steam. The original XCOM is $4.99, also on Steam.


OP here. I paid the $4.99 quite early on, when I was still at the "joy" stage and before I realized the full extent of manipulation going. But I don't regret it: CoC is a good game, and I enjoyed playing it earlier on. I've now just reached the stage where it's pretty much impossible to keep playing without paying.

And for what it's worth, I paid for Master of Orion back in the day when it was still shiny and new, and was quite happy to fork out $15 for the full version of Minecraft, the most "joyful" game I've seen in a long time.


So it's the very definition of "pay2win".

What I don't understand is how they get people to keep playing once they realize they don't need skill to win, but rather a valid credit card number.

Certainly it must feel like using cheatcodes? The victories must feel empty and you'd get bored pretty quickly, at least I think I would.


> What I don't understand is how they get people to keep playing once they realize they don't need skill to win, but rather a valid credit card number.

It's all about how it's presented. Gems aren't presented as win buttons but rather as boosts to a particular aspect. When you add boosts together you're basically buying things outright but there's no button for "$65 max level barracks" (haven't played, won't be). This is important because it's more like "I have all these pieces except..." and you have this resource you started with and have received more of via normal gameplay that happens to solve the problem. I'm sure the amounts start low and slowly increase.

As for the hollow/bored, it's a competitive multiplayer game. Being the biggest dog in the neighborhood is always fun and once that's over it becomes you against the guy in the next neighborhood over who's also spending so it becomes not about spending money to win but rather spending money to compete.

This is a classic pay to win set of mechanics. It works when your audience either doesn't know how things work like the author or doesn't care (enthusiasts of the korean mmos that pioneered the model). I got pay2win burned–enjoyed the game, didn't recognize pay2win, basically did the same analysis as the article author, was sad–when companies in the US were initially exploring the space. I now check how the company is making money off the game before playing any F2P and convert microtransactions to dollars as part of the spending process.


It's called addiction. They get people addicted to the power that gems confer them. People don't care that they need no skills. They just want that high that the gems give them.


As a former WoW player -- I remember the "thrill" I would get anytime an achievement alert would pop up; those silly little accomplishments became rather addictivie


i very much agree, i played an old web-game back in college called OGame that came out before the "pay to win" model, but the basic premise was the same, the more you login the better you do. and what's best was you had to protect your stuff ( planets/fleets ) 24/7 from people from all different time zones.. it very much became an addiction...


I played a web game for a while that was free to play but had a subscription model that gave you features that made management of a large number of assets (villages) easier to do than in the free version.

I played for free for a long time until I ended up with so many resources to manage that I couldn't do it well anymore. I had to pony up the $6/mn to get the advanced features.

The problem with these small transactions is people don't see how much it's costing them. If they priced the game at $20 no one would buy it, but they'll be willing to spend $100 if it's spread out of 100 $1 purchases.


That sounds almost exactly like the LoU model.

One good thing there is that they explicitly limit how many items you can use, and you can earn the items in game. Still, anyone trying to rush the start of the game probably wants to use them. Sometimes I fantasize about blowing forty bucks on that. I think I've been skinner boxed.


funny, the game i played had the same thing, it was a bit cheaper though, 9$ for three months.. same effect..

i'm seeing similarities with the clash of clans model to the idea of putting a frog(player) in a pot of water(game) and slowly turning up the temperature(tiny payments), until its boiling and they don't notice the total sum of the payments along the way...


Sounds like Tribal Wars. Fun game, but after the first couple villages requires quite the increasing time commitment.


Hit the nail on the head. That's what it was. Fun but I ended up giving up my account to another player to manage and haven't looked back.


I haven't played this particular games, but I played a few that sounded similar.

Sometimes people seem to get motivated not so much by winning but by extracting vengeance on people who pissed them off.

Even games without an explicit pay2win mechanic often end up that way due to black markets that pop up outside of the game for trading accounts etc.


Sometimes people seem to get motivated not so much by winning but by extracting vengeance on people who pissed them off.

We're still primates who engage in petty status games. And, dammit, we're the best at it.


Well if you consider the design paradigm and the monetary chain it makes more sense.

The player population is broken up in the same way casino visitors are, with the whales providing the most income.

Everyone else though is content.

It's not unbearably bad for everyone, they just accept that they can have less fun. Since their target market is casuals, most people don't know there is an alternative.

Further since this model is more profitable, the casuals likely will never know there an option.


You can do pretty well without playing but it's just much slower.


    Clash of Clans on iOS is doing well..
    supercell is making 1 mil a day off of microtransactions?
former_zyngite:

    So much more than 1m a day from what I understand. Yes.
    Clash of Clans is doing well. That's the understatement
    of the year.
http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1fpbv1/i_was_one_of_th...


I think League of Legends or maybe Team Fortress 2 are about as good as it gets in terms of over-delivering value and not overselling their micro-transactions. Not everyone is going to be so successful with the same approach though.


Don't forget Guild Wars 2! No monthly subscription fees and there are plenty of ways to have fun without spending lots on microtransactions.


LoL is horrible compared to Dota2 in this regard. You cant play every hero and with added points you get addex abilities. Dota2 micro-transactions only pay for cosmetic items that you can (mostly) also get via trading with other players or as a drop after each finished game.


On the other hand, you can't really blame Riot for needing to grab more money than Valve. Valve has deep pockets and is willing to take a small profit if it means they survive in the long run. Also, Valve's brand is strong-enough that they have players beating a path to their door no matter what they publish. Riot has none of these options. Every player they earn on the strength and reputation of the game alone. They have no cash to fall back onto if LoL doesn't make money for them.

If LoL doesn't make money for Riot, the developers don't get to eat. So yeah, I'm not surprised they went with a F2P model with a little bit of pay-to-win in there, and their variation on it (rotating characters and you pay to keep the ones you liked) is a novel and fair approach to it.


Riot is now part of Tencent, which has a market cap of about $90B.

http://allthingsd.com/20110204/chinas-tencent-buys-riot-game...

http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=0700.HK


I'm not sure what you mean for us to infer from this. Riot is owned by Tencent, but that doesn't mean Tencent is willing to take a temporary loss on Riot like Valve is willing to do with Dota 2.


> On the other hand, you can't really blame Riot...

Of course not, they are free to employ whichever model they want. I think his reply was more directed at the statement: "I think League of Legends or maybe Team Fortress 2 are about as good as it gets..."

LoL is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of "purely cosmetic" and "pay to win" while Dota 2 is on the "purely cosmetic" end. So in the category of Dota-like games, Dota 2 is perhaps as good at it gets, in terms of its free-to-play model.


Who says Valve doesn't make a lot of profit from Dota 2?

My guess is that Riot simply didn't bother changing the model they went for in the first place for LoL, but I think Dota 2 has proved to be a great business model for Valve.

I'll be fair, I haven't seen any numbers from Valve, but if you pay any attention to the selling and trading of TF2 and Dota 2 items on Steam and many other places, you'd notice that people are outright making a living out of the whole Steam ecosystem.


S2 apparently does not need to sell HoN heroes to stay in business, though they did sell the game for a while.


> S2 apparently does not need to sell HoN heroes to stay in business

That remains to be seen. Do we even know if HoN is profitable? My impression is that League of Legends is the only MOBA to turn a profit so far, but I could be mistaken. Based on how drastically they've altered the game and the changing business models, I certainly didn't get the impression that S2 was satisfied with HoN's returns.


That may be, but I've got tons of hours of enjoyment out of LoL and I kind of like the champ unlocking mechanism just because it gives me something to do/earn, but I'm weird like that.


But you also get a feeling of accomplishment when you unlock a hero.


I've been playing Clash of Clans for a few weeks now. I have to say, it's a pretty fun game. Most games that follow a similar layout and design are no where near as polished. The developer behind this game did a really good job making it fun to play.

While I agree that the general formula laid out in the blog post, there are a lot of more subtle game mechanics that I feel help to balance the game (though I am no where near the top-tier of the gameplay yet). I can see at the high levels where the money generation vs cost of things would become a problem, but at least where I'm at, it's fun to play. If I get to the point where I hit a wall where Gems are required to really make progress, I'll just quit.


The way this article is written leads me to believe the writer has not played the game for long enough to make a fair assessment on the gems currency.

I have been playing this game for roughly over a month, and put $10 into gems in the beginning. My roommate started a little over a month before me, and refuses to put money into the game.

The amount of time to invest into buildings/resources/farming scales up with how progressed your town is, and gems are present to alleviate this strain. The implication that gems are necessary to win are unfound.

The game follows a simple town building principle, use currencies (gold / elixir) to build/upgrade buildings, however you can only upgrade them to the limit your town hall level will allow. The way to gain currency is attack other towns (to steal their resources), or use gems. Even if you use gems to upgrade your things, you are simply progressing further in the game, at the risk of opening yourself up to more powerful enemies. When you attack weaker enemies, there are diminishing returns (look up the loot multiplier). So while gems allow you to progress, you must also adapt and attack higher level towns. These higher level towns can be achieved without any monetary investment in the game. Gems just allow you to reach that stage sooner.

I bought gems in the beginning, because the game uses a builder mechanic to limit how many buildings you can build/upgrade at one time. When you start out, you have 2 for free. You can have a maximum of 5, however these are bought with gems and the cost increases each time you buy one. With $10, I soon had 4 builders. With this, I was able to progress much faster than my roommate. I am catching up to his level quickly, almost at where he was in two months time with one month invested.

Additionally, gems can be attained for free by clearing brush, however it will be a nominal amount versus buying them outright. But to say gems are required to win this game is not true, but it does save you time versus waiting around a week for a building upgrade to finish. The main thing most people need to realize is this game isn't about spending money, but investing more time into it. The game is a continual uphill grind where the true currency is how much time you devote to it, but I'm still having fun with it for now.


I was at your stage not too long ago, and trust me, you simply haven't played long enough. Come back and revisit this when you're at Town Hall 8+ and building anything of interest requires 2M+ gold or elixir.


Have to agree here. I managed to avoid gem purchases up to this point, but now trying to gather up 2M gold or elixir means I have to carefully pick other castles with more than 200K elixir to attack to make it worth my time and dedicate more than a solid hour to play at one time, otherwise I'll get attacked and lose too much of my stockpile in exchange for a paltry 12-15 hours immunity, during which I'll only generate 216-270K of resources.


There is one quote that explains everything:

>> Jorge Yao, the game’s undisputed champion, figures he has spent north of $2500 in real money

>> on buying gems, and according to back-of-the-envelope calculations, the cost of fully fitting out your virtual

>> village is on the order of $5000 when you include walls. It’s little wonder the top clans leaderboard is full of

>> players like “>< Royal ><” from Kuwaiti clan “Q8 FORCE” and clan UAE’s “khalifa” (presumably from Bahrain’s

>> ruling House of Khalifa).

So just make game interesting for this Kuwaiti guys and you are bathing in gold.


Zynga had (and I assume still have) a 'platinum purchase program' that let players deposit money for in-app purchases via direct bank transfer. It was kept rather hush-hush, but it was definitely targeted at those spending thousands of dollars. It also offered things like referral schemes. A sort of 'high rollers club' for social games. I wouldn't be surprised if Supercell (who make Clash of Clans) had a similar thing going.

Link: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-secret-dealer-for-farmvil...


From 1998 to 2000 I worked at a startup where the IT staff all obsessively played Age of Empires. There were two ways of playing - RM (random map, regular match) which most people played and DM (death match) which is what we usually played.

We got to be pretty good as a team, but were never consistently as good as the masters of AOE DM, Team Sudden Death ( http://web.archive.org/web/20000816002743/http://www.laseref... ). In a 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 against them, they would almost always beat us.

One of the rumours that we heard at the time was that some of the children of one of the emirs in the UAE were crazy about Age of Empires, particularly DM mode. We heard a story that they had flown one or more SD members to the UAE for a week or so to teach them how to be master DM players. We heard that SD got very well paid for this tutorial.


This makes me feel sick inside. These kind of apps are the wood rot of the modern gaming industry. As soon as I see a "beat your opponent by buying more of our shit" I delete the app.

Good fucking riddance.


I luckily grew up in the time of BBS text games (TradeWars, Legend of the Red Dragon) and never got into the MMORPGs...but from my reading of articles about UO, WoW, and the like, I thought the average casual player could not stomach PvP? And yet in the OP, it sounds like a key mechanic in the game is to prey on players who don't log in as frequently. So while that's fun for the hardcore players, I would've thought that would drive off a large part of the target audience (i.e. casual gamers with iPhones).


That's the beauty of the setup: since things are cheap on the lower levels, raids aren't really a problem, you can earn enough anyway. It's only when you reach the higher levels that they start to become a major pain.


And so by then, the habit is strong enough to get the casual player to start forking over money? I wonder what the balance there is...I would've guessed that users who were used to playing consistently without paying would have a strong psychological reaction toward having to pay...but I guess if you warm the water in the cooking pot slowly enough....


Again, the psychology is clever: you're not being asked to pay to complete one specific thing, you're given the option of using gems for a huge range of things. So it's not "I need to pay $6.98 to upgrade my Wizard Tower" (which would make most people balk), but "if I let them charge my iTunes account a bit, I get this pack of 1400 gems, which lets me skip some tedious grinding and get all sorts of cool stuff quickly".

Also, a lot of people get a single Builder early on for 500 gems ($4.99), and when you've done that once, the barrier to doing it again is lowered.


Yep, that first builder is hard to avoid.

"I'll never pay for anything in this game. What, 50% increase in output? Well, I can reward the devs a bit I suppose..."

And thus begins the gemming.


This model is Unethical Freemium which has been around for a while now, Clash of Clans is not unique or doing anything new.

IMHO, you should not support games that use this model. It's often called "Pay to Win".

I will only play games that use the Guild Wars 2 or Path of Exile model; all paid items are cosmetic/fun/convenience only and don't really assist in one player being more powerful than another player.

Pay to Win model games are never going to be fun long term because the game will be won/dominated by the people willing to sink the most money into it, rather than the player who invests the most time/thought/skill/etc.


> the game will be won/dominated by the people willing to sink the most money into it, rather than the player who invests the most time/thought/skill/etc.

What is wrong with that? Some people have more money to invest than time, and others the opposite. Find a game that suits you.


Because it's not really a game then, it's a store where you buy a thing that says "Winner" on it.


If the developers put themselves in a non-game category of the app store, it would be alright?

Whether something is a game or not isn't defined by how much money you need to spend to play it (or to win it).

Plenty of games and hobbies require purchases to play, and plenty give better chances of winning if you spend more.


A game that rewards who can spend the most time in it isn't really a game, then, either.


and you have to keep buying the items or the "Winner status" goes away..


Where did the 500K per day number come from? The Forbes article put their revenue at 2.4m per day between CoC and HayDay.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2013/04/17/is-thi...


This was the author's source for the 500k number (linked in the article text):

http://www.insidemobileapps.com/2013/01/10/supercell-generat...


The title only refers to CoC.


> * If you’ve ever played Starcraft, Age of Empires or pretty much any other real-time strategy game, you’ll know the drill, and the buildings and units come off as almost painfully derivative.*

That's a strange claim. In fact, I would claim that, if you've ever played Starcraft, Age of Empires, or pretty much any other real-time strategy game, you would be aware that they have very little in common with Clash of Clans.


And how much more awesome would Clash of Clans be if the effort of squeezing every last cent out had been put into improving the game itself instead?

Depends. If they were aiming to earn $182 million a year, then it's clearly pretty awesome. If they were aiming to build a great game, then perhaps not as much.


I read somewhere, a while ago that games like Clash of Clans are really just payment apps disguised as entertainment.

On a somewhat related note, I tried playing Clash of Clans for a month and once the time to complete a building took too unbearingly long, i just became disinterested in the game and opened it less often.

Feels like there some variation of the law of diminishing returns, or at least a system suggested by the post that weeds out the patient and stimulates instant gratification.

Glad I didn't get addicted :)


This is gross, not net, right? If they're spending 500,000 a day on advertising / paid installs then it's not as impressive.

They have the volume, but are they making a profit?


Can I buy HN karma points like this? PG could clean out :)

I feel like I am addicted to increasing my karma points sometimes. I submit so many things and so few of them get up there on the main page. The one thing that made it to the main page got me addicted to trying, but sadly the ones subsequent to them haven't had the same effect.

And imagine - instead of flame wars, we could deploy little hacker-warrior-bots!


It's a shame, though totally understandable, that we won't see these sorts of games without pay to win mechanisms on mobile. They seem perfectly suited for mobile, but even if you charged monthly I doubt you'd make this sort of money.


In fairness, the "gems" system isn't unique to this game. I've seen it in quite a few others, especially in the Tower Defense genre.

Where it gets particularly annoying is in games with difficulty curves I can only assume were designed to require more resources than the player is allotted naturally, thus forcing him to buy gems and trade them for upgrades. It's not literal payment-gating of advancement, but it is de facto payment-gating of advancement.


I missed the reference about the earnings? Was there one? Are they generating 500k a day or was this projected / estimated somehow?


Plague Inc. is a great example of a pay model I think works wonderfully.

If you want cheats or you want to skip content, you can pay. If you want advanced expansion packs, you can pay. But you don't have to.

The concept of a "free" game has been completely destroyed by garbage like this.




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