Clash Royale launched in the first months of 2016 and yes, as I predicted in my previous post (Deconstructing Supercell's Next Billion Dollar Game), it took its place at the top of the grossing list and made the rest of us game-makers look like rookies. Clash Royale is in my mind the best mobile game made to date. The game can be simply described as a four-minute emotional rollercoaster packed onto your phone. It’s a game that is extremely easy to pick up and also extremely easy to quit.
My first post about Clash Royale concentrated on all the elements that make the game so phenomenal. After four months of very devoted gameplay, I’m burned out by Clash Royale and it seems that so are the people around me. Where it previously felt strategic and fun, it now feels random and frustrating.
This post breaks down five reasons why you are thinking about quitting the game you loved so much just a short while back.
1. You Are Tired of the Grind
When you started playing Clash Royale, the feeling of progress was very tangible. You racked up Trophies first to 400 and then to 800 - graduating from the Goblin Stadium to Bone Pit and then to the Barbarian Bowl Arena. With each new Arena, you also unlocked 6 new cards, which you hunted from the gacha based Magic Chests.
After devoting few months of daily battles you’ve realized that the game has gotten extremely competitive and the only way to make real progress is not through optimizing, growing and mastering your deck, but through upgrading your relatively limited existing set of 50 or so cards. In other words, you just need an awful lot of duplicate cards and tens of thousands of Coins to progress. Getting the hundreds of cards is hard enough, and getting the thousands of Coins to upgrade them is even tougher. Unless you’re willing to spend, prepare to play for months without any meaningful progress.
Doubling upgrade costs gives player stat boosts, which is way less rewarding compared to other card collecting games, where cards evolve to something new and unique.
Clash Royale is simply an extremely grindy game if you compare the amount of time needed to progress to the limited content of different cards. This is due to two reasons. Firstly, because Arena levels determine the chest rewards, the speed of progress can actually decrease if you get relegated to the lower Arena (by losing trophies). There’s no other game that comes in into mind where this would occur. In all other games, players’ ability to accumulate resources increases with time played and this is offset with an increase of in-game prices. For example, in Clash of Clans, I can be raided multiple times a day without a decrease to my ability to generate Elixirs and Gold - whereas in Clash Royale a losing streak can result in a regress to a lower Arena, and a decrease to my Chest rewards.
Chest rewards are based on the Arena the player earns them on. A losing streak ending in a player regressing back to a lower Arena is thus extremely painful.
Secondly, the progress is halted through insanely high Coin costs. This double progress mechanic is very clever and something Wargaming has perfected in World of Tanks (read:World of Tanks Liberates Players from Mid-Core). First, a player earns enough resources to unlock an ability to progress, after which the player is presented with the extremely high price to actually upgrade. When this happens, players monetize because they feel that they’re halfway there, and can make a clear purchase decision based on how much time they will save by spending.
In Clash Royale, the player opens up the gacha chests for weeks to earn enough of a specific duplicate card. After the player gets all the needed cards, they’re hit with an upgrade cost that takes them easily half as long to accumulate.
Due to the fact that the speed of your progress can decrease and because there are two price points for each upgrade, it’s no wonder if you feel like you’re actually not making any progress in Clash Royale.
The painfully slow progression is simply due to the very limited content in terms of different cards. As more cards and Arena levels are added, the progress will speed up but given the current speed of content creation, this will take a couple of years.
2. You’re Punished for Using New Cards
Hog Rider, Prince, Balloon, Three Musketeers, Mortar… All these amazing new cards changed your deck when you first got them. But now, when you’re clawing your way up to 3000 Trophies, you simply can’t afford trying new cards. You still probably remember when you thought that copying your clan mate’s deck would help, only to drop 400 Trophies in an awful losing streak.
Clash Royale has a very solid core loop. Problem is, there are no systems in the game that would encourage a player to play with different cards. In fact, the game punishes the player for trying new cards, as often the player doesn't have the needed level or mastery to use them in the by default competitive battles.
In Clash Royale new Arenas unlock the possibility to get new cards. But drawing a new card at later stages of the game isn’t really rewarding simply because the player is discouraged from experimenting with new cards. The core loop currently supports only upgrading cards and there are no modes or features to push the collection portion - making the game feel stale.
Having a winning deck in Royale is quite simply a combination of a rightly balanced set of highly upgraded cards, the muscle memory of how to use them, and an opponent with the right weaknesses in his deck. Because every mode is ranked, there’s no safe environment to learn how to play with the new card decks. Thus, there’s ultimately little motivation to unlock new cards. One can practice new decks infriendly matches with clan mates, but based on my experience, clan mates are usually not available when you want to play.
Clash Royale’s progress mechanic is very straightforward: winning battles rewards a player with Trophies. Players want Trophies because they allow them to progress to the next Arena. Players want to reach the next Arena because chest rewards scale up as they move up from one Arena to another. Arenas also unlock new and better units, which in theory should give a player more tools to win.
This progress mechanic functions perfectly as long as the player craves for more and more Trophies. The problem is that after a couple of months of gameplay, when a player hits 2000 Trophies and finds him or herself in the second-to-last league tier, the player's interest for unlocking new cards drops, because a player needs to seriously master their deck and, well, mastery takes time and practice. As each match is ranked, there's no possibility to train the newly unlocked cards. And, if a player doesn’t want new cards, they don’t care about Trophies and that breaks the progress. In short, Clash Royale pretty much forces you to play with the same 8 cards even though you have 50 different ones to choose from.
3. You Are Stressed Out by the Battles
It feels so amazing to snowball an opponent and get those three Crowns accompanied by some 30 Trophies. But man, how bad does it feel to be on the receiving end of that carnage? Especially when you were trying out some new cards in your deck.
Every battle in Clash Royale has high stakes because it’s ranked, which is something no-other e-sport game does. For example, in Hearthstone, which Supercell thoughtfully used as a benchmark title, you have two main game modes: Casual and Ranked.
Hearthstone’s Casual matches allow you to experience all the challenges of the game without worrying about losing your hard-won rank. Casual is the perfect place for testing a new deck, or leveling a new class, and is the ideal mode in which to start playing against human opponents, after learning the basics in the Practice mode. In many games, the player needs to reach a certain level before they're even let into the Ranked mode - to protect fun for all players involved.
The Ranked mode in Hearthstone allows a player to earn special ranks to reflect their abilities in a battle for the season. Winning and losing matches can increase or decrease a player's rank, which determines matchmakingas well as grants rewards at the end of the season. Just like in Clash Royale’s Legendary Arena the ranked play in Hearthstone occurs in seasons. At the end of each season, rewards are handed out, and each player's rank is reset to a far lower number.
Personally, I feel that the lack of a casual mode is the biggest flaw in the near-perfect Clash Royale. Without a safe environment to master new tactics, players who try new decks are penalized by awful losing streaks. If players are not allowed to test out new cards against human opponents in a non-penalizing environment, they will not be driven to get new cards and strive to progress to new Arenas.
4. You Lose Half of Your Battles
In one battle, you feel that you finally have an unbeatable deck that will take you to the Legendary Arena in no time. Then, in the next battle, you get triple Crowned like a noob. You rage and go to the next battle that you handily win just to get your ass handed to you in the following match. This emotional roller-coaster was pretty amazing in the beginning but now it feels like you've had enough of this abusive relationship.
At this point, it just feels that whether you win or lose has very little to do with player's skills, especially at higher levels. Instead, winning depends on the type of deck your opponent has in comparison to your deck. For example, I'm dominating and being dominated in turn with my deck that relies on the Royal Giant. If the opponent has a Cannon to draw the Giant's attention, I'll likely lose end up losing since playing the Giant costs twice as much elixir as the Cannon. Then again, if the opponent doesn't have a Cannon, I'll very likely win. This is just one of numerous examples of cards and counter-cards. What I'm trying to say is that because the deck size is so limited, a player can't change his strategy during the battle. If someone has a counter against your deck it's really like playing rock-paper-scissors where you're the scissors and your opponent is the rock.
Compare this to a deep strategy game, like a MOBA, where item builds are crafted during the game. A player can change the way their champion performs on the fly - it's about building and counter building based on what your opponent is doing. In other words... strategy.
There's no right deck to reach the top. The limited size of the deck and the relatively small amount of different cards creates a game where players with mediocre skills but higher level cards trump over players with better skills but lower-level cards. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what can be called pay-to-win.
The reason why the vast majority of players have a 0.5 winning record is the careful balanced small set of cards and very small deck size of 8 different cards.You see, there are no useless cards or cards that are simply better than others, like in Hearthstone. Every card has its purpose to either counter another card or hit the opponent's Towers. Together with a deck of only 8 cards, this balancing practice leads to decks that are unbeatable against certain decks but useless against others. That’s why you constantly win and lose and only card upgrades will truly allow you to progress in the game.
Because Clash Royale has such a limited amount of cards, the majority of players with over 2000 Trophies must have 90% of the cards unlocked. Since almost all players have access to the same cards, also the meta-game is very reactive. What I mean by this is when there’s a tuning update to cards, and certain cards are weakened, everyone updates their decks instantly. Players at the higher Arena levels see most of the decks change as highly preferred cards get weakened resulting in decreased demand for those cards and the cards that were used to counter them.
This instant change of the game’s meta is something that doesn't happen (to my knowledge) in any other game. For example, when Hearthstone releases a whole new set of dozens new cards, the meta is not changed at that exact moment because only a small portion of players have all the cards. Same thing in MOBAs like League of Legends, where nerfing of a champion tends to have less profound and instant effect on the meta.
5. It’s the Same Everyday
Fire up Clash Royale. Open up a Chest. Gift a few cards to your Guild. Jump into a battle. Get trashed or trash someone. Start unlocking a new chest. Come back in three hours and repeat. Sometimes you get hooked to either digging yourself out of a losing streak or riding a winning streak. That’s about it.
Hearthstone uses the Daily Quest system that pushes a player out of their comfort zone and rewards them for trying classes they are not playing with.
Apart from regular updates to the meta-game through tuning and adding new cards, Clash Royale is the same steak and eggs every day. In Hearthstone I’m welcomed with daily challenges that push me out of my comfort zone and incentivize me to play with a hero I haven’t played for a while. In Leagues of Legends a new set of champions is unlocked for the player every week, encouraging players to try something new and thus influencing the team structures as several players are picking up the free champions in a rotation. Then there are the event dungeons in Puzzle and Dragons that offer daily challenges and unique loot.
In MOBAs like Vainglory, the weekly hero rotation spices up the game.
Supercell has excelled at creating masterpieces with just a fraction of developers compared to any other game company. But sometimes less is not more. We the players are spoiled with games that feel fresh on a weekly, if not a daily, basis and expect it from all games. Clash Royale would in my mind benefit greatly from more robust and active live operations driven by daily challenges and tournaments. But because that requires content, and content requires developers and artists, we’ll likely be left with the steak and eggs and none of the frills.
Clash Royale Has Kicked Off the New Era of Mobile Games
Is Clash Royale the best game ever released for touchscreen devices? If you ask me, I'll say it is. It's a perfect combination of tactical yet accessible gameplay, a super solid core loop, amazing user experience, phenomenal user interface, beautiful art, and high performance.
But it's also a game that wants to be more than what it is. Clash Royale lacks the team-play of MOBAs and the depth of card games. The lack of content makes it extremely grindy and random. The lack of events and daily quests make it feel repetitive and stale. It's also a skill-based game to a certain extent, after which it becomes pretty much pay-to-win. And it's as much of an esports game as craps with loaded dices is a skill game.
The utmost best thing about Clash Roayle is that it has reignited the stale mobile gaming market. Sure, we'll see an infinite amount of Roayle clones rolling in this and next year but we'll also see innovative mobile player-versus-player games that will grow with a support of community and streaming channels. Clash Royale has started a new era on mobile and I'm very excited about it.