Data & Research

The hottest strategy features in the US, China and Japan

The hottest strategy features in the US, China and Japan

The Japanese, Chinese and US mobile games markets are vastly different. They are so different, in fact, that games like Puzzle & Dragons and Honor of Kings (Arena of Valor) are able to make billions in their countries of origin, but struggle to replicate all that success internationally.

But there are some similarities, particularly as Western markets pick up popular Asian game mechanics such as gacha and autoplay.

Understanding the nuances between these similarities and differences of markets like the US, China and Japan, even within specific genres, is important if you’re planning to release your game internationally.

Strategising features

In this article we take a look at the most popular features for strategy games. This genre has always been popular and mobile, right back to the launch of Clash of Clans through to Game of War and beyond. The genre has continued to evolve and is often combined with other genres, such as RPGs, to create new hybrid titles that are capable of topping the charts.

MZ's Game of War is one of mobile's most successful strategy games

By looking at the most popular features, we hope to give you a better understanding of how similarities and differences between cultural tastes in one genre can often be subtle, but learning them is key to realising what makes these markets tick.

The data comes from GameRefinery, which lets developers identify winning features, calculate the revenue potential of feature sets and get inspiration for innovative features from games and markets. It analyses 200+ features across the top 200 grossing games as well as hundreds of titles outside those rankings.

This data doesn’t guarantee success, of course. But it can act as a useful indicator of globally popular features in the strategy genre.

Click here to view the list »
  • Multiple PvP modes

    PvP has always been popular in mobile gaming, but increasingly so in the last couple of years with the rise of real-time gaming on top of well-honed social features such as guilds and clans (see section five of this article).

    A number of games have multiple PvP modes to keep things fresh for players. Multiplayer could include the normal PvP mode, guild battles, co-op battles (such as 2v2 in Clash Royale) and other PvP modes with special mechanics (like the Tavern Brawl in Hearthstone).

    Data mode

    GameRefinery’s data reveals that in China, 36% of strategy games in the top 100 games have five or more PvP modes, while 35% outside of the top 100 also feature various modes.

    Similarly, 36% of strategy games feature three to four game modes.

    Blizzard's Hearthstone has a variety of game modes for players to compete in

    In the US meanwhile 56% of strategy titles in the top 100 use three to four PvP modes, while just 17% outside the top 100 do this. Just 8% of the top 100 have five or more.

    A high number of PvP modes is least popular in Japan, where just 7% of strategy games in the top 100, and 7% outside of it, contain more than five of them.

    Slightly more, 17%, of the top 100 games feature three to four PvP modes.

    For this feature, the three markets vary quite different, but it shows China and the US as the most similar markets with a greater first for variety in PvP gameplay than Japanese users.

  • Competitive co-op modes

    As with the previous page focusing on PvP, competitive gaming even in a co-operative sense is hugely popular on mobile.

    This feature sees players working together on competitive tasks to complete a common goal.

    Examples of this include the Clan Wars in Supercell’s Clash of Clans, where you battle against other clans together with your own clanmates, and communal efforts in games like Pokemon Go, where you complete tasks with your chosen team to win tasks like catching the most pokemon.

    Supercell's Clash of Clans has made billions of dollars for the Finnish studio

    Working together

    According to GameRefinery, around 46% of strategy games in Japan’s top 100 games use this feature, while 37% outside of this also utilise co-operative competitive play.

    The US market shows 76%% of strategy titles in the top 100 using the feature, and 48% outside of that.

    In China meanwhile, 87% use the feature in the top 100, and 70% use it outside of that.
    Here, it’s clear once again that the US and China are most similar, while Japan’s market differs greatest with less than half of the top 100 strategy games utilising competitive co-op modes.

  • Story/dialogue elements

    Outside of the hyper casual games - which can generate a vast number of downloads - many titles utilise story and other dialogue elements to give purpose and agency to the player’s actions.

    Crusaders Quest for example uses lots of dialogue and offers a clear narrative between missions, while Heroes Charge uses short dialogues as the player progresses in the single-player campaign.

    Heroes Charge utilises short dialogue to move the story forward and keep players engaged

    Telling stats

    GameRefinery’s data shows that in Japan, 78% of strategy games in the top 100 harness storytelling and dialogue elements, while 71% outside of it also use it.

    In China, slightly less strategy games in the top 100, 62% of them, utilise the feature, while 63% outside of the top 100 include it.

    Using storytelling and dialogue elements is surprisingly least popular in the US, where just 36% of strategy titles in the top 100 take advantage of it, while 52% outside the top 100 harness it.

    The data here reveals that storytelling/dialogue elements are most popular in Asian countries like Japan and China than they are in the US.

    It’s likely why RPG titles often hit the top of the charts in the East, while the US top grossing charts features a variety of games, some of which have little to no story at all.

  • Limited-time events (Recurring and also non-recurring)

    Limited-time events, both recurring and non-recurring, are increasingly a key element of live operations as developer seek to keep their games active for years.

    LTEs are instances which only last a certain amount of time, such as 24 hours or a week, and have special mechanics or themes to separate them from the normal game.

    Recurring-type events restart or keep coming back after a while, while non-recurring events are unique and do no loop regularly.

    An example of a recurring event are the special dungeons in Summoners War, in which many dungeons are only open for a limited time, but their accessibility followings a certain looping pattern that players are made aware of.

    Summoners War

    A popular feature

    As GameRefinery's data shows, in the US all of the strategy games in the top 100 use recurring limited time events, while 71% outside of the top 100 use it. As for non-recurring events, 89% of titles use them, and 76% outside of it also use them.

    In China, 100% of strategy titles also use recurring LTEs in the top 100, and 89% outside of this bracket also use them. As for non-recurring, 90% of strategy games in the top 100 use this type of event, as do 87% outside of this.

    Japan is only slightly different from the US and China, where 93% of strategy titles in the top 100 use recurring LTEs, and 83% outside also use them. 100% of the top 100 strategy games however use non-recurring events, as do 91% outside of it.

    This data shows that limited time events are one of the most common similarities between games across the globe, and with so many developers using them as standard, it may be wise to consider LTEs when developing a game.

  • Guild mechanics

    Guild (clan) mechanics have long been popular in mobile games. A prime example of its integration into a game is Clash of Clans, where players can join or create a clan to access new features and engage in more communal gaming experiences.

    This is more than just having friends in a game, but rather encourages a longer-term commitment from players to a specific group of players, typically to climb a rankings ladder.

    Clash of Clans, like many games these days, enables players to join guilds and work with them toward common goals

    The common good

    According to GameRefinery, in Japan 60% of strategy titles in the top 100 have implemented guild mechanics, while 59% outside of this also utilise them.

    China is more favourable to guild mechanics however, with 90% of strategy games in the top 100 using them, and 85% outside of this harnessing them.

    The US sits between the two, with 78% of strategy titles integrating guild mechanics, while 67% of titles outside this also using them.

    While in all three countries more than half of strategy games use guild mechanics, it’s the US and China that are the most similar.

  • Daily reward system - Free gift and daily quest

    Many games these days use some kind of daily reward system to keep players engaged constantly and offer them a reason to come back.

    One way of doing this is to offer players some kind of explicit daily bonus or benefit once a day for playing daily.

    These could include a daily login bonus of currency, resources, items or characters, daily tasks/quests to be completed for specific rewards, and levels/playing modes that can only be played once per day for rewards.

    An example of this is Heroes Charge, which offers a free daily login gift, as well as daily quests to be completed.

    Rewards chage

    According to GameRefinery, 70% of strategy games in China’s top 100 use free gifts and daily quests, as do 76% outside of this.

    Japan is similar, with 60% of strategy titles in the top 100 offering them, as well as 71% outside of this.

    Heroes Charge offers an array of rewards for its most active players

    Free gifts and daily quests are not so popular in the US, however. Just 22% of strategy games in the top 100 offer them, while 49% outside of the top 100 use them.

    It should be noted that the above does not cover all ‘daily reward system’ features, but rather titles that use both free gifts and daily quests.

    For a deeper looking at the daily rewards system, as well as a host of other features and their effects on a mobile game’s success, check out the GameRefinery website.

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