Supercell is the master of creating engaging experiences that players can't put down. And if players do put the game down, it gets obliterated from existence, no matter how close to launch it may seem.
It's not exactly a secret that Supercell only releases a game if it expects said game to be a huge hit. The studio has released just five games in its ten-year history, and all of them have been massive - though one could argue that some have been more massive than others.
So the real secret to why people continue to play any Supercell game has more to do with years of killed experiments, months of soft launch, and countless days and weeks of staring at data, making tweaks both big and small, than anything on the surface level of their design.
Brawl Stars almost came close to the point of being cancelled for quite a while - or at least, that's how it looked from the outside. It spent well over a year in soft-launch - an eternity in mobile game development life cycles - during which time it was revamped and rejigged in all kinds of ways.
But all that time paid off - 18 months after launch, it's now estimated to have cleared over $675 million in revenue, and it's only just launched in China, where it pulled in an estimated $17.5 million in its first week of release.
So, why are people still playing Brawl Stars? All data, experiments, and soft launch aside, I think it boils down to three things - speed, cleanliness, and uninterrupted play.
Speed is the simplest to explain. Matches in Brawl Stars last only a couple of minutes, no matter whether you're playing the standard 3v3 gem-collecting mode, the 10-person battle royale, or the frankly bizarre soccer offering, which is hard-locked at three minutes per session.
The UI is so easy to understand, the menus take up just the right amount of space, the buttons are positioned perfectly
Keeping session lengths incredibly short, as I've mentioned before, is perfect for mobile play. Brawl Stars trims it down to its absolute limit, creating blink-and-you'll-miss-it gameplay and allowing you to get through ten or more rounds in half an hour.
Cramming so many battles into such a short space of time makes quite the impact. You get a constant stream of wins and losses, riding the emotional rollercoaster over and over without losing your afternoon to the game. Unless you want to, of course.
And there's still plenty of strategy to be found in these bite-sized battles. Using the variety of characters available, players can easily fall into assault, support, tank, and healer roles, which is quite a feat when you're only playing for three or four minutes at a time.
"Cleanliness", or rather a particularly smooth user experience, is something that Supercell has refined over the years, but is central to the Brawl Stars experience. The UI is so easy to understand, the menus take up just the right amount of space, the buttons are positioned perfectly. It all clicks together magnificently.
The UI also means you're never lost when it comes to working out where to spend your money. While other MOBAs might bog you down with menus and offers, Brawl Stars offers up just a handful of ways to spend money - though it's the Battle Pass that is sure to catch your eye.
Finish a match and you earn battle pass tokens whether you're paying for it or not. They swoosh across the screen and into an ever-growing bank of tokens, unlocking loot boxes and other goodies as you amass them in a way you simply cannot ignore.
It's a simple trick, but it instantly points you in the right direction every time you go back to the main menu. And then you're looking at all those sweet rewards you could get if you invested just $8, and oops you've bought the requisite gems and are hooked in.
Pointing to one thing that makes Brawl Stars so enjoyable for the player is nigh-on impossible
All of this would be for naught, however, if the game suddenly started subtly encouraging you to stop playing. It's something Clash Royale and the many games it has inspired did with its crates - you can only have four unlocking themselves at a time, reducing the number of reasons to keep playing.
Worse yet, Clash Royale tells you upfront that you won't be able to add anymore crates to your list once it's full. It's basically an invitation to put the game down for eight hours and do something else with your life. And will you even remember to come back after that time?
Brawl Stars doesn't do this, though it does gate you in a similar way. You can only earn so many battle pass tokens before your numbers are depleted - but that doesn't stop you from playing on. And the game never tells you this outright, meaning it can sneak a few more matches out of you before you twig to it.
But there are other ways to make progress. You earn trophies as you play, and these aren't limited in any way. So while some of the more impactful unlocks are gated, you're still making some level of progress no matter what.
On top of that, the maps available to you are constantly rotating, so gameplay never feels stale. It's a big step-up from tying your map to your rank a la Clash Royale, and ensures that each battle feels unique, even in a small way.
Honestly, pointing to one thing that makes Brawl Stars so enjoyable for the player is nigh-on impossible. Its systems all play off each other - the clean UI ensures you get into a game, the speediness of each session means you get all the endorphins you need at lightning speed, and the lack of gating lets you go back for more, and more, and more.
It's a delightfully quick, easy experience to throw yourself into whatever you're doing, and it's mind-boggling that more games haven't pinched bits and pieces from its design for their own games.