Big Huge Games on taking the long view to strategy gaming success with DomiNations

Tim Train won't repeat his mistakes

Big Huge Games on taking the long view to strategy gaming success with DomiNations

Like first person shooters on PC, strategy games are proving to be a highly fruitful genre on touchscreen devices.

So while Supercell's Clash of Clans and Boom Beach continue to take the largest slice of revenue, the segment is big enough for other games to make a killing.

The trick has been to appeal to an audience that understands the basics, while also providing something different.

It's a delicate balance but one that the likes of IGG (Castle Clash) and Space Ape (Samurai Siege) have proven to be lucrative.

And now we have to add Big Huge Games and its Nexon M-published DomiNations to that list.

A good start

Two months from its release, the game - developed by a veteran team that can trace its heritage back to the glory days of Civilisation II and Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri - has notched up over 7 million downloads.

More importantly, as we discovered in a recent Charticle, it's also performing very well in terms of its top grossing chart position in key markets such as the UK, US and Germany.

The early stages of base-building in DomiNations

"It's funny but the download total already exceeds the total sales of the entire history of the games Big Huge Games made on PC and console," says Big Huge's CEO Tim Train.

We've tried to keep DomiNations accessible while following the age-old rules of strategy games.
Tim Train

Obviously the comparison is downloads against $50 paid games, but you get the idea. Mobile offers talented developers immediate access to very large audiences. And that's why they are excited about making mobile games.

We're talking as DomiNations has just received its first update; labelled the Oil Boom, it covers the historic period up to the start of the American Civil War.

Apparently the first oil wells were opened in 1857; something the developer is taking as shorthand for the start of a new level of industrialisation.

For that reason, the game - which could be loosely described as Clash of Clans-meets-Civilization - gets two new units: one offers the first Gatling gun - a powerful anti-personnel weapon; the other, the sneaky guerilla unit, can infiltrate bases undetected by defensive units, only countered by guard units.

The history boys

Discussing how DomiNations' link with history has proved to be its differentiation, as well as a narrative thread, Train says that while the game has done well in traditionally strong PC strategy markets, he's been surprised about the global appeal.

"I think everyone has a connection to world history," he says.

That said, the game is yet to be released in key Asian territories such as South Korea, Japan and China: something Nexon will be handling in terms of the localisation and culturalisation issues arising.

"They've been great to work with. We trust them to handle that. That's what they are good at," Train reveals.

And, more generally, Train says he's happy that the game is appealing to core strategy gamers.

Domination in a DomiNations' battle

"We wondered if players would think it was sufficiently different to the likes of Clash of Clans and Boom Beach, but as a second generation strategy game, we also know those games laid down the rules for mobile strategy.

"We've tried to keep DomiNations accessible while following the age-old rules of strategy games and adding depth, and we feel like we've hit the sweetspot."

The future

Part of that discipline extends to keeping the file size down. DomiNations has shrunk itself down to a 200MB install from around 300MB, while it's also seeing what Train calls a high level of virality amongst its players.

More significantly, he's also keen to point out that DomiNations fits into the longterm plan for Big Huge Games; a developer that has experienced good and bad times, but which was originally founded in 2000 (although before its recent resurrection in 2014, it went bust in 2012).

"We've been making games for a long time, and we want to keep making games. That's why we take a long view on monetisation," Train says.

"Unlike companies set up by people with MBAs, who want to make a fast buck, we don't have to be super aggressive."

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.