It has now been over a year since the worldwide launch of Supercell's Clash Royale.
But while some games have cribbed elements from the MOBA-meets-CCG title - particularly its delayed distribution of rewards - there has been no game yet to emerge as a clear competitor.
Two of the best-positioned titles to do so have been Netmarble's Star Wars: Force Arena and Hi-Rez Studios' Smite Rivals, but the former has fallen down the charts and the latter has now been cancelled.
Intriguingly, while we were in the process of collating responses on this topic, both Ubisoft and Gameloft entered the fray with Tom Clancy's Shadowbreak and Blitz Brigade: Rival Tactics respectively.
But the fact remains, Clash Royale has faced nowhere near as much direct competition in the mobile games space as Supercell's former flagship title Clash of Clans. So we asked our Mobile Mavens:
- Why has Supercell faced no real competition to Clash Royale?
- Is there room for another major hit in the same vein?
Adam has been in the mobile game industry since 2007, creating games independently. He's since grown into a full 50+ person studio manager.
Recently he's taken a position at Wooga in Berlin to sharpen his design skills and work with the world's best to create amazing, well-crafted products onto the mobile marketplace.
I don't think all the Clash Royale clones have launched yet. I'm still waiting to see if Clash Royale gameplay can be considered too difficult to achieve for competitors.
I think it is taking considerable time for competitors to build Clash Royale games because synchronous PvP games are incredibly difficult to build, design and balance.
I am also hoping the competitors are also looking back at the Clash of Clones years and seeing that the games that stuck around are ones that have had enough differences from Clash of Clans to succeed on their own.
On top of the difficulty in building a game that works with synchronous PvP, you have to effectively build critical mass. Synchronous PvP games live and die by their matchmaking.
Competitors are launching midcore-themed PvP games into a market where CPI costs are getting insane.
Launching a Clash Royale-style game is very difficult for most game companies.Adam Telfer
So if you're paying high CPI and need a high DAU for critical mass... that is a recipe for an expensive soft launch and high marketing costs to stay sustainable after global launch.
A high cost to even have visibility, whether your game will work at all.
High production complexity and high cost of marketing makes launching a Royale-style game very difficult for most game companies.
The companies that can make this work will most likely have the ability to cross-network from another title, a massive cash reserve to experiment, or maybe a license that will reduce marketing costs.
One game that Royale-style meta is working well for is Golf Clash by Playdemic - Clash Royale systems on top of a PvP golf game.
It is definitely not beating Clash Royale in top grossing rank, but looks like a strong title for Playdemic. This may suggest that the successful Clash Royale clones will take inspiration from the progression systems, not directly clone the core gameplay.
Take inspiration, but design the systems for a new audience.
Jean-Philippe has 5 years' experience building startups and advertising mobile games globally. He has a strong entrepreneurial mindset and highly developed expertise in sales strategy, team management, user acquisition, game design, user engagement and monetization.
Jean-Philippe started his career working for the mobile game publisher Chugulu where he was in charge of designing and marketing free to play titles. He contributed to the success of the award winning e-commerce platform lazada.ph while working for Rocket Internet as Global Venture Director in the Philippines. After Rocket Internet, Jean-Philippe joined HitFox as Head of Business Development for mobile games marketing ventures GameFinder and AppLift. He helped grow and develop both companies internationally as Chief Revenue Officer.
I agree 100% with Adam on this one.
I believe King also tried to find its path in synchronous PVP games with Shuffle Cats recently, even though it is a complete different genre and targeting another audience.
Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.
For me, it's worth breaking this down into games which attempt to compete for that Clash Royale space (something I think was a disruptive move by Supercell) and the influence that the game's design has cast on others.
First I think the risks involved in taking on Supercell directly are colossal.
It's the kind of game where you really need to understand how the gameplay operates at a very deep level before you can reinvent it.
I'm not talking about just the basic mechanics but the improvement curves of each card set, the timers, how they interact, etc.
That may be reasonably business-as-usual, but you have to apply that as a games-as-a-service company - a little too much for most cloners, I suspect.
There may also be something about the brand design and the game mechanic too. Skill-based games are often quite tribal in their passions.
So offering a watered-down example with a different brand slapped on it may not have the potential to scale or support the audience.
Then there are the budgets. The infrastructure to manage these games at scale is not trivial, and whilst there are third-party server platforms out there, it still requires a network mindset to understand the proper use of data and multiplayer.
The biggest budget is of course UA. You can't really compete with Clash Royale without an audience and that means you either need enough of an existing audience to cross-promote, or deep pockets.
It is no surprise that being a fast follower in this space is almost impossible.Oscar Clark
With all these risks magnified by the issues of being discovered and rising UA costs, there is no surprise that being a fast follower in the space is almost impossible.
But that doesn't mean there aren't games out there in the wings, as Adam says, taking their time testing. The fact that some have already failed is just a sign of what an amazing job Supercell did with that game.
For the rest of us however, I think there are lots of great lessons to be learned by any team and I think Clash Royale has influenced a vast array of developers in simpler ways.
In particular the use of treasure chests. What a marvellous idea. I feel I have earned that reward, it's mine and I will eventually get it, but I can speed up access by spending or watching an ad.
That's something I now keep seeing pop up, time and time again, even in indie games.
It's also inspired a lot of people to start thinking what eSports could look like on mobile. And not just eSports - how might we reimagine almost any genre of game using the same way of thinking?
There I believe Clash Royale's legacy has yet to come and it is a reminder to us all of the power of being disruptive.
As late as February of 2016, I sat in a meeting with a visionless executive at one of the largest games publishers on the planet, where he told me that, "real-time multiplayer will never work on mobile". That was last February!
*cough* Reset Generation was launched in 2008 *cough*
Amusingly enough, that same, visionless executive was promoted to C-level after Clash Royale found its success!
True visionaries are few and far, far between, and rarely will you find them holding the purse strings at publicly traded gaming companies.
Publicly-traded monkey see, publicly-traded monkey do: Now that Supercell has proven that crisp, compelling multiplayer sessions with slick free-to-play merchandising can lead to billion-dollar business, the rest of the world will catch up in a scramble.
But these scrambles take time, and it has only been one year.
"It always seems impossible until it's done” - Nelson Mandela.
They said real-time multiplayer will not be possible, now they say [insert anything here] is impossible!
Visionaries are mainly not in big corporations, as they will die in there. They need their freedom to think how to do it.
You will find a lot of talkers and few doers. I've been making (mobile) games with HandyGames for 17 years, and I've heard and seen so much bullshit already. Don’t copy other games. Innovate!
So I end with another quote that fits: “Stay hungry, stay foolish” - Steve Jobs.
A 20-year veteran of video games and online space, Harry is European CEO of Marvelous AQL, a Japanese developer and publisher of social, mobile and console games, known for console games like No More Heroes and Harvest Moon, but now highly successful in the free-to-play mobile and web space in Japan and Asia.
A games programmer before joining Sony’s early PlayStation team in 1994, he then founded developer Pure Entertainment, which IPO’d and launched a free-to-play online gaming service way back in 1999.
He was also a director of pioneering motion gaming startup In2Games, which was sold to a US group in 2008.
Along the way, he’s been a corporate VP, troubleshooter, and non-exec to a variety of companies and investors in and around the games sector.
I agree with everything that's been said so far - and I'm sure plenty of great games influenced by Clash Royale are on the way.
Multiplayer gaming is becoming an area where copying others isn't necessarily a great strategy.Harry Holmwood
But I would just add that, looking at the PC MOBA space, what's happened there is that loads of companies have come in and tried to make their own variant, looking to take a slice of League of Legends' audience, and found it very difficult.
Players there don't seem to be interested in a new MOBA, they're pretty happy with the one they're already playing.
I think, increasingly, we will see multiplayer gaming becoming an area where copying others isn't necessarily a great strategy anymore.
What we saw in limited lifespan, single-player games was people making a game for gamers to play once they'd finished whatever they were playing.
But now - what if people aren't finishing these games? What if Clash Royale is giving them all the MOBilA (I just invented that word, hopefully it will catch on and I can dine out on it for a few years) they need?
To Harry's point, 'lifestyle gaming' is becoming a very real trend in video game consumption.
Games which offer near-infinite content (mostly in the form of multiplayer variance) are transforming a lot of consumers from people who play games into people who play a game.
Genre leadership is becoming genre total domination.
That said, there are many possible play dynamics which offer crisp, compelling multiplayer sessions, and which abet slick free-to-play merchandising.
You don't have to be a Clash Royale clone. In fact, to Harry's point, you probably should not be.