The Battle Cats

The Palm of My Hand Pt. 2

This is part two of a short series looking back over some of the mobile games Shaun played in 2014. The first part was published yesterday, and part three will follow tomorrow. Starting at the beginning is recommended.


Monetise, Monetise, it’s the American Way

When we think of mobile gaming we often reflexively think of the games in this category. The umbrella terms for them are often used interchangeably – free to play, freemium, pay to win – although the strict definitions are quite distinct. It’s well known at this point that an awful lot of research, planning and refinement goes into these games, and controversy still bubbles away regarding how cynical or exploitative they are. Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, for the time being they are here to stay.

The Battle Cats

I’m not sure which genre I’d place this in, other than ‘occasionally creepy almanac text’.

In this game you spawn units from your base to attack the enemy base which is doing the same right back at you. Upgrading your economy is essential in the long run but you also need to keep troops (cats) on the field, tailoring what you use to the level’s particular challenges. There’s a huge metagame too with upgrades for your cats, rare and special cats to unlock, etc.

The Battle Cats is good enough that I’ve almost completed it on New Game ++ and I’ve done a bunch of challenges too. I suspect I’m near the Wall of Diminishing Returns which exists in virtually all free to play games, but in this instance the wall appears so late in the game that it’s not objectionable at all.

My only complaint is that the real investment of cash is so pricey as to rule it out for me. That’s a weird thing to say about a free game that I’ve played for upwards of twenty hours or more, but on the other hand post-twenty hours seems like a weird point at which to think about investing £26 (the actual sum the game wants from me for what I want from it: 10 pulls on the rare cat machine during an event which guarantees an uber-rare). I’d be happy to give it maybe £8, a figure I arrived at using the calculating power of my arse.

Candy Crush Saga

What more needs to be said about Ellie Gibson’s game of the year 2013? It contains more than a thousand levels, or some number that is so great as to make the mind go blank when it is comprehended.

Candy Crush Saga is not for me, which is a nice way of saying that I find it a little dull in anything other than 15-minute doses every week or month or quarter or so. What I find most interesting about it is that it has a sort of ‘who cares?’ level design. By which I mean that you match candies and there’s variety in objectives and layout and other aspects of level design, and sometimes you won’t be able to win because of randomisation, but who cares? Most people will never finish the game, or repeat any of the levels they’ve already played, but who cares?

By all of this I don’t mean that Candy Crush Saga is a bad game – rather I feel that as a game it is an activity that you do, rather than a challenge that you beat or an experience that stays with you. There are worse things than for games to simply exist to be played, of course.

Clash of Clans

I elected to try this out because I never had. That’s it! I believe Clash of Clans holds the title of the highest-grossing mobile game of all time. That’s one hell of an accomplishment, and it deserves looking at for that reason alone.

It is, unfortunately, exactly what I expected: a more competently and cleverly executed version of a game I’ve played before (even if, and I have no idea if this is true at all, Clash of Clans did it first).

As with all games of this type, sooner or later you’ll hit the part of the curve wherein you either start investing money (into a theoretically bottomless pit) or you accept that your play sessions will become less involved and more infrequent because of the escalating timers. What this suggests to me is that ultimately, you will find yourself playing Clash of Clans solely because you already play it. You may not have invested money, canny consumers, but you’ve already invested time and that is also of value.

VEGA Conflict

A Google Play store recommendation that is apparently popular, this is more or less Clash of Clans in space. Initially I thought VEGA might have something more going for it because you can actually exert direct control in battles. You may order and group order your ships, select targets, issue lateral movement commands to dodge slow but powerful enemy shots, and so on. Unfortunately my experience suggested that in practice you’re better off just letting the AI get on with it. Maybe it’s better with the later ships but I took its early lack of lustre as an indicator that this wasn’t a core part of the game and would never really change.

Beyond fleet battles the science fiction stylings are meaningless; same drink, different brand, just not as recognisable. One thing that can be said for Clash of Clans is that its bright and cartoony graphics make everything instantly recognizable and comprehensible. That isn’t very important in a gameplay context because Clash of Clans isn’t very interactive, but it’s a step above VEGA’s fairly gloomy, generic black and grey everything.

Clay Jam

I’m ambivalent about Clay Jam. A little. It’s targeted at sprogs, you see, and there’s a real charm to the way it looks. I’m not sure if it uses actual claymation or digital graphics cleverly souped up to look like claymation, but either way its aesthetic stands out from the crowd.

It also has some gameplay mechanics that involve direct, almost tactile interaction, unlike the last two games I’ve covered, in that you must flick the touchscreen to roll a clay ball along, collecting up the smaller creatures and objects and avoiding the larger ones. Your ball grows as you roll along each area, culminating in a mighty launch towards a big clay monster. It’s a bit Katamari Damacy, but you are channelled endlessly forwards and the aim is to get as big as possible before the inevitable launch.

Clay Jam is simple and cute and diverting, though I stopped playing because there didn’t seem much scope for gameplay growth. The reason for my ambivalence isn’t that, though: it’s because this is a free to play game aimed squarely at kids, and no matter how charming you look or how accessible your gameplay that’s a little bit sinister.

Hero Forge

This is a rather good wee game that blends 3D tile-matching puzzles with one on one RPG combat. You pick a character class, each with certain special abilities, and then compete in battles with other heroes. I’ve not played anything quite like it, which isn’t a scream to the skies about how unique it is but acknowledgement that it has achieved interesting fusion of two genres.

Battles come in two stages: in the first you match as many cubes from a 3D block as possible within the time limit. It’s intuitive, quick and clean. Trying to use all of your blocks becomes quite compulsive to boot. There’s also some tactical depth, in that focusing on gathering certain kinds of blocks allows you to execute special attacks, and everything you match or trigger in the puzzle component will play out in that same order in the battle stage (which plays out without player involvement). In multiplayer it can be quite tense seeing who was the quickest and who used their abilities in the most effective order.

Quick Mentions

  • Tetris Blitz – a recommendation from Dylan, EA’s spin on Tetris sees you trying to max out your score in just two minutes. It’s quite difficult to achieve very high scores without the use of powerups and, particularly, finishers, but it’s still pretty good fun and you get a regular smattering of freebies. I’m not sure how the game’s economics will pan out long-term but this is a good sofa game to play with my girlfriend, sending matches to each other and ruing each inevitable defeat.
  • Plants vs. Zombies 2THIS STILL DRIVES ME UP THE FUCKING WALL. Every victory feels like a Pyhrric victory. I feel as if the game is overwhelming me not because it wants to mock me until I pick myself up and get better, god dang it, but until I avert my eyes and open my wallet and let it bleed me dry whilst I use the idiotically overpowered special abilities to cakewalk through every level. Whoever balanced this game should be fucking ashamed of themselves.

    Since writing the above I’ve resolved to keep playing the game, taking it more gradually and expecting failure at every turn. I’m playing it less as a game and more of a Patience Training Simulator.
  • Puzzles & Dragons – finally stopped playing this in 2014. ‘Nuff said.


Concluding Thoughts

If you’ve read all of the above it’s obvious that most games in this category didn’t work for me particularly well. I continue to be fascinated by the big, successful models of free to play games purely because they are so popular, but whenever I try to play the most famous examples or even some of their clones I find myself bouncing off, unable to find traction among their monetisation strategies. The Battle Cats is an exception, and aside from (perhaps, in the future) Hero Forge it’s the only game I’d contemplate spending money on. Unfortunately it has priced me out of that being likely.

The above list is also longer than the list of paid-for games, suggesting that like most people I’m more inclined to try stuff out if there is no upfront cost attached. However, the amount of time I spent with free games was overall lower than the amount I spent with paid-for games, suggesting that on average I found them a less engaging experience.

I did not spend any money on any money on the games in this list. Clearly, I am not a whale but nor am I… whatever the industry term is for a small spender. A porpoise? A herring? This probably means that the makers of free to play games have little interest in my thoughts or opinions, but perhaps they should. Clearly I keep trying out free to play games and clearly I either bounce off them or don’t spend any money, but not for lack of trying or lack of (some) willingness to part with small amounts of cash.

So am I representative of an untapped market? I don’t know, and prefer not to think that way, but at the end of the day what I’m after are games that entertain and challenge me in different ways, and I’m willing to spend to facilitate that. Just, you know, don’t take the piss.





12 responses to “The Palm of My Hand Pt. 2”

  1. ShaunCG Avatar

    In retrospect, the heading near the top of the post probably makes no sense to anyone who doesn't have 'Supersize Me' by Toothpick stuck in their head.

  2. @sw0llengoat Avatar

    Was hoping to see Tetris Blitz in here. I believe you gave it a fair write-up, except you forgot to mention it's THE GREATEST THING THAT'S EVER HAPPENED TO THE WORLD, but then that might just be my opinion. I have one small objection:

    "It’s quite difficult to achieve very high scores without the use of powerups and, particularly, finishers".

    Whilst this is undeniably true, it also sort of implies that you need to get said high scores. Unless you're in a particular strand of the Multiplayer, you don't need finishers. And in said Multiplayer game, you do get rewarded with enough in-game cash to afford finishers, as long as you win.

    Once you get the ball rolling, power-up costs are meaningless. It's tricky for me to say for sure because I was an early-adopter and I believe that power-up acquisition is much harder now than it used to be, but in my experience at least, once you've got a few powerups to your name, earning the rest becomes trivial.

    1. ShaunCG Avatar

      That's a fair point. All the same, chasing high scores is tied in with all the various game modes: offline leaderboard, friends leaderboard, plus of course competitive versus. :)

      I'm still a bit unclear about the gold rewards for multiplayer games. It usually seems to offer about 350-600 as a victory reward, which is 10-20% the cost of one of the cheapest finishers?

      1. @sw0llengoat Avatar

        The gold rewards are a bit of a mystery to me, but it increases as you fight opponents where both players are considered higher up the pecking order. I don't know how that's defined – previous experience, power-ups owned, time spent playing? All of the above and more? Don't know.

        When I search for random battles, the gold rewards are normally about 1500 – 1800, against other players who are good and play regularly, and have well-stocked arsenals. When I specifically sought you and Claire out to fight you guys, the gold rewards was as you say, around 400, because you'd only had the game a couple of days.

        The economy tends to work out either in my favour, or roughly break even. I don't use finishers, and I own every power-up, so I only ever need to pay for two of them. So that's about 10,000 cost every three games, assuming I'm bringing out the big guns. Depending on the current challenges, it might cost less, but never more. In wins, you get back about 1,500 per game as standard for score, about 1,500 as standard if you beat the opponent, plus an extra 2,500 for every three you beat, plus between 2,000 – 5,000+ for using those three games as springboards for completing whatever challenge is currently running. Plus a random freebie from the gatcha, assuming you're jumping on for a quick session and not playing it for five hours straight. (Me? Play Tetris Blitz for five hours straight? Never!)

        So, cost for three games is 10,000.
        Wins for three games is dependant on success, but in the worst case scenario (fail everything, lose every game, but get a normal not-shit score) would be 5,500, and in a reasonable good case scenario would be 12,500. That good case scenario assumes you didn't complete any challenges, and you got the worst possible roll on the gatcha, but you did win every game. At that point, you're earning slightly more money than you paid in.

        Add in a bit of luck with the gatcha, and throw in a challenge win (two challenge wins in three games is possible, but very rare), and you can add anything up to 75,000 to that (25,000 being the highest achievable challenge win, and 50,000 being the highest achievable gatcha win).

        Obviously you don't always get the best case scenario. But if you fluctuate around the medium-good-great case scenario kinda level, your in-game bank balance just creeps up bit by bit over time, allowing you to use power-ups with gay abandon. Not finishers though – they will cripple you, unless you play in MP Leagues, and regularly win. I used to do that, but I didn't win often enough, so I'd lose all my money and feel the temptation which I couldn't always resist to buy an IAP. So I stopped, and thus my real life wallet became healthier and happier.

        1. ShaunCG Avatar

          This is a pretty awesome breakdown of a balanced approach to / gaming an in-app economy. Thanks!

  3. @Beechbone Avatar

    Hero Forge looks rather interesting. Strangely, it's available anywhere but iOS. Even frickin' Blackberry! Oh, well.

    I only recently got into PAD, mostly because it was unavailable in my region up until few months back. After a few days of playing ~5min sessions I wondered what was really so special about it but the game started to quickly take more and more of my time. Yesterday I spent more than an hour and a half straight playing PAD instead of catching up with a backlog of some 40 console games that beg me to finally play them.

    1. ShaunCG Avatar

      Heh, PAD still isn't available for Android in Europe. We were playing using directly installed apks of the North American version. :)

      It is an excellent game. I shudder to think how much time my girlfriend and I put into it over the year or more that we were playing it.

  4. guillaumeodinduval Avatar

    I can't get enough of The Battle Cats; considering waking up at night to use all my energy. I wonder how long it'll last.

    I also wonder how long before I cave and do all those stupid things which grant me 1 cat food per action.

    1. guillaumeodinduval Avatar

      aaand it took about 2 hours and a half. BUT NOW, I have enough cat food to acquire the NINJA CAT!


      1. ShaunCG Avatar

        Oh god no, man! I've never caved on that stuff.

        I beat the boss at the end of the first chapter last night – on my first attempt! Yesss. I'm still good at games. \m/

  5. […] I’m still doing it. At the moment I’m going through a third stage of regular play with The Battle Cats. I’m now well past the point of ordinary investment: I’ve beaten chapter three, aka. […]

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