Thursday, April 21, 2016

I wanted to play a SUPERCELL game...

I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. What about their games make people shell out millions of dollars daily?!

I had to know. I had to experience it. I had to see for myself, so I started playing Clash Royale. It's a spin off of the famous (infamous) Clash of Clans game. It takes all the cutesy and colorful characters from the popular base building game and recycles them into this new game with completely different gameplay mechanics. Clash Royale's gameplay is made up of one part reverse tower defense, one part collectible card game, and one part online chess. 

I play a lot of video games- console, PC, mobile, handheld, whatever. My passion in gaming comes from years of saving and scraping to afford my addiction hobby. I've always appreciated the time and effort that goes into making games and have happily paid for those experiences. The downside is obvious, not all games are great and dropping $50+ on a dud of a console game is disheartening. I also understand that the free to play model exists in gaming and it's here to stay.  For me, F2P is great when it benefits the player and if the developers can make money for a good game they deserve it. I'm fine with its place but it sucks when it hinders the gameplay. 

A few weeks ago...
After a couple weeks of regularly checking in on the game I can finally say that the addictive hooks are finally lessening their grip on my psyche. Be warned that this game loves to send you push notifications every couple hours. 
I give Supercell credit because Clash Royale's gameplay is interesting and new. Its like a puzzle game, meets action game. There's some strategy involved, its quickly paced and its completely different from any mobile game out there. It is actually fun and genuinely addictive. 

Clash Royale sets you up with a deck of cards consisting of minions, spells, and buildings. You are tasked with building your deck to suit your play style for when you play the live online matches. In a match, you are set up with an opponent of similar (hopefully) level and experience and you play your cards against them. Each card costs a certain amount of "elixir" which is always filling as time progresses in a match. The catch being that the better the card, or more damage a card can deal, the more elixir it costs to play. In addition to the cost per card, the order your playable cards will appear is random. Playing expensive cards means you can deal more damage but risk being open to your opponents damage while you wait for your elixir to regenerate. The opposite also has its advantage and disadvantages where playing cheap cards quickly means you constantly deal damage, but it is minimal.

I created a deck which geared towards the middle ground, 2 or 3 different expensive building and spell cards, rounded out with multiple cheap minion cards. I liked to have a deck with a relatively low, 3.4 or 3.5 average elixir cost per card. This setup seemed to work very well for a time, and for a time it was good. 

This is where the "Are micro-transactions bad for gaming?" debate begins. Clash Royale allows you to play live matches with other players. When you win, you win 1, 2, or 3 chests. The chests are filled with loot - gameplay cards, in-game money, and gems. You use all of these items to upgrade your cards and make progress in the game.  When you open a chest it takes time top open. At first chests open immediately, as you play it takes a couple gems to open them. As you progress they open in a few minutes or you can trade time for gems.... then hours, then more gems.... then up to 8 hours or more. As you play you are limited by how many chests you can actually earn at any given time.  As you progress you are restricted even longer. As the time gets longer the gems cost more and these gems cost real money. Open chest for 80 gems? Only have 3? How about 100 gems for $1.99? How about 500 gems, how about 2,000 gems?  They sell gem packs for $99. It's a slippery slope.

The addictive nature of the game has now been trumped by two things. First, after getting to about level 4 the divide between casual free players and paying customers is visible and huge. Second, it's a multiplayer game... It was only a matter of time before the skill cap and measured strategies became visible as well.
Getting into a match and seeing high level minions tear down your forts within the first few seconds is commonplace for my level now. I haven't won a match in about 20 games at this point either. The carrot on the stick mechanic that rewards playtime and wins has gone rotten. The carrot that used to represent fun is now one that represents money. To win is to buy better characters, its optional but there is little chance you can compete without forking over at least $10 for gems. It's like the end of a game demo except that it doesn't tell you that from this point you will no longer win anything unless you pay to play. Had they asked me up front for a couple dollars to get the whole experience I would've gladly put up the cash. The gameplay is great, the design is great, the idea is great... ALL of that is hamstrung by the microtransactions. 

Final thoughts... 
Is it odd that there is only one person of color in the game? is it just me? 
Anyway, Clash Royale is a great game and possibly a near perfect mobile game. All of the merits it earns with good gameplay, design, and art are clouded by the microtransaction system. I don't have a problem with microtransactions, but the way these are implemented is just plain gross. The fun is completely zapped from the experience for me now, but I am happy to have played and enjoyed this game.

I played the Android version of this game, its nice that mobile has figured out cross-platform play.
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