Deconstructing Clash Quest: The Key to Solving Supercell’s Puzzle?

Launch Date: 6th April 2021
Status: Soft Launch (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland).
Genre: Strategy.
Similar to: Spooky Pop, Legend of Solgard, and Puzzle and Dragons.

What is it?

Clash Quest is a tactical puzzle RPG with clear influences from King’s Legend of Solgard and Supercell’s own discontinued Spooky Pop.

Clash Quest is one of three recently announced Supercell titles expanding upon the Clash franchise, and the first to enter soft launch.

Why is it important?

It’s no secret that, since 2015, Supercell has seen slow revenue decline year over year, with live-ops from current titles only able to maintain revenue. The pressure is now on for the Tencent-owned studio to turn a new page in the playbook and release a hit.

Clash Quest isn’t Supercell’s first rodeo when it comes to match 3 games, both Spooky Pop and Hay Day Pop were killed by the studio during soft launch, marking the notorious red ocean genre something of a curse for the studio.

But this time Supercell are putting their most beloved franchise behind the attempt, making Clash Quest the first single-player Clash title. The title is also interesting because of the company’s history of innovation and genre reinvention over the last decade.

What, if anything, has Supercell learned about mobile’s biggest (and the studio’s most elusive) genre? And is doubling down on the Clash franchise, instead of new IP concepts (see Rush Wars), the right strategy for the stagnant studio?

How Does it Play?

Gameplay

Clash Quest’s core gameplay utilises traditional puzzle RPG mechanics, though unlike others in the market such as Legend of Solgard, utilises tap (rather than swipe) to match mechanics in a similar fashion to Toon Blast and the studio’s own Hay Day Pop.

Once tapped, the unit (as well as all adjacent units of the same type) will attack enemies sequentially. With each unit having a behavior influenced by its design in other Clash titles. For example, the Prince will attack in a direct line, damaging the first unit they hit, while the Wizard will fire an area of effect fireball.

While unmatched units can be tapped singularly, the real strategy (and power) is achieved by combining several units, match-3 style. Players will receive a damage bonus based on how many units attack at any one time, creating a board management strategy layer where players must manipulate the battlefield to combo units and maximise damage output.

Alongside units, players can use spells (like Toon Blast’s boosts) to manipulate the battlefield and damage their computer-controlled opponents. Spells have a finite number of uses (expandable through progression) and cause an instantaneous effect. Example spells include:

  • Fireball: A large area of effect blast that damages all within a small radius for the next few turns
  • Charge: Sends all units of a single type (regardless of position) to attack enemy units.

Each time there is space on the player board, empty squares are filled with units from reinforcement storage (which is expandable, similarly to the unit and spell count). Once reinforcements are depleted, the board is emptied, and with all damaging spells used, the level is lost. Each level has a series of stages that must be cleared to progress — progressing to the next stage will reward the player with a Star Chest and a star that can be used to progress to later stages.

To get more of a sense of the gameplay, check out our ‘First Time User Experience’ video, which captures the player’s journey into the game:

https://youtu.be/w50SVexamtk

How Does the Economy Work?

The core game loop consists of the following currencies:

  • Quest Energy: Used to play levels, replenishes periodically and caps at 12.
  • Quest Tokens: Used to play levels when no Energy is available. Tokens can be both purchased using Gems and obtained via ‘Daily Deals’ for free.
  • Stars: Up to three can be gained per level, used to progress along the islands.
  • Gems: A hard currency used to purchase items from the Shop.
  • Coins: A soft currency gained from Star Chests and levels, used to upgrade units and spells.
  • Elixir: Used to upgrade units. Obtained through Star Chests or purchased from the Shop.
  • League Tokens: Used to compete in the League (weekly tournament). One free try per day. Gained from League Chests.

In addition, there are two types of gacha:

  • League Chest: Rewarded at the end of each season. Contains League Tokens.
  • Star Chests: Rewarded after clearing a stage for the first time. Contains Elixir, Coins, Quest Tokens, Unit Items and additional Units.
  • Progression

Clash Quest features two key progression vectors:

  • Map: A saga map-like level progression system.
  • Units, Spells and Items: Collectable and upgradable itemisation.

Map

The player progresses through a set of archipelago islands, where each island contains a set of levels. To progress, the player must gain the requisite Stars to unlock the next island. This rather simple and even dated mechanic is the primary progression vector and does leave the game feeling somewhat limited and repetitive.

However, the map has lots of space for gameplay variation, such as island completion bonuses and side quests, which ask the player to complete certain tasks.

Units, Spells and Items

A big part of Clash Quest’s economy revolves around the unlocking and upgrading of units, spells, and items — a traditional card upgrade system familiar to players of Clash Royale. Players upgrade both units and spells at an incremental Elixir and Coin cost, increasing the units’ stats such as damage and radius

A new addition to the itemisation, however, are RPG-inspired items that create an effect. Once equipped, the items activate on troop matches of a specified length (e.g. 5+ combo), much like Toon Blast’s rockets and disco ball boosters. For example, the Explosive Robe (below) activates once on a match of five Wizards, creating a chance of a Fireball.

These items can also be upgraded, vastly increasing the game’s itemisation, and as such deepening the economy, the monetisation and retention potential of the title.

What is Good?

Solid Core Gameplay

Dynamic difficulty and seed tracking alongside level design know-how, which drive loss aversion behaviour and lengthy retention that is conquering the top-grossing chart, proves how mature match leaders now are.

But Clash Quest is now Supercell’s third attempt at entering this mainstream market. And that experience is now showing, resulting in a rather solid core game, building on Hay Day Pop’s foundations.

Clash Quest feels familiar yet different, with its innovation of the puzzle genre bringing a mix of a blast game and an RPG. The mechanics feel accessible, and level design feels moreish and deserving of a spot amongst its peers.

Narrative

A recent key fundamental of F2P puzzle games, pioneered by Playrix’s Gardenscapes series, has been narrative. The sparsely presented story within Clash Quest expands upon the Clash universe, attracting a story-motivated player underserved in previous Clash games.

The evolving stories could be later reinforced with live-ops and collectibles, amplifying player engagement and long term retention.

Scalable Economy

Upgrade has been key to Supercell’s successes, and especially so in the Clash series and the fundamentals of a deep economy that exist within Clash Quest.

So the Clash Quest team is setting itself up with the potential to have a very strong LTV if it continues to expand and deepen the existing economy through updates and liveops.

Production Values

The puzzle market is hugely competitive, with highly polished titles being released regularly. In order to compete, Clash Quest needed to enter soft launch with a game way ahead of the usual standard of production quality. And Supercell delivered.

Similar to Hay Day Pop, Clash Quest begins with an advantage when developing assets from a pre-existing and matured universe. The content cycle should be slightly reduced with a comfortable style and pool of already known characters.

What could be better?

Gameplay Variation and Depth

Due to the limited number of units and spells, the current gameplay is left feeling shallow and repetitive after an extended period of play. The limited variation is due to a unit pool that helps the game feel accessible, but is too small to appeal to a hardcore puzzle audience.

There are a multitude of ways Clash Quest could increase gameplay variety (live-ops, progression locked mechanics, etc.) and depth (new units, boosters, level types, etc.) that would increase novelty and strategy. With that being said, the game is still very early and there is time for that expansion to happen.

In addition, the saga map is the single core progression vector, meaning there are too few goals for the player to drive towards during play. Without multiple strong progression vectors, retention will suffer significantly, and players will see little value in investing in the game, harming retention.

If we look at Supercell’s Brawl Stars as comparison, we see consistent obtainable goals which update in relation to player growth:

Clash Quest needs to add these multiple progression vectors to diversify to give players more to strive for.

Shallow and Undiverse Monetisation

Clash Quest’s pay gating and gacha is effective and well designed, they’re unlikely to be enough to drive a scalable and healthy ARPDAU.

The pay gating in Clash Quest requires you to spend Quest Energy (an energy mechanic) in order to play a level. When the player runs out of Energy, they can spend their Quest Tokens (purchasable from the shop)

Currently Clash Quest is missing loss aversion mechanics (paying for more moves at the end of the game). While this makes sense in other Clash games, which are PvP focused and must avoid pay to win, loss aversion is essential for match gameplay.

Additionally the game lacks any kind of subscription, such as battle pass or VIP status, which are slam dunk additions considering the breadth of itemisation present in the title. However, low itemisation depth is limiting LTV potential, with only 10 units and seven spells being available at the time of writing.

No Catalyst for Spend

In its current state, Clash Quest has a lack of monetisation catalysts such as time limits, competition, or social competition to drive spend behavior.

Comparatively, here is a list of Toon Blast’s catalysts:

  • Teams: A clan feature that includes chat. Toon Blast understands the importance of community building and regular social interaction, setting up close social comparison.
  • Leaderboards: Player and team leaderboards are the central forms of wider social comparison within Toon Blast.
  • Win Streaks: Crown Rush offers rewards for unbroken level progression, driving loss aversion.
  • Limited-time offers: Limited time bundles available in the Shop drive a FOMO feeling.
  • Tournaments: Teams can compete against other teams by collecting stars from levels in exchange for huge rewards.

Without the catalyst of competition (leaderboards, clans, friends, tournaments, and so on) and time-limited content (win streaks, limited-time events, live-ops, etc), the player has little reason to spend money now rather than later (or never).

Social and Live-Ops

Clash Quest currently offers no way to compete, support, socialise, and share effectively. Clash Quest meets the bare minimum in terms of social features, providing no way for players to make friends nor rivals within the game. Failure to include meaningful social features leaves entire player psychographics un-catered for, which could potentially contribute to a large portion of the audience.

There are currently two ways to be social within the game:

  • Leagues: Players are grouped in teams of 29 and must compete to get further in an endless level before the season ends (seven days). Players move higher or lower along league tiers on a leaderboard depending on their progress, and receive a reward based on their progress upon season end.
  • Friends list: A classic friends list where players can view other players’ profiles to see their progression.

Regardless of how good the game is, there is only a finite amount of time a player will be engaged before becoming bored. Games that are able to retain long-term drive players to meaningfully interact with one another, whether that be via gifting, a clan feature, or multiplayer modes. In addition, social play and competition and social comparison drive spend behaviour amongst players, improving revenue.

Failure to allocate importance on social features is a commonality with early games; this importance is often overlooked, especially early in the release cycle. To reach a global launch, Clash Quest needs to support and encourage meaningful social interaction.

Will it Leave Soft launch?

While Clash Quest is the least anticipated of the new Clash trio, the game is unsurprisingly fun and highly polished, as you would expect from Supercell. However, the game appears a long way off passing the ambitious KPI benchmarks of other green-lit Supercell games.

But, despite the outward production quality, the title is very early on in development, as expressed by Supercell themselves. This early release strategy sets focus and validates scalability potential, and if well utilised will ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated from Supercell’s other match titles.

Clash Quest is no doubt an enjoyable puzzle game, we could imagine playing during a commute but lacks strategic layers present in other games midcore matchers. The game feels safe in terms of monetization and gameplay, with few of the risks or bets that often make Supercell’s games feel revolutionary. Undoubtedly there is lots of design space to expand the game beyond how it exists now, should the team feel confident to do so.

On the other hand, there is too much complexity for a casual puzzle player who’s used to the likes of Homescapes, Love & Pies, Candy Crush, and so on. Clash Quest both lacks the depth for hardcore players, yet remains ungrokable for casual players.

Ultimately, we are currently sceptical about the future of Clash Quest and would advocate Supercell once again killing a match tile. After all, quality is worth killing for.

Originally published at https://departmentofplay.net on April 29, 2021.

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