Talking a lot about Vainglory (Free) recently has me curious as to what the future of it and games like it, versus something like Supercell’s take on MOBA/CCG multiplayer in Clash Royale, will look like. On one hand, I really like the idea of Vainglory. I like the idea of mobile being the home of not just games that you can play while on the bus or on the toilet, but being the home to any sort of game. I like that you have a game you can play on your iPad for hours on end. I think that most mobile games should keep in mind that a significant portion of the audience is going to be playing them while bored for a few minutes or while they’re on the toilet, yes. And even lengthy games should be set up to where someone can drop it for something more pressing with ease. This can even be done in multiplayer games, like the way Call of Champions (Free) instantly subs in bots. Also, not everyone has or wants a PC to game on. There’s an audience out there that doesn’t mind playing big, long games on their tablets because that’s the one form of gaming that they have available to them.
But on the other hand, I increasingly think that something like Vainglory is a niche title on mobile. It’s a passionate niche, as comments across the internet on a recent dev blog talking about why the game isn’t necessarily the best fit for mobile, compared to something like Clash Royale especially. The number of people that both play on mobile platforms and are willing to be tethered to a single session for half-hour games is a small one at the moment. After all, the critical mass of people enjoying these games is seemingly doing so on PC and other platforms where core gamers are currently situated. And those people that are mobile-first or mobile-only gamers? They may just be more used to the structures that many mobile games have. They want experiences that they can play in short bursts.
Perhaps there is hope for the deep, long-form experience that is something like Vainglory, or other MOBAs, or anything similar that isn’t necessarily the most immediate fit on mobile. Maybe as time goes on, and the mobile-first generation grows more familiar with games, they’ll want deeper, lengthier experiences like the ones on PC and consoles, but with the mobile convenience that they’ve come to expect as the norm. Maybe they want to enjoy games on TVs or with physical controls occasionally, but they want to enjoy their games on their touchscreens while watching TV, or on the go as well. They want the best of both worlds.
The alternative is that the current breed of competitive games Clash of Clans (Free), Game of War (Free), or something real-time like Clash Royale are already the compromise. You can find ways to sink deep amounts of time into these games and let them become a core part of your life. There is interest in competitive multiplayer games on mobile. They just have to be packaged to players in the right way. And those players want something that’s accessible to them. The current mobile mainstream audience is quite fine with complexity, don’t get them wrong. Don’t mistake the seeming simplicity of Candy Crush Saga (Free) or those base-building raiding-strategy games for shallowness. When you dive into them, they are deep, complex games, albeit ones that guide players early on.
And that’s why Clash Royale seems like such a potential hit, and like it’s figuring something that no other game has figured out yet on mobile. Clash Royale adapts these sorts of things that other games have made great, and brings it into something that you can enjoy when you have a quick couple of minutes. You can ‘play’ it just to advance the metagame of your card collection and managing your clan. And of course, it’s set up in such a way that it can make a ton of money. The countries it’s hitting high top grossing ranks in? I don’t think they’re an outlier at all.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t want Vainglory-style games to not still exist on iOS. I like that they’re pushing to make a traditional MOBA, with the eSports aspect around it, work. I want that to be a part of mobile gaming. I would love for competitive games centered around balance and high-level competition to work well on iOS to go along with the more familiar moneymakers that define mobile. But I think that it will require the tastes of the existing audience to shift more to want a Vainglory style game, or for the audience that already demands that sort of experience to start playing mobile games in greater number.
Of course, maybe something like Clash Royale is what this takes its form as. After all, it’s a lot like Hearthstone (Free) in adapting popular CCG mechanics and monetization, where opening up more chests is key to building up a powerful arsenal, And that “pay to be competitive model" doesn’t harm Hearthstone‘s competitive scene. While Clash Royale might need some features that facilitate competition outside of intra-clan matches, that’s certainly within the realm of possibility.
But I think because it solves a lot of ‘problems’ that many MOBAs and competitive games have had on mobile, you’ll hear a lot about Clash Royale this year. Call of Champions is a ton of fun, but the grossing ranks, are, well, non-existent. And Vainglory is at least doing okay in the grossing ranks now, with Think Gaming estimating about $13,000 based on its grossing rank on iOS, and with the app in similar ranks on Google Play. But Supercell could easily lap that game when Clash Royale goes global. And there’s a lot of investment money behind Vainglory, and while certainly it could become an even bigger deal in this year and beyond, we’ll see. I certainly wish it good things, because that audience that cares about hardcore games on mobile deserves to be served – and I think that audience will only grow as core gamers come to mobile over time. But how long can it last even at modest levels when the game is getting blockbuster backing and support behind it?
And if it takes massive investment dollars, significant marketing efforts, and serious community-building effort for a modest success, when other games with similar efforts are fizzling or have fizzled entirely – remember Fates Forever? – why would a developer or publisher decide to go the Vainglory route when the Clash Royale route of fast, casual-friendly multiplayer while still being competitive and very monetization-friendly would show far greater rewards? I certainly hope it works out smashingly for someone, and maybe it will someday. But it will involve someone taking a risk that doesn’t look like it will pay off right now.