Brawl Stars - can Supercell do it again?
On what would otherwise be a quiet news day for the mobile free-to-play industry, Supercell shook things up by both announcing and revealing their new game Brawl Stars on a live stream, before releasing it on iOS in Canada on a fateful 14th June. With hits like Hay Day, Clash of Clans and Clash Royale behind them, the impact the Finnish super studio has had on our industry cannot be understated. But will Brawl Stars join the ranks of their elite group of titles, or will it become another Pets vs Orcs or Spooky Pop and not see the light of day? We grilled our panel of authors to see what they think.
For those of you that have not yet played Brawl Stars, here’s a brief rundown:
- The game is a simplified MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) taking form as a synchronous 3v3 PvP game.
- Each player controls a single brawler and guides them around an arena. Each Brawler has HP and 3 attack points. Every time a player uses an attack, one of these points is depleted, but it refills over time.
- The objective of the game varies from scenario to scenario, but generally you are trying to get a higher score for your team than the enemy team by killing other Brawlers.
- If you die, you return to battle after a countdown timer, which increases every time you die.
Brawl Stars uses a very simple and easy to understand loop:
You take part in brawls to earn coins, with each brawl lasting somewhere between 2-4 minutes long. Coins are capped daily per brawl type, although new brawls open up as the day progresses.
When you have 100 coins you can open a chest to receive random rewards including heroes (to give you more choice when playing) and elixir which is used to upgrade your heroes and make them stronger.
Earning a duplicate hero gives you a chip instead and chips can be used to purchase the brawler of your choice, with prices ranging from 10 to 600 chips.
Progress can be accelerated by buying gems or gold to allow you to open additional chests.
Author Opinion - Anil Das-Gupta
Unfortunately I have to say that I think this game will ultimately get cut in Soft Launch by Supercell, as I can’t see it reaching the heights of their other smash hit titles. I do want to say that the way they revealed the game was exceptional and inspirational. A live stream during E3 week shows you just how far mobile gaming has come and it wouldn’t surprise me to see something at E3 itself in the future. Supercell deserve huge credit just for having the cojones to do that.
As for the game, during the reveal I thought it looked poor initially, as it was hard to follow what was going on and became boring quickly, a bad sign for a game with eSports or streaming aspirations. However, after playing the game I did find it to be immensely fun and it grew on me quickly. But I question a number of things, namely the controls and the depth of gameplay the title has.
The controls seem a real mess. Fundamentally I think the choice to go Portrait for a MOBA is bad one as you hands are too close together, and it’s impossible to play a twitch game like this one handed anyway! I also often find that I can’t shoot where I want to as my thumb gets in the way. The Super button also feels way too big for the screen. All of these things are fixable, but the fact that the game has two control schemes shows me that even Supercell themselves aren’t 100% sure how the game should play.
Depth of gameplay is where I see this title ultimately failing. Whilst sessions times are short, and the reward loop somewhat satisfying, compared to a regular MOBA there just isn’t as many interesting things to do or try. Characters only have one skill and don’t have unique builds available to them. The feeling of a true early / mid / late game just isn't there for me and though teamwork is important in the title, it’s not as involving as a true MOBA. Supercell’s approach seems to be Blizzard-esque in trying to make games that are super accessible and win by going broad on appeal, but if I compare this game to Vainglory or Strike of Kings, then I think this game is massively lacking in gameplay depth, variety and content. And in going for the MOBA market, I think that players expect a more hardcore experience because of the popularity of the genre worldwide. I don’t think the type of player that plays this game will be that bothered by a session lasting ten minutes versus a session that lasts 3 minutes. The progression systems in play also seem way more pay-to-win than other titles in the space, which is a big problem in the MOBA space.
Ultimately the game isn’t bad, it’s just not as good as other Supercell games. Which if anything shows you how good their other titles are! If there’s one company that can make this title a success it’s Supercell, but I wouldn’t back it personally.
Author Opinion - Alex Collins
It is quite unfortunate to say, but I think there is a decent chance that Brawl Stars never sees the light of a worldwide release. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I feel that the development team has pinned themselves in a corner with their progression mechanics, and without major revisions the game will never be able to hang onto users with the same gusto as Supercell titles must be able to in order launch.
That said, I am not as bullish as many others that Brawl Stars is already doomed. Yes, the controls can be quite clumsy to learn, and the gacha is shallow at best, but this game has so much potential I feel it is impossible to be certain of its demise, especially just one short week into its initial release. From the moment you jump into the tutorial you feel powerful, and the sheer amount of depth gets you excited to jump right back in. Each mode and character you encounter adds an interesting twist, and many matches come down to a thrilling finish that leaves you either cheering or distraught depending on the result.
And that’s just the solo play. Whereas games like Clash Royale and Hearthstone offer almost exclusively on 1-verus-1 play, Brawl Stars goes all-in on full team-based play and it is truly a thing of beauty. As a long-time MOBA player, I could not have been more excited to be able to jump in with my friends and coworkers and start battling together. As fun as it is to load in solo, it simply cannot compare to the joy of combining forces to take down your enemies. Brawl Stars does an excellent job of making it easy to join up with your friends and clan-mates and have a quick clash, and casts me back to the days of sitting side-by-side with my friends at LAN parties playing games all night long.
Compared to 1v1 games like Clash Royale, guilds and communities in Brawl Stars can have meaning that goes beyond a source of in-game income. These are people you can actually play and build strategies with, allowing you to improve together instead of simply in parallel. And if there is anything that can be learned from the hundreds of millions of gamers who play MOBAs such as League of Legends and Dota 2 every month, it is that the best (and possibly only) way to get over the hump of poorly implemented progression and controls is to give people an opportunity to have fun and build relationships with others in a game they both love.
So while other Supercell titles may have generated more hype within the company or had gaudier numbers during soft launch, I personally believe none of them have shown anywhere near the potential that Brawl Stars has shown in just one short week. Even though it is possible that Brawl Stars’ weaknesses lead to its downfall, I think it is equally possible that the development team manages to right the ship and release a juggernaut of a game that leads to Supercell once again shocking the mobile gaming world with another bonafide hit.
Author Opinion - Adam Telfer
Overall I think it is unlikely that this game hits the same ranks as Clash Royale. The major issues I see is with the controls and the gacha.
Which is a shame. It has a really bold design, beautiful visuals, and initially is a really fun game which is the closest to a MOBA I’ve ever felt on mobile. But I repeat the concern over the controls, as a player my fingers were covering up all the action and important information throughout the match. The art and characters are incredible, it feels like a nintendo game on mobile. But the gameplay depth in this mechanic feels too shallow, I’ve already begun to wane interest.
Besides the controls, I see issues with the Gacha and progression systems.
Unlike Clash Royale, with a huge collection of cards, there are only 15 brawlers (so far) in brawl stars. Instead of duplicates giving serious value (necessary to upgrade your card) in Clash Royale, Brawl Stars gives you blue chips, which is similar to Dust in Hearthstone. However since there’s only 15 brawlers the cost to purchase any character directly with blue chips gets exponentially costly -- making it feel incredibly painful each time you get a duplicate. On top of this, the upgrade system is too simple -- exchange elixir to upgrade a single stat. Get 1-5 elixir from a gacha pack -- if you’re lucky enough NOT to drop a duplicate. I think the pressure to collect and upgrade all your characters will just be too weak in this game in comparison to Clash Royale. They’ll need to add more vectors to upgrade your characters and collect more things from the gacha. Perks, Gear, Abilities all come to mind -- but this will strain the balance I’m sure.
Since the contents of the gacha need to be so tightly controlled (giving away a character, an elixir, etc. is so valuable) they can’t be nearly as generous with the Gacha. Where Clash Royale gave multiple free chests daily + chest slots giving you each a collection of random rewards, Brawl Stars have paced their chests significantly slower and made them only give out 1 item each. There’s no premium chests, there’s no bonuses to doing multiple. It feels unrewarding and it will impact their max spend in their economy.
This being said, I love a few of the design decisions that Supercell made with this game. The cycling events on the main screen drive me back to the game, is an great way to pace players. The mechanics within the battle are expertly crafted. All mechanics are designed around making the winning team having much more to lose. Losing more stars when they die, losing more gems, etc. All the battle mechanics are designed to keep a game as tight as possible, and have these big swinging moments possible in the final seconds of a battle. The full time in the battle feels engaging and it never feels like you’re too far from winning. Also the trophies being a sum of trophies for all characters was an interesting way to push players to collect and upgrade all heroes, although it just feels a bit of a sidestep from what trophies usually are for -- winning a lot of matches.
Overall though I feel the controls and the gacha will translate into a steeper retention curve and lower monetization than they’d hoped for. It’s unlikely that this game hits the high bar that Supercell sets for its games. I’ll be anxiously watching the Top Grossing chart over the next month to see if this game manages to pull it off -- it would certainly surprise me. It’s already in the Top 5 Grossing in Canada, but when the Supercell die-hards fade away, will it still be?
Author Opinion - Michail Katkoff
As always gents, I must agree with your reasoning. But before writing down any constructive criticism towards Brawl Stars, let me say first that I’d be most proud if I were one of the members behind this incredibly fun hero brawler. At its core, Brawl Stars has simplified multiplayer online battle arena, arguably the most demanding game genre, into a pickup and play version on touchscreen devices. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a phenomenal feat.
Despite yet again humbling the whole mobile games industry with Brawl Stars, I don’t expect Supercell launching the game worldwide. Yes, it is a bit shallow and the controls are good but not excellent. I also agree with Adam, that the gacha system is the Achilles heel of the game offering almost no sense of progress and punishing players for getting duplicates. Overall, the progression mechanics are so weak, that it doesn’t feel like a Supercell game at all. I mean, the only way to make any progress in Brawl Stars is by playing 40 minute sessions to earn Coins that will open one chest with one single, often quite useless, reward.
But hey, the game has barely been in soft launch for a week. For sure the smart folk at Supercell see these issues and likely have the answers to solve them. Yet still, with all the progression, gacha and controls issues solved, I don’t believe that Supercell will release this game. Why? Well, because Brawl Stars is not a billion-dollar game.
Supercell’s core competence lies in small autonomous teams. Teams of top individuals who can create games like Brawl Stars and shock the industry. But sometimes a strength can also become our weakness. Small autonomous teams are super-efficient and extremely motivated. On the flip side, they are hampered by their size. There’s only as many animated 3D heroes a team of a couple of artists can create in a sprint. And to make any hero battler’s LTV high enough you need a lot of users and a lot of heroes. Supercell is not big on outsourcing art, as most of the work is done in-house.
Supercell has already four live games and the company’s resources must be stretched thin between running them and having several teams creating new ones. Will it pour over resources to launch a top 20 game and take them away from current or future billion dollar games? I don’t think so.
In short: there are a handful of game company in the world that wouldn’t launch this game and Supercell is in this ultra-elite club.
So there you have it! Our team here at Deconstructor of Fun enjoy the game but don't think Supercell will go through and launch the game globally - even though we all hope that Supercell will right the wrong and launch Brawl Stars. But what do you think? Feel free to leave your comments and questions below. We'll certainly be following updates for the game with keen interest!