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Reflections on the development of clan mechanics in modern games.

Game Developer, Staff

March 9, 2021

11 Min Read

Clan mechanics exist to maintain a player's social aspirations and create additional motivation to return to the game.

Historically, clan mechanics united people by a shared interest. It could be joint survival (strategy-Travians) or search for partners for cooperative passage of the game (dungeons in MMORPG). In such games, the clans really had a positive effect on retention, because without membership in the clans the game process was very difficult: in strategy games it is simply impossible to survive, and in MMORPG it is difficult and long to look for a team. At least it was before.

The development of games towards social and mobile platforms, on the one hand, has significantly increased the potential audience of games, and on the other hand, has led to some changes in the old game mechanics.

  • The increase in potential audience has led to the fact that it became even more difficult for individual players to meet: more players -> more clans -> more dead clans -> more difficult to find live. There were no algorithms that offered a player a suitable clan and I'm not sure if they are now.

  • The change in game mechanics has led to the fact that the very possibility of one player to harm another one has disappeared. This means no need to unite for protection and  joint game passage.As a result the shared multiplayer world for all players has disappeared too.

Nevertheless, even without additional motivators, players unite in clans and this minimal socialization (only clan chat had left as a clan mechanic), apparently, has a positive effect on the performance of games - if games with such minimal clan mechanics still come out. Perhaps the reason is that people can only communicate with a limited number of other people and general chats are not convenient for them.

Moreover, even games with minimal clan mechanics often force a player to join a clan during the first game session. Perhaps they do this because they have spied this decision somewhere, or perhaps they have statistics that show that the sooner a player joins a clan, the better this affects the game's performance - all for the sake of retention.

The problem is the very search for clans. Games try to push the player into the clan as early as possible, because there is a chance that the player will be active enough and fall into a sufficiently active clan that will explain the essence of the game to the player. But on the one hand, a clan may find an insufficiently active player - which is normal, the clan's task is to attract active players. On the other hand, a player may find an insufficiently active clan. And this is not normal at all, since a player can leave the game not because he does not like the game mechanics, but because he simply doesn't understand them. Because the developers of the game have shifted the work of explaining the essence of the game to the players ... also because they have to pretend that the game is not what it really is.

The best example of what I'm talking about are the heirs of the Game of War - the game, in turn, is the heiress of those same Travian strategies. A huge audience, dead worlds, the gameplay of farming declared through the tutorial and the real gameplay of the battle for the central castle. Minimal clan mechanics, and an almost impossible quest for joining a clan that stops the tutorial. Of course, this was already quite a few years ago, but during this time the essence of the games of this genre has not changed. As well as tutorials about farming.

In modern games, the cooperative defense mechanism has not returned. In different games, it became possible to harm a player (various kinds of PvP), but due to the monetization mechanics, the players are a priori not equal to each other and even when united they cannot resist a stronger opponent - there is always a stronger opponent.

In turn, cooperative mechanics have evolved into various goals that are available and / or achievable only by the joint efforts of the clan members. Roughly speaking, these are competitions, as a result of which the entire clan receives a reward. Clan mechanics will be listed below, but all of them, one way or another, are part of games that compare players, forcing them to compete.

But here monetization mechanics make the players unequal too, which makes the high goal of winning the competition unattainable and the entire gameplay useless. Even if we are talking about the cooperative passage of the game.

  • In strategy games, this problem is solved by realms: players in whole clans move from realm to realm in search of peace for farmers, or in the hope that it will be possible to achieve a high goal with minimal real money loss. Monetization itself in such games is more like an auction in which bids are not returned.

  • In other games, this problem is solved by leagues - a set of ratings for a small number of approximately equal participants in which a high, but local goal seems achievable. Including for a group of players united by the style they play.

Competitions are mechanics for a group of “killers” who may not be interested in socialization at all, while clans themselves are mechanics for a socialization group.

  • On the one hand, monetization mechanics make coop mechanics unnecessary: ​​to achieve a high goal, a player just needs to deposit more money than a competitor (auction). Instead of uniting people, clans act as an additional barrier on the development path of a paying player.

  • And on the other hand, there is a huge number of people who are covered by the clan mechanics, but not covered by the competition mechanics because of its actual cost in real money (leagues have corrected this situation, but not completely). It is clear that these people are not whales and serving their interests may not be so attractive to the developer.

But new clan mechanics do appear. I don’t know whether it is necessary to understand what was the root cause of the development of clan mechanics: keeping non-paying players in the game or monetizing paying through these mechanics. 

Clan mechanics for the not paying (like whales do) players are:

  • Various clan sciences - mechanics in which players, by a joint infusion of resources, reach publicly available bonuses. One of the first clan sciences appeared in Clash of Kings, influencing the roleplay parameters of all members of the clan.

  • Clan quests are an additional bookmark for daily quests menu. Usually, points for completed tasks go to the clan treasury, and with their help you can unlock access to clan events, items in the clan store, etc.

  • There are also clan bosses, available only to clan members, and clan wars themselves. They are everywhere, but I will mention Hustle Castle and Dragon Champions.

  • Resources exchange - In Forge of Empires, exchanging resources within clans was free, while outside clans it cost currency.

  • Mutual assistance.

    • In the same Forge of Empires there was a wonder of the world mechanic and players could help to build them by investing extra science points. To discover science, the player needed science points and resources. The science points are restored over time like energy, and the resources must be mined, bought or exchanged. Accordingly, non-paying players had a moment when they simply did not have the resources necessary for opening science, and there was nowhere to spend science points.

    • In some games, players can expose their characters to help other players - these characters can be used by other players in battles. Similar mechanics are also available through the friends mechanism. Mechanics work to accelerate the progress of a new player in the game.

  • Shared resources.

    • In Clash of Kings, it was possible to build a giant farm with which all clan members could extract resources simultaneously and “safely”

    • In Shop Heroes, players must develop a shared city that provides access to higher-level characters and resources - in fact, it limited the player’s development in the game. In fact, this mechanic is very similar to the mechanics of clan science..

For non-paying players, these mechanics work on the basis of feelings of personal gain and common good: a sense of the usefulness of the player’s actions for the community. For example, the time assistance mechanic during construction in Clash of Kings was so ineffective (the help value was too small) that it was possible to force a player to use it only through the daily quest system: while the mechanics gave too little general benefit and did not have personal benefit, players didn’t use it. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to remove it from the game altogether, since forcing a player to use useless mechanics through quests is just plugging a hole in a broken balance.

Certain problems, such as unsightly mechanics that lose their value, can be treated, but in fact we obtain several unrelated games in one. (Again in other words) the whales and non-paying players don't intersect on the battlefield, they dwell in different corners of the game map or ranking, so actually they play different games. All of the above mechanics are somehow covered by a certain amount of money.

Players have no opportunity to show / express their activity and attractiveness to clans. Just entering the game, they still do not understand what exactly is a sign of activity in the game. For example, in strategies, players begin to play farming, as the tutorial teaches, while they must throw money and rush into battle for the central castle.

Clans need very specific types of players, which makes a huge number of players de facto unnecessary for the game. Such players in the game are simply not welcomed by other players and developers. Once again, one cannot understand from the outside why developers are now making complex clan mechanics: to keep players or because these mechanics very successfully increase the depth of monetization.

Games have long been services, by time they overgrow mechanics, which in the end can lead to the conversion of a player into a paying one or somehow monetize the user. It is explainable. As well as the fact that any mechanics can be used for monetization. So complex clan mechanics is not an accident, but a good direction for the development of the project.

But it remains to solve the one last problem, if it needs to be solved of course: to reconnect the games played by whales and non-paying players. As much as possible. For example to create a mechanism in which non-paying players could produce whales some resources that the whales themselves cannot produce ... or do not want.

The famous football player effect (if you want to know we called it The Kokorin effect by the name of one famous russian football player… for no reason. I hope it will not hurt him) is such a combination of circumstances when a whale can bring a lot of money into the game, but doesn’t do it, because the game does not have a convenient mechanism for depositing a lot of money. For example, there is no big enough item in the game store, or there is no option to open all chests with one button, etc. The whale would be happy to spend money in the game, but understands that he will spend too much time unpacking all the purchased chests.

I think there are two options for the development of game mechanics which have their own serious disadvantages:

  • From bottom to top - non-paying players (for example, lower leagues) produce the resources necessary for paying players (for example, higher leagues).

    • Even a player who pays a little will be more efficient than a non-paying player, which makes the second unattractive for the clans again. But at the same time, the monetization places the players in different leagues, cutting off the upper levels from non-paying players with a paywall.

  • From top to bottom - paying players delegate routine actions to non-paying players: opening chests, creating and moving armies, etc.

    • For some reason, a whale should want to unite not with other whales, but with non-paying players, so that they carry out routine actions for him. Apparently, some restrictions should come into play here, but will they not be far-fetched?

Well, there remains a completely insane option: to make “honest” games in which real money does not affect the gameplay. Or the restrictions are so strong that they become attractive to all players: a whale simply cannot buy a resource, it can only be produced by the efforts of non-paying players.

I have no conclusions. The game production is not getting cheaper, ads also not planning to get cheaper, so the processing of all people accidentally entering the game will become more and more serious. I think in the near future we will have to see games that will not only develop clan mechanics, but will somehow solve the problem of game splitting on two games for whales and non-paying players.


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