3 Reasons DomiNations Conquers Other Mobile Strategy Games
As a Chartboost employee, I hear plenty of rave reviews about new mobile games. So when my coworkers started pestering me to download DomiNations, a history-themed strategy game released by developer Big Huge Games and publisher Nexon M in April, I didn’t immediately rush to the app store.
But my colleagues kept insisting, so I finally relented. Now, I’m completely hooked. I’m not a hard-core or even mid-core gamer, but I play it everywhere — on the treadmill, on the train, at the office (see photographic evidence, below!). I’ve even started checking the app right before bed to make sure all my resources and armies are in good shape.
If you haven’t yet played DomiNations, the brainchild of strategy veterans Brian Reynolds and Tim Train (the developers behind hits like FrontierVille, Civilization II, Alpha Centauri and more), here’s a quick primer.
Players start out in the Stone Age and create their own civilizations, progressing through the Medieval period, the Enlightenment, etc. Players can also join alliances to team up and conquer enemies around the world. The ultimate goal is to create and lead the world’s greatest armies from different historical eras — think British Empire versus China’s Ming Dynasty — and become the the most powerful ruler in the world.
What makes this game so crazy addictive? I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and here’s what they’ve done right:
1. Resource Management with Retention in Mind
Right off the bat, DomiNations progresses in a smooth, logical manner that doesn’t force users to spend a ton of cash to advance. It’s a good example of a mobile game that focuses first on retaining and engaging users before converting them into paying players.
The game’s barrier to entry is low: The developers have kept things simple and approachable by making the first couple of battles just challenging enough to whet players’ appetites. Players also start with enough money to buy the resources needed to progress to the next level — that’s not always the case in other strategy-based mobile games, which often require up-front investment to move past early levels.
What’s more, while in many strategy games, all your troops get wiped out after a battle (and you have to pay to keep playing), DomiNations allows players to keep surviving troops, and bring them along to the next level. The result? You feel connected to your army, and you manage your resources more carefully. You feel rewarded for having survivors through each battle and you want to return to your loyal armies.
2. Subtle Yet Effective IAPs
Once the game does ask users to pony up, its in-app purchase model is intuitive, fair and well-integrated into the natural flow of game play.
Specifically, in the first two or three days of playing the game, users are subtly offered a starter pack of resources for $10 (full of food, crowns and more). It’s not pushy, and the offer lasts longer than similar monetization tactics do in other strategy games.
This really worked for me: It gave me enough time to learn the core game functions and understand how and why the in-app purchase would enhance my experience. Had it disappeared more quickly, I might not have pulled the trigger.
3. Quick and Satisfying Game Play
The game’s developers also clearly have long-term player engagement in mind. Other strategy games often require players to wait two or three days to build a house or army. In DomiNations, however, no task takes more than a day. This keeps me coming back to the game frequently because I know there are constant updates.
Players can also hunt wild animals they encounter in the forest, which I think is a really fun and unique addition to the game. The graphics in this element are beautiful, and it’s incorporated smoothly so it feels like a fun mini game within the bigger DomiNations world.
Finally, I love that the game is paradoxically simple yet complex. Later levels allow users to customize the game in creative ways—for example, you can build one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and choose which historical empire your armies represent. There are pros and cons to each choice, of course, which makes the game that much more compelling.
My one piece of constructive criticism is that players in an alliance can’t wage war against alliances—you’re limited to individual battles. I can’t wait until they introduce alliance wars, which I think will only drive up retention and engagement within the game.
I’m not the game’s target demographic—I can play casual games for hours on end, but I’d never called myself a serious “gamer.” But DomiNations, which I find myself opening 6-8 times a day, has changed my tune. It’s proof that when built thoughtfully, any game category can conquer the (mobile gaming) world.