Supercell’s latest game, Brawl Stars, is another hit in the mobile game industry. The company is famous for having developed titles such as Hay Day, Clash Royale and, of course, Clash Of Clans, the AppStore top grossing app as of 2018.
At the base of Supercell’s success In the mobile industry is a great attention to user experience. The UX is finely crafted and honed to the point where it is as smooth as possible. On top of that the company knows very well where to implement changes in some systems that have been staples of mobile gaming and when to keep other usual mechanics.
This article is going to analyse the experience of Brawl Stars, as well as the addiction — reward loops it implements.
The importance of UX in games
User Experience as a whole is what really keeps the user inside of an app: if something is easy and pleasant to use, you won’t feel frustrated and won’t leave the application. In games this goes a step further: The game itself should be finely balanced as not to leave the player frustrated because the game feels unfair.
Moreover, in freemium games like Brawl Stars — as reported by players, what really drives them to make in-app purchases is solely their enjoyment of the game: not locking content behind a pay wall, nor the inability to proceed as fast as they want.
Despite having a lot of different actions and buttons, Brawl Stars’ menu makes a great use of visual hierarchy and compartmentation to display quickly and intuitively the various actions, while leaving enough space in the centre of the menu to clearly show the selected character. This also leaves the main focus zone (the centre of the screen) light and not overweighted by too much information, relegating all less important actions on the side of the screen, arranged by thematic association.
A radial gradient is implemented in the background. This serves two purposes: first of all, it is used to give a perceived depth to the background, creating an effect similar to that of a fisheye lens. Secondly, by creating a light source behind the figurine further puts it in the spotlight, reinforcing the centre of the screen and giving it an even stronger sense of wide space.
All 18 buttons are thoughtfully placed and resized based on what actions the player is most likely to perform more during the day, while taking into account the standard positioning of hands and finger while playing. For this reason the experience is very smooth and a player virtually never has to adjust his position to perform any actions. In fact when going into a subview both the back button and the home button appear: the first on the left, as you’d expect, and the latter on the right. They both bring you back to the main menu. This may seem like an unnecessary redundancy, however this can accommodate the needs of left-handed and right-handed players in general, while giving every player two options based on how they are gripping the device in that particular moment, so that once again there is no need to change the position of the smartphone.)
Brawl Stars’ gameplay is very simple and extremely suited for mobile gaming: there are only two main actions one can perform: move and attack. The screen is divided in two main hotspots: the right one for shooting and aiming and the left one for movements. One is also able to quickfire at the closest enemy without much effort or the need to aim. Using the main attacks recharges a special attack that is accessible on a button still in the right side of the screen, the one designed for shooting.
The pinnacle of game are its many modes: in total you get ten different modes. They range from the simple gem grab, where you need to get ten gems and hold them for fifteen minutes, to a classic battle royale style match (because it’s 2019 after all). Many modes are rotated during the day — only those aforementioned are fixed and do not rotate — while three extra modes are accessible during the event that takes place in the weekend and are rotated weekly.
This leaves many options to the player: he can change mode anytime, but as the controls stay consistent (it is only the goal that changes) the whole experience remains very intuitive. The maps also rotate, making the experience feel fresh as the player needs to re-adapt his skills in the different modes and maps.
The addiction — reward loop
The maps are very small and easily navigable, making it clear in which direction one should head.
Supercell got rid of the energy/lives system that has been predominant in mobile games: you spend energy to play and when it runs out you either wait or spend real money to simply play the game.
This strategy has been widely used to prevent players to burn too quickly through the game and leave them wanting for more. In Brawl Stars this is not the case: there is still a resource that recharges over time (the tokens necessary to get loot boxes), but even when this resource runs out, you can still play the game: you just won’t earn any reward.
Another trick is the loot box system. This is used in a lot of mobile games and in the past few years has started to take a hold on console games as well.
They are mainly obtained by playing the game and collecting tokens, but can be rewarded in other ways during gameplay, as well as being present in the shop.
Loot boxes contain random rewards, similarly to the card packs in trading card games. In Brawl Stars said boxes contain power points and gold, used together to power up a specific character, and can rarely contain a brawler (i.e. a playable character). This is the implementation of a classic loop of reward and addiction, which has you strive for more while rewarding your efforts in the game.
There is a thrill among players associated with the unboxing of loot boxes and Supercell knows how to really capitalise on that.
The Three Minutes Rule
What Supercell seems to really nail in their most recent titles is the length of a single session of game. Nowadays many people feel like they are always rushing: going from one place to the next without any break. For this reason it may be difficult to play an online game without knowing how long it is going to last — you may need to get off the train and leave an online session.
Supercell’s session of gameplay on average don’t last longer than 2.30 minutes, and many of them cannot last more than three minutes. This is also true for the company’s other titles: Clash of clans’ attack are restricted to a three minutes timer, while Clash Royale battles also forcefully end after three minutes.
This quick and frenetic gameplay is valued by most of the players, as it doesn’t just allow for small sessions while on a break, but it lets you play several matches if you have more time to spend.
There are many more considerations to be made about the length of the gameplay that are not just related to the game itself but to the user experience as a whole.
In general the total interaction with a smartphone shouldn’t last more than 5–7 minutes, starting from when the user takes the phone to when he puts it back in his pocket.
First of all, one must consider that the position the body assumes when using a smartphone, especially when playing, is a very hunched one. On top of that being in a social situation, one must be aware of their surroundings. Some smartphone users also report having nausea while staring for too long at the screen, this is due to motion sickness, as the screen narrows your vision and focus.
Having a set gameplay time of three minutes maximum allows the user to look away from the screen more often than a game session of indefinite time, while giving the player a chance to correct their posture.
The only mode that is on average longer in terms of single session is the weekly event that is hosted in the weekend, usually rewarding you the longer you stay in the game, with an average session of four-five minutes.
It is not an arbitrary decision for special events to take place during the weekend: people have more time to spend playing the game and may also be comfortably laying in a bed or on a sofa.
This would allow to accomplish both goals of a longer session: a player wouldn’t need to look away from the screen as much as usual while in his own room, while also being able to assume a more comfortable position.
By giving the sessions a set time Brawl Stars manages the time of its players, deciding when it is the time to look away from the screen and take a breath, adjust their posture, while letting the adrenaline fade out and leaving the user with the need for more game