Supercell’s new game Squad Busters recently opened up for a brief 10-day, Android-only beta in Canada.
So what’s it all about, and with over 30 games killed to date, does Squad Busters stand a chance of becoming Supercell’s sixth global launch?
YouTube creators have certainly had their say. You can find plentiful gameplay footage from them and their commentary on the Squad Busters beta dotted throughout this article.
Industry veteran and Tripledot product director Nikita Tolokonnikov also writes on his blog that Squad Busters is Supercell’s attempt to broaden out Brawl Stars and Clash Royale’s competitive play to appeal to a more casual audience – which naturally has pros and cons.
“The success of Clash Royale and Brawl Stars can be attributed to their ability to attract highly engaged young people who tend to spread the word around,” says Tolokonnikov.
“Squad Busters is positioning itself as a game that can appeal to this audience but with lower skill requirements to get good at it,” he continues. “However, this also means that the skill ceiling is lower, and after playing for a week, I don’t see how you can progress significantly after months or years of playing.”
“This market positioning could attract people who usually avoid competitive games because they find them too difficult. However, it may also lead to those who seek more depth becoming bored after a few weeks or even days.”
Writing for Naavik, games industry researcher Fernanda Gonzalez also describes Squad Busters as “Supercell’s attempt to casualise the Brawl Stars experience”.
“It takes Brawl Stars’ action gameplay, adds in a layer of roguelike round mechanics, and finishes with a multi-IP character list from all Supercell IPs,” she says. “This results in an engaging casual-MOBA game that is fun to play and watch.”
She’s also more positive on the idea of gameplay depth. “Squad-based gameplay is core to the experience, where players start with one hero, and then build their team up through the roguelike card selection mechanic as the match progresses,” says Gonzalez.
“In our opinion, that’s a great way to build strategic depth into the action phase and keep gameplay relatively fresh round to round. Players can optimise their team-building strategies by learning more about the different cards offered.”
On long-term retention and monetisation, our experts have slightly different views. In the absence of loot boxes, Naavik’s Gonzalez sees a lot of potential in skins-based monetisation, thanks to the mix of known IP.
“The higher availability of characters creates more opportunities to buy skins, and any emotional attachment to older Supercell IPs will increase purchase likelihood,” she says.
“Using characters from other franchises is a great way for Supercell to optimise its content treadmill, giving Squad Busters plenty of already-produced content to reutilise. Also, skins produced exclusively for this game could be used in the original games.”
“The multi-IP strategy is a great move to de-risk organic installs-driven growth in a post-IDFA world,” she says later in her analysis. “The challenge would be to convince Hay Day players to play a casual-MOBA experience with their favourite characters. Still, it would also be safe to assume that high-value Supercell fans are familiar with all the Supercell IPs.”
Tolokonnikov is little cooler on this point, though. “I enjoy seeing familiar characters in Squad Busters,” he says. “However, I do feel that this takes away from the excitement of unlocking something new. When all the characters in the game are familiar faces, it just doesn’t feel as fresh.”
And on long-term appeal, Tolokonnikov sees “a lot of room for improvement”.
“Supercell could make characters more unique, and add randomness and differences between matches through game modes or different landscapes and mini-bosses,” he says. “The most significant issue is that I don’t see enough depth in the game, even with these changes. It’s unclear in which ways a player can improve over time, and they will likely reach their skill ceiling within a few days of playing the game.”
“The Battle Pass is worth an additional note because, besides giving out rewards, it unlocks new locations to play at and new characters along with it,” continues Tolokonnikov. “However, once you graduate from a previous location, you can no longer play on it. It’s a strange choice in my opinion as locations make a gameplay difference and thus provide variety.”
Naavik’s Gonzalez adds that because the game is fun to watch there are “potential esports opportunities down the line”, though there’s a lot of work to do.
“There is still much left to be proven out for the game to cross Supercell’s threshold of what games go global,” she concludes. “We’re especially eager to see how the gameplay evolves to differentiate it in more ways than just adding a roguelike mechanic to the Brawl Stars experience and/or a squad-based Archero-like experience.”
Similarly, Tolokonnikov notes that Supercell has a long way to go before Squad Busters meets its criteria of being a game that can be ‘played for years and remembered forever.’
“It is remarkable how Supercell continues to astound with its simplistic yet highly engaging gameplay. From the moment you start playing, you are instantly drawn in and find yourself returning to the game time and time again… for a few days.”
“As much as this game has potential, in its current state, it lacks the ability to retain players for extended periods of time.”
“I hope that the Supercell team recognises the potential limitations of the game and focuses on adding more depth to the gameplay in order to increase its longevity. They should also pay attention to monetisation and meta-progression, ensuring that these elements scale well for years to come. This will help the game avoid falling into the same trap as Clash Royale, which has struggled to create value for long-term players that they would be willing to pay for.”
Tolokonnikov concludes: “Squad Busters is a great game, but it will require time and effort to reach its full potential. I would love to see Supercell mature and, instead of making internal changes to the game without data to rely on, release the game on the market and start conducting A/B tests to determine the best options for growth and success.”