Full disclosure: both of the authors are decade-long fans of Supercell and their games. While our analysis may to some seem harsh, we assure you that it’s only reflective of the expectation Supercell puts on their games.
This week, Supercell soft-launched a new crafting tycoon game called Everdale. The game can be described as Supercell’s take on Settlers for mobile. It takes lots of inspiration from Hay Day while introducing a whole new IP based on a cute fantasy world unrelated to any other Supercell franchise.
But despite us seeing the game for the first time now, Everdale has in fact been out for a while. The game entered selected key markets 11 months before under a different name (Valleys & Villages) and under a fake publisher account.
Osmium is the heaviest metal. And Finland is known for heavy metal music. Folks in Supercell’s marketing stayed creative while coming up with the fake publisher name.
Supercell’s approach to launching Everdale through a fake publisher name speaks volumes of how the company has evolved its publishing capabilities. Where for a decade Supercell tested the success of a game by soft-launching it in Canada on iOS it has now taken a more methodical approach. Although this approach may raise some eyebrows, it also takes some of the outside pressure off of the team as they can test with the real audience before critics like us deconstruct their newest title.
This approach allows the company to test the game's appeal without the Supercell fan club rushing to download and play. And the fact that Supercell has decided to announce to the world that Valleys & Villages is actually their game speaks volumes of Supercell’s confidence in the potential of the title.
Supercell has lots of conviction in Everdale after 11 months in soft launch. This conviction is not until yet backed by KPIs (data from Sensor Tower).
Everdale = Hay Day 2.0?
Everdale is a crafting tycoon in the same line as Township, Family Island, Klondike Adventures, or Hay Day.
The focus of the game is about completing orders by crafting products based on gathered resources. Orders provide gold, which together with resources allow expanding the town, and access to new crafting recipes, and bigger production output.
The game loop of the game follows the one in Hay Day closely, with one major difference: there’s no player-to-player trading. What’s new is the element of villager micromanagement, crafting stations that are shared with other players, and a research layer.
Player to player trading was a truly unique element in Hay Day that elevated from a farming game to a social farming game.
Supercell has removed palyer to player trading from Everdale as it was breaking the economy in Hay Day. While these move is logical, it also hurts the depth of Everdale by removing the foundation of specialization.
In the mid-game, the player is introduced to new communal order boards, which are also upgradable through the work of the entire social group aka. Valley.
The three unique selling points of Everdale:
1. The Villagers.
Villagers are not a specific innovation of Everdale, since they also feature in Family Island - and of course an integral part of the iconic Settlers franchise, which has clearly been an inspiration title for the team. But what’s unique is that an actual villager needs to be assigned to the crafting building or construction site to finish the task.
Villagers are in many ways a bottleneck for players' progress as they limit the actions players can take simultaneously. And since this is a crafting game, players have to complete multiple tasks to complete one objective. In other words, villagers are the pacing mechanisms in the game.
The way the villagers feature works is that a villager has to walk to the site and progressively grab, use, and deliver products. Villagers may have to stop in the middle of the process because they run out of resources, or have to wait until another character completes its task on the production pipeline.
This generates a layer of micromanagement and offers an incentive to manage how the village is laid out. Smart task assignments can improve the efficiency of the production pipeline by avoiding bottlenecks. And players can arrange their buildings’ positions to make resource transportation faster.
Nevertheless, Everdale is not a placement puzzle like a typical city-building game. The incentives to have buildings close to each other are not meaningful and the impact of inefficient placing is hardly tangible because. Ultimately poor placement only means a brief extension of the time until the next play session. It doesn’t lead to a dramatic change in the output vs time ratio.
While this can be seen as a casual approach, it also feels like a missed opportunity. Anyone who has played city/town builders such as SimCity or Settlers knows how much more invested players get with the game when it truly matters where the buildings are placed.
It’s important to mention that Everdale is not an idle game either. It’s not possible to automate the production. Same as other crafting tycoons, the game requires the player to come back often to collect tasks and reset most actions.
In fact, based on our experience, Everdale’s engagement demand is somewhat an anomaly. It demands players to log in countless times a day for short micromanagement sessions. The first days of the game are filled with short-timers that last anywhere from 5 minutes to 1-2 hours. While this can lead to fast habit-forming, it can also lead to a faster churn as these short sessions are not rewarding. They are not built around players collecting what they’ve earned. Instead, the repeat sessions are more about micromanaging villagers who are stuck in various production bottlenecks.
Short timers also exist in other crafting tycoons. But in them, players can queue several actions and build up to bigger timers that generate a reasonable come-back cycle that allows the player to sleep. In Everdale there’s no such thing, making it the most intensive one of the bunch by far. In other words, Everdale doesn’t allow the player to plan their sessions. It demands players to constantly come back and fix the production that is stuck due to various emerging bottlenecks. Lastly, villagers add an ant farm element to Everdale, as the player generates an emotional attachment with them. Each can be customized with cosmetics, given boosting potions, and - potentially - are a system that may introduce further layers of specialization and storytelling.
The challenge is that this may not be scalable: Hustle Castle and Fallout Shelter also had this personal involvement with characters, which is progressively lost as the player accumulates a bigger number of them.
2. The Valleys
Similar to Shop Titans, the player’s village is located in a valley shared with a small group of other players. The valley has several community buildings that players can cooperatively invest resources in to develop.
For example, there are some community crafting buildings where players can send villagers or resources to craft valuable products. Ships that provide a list of crafting orders filled by the community (similar to Hay Day’s). And a research center that unlocks new upgrades for the valley. Completing ship orders and community-building tasks consumes individual tokens generated by time, which means that everyone in the valley must do their part.
After a mellow start Everdale puts players in a social environment where you have to either work your a$$ off or get your a$$ kicked out.
The game tries to offset the kicking out of a Valley through Reputation meter. It’s a permanent progression axis that’s increased by completing helpful community tasks. It unlocks rewards in a way similar to Brawl Stars trophy road, some of which allow to fill more orders and craft more in valley stations.
But still, this incentive may not be big enough compared to the significant risks of diverting a big amount of resources to develop the valley and then getting expelled and losing it all. Players should have good reasons to cooperate, not just fear of getting kicked.
Completing communal tasks earns Reputaion that leads to various rewards. This offsets the fact that you are likely to get kicked out from a Valley if you stop grinding for the community.
Another missed opportunity at the moment is that players can’t trade with each other. Because of this, players can’t specialize their production or they will lack specific resources to progress. This takes away a lot of the relevance to researching tree choices and village configuration since ultimately the player must go for everything. In the end, every player’s village looks the same, and all players focus on the same things.
The lack of specialization and trading breaks the illusion of a simulation game. Players are restricted in what they can do with an extremely designer-friendly game economy. This game is likely straightforward to balance, but it’s not very creative for the players to play.
Player trading is hopefully added further into the roadmap. But given how tight the economy is, it will most likely be very limited and not lead to any specialization, since it would alter a lot of the otherwise extremely tailored progression.
There are two research trees: The one for village improvements, which requires placing a villager on a timer. And the one for valley improvements, which require that players complete a series of crafting orders.
Buildings, upgrades, new products, and other improvements need to be researched before they can be performed. Research in Everdale is not a similar feature like in other simulation games. It doesn’t lead to specialization by allowing players to freely choose where they’d like to be better at. In Everdale, it’s a feature that leads to artificial bottlenecks and player pacing.
Research in Everdale feels like a missed opportunity. In the current form it’s simply a tax player’s progress forcing you to invest time and resources before allowing you to build what you unlocked. A much more rewarding research treen would make players choose what they’d like to specialize in instead of every player doing exactly the same researches in largely exactly the same order.
Again, the research tree feels like a great idea that doesn’t get to shine to its full potential. In strategy games and RPGs, research trees generate meaningful decisions regarding specialization. But in Everdale, the only decision is which improvement the player wants to get first. In the end, the tree will have to be fully completed and the only thing the player can influence is whether they research A before B or B before A. As it is now, Research acts as a meaningless extra step in the standard upgrade process.
Key Product Success Factors
In the end, it all comes down to how the game can scale. This of course entails that Supercell is able to attract players at a manageable cost, retain them with existing and new content - and most importantly, monetize them. After all, Supercell is a publisher that only releases games that reach a minimum of a Billion in lifetime revenues. Everything else must die in soft launch the latest.
Marketability and Distribution
Nothing surprising there. The beautiful and cartoonish art style might seem a bit childish, but cute fantasy has been effective in products oriented to a mature audience (Merge Dragons, Evermerge, Dragon City…). Not to mention it’s the style Supercell is known for.
The game is aiming at a space filled with well-established high ARPPU competitors. It doesn’t have a powerful IP or any other clear advantage able to provide significantly lower CPIs than the competitors. So it relies exclusively on achieving a very high LTV to be able to be a viable business.
Monetization in Everdale relies on convenience. The game economy creates bottlenecks, the timed orders together with social pressure create a feeling of agency. This leads to repeated small purchases of missing resources and/or boosters.
You can only buy consumables. You can’t buy permanent extra workers like in Clash of Clans, since they break the tightly crafted game economy. Many other key products sold in other crafting games are also missing. You can’t expand the production queue or skip times for example. Whoever designed the economy in Everdale is terrified of giving players freedom. And we don’t blame the designer for it. We’d be equally terrified to balance a more player-friendly game.
The time-limited extra worker is a great example of Everale’s monetization. It gives you the convenience that you get used to this leading to repeated conversion with highly engaged players.
In terms of game economy design, the biggest issue is that the economy feels excessively on rails. No player decision allows to deviate from the standard path. You can’t ‘outsmart’ the game. You can only grind more or pay to reduce the grind you have to do.
This lack of specialization takes away a strong reason for players to interact with each other, and the meaningfulness of their game decisions. It makes all players go through the same generic experience, and choices may only slightly change the time required to reach certain milestones.
Even the shop is balanced so that player don’t buy too many consumables and break their pre-designed progression path.
Ultimately, the extremely restrictive progression may also be highlighting a problem with the small cell structure. The strong constraints on player freedom seem more related to making the economy easy to balance and manage by a small team than to make the game more fun and assess player aspirations.
Engagement and Retention
In our opinion, the game feels extremely engaging in the short term. We would be surprised if it doesn’t show strong short-term retention. Although, in our personal opinion, the constant demand for attention in the early game is excessive and may eventually burn out players.
But the key question here is not short-term retention, but if the game can keep players hooked for a very long time. Everdale’s strategy is to start very simple as just an appointment game and then unfold game depth with the Valley mechanics and additional layers of crafting.
In our opinion, this is where the bigger risk lies. The issues we previously raised on lack of advanced mechanics (no specialization, no trading...), mean that they may not get to shine enough to fulfill their objective of keeping players hooked.
The long-term aspiration for a player is also a bit unclear. Instead of players aspiring to build their own little town, the game seems to rely on social pressure to retain the players long-term. After tens of hours of gameplay and investment in communal buildings players are afraid to disengage as it will lead them to be expelled from their social community of random people they don’t know.
Everdale is a relaxing and comfortable experience with no fear of being attacked.Lasse Seppänen, Game Lead of Everdale
While as product people we applaud Supercell for tapping on humans’ need to be a part of a group, as players we feel that this game is tapping into people’s weaknesses even more than its competitors. And let us be honest here, games like Coin Master do exactly the same. It’s just that Supercell has always been perceived to be holding a moral high ground in the ruthless free-to-play business.
And yes, you don’t get attacked in Everdale. You are at risk of something worse: being expelled from a community. This looming threat hardly leads to a “relaxing and comfortable experience”…
Everdale misses on the vision but delivers as a social appointment system
At its current state, the game doesn’t seem to have enough depth nor freedom. Everdale promises fun co-operation in a relaxing valley where players can build their own little towns in the middle of their green valleys. But the fact is that players are hit with heavy micro-management and an endless list of tasks to complete. Players can’t even have control of when they should come back to the game. And it all culminates in strong peer pressure where players who are too slow in their grind are to either monetize or risk getting cast out from the community.
If we look at Valleys & Villagers, the revenue per download is quite low compared to its closest competitors at a similar stage of their lifetime. This supports our harsh analysis. Of course, the comparison may not be entirely fair since Everdale may not yet have shown its actual monetization final form. But it is somewhat concerning as it points out that players either don’t find reasons to spend or they don’t stick for long.
Nevertheless, at this point, Everdale’s current form is far from a death sentence. Further developments in the game might turn this around. But it would, in our opinion, require the Supercell to relinquish some of the control to players.
Everdale has something good on its side, which is that it’s extremely engaging, at least in the early game. The fact that it has been publicly released means that Supercell sees something in it (likely, those engagement metrics).
In our opinion, launch-or-death will depend on if Everdale can fully flesh out its core promise: A valley where player villages interact and trade with each other, and where each of them feels unique. As opposed to a valley where every town is the same.
We think that the game can achieve this by pursuing 3 main objectives:
- Add production specialization and player trading.This means that players will make tradeoffs in what they produce in their towns, which will then lead to towns looking slightly different from each other. It will also lead to meaningful and wanted co-operation between the players.
- Make it safe to invest in the Valley.One of the things that can help there is allowing players to create those safe spaces by creating private valleys for their friends the same way as they would create their own clan on Clash Royale.
- Break the monotonous grindThe game is missing an opportunity-and-pushback element that exists in all of the top simulation games from SimCity to Settlers.
For example, specialization could be achieved through meaningful player decisions in the research tree (choose to produce 20% more wood or clay NOT both) or by providing different starting maps (some towns having more Evergrooves than others, etc…).
Maybe Supercell is afraid to allow player trading since it broke Hay Day’s economy. But it is not an unsolvable problem, especially for a company that has some of the brightest minds in gaming. Not having player-to-player trading creates a chain reaction that diminishes the value of several core ideas in Everdale (city optimization is meaningless, research is meaningless…).
It would also be a good idea to add tyranny checks on valley administration so that a mad leader can’t kick people indiscriminately. For example, having to get the approval of the Elders, or going through some kind of voting system. No power check means that everyone on a Valley is a bootlicker.
When it comes to the Valley, the game requires decisions that imply an opportunity cost (research improvements that exclude others, going for an event that requires ignoring another…), in order to trigger different opinions and discussions among players.
But discussing a different course of action on a Valley than the one proposed by its current leader is, at the moment, a dangerous course of action.
This could be achieved through unexpected events: Climate situations that affect both negatively or positively the growth rate of different resources, time-limited Valley sites that temporarily allow obtaining a certain resource faster than through normal means, visiting traders that allow exchanging one resource for another, a baby deer that you need to help by feeding it berries and later joins as a pet, or a pack of wolves that will provide furs if hunted, or eat through your reserves if not dealt with. These are all surprising elements that would break the monotonous grind, shift players’ focus, and make the game feel alive.
Instead of pushback, Everdale has introduced timed events. The only time-limited event that we’ve seen so far in the game (Sheep Escape) felt more like a proof of concept than something that could actually engage players. It had several stages but they were extremely similar to systems already in place on the game: The first stage was about completing orders, and the second and third were about allocating villagers for a timer. The completion reward was a 24h bonus on the production of wool, which doesn’t feel very unique.
Ultimately, it acted as an additional way to add pressure to the players in the Valley to collaborate, but didn’t affect the standard game dynamics and didn’t generate any emotional reaction.As it stands, Everdale’s engagement is not tied to players' interest in what they are building or crafting. It is tied to the need for them to micromanage bottlenecks that frankly shouldn’t be there.
When we first saw Everdale it reminded us of Northgard, which launched on mobile devices a few months ago. Northgard is a simulation game with similar worker management and multiplayer components. Yet in that game, the player specializes from the beginning and has multiple avenues to progress, whether through conflict, expansion, or trade.
Northgard is also filled with pushback from various seasons to rat infestations and attacks from ghouls. Because of the pushback, player progress is not linear and the village may reduce in size; while a smart player can use its opportunities and succeed. Pushback is also present in games like Fallout Shelter and SimCity: Build It.
Most importantly, we can play Northgard until our battery runs dry, charge it up again and play some more. It’s a simulation game that challenges players’ thinking without forcing them to micromanage. And when pushback occurs, the game creates true emotions in the player.
Why are we talking about Northgard here? After all, it’s a paid title for a clearly different audience. Well, we’re using Northgard as an example of a simulation game that reacts when a player plays it. It feels alive. Everdale in its current state feels too much like a pretty-looking appointment system. It feels very mechanical. Some might say soulless.
We believe that to revolutionize the genre and create their next $1B hits, Supercell needs to bring the player freedom, trading, and collaboration beyond what has already been done. It can’t be a “competitor game with a twist” or a “mixture of several good ideas from other games”. This means facing scary design challenges, like having an in-game economy that’s more similar to EVE Online than to Farmville.