Squad Busters
Source: Naavik

Supercell will launch its sixth game, Squad Busters, on May 29th. Its global release date was confirmed a mere two days after the game’s soft launch in select markets, suggesting the decision to release worldwide may have been made in advance.

Supercell’s last global launch, 2018’s Brawl Stars, underwent a soft launch of one and a half years. Squad Busters, on the other hand, got two short beta tests for a total of 17 days. So let’s examine Squad Busters’ unique journey to launch and investigate the factors that might’ve accelerated it going global.

Game Busters

SC Games
Source: Naavik

Since Brawl Stars, 10 Supercell games have been unveiled to the public, and seven of them have already been discontinued. Clash Mini, an autochess game, was the last Supercell title to be discontinued, but it had spent the longest time in soft launch — over two years. All the other discontinued games spent less than 16 months in soft launch, with Rush Wars the briefest at three months.

Closed/open beta testing is new to Supercell, and only the recent 2023 titles have been out in beta in lieu of soft launches. These beta tests are brief, typically spanning one to two weeks, and target a select group of users. This approach is not only cost-effective, but also accelerates the testing process compared to conventional soft launches. Supercell’s Floodrush underwent a beta testing phase for 10 days prior to its discontinuation, whereas mo.co’s beta test, which lasted 12 days, appears to have moved the project forward.

All the latest releases from HoYoverse — including Genshin Impact, Honkai: Star Rail, and the soon-to-be-released Zenless Zone Zero — have undergone multiple beta testing phases instead of soft launches prior to their worldwide release. In fact, numerous successful South Korean game developers, such as NCSoft with its Lineage games, as well as Devsisters with its CookieRun games, prefer a closed beta strategy over more traditional soft launches.

HoYoverse juggernaut Genshin Impact made its global debut after three closed beta tests focused on the core gameplay loop, without any monetized content or features. These tests were conducted at intervals of eight months and four months, with durations of one week, three weeks, and one month, respectively. The company’s next game, Honkai: Star Rail, also underwent a similar process, with three beta tests prior to its worldwide launch.

HoYoverse Games
Source: Naavik

HoYoverse has generally stuck to its lane in terms of genre group and audience focus. Further, it has maintained a consistent approach to monetization and character progression across its games (which we covered here). While there have been slight modifications, none have been significant enough to warrant extensive testing in a soft launch environment. The core gacha monetization model in these games has not only been validated by “forever” titles such as Puzzle & Dragons, but it’s also sufficiently predictable to allow game PMs to formulate robust business cases for upcoming games, drawing on the historical data from previous games.

While it might make sense for HoYoverse to perform closed beta tests for validating its new games, one (of potentially other) downside of this approach is the inability to assess the potential cross-title cannibalization of Honkai Star Rail on Genshin Impact (that we covered here) through a closed beta. A similar concern arises for SB's beta tests not adequately assessing its impact on Brawl Stars, another game from Supercell that it not only bears a strong resemblance to but will also attract similar audiences.

That said, and unlike HoYoverse’s games, Supercell games are built for short session lengths, which allows the same players to play multiple Supercell titles at once without significant cross-title cannibalizing of engagement or monetization. But at the same time, each of Supercell’s previous titles were heavily differentiated in terms of the gameplay experience. Since that’s not so much the case between Brawl Stars and Squad Busters, it will be interesting to see where the engagement and revenue curves of both games net out over time.

Another potential downside of only doing a closed beta and no soft launch is that UA strategy and the potential scale across various key territories cannot be tested for before global launch, which has many downstream effects. This might be less of a concern for Supercell though, since Supercell games generally see organic install volumes of 80% or higher, and its core marketing strategy has historically revolved around brand marketing efforts versus performance marketing ones — another point for Supercell not finding the need to undergo a typical soft launch.

Slightly related, it should be noted that it also makes sense for closed beta testing as a strategy to be concentrated among more Eastern developers versus Western ones. Many Eastern developers primarily serve their own markets through their games, which makes it less important for them to test for potential UA scale in multiple markets through a more traditional soft launch process, as most Western developers would do.

Squad Buster’s Beta Tests

Brawl Starts x Squad Busters
Source: Naavik

Squad Busters is Brawl Stars tailored for a broader, more casual player base. It streamlines the core gameplay to single-stick Archero-style controls: drag to move, stop moving to attack. It also adds PvE mobs and resource farming to its matches, which reduce the intensity of PvP confrontation. There’s no requirement for player elimination; instead, the objective is to rank among the top five in a pool of 10 competitors. Its design, from the aesthetics to the user experience, is all reminiscent of Brawl Stars.

February 2023’s first Squad Busters beta test was focused on validating this simplified core gameplay. Players could collect a squad of characters and duke it out in 10-player matches to hold the most gems by the end. The second beta test in May 2023 added character fusion and match modifiers to battles, plus even more content. Squad Busters' progression closely resembles Brawl Stars, allowing Supercell to concentrate exclusively on refining and validating the appeal of the short, engaging matches.

Squad Busters Progression
Source: Naavik

Nearly a year after the second beta test, Squad Busters returned in soft launch, two days before Supercell announced the game was going global. The game had overhauled its rewarding, progression and monetization systems, and this time it was playing even safer by leaning on the proven merge gacha of Clash Royale combined with the upgradable gacha boxes of Brawl Stars’ Starr Drops.

Supercell has operated Clash Royale for over eight years now, pioneering the merge gacha progression and monetization which was adopted by several others like Scopely’s Marvel Strike Force and EA’s Golf Clash. The depth of progression and monetization in Squad Busters is even more extensive than in Clash Royale, demanding that players collect and upgrade every character, given that any of them may be randomly selected for gameplay in matches. In other words, there was technically no major need for Supercell to test for monetisation through a standard soft launch process, whereas being able test monetisation is another important upside of soft launches.

$ Billions or Bust

Squad Busters’ global launch strategy through the use of closed beta tests is strongly supported by its reliance on a tested progression and business model. Further, Supercell is its own competition in many ways, and so predicting global readiness for a new game based on internal comps isn’t such a far fetched thought when one thinks about it. Additionally, Supercell’s historical approach of not depending on UA for its player base, which is crucial to evaluate during soft launch, further solidifies this approach. At the same time, one key drawback is the inability to gauge the extent of cross-title cannibalization, as observed with HoYoverse.

All that said, this approach to global launch might not extend to all mobile F2P studios. For example, studios without an existing portfolio of thriving F2P games that tend to overlap in terms of genre and audiences will not have a robust set of internal comps to base future product and UA decisions on. Another example would be first time mobile F2P developers who either don’t know what to expect in a global launch or would like to derisk their global launch decision should probably opt for soft launches. Even more established mobile F2P developers who have rich game portfolios, but would like to break into a complete new genre should probably opt for soft launches. The examples can go on.

While a beta test only global launch approach might seem like the quicker, more efficient, and more cost-effective option, it has various prerequisites and should be applied within the right context. Regardless, Supercell continues to not be shy of taking big swings with their games, and trailblazing potentially new industry norms while they’re at it.

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