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The recipe for Dragon City

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Dragon City is SocialPoint’s most renowned game, and since its release date, it has been a dominant stakeholder inside the social games environment. Why? It uses a formula based on the well-known farm games but adds a dynamic component of gathering and collecting units for fighting later (with more than 200 now). Inside the first part of the recipe, we tackle the pure game side of Dragon City, with how the different features are applied to game flow, gameplay, and dynamics. In the second part, we focus on social interactions, retention, and monetization tricks and formulas.

Here we go!

How does it taste?

Dragon City is a social game based on two different formulas, the first one is a farm game, understood as a strategy/simulation model where the player gathers different resources and growing around a main building (just like expanding a town). The other one is collecting (breeding) and fighting with units (dragons) produced through the farm process and upgrading them for an optimal result in such fights. The fact of mixing two different systems inside a social game gives players a wider set of meaningful choices and a more satisfactory feedback, something farms game can’t do due to their reiterative and aged schemes.

Variables and resources

In every free-to-play game is a set of resources necessary to purchase every in-game asset and ensure the player’s progression. Inside Dragon City we can find the following:

  • Gold: As a main soft currency, gold allows players to purchase buildings, upgrade them, purchase basic dragons, and buy the second soft currency (food). Gold is also generated by dragons inside their specific gathering buildings or by fighting inside leagues.
  • Food: Food is the second soft currency, and it’s more specific than gold. Its purpose is to upgrade dragons, and it’s only generated inside a specific building called farms.
  • Experience: Experience is a variable that serves for leveling up, requiring a specific amount for each level to be gained. It’s obtained by fulfilling tasks in the objective panel, finishing buildings, collecting food, and winning fights.
  • Gems: Gems are the hard currency inside the game, obtainable through purchases with real money. They serve for the triad of unlocks, boosters, and skippers. In detail, they do the following: skipping waiting times (creating dragons or buildings), buying more advanced dragons, purchasing specific buildings, or buying gold or food.
  • Time: As in every freemium farm formula, time acts as a constraint variable, pacing the player’s progression. Every building, dragon or food creation takes a toll of time, and its amount gets increased as long as the game goes further. Time challenges player’s tolerance (the enough the player can wait for a reward), therefore increasing the chances of a possible purchase of hard currency.

Gameplay and flow

Dragon City partially uses the farm prototype of games in a way we’ve seen in older titles considered the grandfathers of the genre, such as Farmville, but with some significant changes and gameplay turnarounds that makes it way more interesting to have a more elastic and adaptive experience.

In one side, the farming part of Dragon City is a three-way resource, one with a time constraint in its core and a hard currency called Gems. Players start with a blank island where they need to start creating different buildings, and then dragons, to advance. This flow chart shows how this works:

dragon-cityflow-chart

So, in order to advance the player needs to create buildings, which will generate gold (currency) used to buy new buildings, dragons (eggs), and food. The larger amount of dragons the player holds inside the different habitats, the more gold they will generate. Habitats will gradually run out of holding capability, therefore needing upgrades or purchasing new ones.

The collecting phase

The second pillar of the game, between farming and combat, is collecting — particularly dragons. Dragons are obtainable through purchases (where the standard and normal types are with soft currency and the more specialized ones with premium) and through breeding and mixing. By mixing two different dragons, players obtain a different one — sometimes one that’s way exotic — therefore generating more money and being more dynamic (having two different elemental types or even three) in terms of combat reliability. While some mixings can be expected (A + B makes AB type), others are “jackpotted,” meaning that there is an option to obtain a different unit from a mix, especially if it’s between previously merged results (AB + CD, and so on). Players are constantly mixing dragons in order to obtain more excentric or powerful forms. If the player wants to know how to get proper results, he will need to a) try until he gets the desired result or b) check further inside the community forums for the “recipes.”

485px-ALL_DRAGONS

 The collecting value of Dragon City comes from a large roster of dragons to breed and gather.

The maximum amount of dragons us more than 200, creating one of the biggest lists of collectibles in social gaming. The value of a collectible is always up to the player; while some don’t pay much attention to gathering, for others, the collecting is a powerful incentive (the “Gotta catch em’ all” reaction). So dragons act as an incentive for players willing to expand their books (where the registry of dragons is made inside different collections, whose fulfillment is rewarded with hard currency) as if these were set of cards or miniatures.

The combat

Dragon City uses combat to make the farming model even more outdates, and it tackles this in a very interesting way. Players can use their dragons to fight against other players in leagues (still there is no way to fight with friends; opponents are randomized based on the level they have) in an asynchronous way, meaning that opponents do not have to be present in order to play.

Dragon city fight

Above: Dragon City simplified yet satisfying fighting system is easy for newcomers to pick up.

Fighting is an entertaining feature when it comes to refreshing the mechanics of the game. RPG fans will find a simplified UI, but combat’s still satisfying: Every team of dragons has three, and the player needs to choose wisely, because players don’t know what types of dragons they’ll face. Choosing the correct attack will cause a critical effect on the other player, usually sweeping all his health points from a single blow. A standard attack will have a standard damage output, and a weak attack against an opponent resistant to such element or type will have a poor performance, leaving the player exposed.

EDIT: In iOS version, there is an available option to challenge friends in “Dragon Wars.” Yet the play is asynchronous and works by choosing the dragons and then letting them fight, without any other direct control.

Onboarding

Player’s onboarding process starts with an input-obliged tutorial, where he learns all about what it takes to succeed in the game: building, farming, breeding dragons, and fighting. (The game also encourages you to spend what premium currency you have at this time.)

Later on, and once the player has ended the tutorial, it transforms into the objective list. Inside it, there is a set of tasks that helps the player to decide to take their next step inside the game. The list proves to be an indispensable companion for newcomers, suggesting which actions to make (and their rewards) and creating a favorable reinforcement in players’ behavior and therefore making them more able to rely on the objective list to check it out whenever they want to take their next step.

Progression

An important factor of farm games is how they tackle player’s progression and how players benefit from upgrading their stuff. Dragon City mainly rewards the player’s path to success with unique and more powerful units and with a large display of the farm (a wider building ground with more constructions). Progression is measured directly with levels ( based on the experience they have gathered), and they determine the amount of buildings the player may access to, therefore unlocking more dragons and the capability to gather them. So we could state that how far the player goes determines building and unit variety.

starting_ground

Above: The starting ground looks like this.

The art also provides a more satisfactorily way to give the player quick feedback, reinforcing their behavior: When the player starts, he faces a plain, simple island with nothing on the board but  green grass. And as soon as he advances through the game, they see changes in their map: There are more islands, and they’re usually filled with more details and are way more populated. What was once a weak village is now a powerful city in the clouds — with shiny dragons.

Dragon_City_

Above: And the starting areas end up looking like this.

This article was initially published on  Games For Breakfast:


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