Ten years of Clash of Clans: milestones, missteps and Barbarian drool

 

Supercell is really having some fun with Clash of Clans’ 10th anniversary. There are in-game events to mark the occasion, of course, but the activity also extends outside the game with a full alternate history, a lavish mockumentary plus real, playable games Clash and Clash Dash.

The game’s actual history has its origins in a Facebook game codenamed Magic, which got canned as a nascent Supercell focused its energies purely on tablets and phones. A second game codenamed Magic, the project that would become Clash Of Clans, emerged from the same team.

After a very short two month soft launch in Canada, the game was released worldwide in August 2012.

That’s where our interviewees pick up the story. Stuart McGaw has been on the Clash team for five years, and stepped up to become game lead in December 2021. Artist Arto Tervo worked on Clash part time when it was in soft launch ten years ago, then joined Supercell full time nine years ago, working on both Hay Day and Clash. He moved to work specifically on Clash in 2015.

Early logo options from way back before Clash’s 2012 launch.

In July 2012, as most of Finland took a month-long break, the Supercell team was keeping one eye on Clash of Clans’ soft launch numbers. And its performance was so encouraging that the team thought: “we should definitely get this game out to a bigger audience,” says McGaw.

Tervo, who was working alongside the launch team, says: “Ten years ago, it was more about like, just having like a gut feeling and a confidence that this is a great game. I guess nobody expected anything as big as it eventually was.”

It’s the same story with the shouty, drool-flecked Barbarian on the game’s famous icon. Whatever it was that made people tap that icon, it wasn’t down to rigorous A/B testing. “When we first saw the Barbarian, we all fell in love with him,” says Tervo. “And it was sort of like a no-brainer to use him as the icon for game…I still don’t know where the drool came from.”

Concept art for what would become the Barbarian.

McGaw says of that iconic icon: “A few times over the years we’ve refreshed the icon a bit, and it feels like the Barbarian looks a bit nicer but there’s a bit more drool each time…people kind of get excited about something, mock up some options and we go along with whatever’s most exciting for the team – there’s a lot of gut feelings at this company over, like, A/B testing every possible decision.”

Not every gut decision worked out. One of the first things the team learned from the soft launch was that players didn’t like the way your army would be wiped out when your base got attacked, so this was taken out.

“And obviously the game’s called Clash of Clans, but when the game launched the clans couldn’t actually clash,” says McGaw. “It would take until 2014 for the team to find the right idea for Clan Wars – it was something that everyone had in their heads all that time, but it just took a long time to find the right way to do it and build it.”

Those first few years were an extraordinary success, of course, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. December 2015’s Town Hall 11 update is thought of as the game’s biggest bump in the road.

Building concept art, courtesy of Supercell’s art team.

“We made what seemed like a minor change so that it no longer made sense to leave your town hall outside of your base,” says McGaw. “And it just changed up entirely how people were attacking and attacking to gather resources.”

“That was right before Christmas, and when the team came back after their break people were still really annoyed,” says McGaw. “Sometimes you release something and the community takes a while to calm down and figure out what the ‘new normal’ is…but the team still felt really strongly that it was the right thing to do.”

In the end, the Clash team didn’t reverse the move entirely, but instead rebalanced loot systems and added other mechanics to make the game’s resources more fluid.

After what McGaw describes as a few difficult weeks for Supercell’s community managers, those additional tweaks helped calm the player base eventually. And ultimately, the misstep helped Supercell evolve its thinking around adding new features. Now, it tests them with pro players and content creators to (try to) ensure they don’t miss the mark again. 

With these feedback systems in place, “the big picture doesn’t change, but we get great feedback that helps us make the details work,” says McGaw.

An early iteration of what became the Hog Rider.

The next big product milestone was the Builder Base update in 2017, which unlocked a second settlement. With high-end competitive players so heavily engaged with Clan Wars, this update was designed to satisfy more casual players.

“It’s a bit smaller in scope and a bit more tactical,” says McGaw. “It kind of goes back to when things were kind of simpler, and smaller, so there’s a different focus, and different kind of feel it’s not meant to be as big and complicated as the whole village can be.”

Later in 2017 came Clan Games, a new set of tasks and rewards with a gently competitive edge. And 2018’s Clan War Leagues added more depth and structure to competitive play. 

Clan Wars League emblem concepts.

“That fed into our first kind of esports activity where the top tier clans compete in qualifiers and finals,” says McGaw. “So that was something that came out of these totally spontaneous community-organised tournaments. That really showed us that there was this demand to see who is the best.”

This year’s Clan Capital update is the latest big milestone for the game, adding a third destination centred upon social building mechanics. “Building together and battling together felt like a natural extension for clans – they’ve had the battling together part since 2014,” says McGaw.

More character concept art – note how much the Archer has changed since these sketches.

Even ten years into its lifetime, Clash of Clans has a proposed feature list that McGaw says isn’t “ever coming close to being done…it’s just about time and prioritising stuff in terms of eventfulness.”

And the next ten years? While the team continues to work through that never-ending to-do list, in the near term they’ll also be adding “stuff that players will expect, and stuff that they won’t expect – it should be really fun and surprising,” adds McGaw.