The Better Game: Army Attack vs. Empires & Allies

By AJ Glasser Comment

Military-themed strategy games had some significant high points on Facebook well before 2011, but in the last couple of weeks, the genre’s really heated up as Digital Chocolate and Zynga both released new entries to the market. With the two games live and in heavy use by players, we compare the two to see how each are doing given their thematic similarities and gameplay differences.

Digital Chocolate’s Army Attack was first to market toward the very end of May. The game gained traction quickly, debuting at number four on our top 20 list of fastest-growing Facebook games by monthly active users for the last week of the month and landing at the top of the daily active users ranking only two days later. It’s the 19th game in Digital Chocolate’s developer portfolio and already it’s number three in term’s of the company’s overall Facebook traffic just behind Millionaire City. In Army Attack, players control individual military units on a map laid out along a grid. Clicking an unoccupied square on the grid sends a selected unit to “conquer” the square while clicking an occupied square sends unit into turn-based combat against whatever happens to be there.

Zynga’s Empires & Allies arrived about a week later following an announcement made just a day before the game launched. It’s Zynga’s first new Facebook game following December’s CityVille release, but as it came after the launch of RewardVille, Empires & Allies was already compatible with the fan incentive network. This along with cross-promotion through Zynga’s other games gave Empires & Allies a leg up on the growth charts for its first 10 days of life, though a reporting issue on Facebook prevented the game from hitting our rankings charts until almost two weeks after launch. In the game, players must rebuild a city attacked by a savage military force. Specific military structures produce individual units that the player can then lead into turn-based combat against artificial intelligence-controlled opponents or against neighbors for player-versus-player action.

It comes as no surprise that Empires & Allies now leads Army Attack in terms of traffic, despite the latter game’s head start. Zynga simply has the larger network to leverage cross-promotion, and the game uses a city-building mechanic identical to the one in CityVille, which creates instant familiarity for CityVille players. Digital Chocolate’s cross-promotion is not insignificant, however; we’ve seen its 18th game, Zombie Lane, get a bit of a lift as Army Attack grows in popularity and it’s not hard to imagine that traffic flows both ways despite the games’ dissimilar gameplay.

As for a gameplay comparison, we avoid making any subjective judgements on behalf of players. We will, however, point out a few of the core differences between the two military-themed strategy titles:

  • Empires & Allies relies heavily on a city-building mechanic while Army Attack pulls more from the treasure-hunting genre where users are encouraged to click on as many squares as possible. Note that players are still asked to build structures in Army Attack to produce units; however, they do not have to provide civilian housing or comfort the way they do in Empires & Allies.
  • At time of press, Army Attack does not have a PvP mode, although Digital Chocolate President Marc Metis says that is in the game’s future at some point. Empires & Allies launched with a PvP mode, however, it started off as a feature to be unlocked around level 6.
  • Combat in Army Attack can occur at any time whenever the AI spawns enemy units on unoccupied squares on the map. Empires & Allies’ combat must be sought out and activated either by clicking on an attacking character’s (or player’s) icon or by visiting their occupied territory.
  • Environment does not play significant a role in Army Attack wheres Empires & Allies makes a firm distinction between land, air, and sea units for a sort of rock-paper-scissors dynamic to balancing combat.
  • Army Attack places significance on unit location as units that are adjacent to one another will both attack in the same turn at no additional energy charge. Empires & Allies units can only attack one at a time and gain no clear advantage based on positioning.
  • In Army Attack, players must purchase new maps to unlock areas. In Empires & Allies, players must earn enough in-game currency and “Liberty Bonds” (which can also be gifted by neighbors) to buy a land expansion for their city.

As far as monetization goes, the games both use similar models where players are paying to speed up construction on structures, replenish energy, or gain access to special gameplay boosts. Zynga has a slight advantage as Empires & Allies does encourage players to build decorative structures in their cities, creating an additional revenue stream.

As was the case with hidden object games in direct competition for the Facebook audience, we observe that players are not in a position where playing one strategy game would prevent them from playing the other. If anything, the presence of more strategy games in the genre might be having an overall positive impact across all strategy games. We observe, for example, that Kabam’s Global Warfare has shown accelerated growth since Army Attack and Empires & Allies arrived.

We plan to keep an eye on the strategy genre throughout the summer as Playdom readies its own entry into the military-themed strategy genre. In the meantime, Digital Chocolate is actively challenging Zynga with an “Army Attack Challenge,” asking Facebook players to try both games and rate according to which they feel is the better game. You can follow each game’s progress on AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.