Revisiting Warstorm, a Growing Zynga Strategy Title

WarstormLast December, we took a look at the digital collectible card game Warstorm from Challenge Games. In June, Challenge was acquired by Zynga, and underwent a subsequently visual redesign. Most recently the game appears to have been enjoying a new wave of promotion, appearing in both our top emerging and fastest-growing apps lists and passing 1.1 million MAU, more than twice what it previously had.

The question is, why did Zynga keep Warstorm where it abandoned most other titles from other its acquisitions, like Music Pets? We took a fresh look to see what might have caught Zynga’s eye about this title.

The core of Warstorm has not changed since December. The game still has players strategically building decks and pitting them against other users and non-player opponents in the form of campaigns. What has really changed are a number of minor improvements to elements such as interface, art, battle, and social mechanics.

Mission MapNew UI elements are the most noticeable change, as the various campaigns are now displayed in a sort of world map that shows where the player has completed missions. This change may not seem like much, but it’s actually a very effective in giving a sense of progression to the player.

Warstorm has also gained much new art for new cards, means new card abilities and monsters (many of which are gifted to the player as rewards for playing). To that end, the strategy and tactics for the game have evolved to encompass more depth and breadth. This refers to changes in battle, where former strategies may no longer be viable.

In the original game, players lost when they ran out of cards to play or life. In order to lose life, however, Ranged Cardan enemy card would sometimes have to strike at empty space. This has changed slightly as Warstorm appears to have separated ranged and melee cards.

Melee can only attack cards across from them (unless there is a special ability) while many “ranged” cards attack only with a special ability (such as “Snipe” or “Zap”). This also follows suit with typical role-playing rules in that ranged attackers can be very powerful, but die easily when in close quarters. Thus if the enemy has four cards on the field, and the ranged is the fourth (making it the furthest to the right) the cards to its left must be killed before the archer can be attacked, unless the other player has an equivalent number of cards in play.

What this means, is that a heavily ranged deck can, theoretically, focus fire down a powerful melee target before it can even reach those attacking it. Additionally, if there’s a stalemate between opposing cards (which can happen with regenerating or healing units), the smaller deck will slowly lose morale, which can lead to a loss.

Gift CardsSocially, the biggest improvement to Warstorm, and most loved by the players, is the ability to gift and trade cards. In its original iteration, Warstorm was all about fighting each other, so friends were still enemies. Now, the ability to send unique cards as gifts appears now and again, as well as gifting those that are part of a personal collection.

In addition to this, the ability to purchase cards has also been improved. Rather than merely being able to buy expansion packs or individual cards, players can now purchase pre-made decks and squads.

None of the above fully explain why Zynga would keep Warstorm. Another possible reason is that the game is dramatically different from any other current Zynga title, thus providing potential entry to a new audience. Several months ago we pointed out that strategy and fantasy games are a growing genre on Facebook; it appears that Zynga may wish to test out the genre’s potential.

As a group, strategy games do offer rewards to their developers, offering up players who tend to be highly engaged. In theory, this is probably due to the fact that these games are extremely game-like, though not bloated with features. They’re the closest rendition to a traditional game without feeling like there’s a ton of rules to figure out. The strategy and tactical choices in games like Warstorm, coupled with collection elements, can sate the appetites of both experienced and new gamers quite well, without feeling like a clunky PC game from the 90s. Zynga, of course, tried out RPGs and strategy games in its early years, but its early failures in that area kept it away from new games in the genre for almost two years.

Buy SquadsOf course, the biggest reason for Warstorm’s dramatic growth is simply the fact that Zynga is one of the best when it comes to marketing its games. Along with new and improved features, – especially social ones – as well as appeal to both core and casual players, there appears to be plenty of potential for Warstorm to eventually become a big title.