Since its launch in 2015, DomiNations has been quietly making history in the mobile gaming space. The strategy title, where players grow their civilizations across different ages throughout world history, has surpassed $100 million in lifetime revenue. Nexon acquired developer Big Huge Games in March of last year, and DomiNations has become a prime example of the game publisher’s vision of having mobile games with 10-year service lives.
Tim Train, CEO at Big Huge Games and project lead for DomiNations, sat down with AListDaily to discuss how the game has managed to become so successful after two years, and how it plans to maintain that same growth and engagement over the next eight.
What has been the key factor in DomiNations’ success over the past two years?
We like to think that the core of it is having a fun game design. We have a team that’s done a lot of work on strategy games, going back a quarter-century now, and a lot of those games have been history titles. So, a lot of it comes down to the quality of a game, but I also think that the historical subject matter is something that is also very important for its success. We’ve always bet big on how history is a really compelling subject matter for games, even when marketing department doesn’t think that history is all that sexy.
A lot of times, people may think of history as a subject that you learn in school, and maybe one people don’t pay a lot of attention to. But we know that history, for a big segment of the market, is very compelling as a kind of player fantasy. You get to play as an emperor or a queen that’s commanding troops and building out a nation—giving that sense that you’re the person who is the guiding hand behind its development. There just aren’t a lot of games that are like that out on the mobile market—reminiscent of Civilization, Age of Empires, Rise of Nations and so on. So, I think subject matter has a lot to do with it.
How does DomiNations distinguish itself from other mobile strategy games like Civilization?
Civilization Revolution is a different kind of beast because it’s a more traditional type of game where you can play through to the end, which could take an hour-and-a-half. For us, we love the feel of a mobile game that’s always there and continues to engage with players for years—always improving your city, beating up on people whenever you want, and being able to play in five-minute increments throughout your day, as opposed feeling like you have to sit down for 90-minute gameplay sessions.
I really like that play style, especially as I grow older and my time seems more fragmented. I want to fit my gaming sessions into the nooks and crannies of my day. So I think that’s the main difference between our presentation of a history game versus other products out there. Part of the reason for the success of DomiNations is that you can dictate what your gameplay session looks like. You can make meaningful progress in the game with a 30-second log in or longer. I have had hour and hour-and-a-half-long gameplay sessions when I’m trying to raid for resources or searching for that next big upgrade.
How has DomiNations grown since its launch two years ago?
It has grown in both the terms of the content that we’ve put into it and our community. We’ve added three new ages since launch: the Industrial Age, Global Age and the Atomic Age, which all have new toys for people to play with. Our community has continued to grow with people who have stuck with us for two years or longer. They’re our hardest core fans that run their alliances and try to make their way up the leaderboards. We’re very pleased to see the growth of people who have been with us over the years.
We love adding social features and ways for players to interact with each other. Alliances, where players can join an alliance of up to 50 people, is the core system for that. In late 2015, we added the World War feature, where people can gang up on other alliances, and we continue to add new features. For instance, our latest update includes Friendly Battles, which allows you to post your home city in the alliance chat for a mock attack. That way, they can help you better defend your base by pointing out weaknesses.
Considering how many mobile players quickly move on from one game to another, do you find that multi-year engagement is surprising?
We don’t think of it as much as a surprise because we had a lot of conviction in that—if we put together great strategy game set in a historical subject matter—it would find an audience. But we definitely feel as though the game has defied expectations. There certainly have been a lot of competing strategy games out there with different subject matters, and for us to have the kind of longevity and success that we’ve had is something that validates the core sense that historical subject matter is great for gamers to play with.
What has been the strategy for creating a game that engages players for multiple years?
We’re really inspired by Sid Meier’s “just one more turn” design ethos, where you’re always trying to be sure that players have something interesting to look forward to when they are playing the game. So, you’re always looking to see what’s just beyond the horizon—when you get the next upgrade or unlock the next unit. We think that’s something that keeps players coming back throughout the day and week. They want to see what’s happening with their civilization and what they can do to next to advance their home cities.
I should also highlight the role of our live ops team. They’ve done a great job at providing users with new events, troop tactics and sales so that when player log in, they always know that there’s something new in the world of DomiNations to check out.
Do you have a map for the next eight years?
Yes, we have a years-long road map for DomiNations. One of the things that’s fun about human history is that you’ve always got new ages to add on to the game, so you can bring in new content and have that sense of a civilization progressing through time. We have several new ages mapped out, and we’ll see how long it takes to get them into players’ hands.
How do you engage with players outside of the game so that people continue to spread the word and grow the audience?
We’re really happy with how word-of-mouth seems to drive DomiNations’ continued success. Obviously, we do traditional marketing and user acquisition on mobile, but we have a very high ratio of people who are installing from word-of-mouth. We continue to support that with Facebook posts and our forum community, chatting with players through those channels.
What would you say attracts players to historically-themed games?
One of the great things about history—and people oftentimes don’t think about it this way—is that history is its own intellectual property, just like Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings or any other major movie. History contains characters, events and backstory—and the best part is that everyone in the world has some connection to that IP, as opposed to films. Everyone knows what a catapult is and they understand what they’re good for. Everyone knows the name Cleopatra and the other famous generals we have in our game.
When we run our weekly events, we like to find interesting characters or units from history you might not have heard about, but may be interested in learning more about. We just did an event with a unit called the Night Witch, which was a squadron of female Russian aviators from World War II that gave the Germans fits even though they were flying obsolete airplanes. We love highlighting different areas of history people might not know about.
What will be the key factor for DomiNations’ continued growth for the next eight years?
We’re always looking at what players want to add to the game. For example, Friendly Battles was one of our most requested features. We love talking to our community, hearing what they want to do, and trying to accommodate them whenever possible. New ages have a built-in sense of aspiration with their sense of progression through history and civilization, so we’re excited to continue adding those on.
I also think that we’re getting much better at adding new kinds of events and designing different ways to play the game, putting the focus on features that players might not have seen or have gone into depth with. By doing that, you can showcase the depth of the game and keep people coming back every single day.
We’re super excited about how DomiNations has found an ongoing audience with people who love the game. We look forward to continuing to tell the story of human history throughout the ages.