What Drives Success in 4X Strategy/SLG Games? Part 1

From 2019 until 2020, 4X Strategy games had around 9-9,5% of the market share on iOS in the US when checking the individual quarters, but in 2021, when checking Q1 and Q2, that percentage has been increasing to a little over 11% of the market. So the big question is, what is driving that success in those games when considering IDFA as well?

First things first, if we look at what motivates the 4X/SLG players in the US, we can see that especially Social, Exploration, and Management elements drive those players’ interest. But of course, it’s important to know as well what those aspects comprise, which brings us to the features of the games.

4X strategy players' motivational drivers
You can also click the “See Feature Effects” to see more information in the SaaS if you have Motivations unlocked

What features do the games have & what drives their success?


“ONLY three 4X games released in the last two years have been able to break into top-grossing 100. In total, there are fifteen 4X strategy games in the top-grossing 100, but all the rest are older games with loyal old fan bases.”

These games have been utilizing different elements, but the thing in common is that they’ve been melding various elements to make the gameplay a bit different.

4X Strategy mobile games in GameRefinery service
*Check out these games the US market from Market Explorer via this link

For example, Infinity Kingdom has put a lot of effort into the character development/RPG elements, as well as on the design. They’ve made it a bit easier, perhaps to get “the hang of” to appeal to a broader audience. Also, they have similar gameplay like in AFK Arena when it comes to campaigns or PvP Arena fights.

Infinity Kingdom mobile game
Infinity Kingdom mobile game

What has changed: Mafia City vs. Puzzles & Survival

  • Mafia City (released in 2017) is a very typical example of a classic 4X strategy game. You focus on building up your buildings, training troops, joining a guild, researching new technologies, leveling up your player level, crafting equipment items, attacking other players/PvE enemies/gathering resources from the world map, participating in various recurring/non-recurring events and participating in big guild wars.
  • Let’s take a look at the newer 4X game releases like Puzzles & Survival. Puzzles & Survival has all of these activities available, but here’s where the hybridization comes into play; you get to level up your RPG characters and use them in Match3 PvE & PvP battles, which offers tons of additional gameplay in addition to the typical 4X gameplay. Plus, the game most likely appeals to a larger audience with the Match3 mechanic that is often seen in the ads.

These foundational features certainly offer many different aspects to the games and can help create new possibilities to monetize. Take RPG elements in the game as an example. They open new opportunities for players to progress in the game and help the developer monetize. Let’s look at this example of Rise of Kingdoms, where these RPG elements are tied to a daily IAP offer that allows you to choose from a pool of desired champions, which sculptures you’d like to level up their skills. Needless to say that this is by far the most utilized IAP in my guild, and you can see very often (from the Guild Communal Gift section) that guild members have purchased that specific offer.

Rise of Kingdom's IAP offers

One other thing to mention here is the FTUE of the games and its significant role in encouraging the player to make an IAP purchase soon after the game is downloaded. We are referring to the article on Venturebeat.com, where we talk about what differences we’re seeing in the ways mobile games are designed after the launch of iOS 14.5 in April.

Faster conversions
The primary replacement for IDFA, SKAdNetwork, offers a 24-hour window to send install-validation postback. This means that in order for an app marketer to be able to determine the quality of a specific ad channel, any conversions that it wants to track must happen within those first 24 hours. Although this is a small window for meaningful conversions to take place, the number of discussions relative to other channels still represents an important indicator of quality.

So, if a developer can get users to, say, complete a certain level within 24 hours, or, better still, make an in-app purchase in that time frame, they might be able to determine that the advertising source those users came from is of relatively high quality. They can then reinvest more ad spend into it accordingly. Many developers are trying to take advantage of this 24-hour window by speeding up the initial portions of the customer journey.

Here’s an example of The Walking Dead: Survivors and Infinity Kingdom’s FTUE where fairly early on, they introduce IAP for a really good character and try to make the players invest early on to this RPG layer of the game by making the purchase.

FTUE in mobile games
FTUE video breakdowns in the GameRefinery service


Naturally, the progression is fast at the beginning of the games. Though compared to some other genres, progression in 4X Strategy games/SLG games might be somewhat slower, and reaching the very end of the progression can take a very long time. Of course, you can reach the maximum level fairly fast, but there are still many things to upgrade or train. So what’s the progression looking like?

Researching new technologies: This is a big part of the 4X games progression factor. With each research you complete, your overall power grows and the benefits you get from it vary from production boosts to troop attack power boosts and much more. It is really important that you always have new technology research ongoing, if possible, to be the most successful in the game. In Star Trek Fleet Command, the focus is on an individual ship and character development instead of training vast armies. This does set Star Trek Fleet Command apart from traditional 4X games.

The Walking Dead: Survivors
*This example is from Walking Dead: Survivors

VIP systems progression: Progressing in VIP systems, as mentioned, often costs premium currency, but it is a very worthwhile investment for the player, as the permanent benefits you get from it are really useful in every aspect (usually flat % boosts to productions, etc.) and usually even offers extra building queues which make upgrading player buildings faster. There might also be some benefits to technology research, extra attempts to game mode, attack/defense boosts, healing speed decreases, and so on. I think you get the picture here that it is benefiting your gameplay, and usually, it’s divided that resource/gathering boosts are in the early levels, and in the later stages, you get more “beneficial” boosts like attacks as resources and buildings are not necessarily the thing at that point.

VIP systems in mobile games
*Examples from Walking Dead: Survivors, Infinity Kingdom and Rise of Kingdoms

Equipment items: Equipment items in 4X Strategy games often drive a large part in your progression, as they often grant considerable benefits to player’s power, making it an important aspect in the game. Here if we take a look at Guns of Glory: Conquer Empires, the difference between early game items and endgame items is immense as the power level difference between them is massive.

Equipment in mobile games

Player talent systems: Quite many 4X Strategy games involve a player level up system in addition to the headquarters leveling up, which allows the player to choose additional research technology like permanent boosts. Often these also reflect which kind of a player you are as they are usually divided into military talents (troop boosts and such) and economy (production increases and building speed, etc.). So this factor also makes the player level very important in your success.

Player Talent System in mobile games

Guild technology: Being a part of a guild offers various possibilities, but let’s take a look into the benefits you gain from guild technology. When you’re a part of a guild, you get various permanent boosts which you have to unlock together with your guild by donating daily to the guild research, often by using resources, but in some cases, you can use the premium currency. This is why it is important that you maintain your position in a good and active guild so that you have access to these perks. For example, in Rise of Kingdoms, there’s a huge difference in PVP fights when you’re fighting a person whose guild has very advanced technology and high personal technology.

Guild mechanics in mobile games
*Example from Infinity Kingdom

Lastly, we want to look at a factor that might not be as crystal clear as the others. Keeping your troop recruitment buildings to the best level possible is crucial so you can recruit the best units possible to protect your city and use them in the wide-open world to attack other players or PvE enemies and gather resources. (Rise of Kingdoms has monetized this by making the 24 → 25 (max) lvl upgrade for buildings cost 2000 gems, and each Civilization has its own special unit which powers up that particular unit.)

Rise of Kingdom mobile game

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