Why didn't Squad Busters measure up? And where does it go from here?

Despite enormous success, Squad Busters still underperformed compared to other Supercell games

Why didn't Squad Busters measure up? And where does it go from here?
  • Squad Busters is Supercell’s most recent game release
  • Massively hyped, it skipped a lengthy soft launch to go straight to a global release
  • But a massive advertising campaign and wide release haven’t translated into downloads or revenue

Well, 30 days down the line Squad Busters is not red hot, in fact, it’s scarcely lukewarm. Despite raking in millions of revenue and downloads, and being a pretty good game on top of it, it’s far from performing to the stellar expectations heaped onto it by fans and games media alike.

Already we’re seeing the business side of things start to stroke their beards and postulate about the problems faced by Supercell and what Squad Busters’ resolutely mild performance has to say about it. But we’re not here to look at it from a business perspective, we’re here to give you the view from the ground.

So with that in mind, let’s dig in and think about Squad Busters’ lack of overwhelming success, and what Supercell can do about it.

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Let me be clear

Now first of all we need to state something. Squad Busters isn’t really a ‘failure’ by any margin, and we know that there are hundreds of passionate developers and publishers who would kill to release a game to this kind of fanfare and media attention, not to mention downloads and revenue.

However, it’s worth noting that (as our sister site wrote about) Supercell’s expectations were sky-high for Squad Busters. This is, after all, the developer well-known for axing underperforming titles that aren’t set to reach the magical $1 billion number and join their existing pantheon of smash hits.

So with that being said, we need to look at Squad Busters in that context. After all, this was a game that was clearly launched with huge expectations, and the weight of a massive promotional campaign featuring cult-hit and Hollywood stars behind it. So even numbers as big as this simply aren’t paying off.

So, what’s the problem? Well, let’s start off with what’s not the problem.

The game itself

We do stand by our Squad Busters review. Speaking personally I’ve never been much of a Supercell player, and while Squad Busters didn’t blow me away personally it was fun, functional, and pleasing to look at and listen to. With a simple yet engaging gameplay loop and plenty of progression already in place alongside the expected glut of post-launch content, we expected as much as anyone that it would succeed.

But it didn’t, and that’s why we need to start digging into the reasons exactly why that’s the case. Starting with:

1. Supercell’s franchises aren’t well-known enough for a crossover

Squad Busters promotional art

Now, Supercell may be the king of mobile. But off the top of your head exactly how many key ‘characters’ can you identify at a glance? There’s the Barbarian, the Hog Rider and, maybe Doctor T from Boom Beach? And two of those are most well-known because of their own memetic moment in the sun over the past few years.

Ultimately, some of Supercell’s characters are iconic, but they’re not memorable. We know them at a glance but nobody could name a personality trait or loveable story moment from them. And there’s not exactly name recognition considering ‘Barbarian’ is more a generic term than something like ‘Mario’ or ‘Kratos’.

So the excitement from seeing all of these characters in one place from anyone except Supercell die-hards will be minimal.

2. It was based on one of Supercell’s already less succesful titles

Brawl Stars itself is one example of a game which languished for many years until it finally got a bit of a boost. And it’s also the game we feel was the biggest inspiration behind Squad Busters. Which is not necessarily a good thing.

Two of Supercell’s largest and most popular games are real-time strategy games(Clash of Clans and Boom Beach) while the latter is a tower defence (Clash Royale). Now, while mobile tends to get lumped into the same genre, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves, “Would a real-time strategy gamer necessarily make the jump to a MOBA?”

And yes, before you even say it, we know the MOBA sprang from RTS, we all know DOTA was originally a Warcraft mod. But nowadays despite common roots the gulf between the two is probably wider than ever.

So, you now have a case where you’ve built a game on similar foundations to one of your less popular titles. But surely there should at least be some crossover, right?

3. There are already too many Supercell games for existing fans to play

Squad Busters promotional art

Now look at Supercell’s existing catalogue. Clash Royale, Clash of Clans, Boom Beach, Hay Day and now Squad Busters. Not the biggest line-up, right? But you have to remember virtually all of these are billion-dollar unicorns with millions of players, Squad Busters excepted.

That means their success is owed not just to casual fans but to Supercell die-hards who love what the Finnish studio puts out. Now, there’s a personal view of mine which is the “Economy of time”, and it’s why we have such a problem with a lot of games.

Put simply, there are only so many hours in the day. And while a single player game has a finite length, live-service titles (like those on mobile) are effectively indefinite. So if you want to play something to unwind there’s only so long you can devote to any game, and yet there’s always that new, shiny live service game that wants you to devote practically a second job to playing.

That’s why retention is such an issue for developers nowadays. And it’s why Squad Busters faced some trouble, we reckon. If you’re a Supercell super fan, you’re already likely flitting between multiple games on your off time, and we’d hazard that anyone who can do so probably isn’t looking to add another to that list.

Squad Busters gameplay

4. It didn’t do enough to bring in new fans either

And now we have to quote ourselves, “If you don’t like Supercell’s style then this likely won’t sway you.” That’s from our review of the game, and it’s another key issue with Squad Busters as a whole; put simply you’re not going to bring in new people with a game that does nothing wrong, but nothing unique.

We don’t have a full breakdown of the actual numbers. And that’s probably private to Supercell if it’s even known. But we’d hazard a guess that low player numbers compared to their other launches could be partially attributed to bringing in a lack of newer players.

And again, if you look at what’s contained in the marketing and build-up to release, Supercell is clearly selling the fact that this is a big crossover of their existing properties. But it doesn’t offer too much to an audience either sticking with casual games, or looking for higher-fidelity releases like the hotly-anticipated Zenless Zone Zero.

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5. Supercell won't do anything new

Now, here’s where we need to really pump the brakes. While Supercell’s approach to ruthless game development deserves at least some mild compliment (it’s nice that they don’t axe teams on these games but shuffle them back to other projects) for not being as cold-hearted as some larger developers, it does reflect another key issue.

IP means intellectual property. Or to the rest of us, a series or a franchise. Squad Busters is, as we’ve said, a crossover game. Now, think back to all the ones we’ve seen axed, like Flood Rush or the now somewhat silent Mo.Co, and how many were original ideas not tied to the crossover aspect?

It seems to us that Supercell is lacking confidence in games not tied to their existing success. And that’s a problem. Because once any developer starts to rely on formulae and stop adding something fresh, it’s practically on life support.

Squad Busters promotional art

Conclusion, what might change?

Again, while we are breaking down a relative failure, it’s important to remember that Squad Busters has still succeeded by all metrics. It’s brought in tons of downloads and cash, but perhaps not enough to justify the amount of hype and marketing around it.

Supercell’s games have recovered before. But if the Finnish super-dev was touchy about new IP previously, Squad Busters is likely to make them even more cautious moving forward.

If you want to try Squad Busters and judge for yourselves, the game is out now worldwide for iOS and Android.

Squad Busters icon
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Iwan Morris
Iwan Morris
Iwan is a Cardiff-based freelance writer, who joined the Pocket Gamer Biz site fresh-faced from University before moving to the Pocketgamer.com editorial team in November of 2023.