First title from revived Big Huge Games lands high on top-downloaded game charts

Big Huge Games is seeing success with the release of its new mobile strategy game "DomiNations."
Big Huge Games is seeing success with the release of its new mobile strategy game "DomiNations." (Baltimore Sun)

Two weeks after its launch, the first game title out of a revived Big Huge Games studio has landed among the top-downloaded and most lucrative games for smartphones and tablets.

"DomiNations" launched globally April 1 and quickly joined the ranks of some of the highest-grossing games in Apple's App Store and the Google Play store. Its place on those lists suggest it is raking in tens of thousands of dollars per day, industry observers said.


The game allows players to build cities and armies "from the Stone Age to the Space Age." Reviewers say it mixes elements of the popular mobile strategy game "Clash of Clans" with those of the best-selling computer games series "Civilization."

The success was cause for celebration — and more work — for the Timonium studio after spending two years developing the title. Local industry veterans Tim Train and Brian Reynolds brought together a team of game developers cast off from shuttered Baltimore County studios at Big Huge Games, and Train said he hopes the game's popularity means a stable, growing home for the workforce.


Industry observers said the warm reception for the game from both established gamers and newcomers is impressive, given the competition for their play time and commitment.

"It's doing quite well," said Patrick Walker, head of insights and analytics for EEDAR, a video game research firm in California. "It's a genre where people get really invested in their game and it's hard to get them to try new things."

"DomiNations" competes against a host of so-called "free-to-play" games, which cost nothing to download but charge players who want to speed play along or unlock special features. Among the most successful are games of a similar strategy genre, such as "Clash of Clans," which has spent two years atop lists of most-downloaded and highest-grossing free-to-play games.

Players begin the game in the Stone Age, building villages and small armies and expanding their reach across ancient Mesopotamia. As players build up in-game currency, grow cities and win battles with other players, they also advance through time, adding new technologies along the way.

Like other free games, players not only have to spend resources to construct buildings or train armies, but they also have to wait for the processes to complete — from a matter of seconds or minutes in early stages of the game to hours or even days later on. If players want to speed those processes along, they can spend special, scarce game currencies to skip ahead, and if they run out, they can use real money to buy more.

So far, the strategy is working, as it has for games like "Boom Beach", "Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" and "Candy Crush Saga," all among the highest-grossing free-to-play games.

On Monday afternoon, "DomiNations" ranked No. 33 on the App Store's chart of top-grossing apps. Among strategy games, "DomiNations" ranked 10th among free games and seventh among the top-grossing apps for iPhones and iPads. It ranked No. 57 among top-grossing apps in the Google Play store.

Those ranks translate to an estimated $66,000 in daily revenue for the iPhone and iPad sales alone, according to Think Gaming, a company that tracks data on app store performance.

For games among the top 10 on the highest-grossing lists, daily revenue is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, while for titles like "Candy Crush" and "Clash of Clans," it's more than $1 million, according to Think Gaming.

Big Huge Games CEO Train said "DomiNations" has attracted about 1 million daily active users.

The top-heavy market presents a challenge for newcomers like "DomiNations," said Dave Thier, a freelance journalist who covers games and technology reviewed the game for Forbes.

"All of the advantages go to the incumbent," he said. The dedicated players who make the most money for such games "are always going to be the hardest to win over from another game," he said.


"DomiNations" has some advantages on its side, though, analysts said. It has received positive reviews, including one in which Thier said it could challenge "Clash of Clans."

And it has a strong pedigree among many die-hard gamers. Reynolds was lead designer on games like "Civilization II" and "Rise of Nations," big names in the world of strategy games in the 1990s and early 2000s. That gave the game prominent placement among the featured games in the Apple store, helping to drive early downloads, Walker said.

The studio's experience also helps its game compete with the dominant free games that have been around longer, Train said. The studio's team of 30 people has been working on "DomiNations" since shortly after many of them lost their jobs in early 2013 when social gaming company Zynga shut down its Timonium studio.

"They don't give out awards for best games done in under two years," Train said. "We have to compete with people who have four and five years of development in their game."

But the studio eventually could level the playing field, Walker said. Given how long it takes for players to delve into the later (and often more lucrative) stages of the game, it's a long-term proposition to build up a following rivaling that of "Clash of Clans," he said.

"It's about taking as much of a bite as you can, at this point in the market," he said. "They could grow over time."

Train said he and Reynolds are counting on that. As the base of active players grows and they advance further into the game, it creates a need for developers to churn out new features and new levels. Train said he expects to do more hiring over the next few months.

And that could be good news for the local gaming industry after years of upheaval, including the closures of a previous iteration of Big Huge Games in 2012 and Zynga East.

"I've had to watch two studios close that I cared a lot about in the past couple of years," Train said. "It's my goal in life to have given Baltimore another stable game studio that is successful in an ongoing way."


Recommended on Baltimore Sun