Next in our series of articles on games, we discuss how to make a mobile game like Brawl Stars, a recent hit from Clash of Clans publisher Supercell. This game went through a very long soft launch — almost a year and a half. But what emerged made $10 million in a single week and $100 million in the first two months after its release. If you want to create a game like Brawl Stars, we’d like to offer you some advice.
- What is Brawl Stars?
- What makes Brawl Stars so good?
- Brawl Stars business model
- Other isometric shooters
- How to make an isometric game like Brawl Stars
- Cost to make an isometric game in Unity
What is Brawl Stars?
Brawl Stars is the latest breakthrough from world-renowned mobile game publisher Supercell. It’s a hero-based brawler and an isometric MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) shooter that assembles players into teams of three (default mode) to compete for rewards. You can team up with your friends or get added to a random team of players.
It all sounds pretty simple, but the road to success was bumpy for Brawl Stars. In the course of its unprecedentedly long soft launch, the game switched from landscape to portrait mode and back again; changed its controls, gacha system, and approach to character acquisition; and saw many more modifications. Basically, what we see now has little to no similarity to what Brawl Stars offered when it was first launched in June 2017. And it looks like that’s a good thing.
What makes Brawl Stars so good?
Let’s not avoid the elephant in the room: Brawl Stars is a Supercell game, so it was bound to get a certain amount of recognition based on the publisher’s name only. Supercell is a recognized leader in the mobile game development industry and is known to coldly cut games that don’t perform at a certain level. The fact that they found Brawl Stars worthy of an 18-month soft launch spoke volumes to some fans.
But Brawl Stars has a number of features that make it stand out from the crowd, pulling in players who might have never heard of Supercell.
Brawl Stars is a shooter with an isometric view
The two most popular types of shooters are first-person shooters (FPS) and third-person shooters (TPS). In both of them, a camera follows the character, albeit from different perspectives: In FPS, you look through your character’s eyes, and in TPS, you see the playing field from over your character’s shoulder, kind of like from a drone.
An isometric camera is a type of top-down camera that doesn’t always follow the character exactly but instead shows the playing field from above and at an angle. Like this:
The main reason isometry is so popular is that it preserves all proportions of objects even within the projection — a trait other types of projection lack. Thanks to this, an isometric world makes a 2D image look 3D. Isometric art is also called pseudo-3D or 2.5D.
For this very reason, the isometric view was originally used with 2D games. 2D graphics are lighter and require less processing power, which is ideal for mobile games. At the same time, with today’s smartphones, it’s possible to create an isometric game with 3D graphics that’s still light enough for smartphones built several years back. In fact, Brawl Stars is designed in 3D, and it looks awesome. So it’s all up to you and your imagination. And your team’s graphic designers, of course.
Read also: How to make an idle game
Brawl Stars is a team-based multiplayer shooter
The default battle mode in Brawl Stars is three-on-three teams. Players can team up with friends, which makes Brawl Stars a social game. However, if you don’t have friends who play this particular game (yet), you can be placed on a team with other random players.
Brawl Stars offers four main modes of play:
- Gem Grab: The first team to collect 10 gems from the mine and keep them safe for 15 seconds wins.
- Bounty: Each player has 2 stars, and killing a member of an opposing team earns them +1 star. At the end of the round, the team that has collected more stars throughout the game wins.
- Heist: Each team gets a safe, and the goal is to protect yours and destroy the opposing team’s.
- Showdown: Ten players fight, and the last one standing is the winner. You can play alone or with a companion.
In Showdown mode, each player fends for themselves. This wins the favor of players who are reluctant to rely on teammates.
Besides the four main modes, there are event modes and modes added with updates. You can check the current list of Brawl Stars modes on the official website.
There’s also a selection of maps with different layouts and obstacles.
Brawl Stars battle rounds are short
In Brawl Stars, no round is longer than five minutes. This makes it somewhat similar to hyper-casual games, the selling point of which is that they can be played quickly and without disrupting other tasks — during lunch break, between classes, or on a commute.
You can learn how to make a hyper-casual game in our previous article.
Brawl Stars offers a great selection of characters
Brawl Stars might not be an RPG in the full sense, but it makes use of some RPG mechanics. Particularly, we’re talking about the range of characters.
At the time of writing, Brawl Stars had 24 brawlers. Eight of them are starting brawlers you can choose from when you begin the game. As you progress, you can gather more brawlers.
Supercell made a great move with their brawlers system. The selection of brawlers is exceptionally varied: Characters differ by gender, race, age, look, and, most importantly, skills and stats. This is where RPG mechanics come into play: Different brawlers have different attack patterns, range, and power. Consequently, in each battle mode and each map, different brawlers will perform differently.
Additionally, brawlers are categorized by rarity. It’s more difficult to get some than others. This makes the game interesting for a long time, providing high retention.
Brawl Stars business model
Brawl Stars is a free-to-play game and its monetization model is in-app purchases (IAP). Usually, games of this type use IAPs in combination with ads — generally rewarded videos — but Supercell decided against it for this particular title. The selection of IAPs, however, is wide.
There’s a selection of in-game currencies — gems being the main one — which you can collect as you play without spending any real money. Still, unaided progress is rather slow, and competitive players will give up pretty soon and purchase in-game currency with actual money to upgrade their brawlers and progress faster.
Supercell created a range of purchase options for each type of currency, offering players simplified transactions: In most games monetized via IAPs, you can buy the main in-game currency with real money and then buy other currencies or upgrades with that main currency. In Brawl Stars, you can buy all in-game currencies directly.
If you’re looking for an alternative or additional way to monetize your Brawl Stars-like isometric shooter, it’s also possible to implement ads. Rewarded video ads usually work well in this type of game, letting players opt to watch an ad to receive some additional in-game currency or other perks.
Other isometric shooters to check out
If you’ve decided to develop an isometric shooter, it’s sensible to check out other competitors besides Brawl Stars.
The first game that comes to mind when thinking about isometric shooters is Tacticool. Whereas Brawl Stars is an isometric action game with more than just shooting mechanics (there are melee brawlers too, for example), Tacticool is actually a focused shooter where you purchase weaponry to annihilate your opponents.
Also, in contrast to Brawl Stars’ cartoonish characters and maps, Tacticool’s graphics are more realistic, from the characters themselves to the vehicles and weapons. And in Tacticool, you play in teams of five.
The setting of Space Marshals is a mix of futuristic sci-fi and Wild West. The main thing that distinguishes this game from both Tacticool and Brawl Stars is that it’s not multiplayer. There’s a single character: a head hunter for prison escapees.
Another difference is that Space Marshals’ business model is paid download: It costs $4.99 to download for Android and $3.99 for iOS.
This is another title from Space Marshals creator Pixelbite, but this one is free-to-play with ads and in-app purchases. It’s still not multiplayer, though. In Xenowerk, a player destroys mutants and mutant nests in a lab.
How to make an isometric game like Brawl Stars
Based on everything we’ve mentioned above, here are the things you’ll need to consider as you plan your isometric game development.
Multiplayer or single player
As you’ve seen, both options are plausible. Multiplayer games similar to Brawl Stars and Tacticool are more social, as they require collaboration with a team. They can be a bigger challenge for individual gamers. At the same time, they’re more popular among hardcore PC and console gamers who are used to multiplayer games.
You can discuss with your isometric game design team which type would fit your idea better, taking into account development time and cost, the state of the market (currently and in the foreseeable future), and other factors.
There are very few limits in terms of settings when it comes to shooters. The Wild West is a popular setting for this genre, but the same goes for all kinds of war settings — historical, current, and future, real and fictional — and law enforcement. Vibrant colors and the technology in sci-fi and cyberpunk shooters look awesome in games. It’s possible to adapt any setting for a bit of gunfire. Or arrow shooting. Or stone throwing. Let your imagination roam free!
Art and animation
You can choose a style that’s realistic (like Tacticool) or cartoonish (like Brawl Stars and Space Marshals). Or you can go for something in between. Your characters might be humans, or maybe anthropomorphic animals, robots, or elves of Rivendell. You can make your game 2D or 3D.
Before you begin the actual isometric game design, it’s important to make a decision about art. Ask your team for mockups and early drawings to make sure there are no misunderstandings.
Action games and shooters rely heavily on realistic sound. Be it the swoosh of an arrow released or the sound of a tank shooting heavy missiles, quality sound can be a killer feature in a shooter. Bad sound can be the death of it. It’s almost as important as quality graphics and animations.
What actions will be available for the characters is another important issue. Will they only be moving around and shooting or will they do something else as well — collecting loot, jumping over obstacles, or maybe using stealth mode?
The camera in isometric games usually only moves horizontally and vertically along axes, so you’ll have to account for that when you make an isometric action game like Brawl Stars.
Core game loop
The core loop in Brawl Stars is pretty simple if you think about it. A player engages in a brawl, receives a chest, opens it, upgrades their brawlers, and goes for another round of brawling. But this simple loop is polished to the level where it doesn’t get boring even after days and weeks of playing. In part, that’s thanks to its being multiplayer — new opponents mean new tactics to adapt to. It just doesn’t feel like you’re repeating the same actions, though that’s basically what you do. You’ll need to think of a similarly engaging core loop for your isometric shooter.
As we’ve already mentioned, Brawl Stars only uses in-app purchases, but it’s an unusual approach. You’ll have to discuss this with your development team and make a decision based on thorough market research. General practice is to combine ads and IAPs in mobile games. Basically, your options are:
- In-app purchases
- Paid downloads
Cost to make an isometric game in Unity
There are currently no games very similar to Brawl Stars. It’s unique in the way that it combines MOBA with battle royale and RPG elements. So it’s rather hard to estimate the cost to make a mobile game like Brawl Stars.
Mobile games today are usually built on the Unity engine. Unity offers modes to build an isometric world, and it can handle both 2D and 3D graphics at a more than decent level, which isn’t always true for other isometric engines. A game built with Unity technologies will be lightweight and suitable for a wide range of smartphones. These are the main reasons our game development department at Mind Studios uses this game engine.
To create a mobile game like Brawl Stars in Unity, you’ll need a team like this:
- Game designer: 1
- 2D or 3D designers: 1–2
- Animation designer: 1
- UI designer: 1
- Sound designer: 1
- Unity developer: 1
- Backend specialist: 1
We estimate the time to make isometric games at about six months, give or take, before the soft launch. The cost will vary greatly depending on the graphics, mechanics, and other features. Consider $30,000–40,000 as the starting cost to make a game like Brawl Stars.
The huge success of Brawl Stars can be attributed to many things. It’s a game by an industry-leading publisher. It’s also unique in many ways:
- Combination of MOBA shooter, battle royale, and RPG
- Short battles similar to those in hyper-casual games
- Diverse set of characters
- Cute art that looks good in isometry
- Wide selection of modes and maps
- Variety of brawlers for different modes and maps
- Long and expensive soft launch, during which almost everything was changed in the initial game
To repeat success like this isn’t an easy task. But it’s possible.
Whether you decide to go for a similar game or are interested in how to make an isometric game in Unity that’s unique, we’ll gladly answer your questions and offer you a rough cost estimate for the project.