Towers… Towers Everywhere.
Analyzing the Target Audience of Ironhide Game Studio’s Kingdom Rush
Out of all the mobile games I’ve played, I’ve never felt as encouraged to play a game until completion than with Kingdom Rush. At the start, Kingdom Rush seems like a traditional defense game but it quickly evolves by integrating deeply rooted strategy and an incredibly well balanced progression system. In fact, well balanced is quite the understatement, the game is almost completely fluid when it comes to progression.
The overall feel and progression of Kingdom Rush is exactly where it begins to attract its target audience and inspire meaningful play.
From the moment you ‘Select a Slot’ to start a new game, it’s clear that Kingdom Rush is targeting people who get excited by strategy and completion. Even in the first level, the game provides a variety of pop-up messages that slowly inform the player about more mechanics, enemies, or purchasable tower upgrades. As a result, this progression makes each level in Kingdom Rush feel like a tactically assembled piece to a puzzle where player’s must be continuously evolving their strategies in order to complete it.
On first glance, the cartoon style, vibrant sound effects, and animated feel of Kingdom Rush may seem to be predominantly targeting kids. While there are certainly kids playing Kingdom Rush, the roots in strategy and long-lasting appeal of the game are aiming for an older demographic.
Why? Well, Kingdom Rush is challenging to the point of being downright relentless. On top of that, the game’s later levels require a decent amount of time, patience, and careful planning to be completed. After the first 4 or 5 levels of the game, I often found myself investing around 15–20 minutes to complete a level during a play session. This relentlessness and amount of patience can be reduced by playing the game on it’s easier difficulties, which may be more appropriate for young children or players seeking a more casual experience.
Considering its length, difficulty, and platform, Kingdom Rush’s ideal player is most likely either a teenager, young adult, or someone in their twenties and thirties. The people within this demographic might have a greater amount of time to spend in a mobile setting and may also have experience with games that offer the level of strategy that Kingdom Rush does. Although this demographic certainly isn’t exclusive, these are the people who will more than likely reap the most out of the game and feel truly rewarded by the experience it provides.
The target players of Kingdom Rush are motivated by game pleasures that reinforce Challenge and Fantasy while they play. Although it’s not a commonly noted aesthetic, I’d also note that Kingdom Rush often pushes Achievement as a game pleasure.
I’ve assembled some of the key examples below as to how these pleasures are implemented and reinforced to engage the game’s target players.
As hinted in the introduction, the overall progression of Kingdom Rush is a shining example of the game’s strong understanding of it’s target audience. Upon attempting each level, there are subtle changes and differences that force players to constantly re-strategize. This includes different amounts of starting gold (used to purchase towers in-game), health, pre-placed towers, new monsters to defeat, or new towers to acquire.
Furthermore, the ‘best’ strategy isn’t always clear on the first attempt of a level. For instance, the level that disrupted my progression the most was The Citadel. This level introduces multiple waves of only flying enemies for the first time in the game. Up until that point, my main strategy was to deploy as many soldiers on foot as possible to slow down each wave. Suffice to say, that strategy absolutely failed (multiple times) in that level and I was forced to change strategies and adapt to the new type of enemy.
Kingdom Rush’s progression is also guided by in-game Achievements that are completely visible from the beginning of the game. In itself, these achievements serve to pique player curiosity and get them excited for defeating future enemies, discovering more powerful towers, and fully completing more levels. These achievements are one of the many ways Kingdom Rush motivates it’s players through Achievement.
Completing levels in Kingdom Rush awards you with one, two, or three stars based on how many enemies were let through your defense. All levels also have ‘Heroic’ and ‘Iron’ challenge variants that provide one additional star for their completion. These challenges can include allowing no enemies through your defense, limiting towers to particular upgrade levels, or restricting the use of some towers completely (think of challenge modes similar to a pre-determined set of Skulls or Pacts of Punishment in Halo and Hades, respectively).
Although the above collection of levels and challenges sounds brutal, the stars attained from their completion can be used to purchase permanent upgrades for your towers and artillery on a skill tree. Furthermore, the number of stars collected is displayed in the player’s respective ‘Save Slot’ on the Main Menu. Being able to see my collected stars grow in comparison to how many were left (130 stars total) pushed me to collect as many available stars as possible while I played. These two qualities associated with the stars are a tangible way Kingdom Rush communicates Achievement to the player.
Having alternate means of collecting stars also proves to be brilliant when the levels jump in difficulty. During these difficulty spikes, players are inevitably encouraged to go back and reattempt levels which they may have struggled on before. Once they reattempt and complete the challenge, they can upgrade and reattempt the harder levels that previously impeded their progression. By directly attaching stars to player progression and skill development, Kingdom Rush succeeds in forcing their target players to truly challenge the rules of the game.
Each player is restricted to four types of towers in Kingdom Rush that vary by cost, attack type, attack cooldown, and attack strength.
Militia: Deploys foot soldiers that slow the enemy approach — but fails to attack fast or flying enemies.
Archer Tower: Quickly shoots ranged arrows — but doesn’t deal as much damage as other towers in the game.
Mage Tower: Fires a powerful ranged blast that greatly damages armored enemies — but has a relatively slow attack cooldown.
Bombard: Fires bombs that deal large amounts of damage in an area-of-effect — but doesn’t pierce armored enemies and also has a slow attack cooldown.
On top of defining a strategy out of each tower’s strengths and weaknesses, players must also understand the best places to put them. During gameplay, Kingdom Rush limits towers to specific pre-defined portions of the map. Although any tower can be placed in these spaces, each level only contains a set number of these tower spaces.
Most of the levels within Kingdom Rush introduce some sort of new enemy (think: Goblins, Thieves, Ogres, Spiders, Bandits, and Gargoyles). These enemies all have different attributes that define their strengths, weaknesses, health, and attack which (like many things in the game) Kingdom Rush is completely transparent about.
Consequently, these statistics (along with statistics for player towers) can even be consulted in the in-game ‘Encyclopedia’. This is a perfect mechanic for players who approach strategy games with a mathematical mindset, as it allows them to perfectly plan out which towers are the most effective, at what point in each wave, against which enemies.
Kingdom Rush’s particular use of progression, stars, towers, and enemies all reward players motivated by Challenge and Fantasy. Each of the above examples adds a new level of strategy, additional hints of fantasy, or an added layer of challenge to complement the motivations for the game’s target audience. On top of that, each of these mechanics also illustrate the game’s overall transparency and constant drive for player achievement. As a result of this, Kingdom Rush’s players should feel more motivated to fully complete the game after completing each level.
Personality characteristics can be measured by using the Meyers-Briggs Personality Index. The following breakdown of the Meyers-Briggs Personality Index has a handful of characteristics that might qualify Kingdom Rush’s players.
Energy — Introversion
Introverted players will admire Kingdom Rush’s lack of dependency on social features. Although Kingdom Rush does have the occasional leaderboard and it’s gameplay might lead to discussions outside of the game (an example of beyond-the-object interactivity), a majority of its core levels and strategies can be completed and curated independent of these.
Furthermore, a mindset of ‘think first, act later’ is encouraged throughout Kingdom Rush’s gameplay. As such, introverted players will constantly feel stimulated by having to think about strategies and preparations before they’re employed in the game. On the contrary, extroverted players might prefer gameplay where they can perform actions first and thoughtfully evaluate their decisions after.
Information — iNtuition
Players who use intuition for consuming information will find it easier to play around Kingdom Rush’s more abstract progression and mechanics. Although the game’s core levels technically have a linear progression, it’s ability to reward strategy through backtracking and star collection/completion will be more greatly utilized by players who use intuition. Consequently, these players will also make calculated decisions for purchasing towers, managing resources, and deciding upon upgrade with their accumulated stars. As such, Kingdom Rush will more often end up rewarding players who are thinking in the future as opposed to the present.
Decisions — Thinking
Kingdom Rush naturally appeals to those with the ‘thinking’ personality characteristic. Most of the game’s core strategies can only be uncovered through actually playing and objectively trying to complete the game. As more of the game is played, players can use their knowledge of the game’s rules, logic, and historical outcomes (their previous victories/failures) to improve their performance. Despite backtracking, the game’s overall progression and achievement systems also do a great job at reinforcing objective/achievement based decisions which can engage players with this characteristic.
Management — Judging (and) Perceiving
Interestingly enough, Kingdom Rush could easily appeal to players who have both judging and perceiving characteristics.
As mentioned prior, the game naturally favors both objective thinkers and future thinkers who will take time to methodically plan their strategies. Most importantly, those in the judging archetype also appreciate the level of ‘closure’ (ie: completion/the ability to be completed) which Kingdom Rush can provide. Due to its many skill trees, challenges, and ways in-game achievements/stars can be attained, players with the ‘Judging’ characteristic will be engaged for a long-time trying to fully complete the game.
However, I believe this personality characteristic can also extend the other way. Although it’s already been addressed that Kingdom Rush doesn’t naturally favor a ‘plan as you go’ approach — players can benefit from adaptive decision making. Some of my favorite ways to play Kingdom Rush were found when I purchased upgrades or used artillery that was against what I previously thought. When faced with incredibly challenging and/or strategic situations, there’s something distinct that flexible thinkers can bring to the table that can make all the difference in play.
Overall, Kingdom Rush will appeal the most to people with INTJ or INTP personality characteristics according to my analysis of the Meyers-Briggs Personality Index.
Primary Player Type(s)
Bartle’s Taxonomy of Player Types
Ideal players of Kingdom Rush tend to Act On The World, through employing strategies, building towers, and defeating enemies. That is, they are predominantly Achievers.
From the instant these players start the game and see the ‘0/130’ next to their collected stars, they’ll be inspired to start completing and collecting. These players will appreciate the depth of Kingdom Rush’s achievements and skill trees and will go out of their way to collect stars in order to closely complete the game. Furthermore, even after they finish the game, these players will constantly play the game’s Endless level (where the game’s enemies spawn and attack your defenses continuously) until they’re at the top of the online leaderboard for the most number of waves completed.
Under DGD1, players of Kingdom Rush would lean into being classified as either Conquerors or Managers.
Conquerers play for an emotion called ‘fiero’ — that is, they want to triumph over adversity and come out on top. They strive to have mastery over the game and want to objectively beat it. In this regard, Kingdom Rush’s overall emphasis of challenge and completion will satisfy those needs of a Conquerer. Although it neglects at fully satisfying the Conquerer’s need for beating other players due to its lack of social play, Conquerers can still find satisfaction in climbing the leaderboards on the game’s Endless mode (alongside Bartell’s Achievers).
However, players of Kingdom Rush could also be qualified as Managers. The intricate strategy and ever-evolving state of the game gives players multiple ways to approach Kingdom Rush which Managers thrive off of. On top of that, Kingdom Rush encourages being mastered by skills, and in fact, mastering it by skills may be the fastest way of truly completing the game.
Hardcore or Casual
The primary distinction between a hardcore and a casual player is the amount of time they have to invest in games.
For the amount Kingdom Rush rewards consistent strategy, planning, and curiosity, it’s evident that this game fully rewards and caters its larger systems to hardcore players. As previously mentioned, the later levels get lengthy and stressful which might not bode well for casual players seeking a challenge/achievement based game with a lower time investment.
Furthermore, the game’s ability to encourage backtracking and completion is a direct appeal to hardcore players that have the time to embrace how the game rewards dedicated players. Encouraged, implied, or otherwise forced backtracking (if individual skill isn’t enough to complete a later level) may discourage and fail to motivate casual players interested in constant progression that rewards individual skill.
Obviously this isn’t exclusive and Kingdom Rush does have certain ways of adapting it’s experience for a casual demographic. For instance, the game’s different difficulties and ability for a truly ‘linear’ style of play to occur can make it enjoyable for this demographic. On top of that, the game’s controls are fairly low complexity (predominantly tapping), which might interest casual players that find themselves having a bit more time during their mobile play sessions.
Using the analysis above, I created a player persona for Miles Reyes. This player is defined by some of the style, characteristics, and game pleasures that align with the target players and overall audience of Kingdom Rush.
Kingdom Rush is a game that is clearly designed and developed for a particular target audience. The game is designed for players who are motivated by game pleasures such as Challenge, Fantasy, and Achievement. The game’s players have characteristics such as the ability to think ahead and think objectively while also coming up with decisive and adaptive solutions to the problems they’re presented. These players love the thrill of beating a game and love having their experience reinforced by the achievements they accumulate along the way. Although Kingdom Rush’s systems can benefit the casual players of this bunch, it really stands out for the hardcore members of this group that have the time to dig deep and reap the rewards of the game. With this in mind, it’s easy to say that Kingdom Rush completely engages its target audience.