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How to make profit in hypercasual
Hints to the 3 main game development stages by Ilya Trofimov
Article published on May 10th, 2021 at
Hyper-casual games are a business of testing and iterations. Developers and publishers work hard to achieve a hit — it means making a game that will show great metrics on tests and will be popular among users around the world. Statistically, to reach a hit and earn millions, developers need to go through three key stages up to 40 times: idea generation, prototyping, and testing. At each stage, it is important to avoid potential bottlenecks, which can slow down game development and increase the time needed to reach a hit.

In hyper-casual game development, reaching hits and earning millions is not about luck. It is about constant testing, speed, and avoiding potential pitfalls at each of the three stages, which slow down the development process and may lead to wrong conclusions. The whole process of approaching a profitable game from idea to millions of players is divided into 3 steps:
Step 1: Idea Generation
In the hyper-casual games industry, each experiment starts with the generation of multiple ideas to test. This step can be approached by different methods, but in our experience, a brainstorming session involving several team members, including a game designer and other members, works best. Sometimes, it also pays off to involve producers from publishing teams, who can add ideas based on their experience and knowledge.

Regardless of which way of generating ideas developers use, it is better to generate new ideas with a solid knowledge of the market and hottest trends.

Market analysis is an excellent tool for learning about the needs and tastes of the audience. One of the ways to understand which games the contemporary audience wants to play is to take a look at trending games. To research trending projects, one can use Аppmagic. There one can filter the games by specific genres, settings, or art styles and see the market from different angles.

When researching the market and decomposing competing games, developers should pay attention to the following game design components:
  • Themes: the narrative context of the game (fashion, cars, farm, crafting, building, etc);
  • Gameplay: the composition of the game mechanics used (stacking, coloring, arcade, simulation, etc);
  • Art style: the means used to create visuals for a game (styled-2d mostly suitable for puzzle games, realistic-3d, abstract-3d, etc).
These characteristics have a huge influence on forming the core of the project's target audience. It is important to understand is that each of these characteristics has a significant effect on the size of the target audience, as each theme, game mechanic, and style can either have fans or haters.

One of the strongest examples of how this effect works is the influence of advanced art style on hyper-casual games fans. The more a hyper-casual game resembles a regular game, the less appealing it becomes to the hyper-casual audience, as hyper-casual game players do not identify as gamers. Hence, developers should avoid highly detailed objects, complex graphics, an abundance of interface elements, and the presence of hardcore game features (character health indicator, ammo count, etc.).

Another great example is the influence of the game setting on the size of the audience. In hyper-casual, the more neutral the setting, the wider the audience. Developers should avoid strong indications of a particular setting when choosing a theme for a game. Each specific setting can limit the potential audience of the project in one way or another, which will negatively affect the most important metric — CPI (cost per install) and make user acquisition more expensive. Especially space, cyberpunk, historical, cultural and fantasy sets should be avoided.

Analyzing the most popular games in stores helps understand which game mechanics suit players and how they are used in different genres. However, tracking super-hits that stay trending for a long time doesn't help understand the trends that are becoming hot at the moment. For this reason, it is better to track new projects that appear in the mobile stores every day. To keep track of new products, it is convenient to use specialized portals that aggregate data on new projects and update their selections daily, such as:
Researching hits and trending games improves creativity and results in the generation of new ideas. Usually, in the process of researching competitive games, a lot of ideas for future prototypes emerge. For example, one can try to mix different mechanics from popular games in order to create original gameplay or can try to change the theme of a popular game radically, only inheriting its gameplay. As a result, a developer can use already burned-out mechanics, such as 2048, mix them with other ones and create a financially successful game. For example, Tower Defence mechanics on average perform poorly on CPI, but Voodoo's Lumber Craft project was cleverly combined with tree chopping, building, and stacking mechanics that work better for user acquisition. This way, the combination of mechanics gave the gameplay both depth and marketability.

The main thing in this process is not to be overly enthusiastic about ideas and to avoid sticking to one concept for too long. Most of them are destined to fail anyway, and each developer should be prepared for this tendency in advance. If a developer can't build a game concept around an idea in a quick way, it's best not to dwell on it and switch to the next one.
Step 2: Preparing For The Test
Once developers choose an idea to test, they need to prepare a prototype for the test. The requirements for the prototype are usually dictated by the publisher who conducts the test. Most publishers on the market ask for a complete build in the mobile stores with a lot of content to measure day-one retention and built-in SDKs. An experienced developer can design such a build in up to two weeks.

At the same time, other publishers ask only for videos demonstrating gameplay, which take 2-3 days to develop. In my experience, this approach speeds up the process of ideas testing and shortens the developer's path to a hit.

The advertising campaign is launched based on the gameplay video and pictures. From this campaign, one can learn how often people click on ads and use this knowledge to understand how attractive the idea is to the audience. This is a statistically validated method that allows unsuccessful concepts to be filtered out as quickly as possible. You can find out more about CTR tests in this lecture by Ducky's Chief Publishing Manager Ivan Spizharsky.
Step 3: Testing
In hyper-casual game development, testing usually means the launch of a test advertising campaign used to assess the attractiveness of a game-in-making to the future players or to capture specific project metrics. Testing is an essential part of hyper-casual game development. Hence, developers usually need to be prepared for this step in advance. When starting to work on a new concept, developers should focus on how the concept will be shown in the commercial. The gameplay and plot must be as clear and readable as possible in the first 3 seconds of the video.

Testing games is a non-trivial process that requires money and expertise in marketing and analytics. It is possible for developers to test their own projects for market relevance, but it pays off to involve publishers who already have the necessary expertise and funds, and who can deliver test results with detailed feedback and recommendations. What is more, when hyper-casual game developers try to do the testing themselves, they lose their focus, which usually slows down the process of game development.

As a result of testing, developers gain new knowledge that will change their understanding of the market. Each next experiment will be qualitatively different from the current one, as it will be influenced by the knowledge and expertise gained during the previous tests.

Regular hypotheses testing helps developers sense the market and generate more promising and workable concepts in the future. The important thing here is to gain experience in reading numbers and to test your ideas as frequently as possible.

Publishers help to navigate current trends, but it is important that in the process of interaction, the developer learns, rather than blindly follows publishers' recommendations. It can be achieved only when the developer acts proactively and independently and makes his own mistakes. Developers should be wary of publishers who say: "we know how to do it", as there is no such thing as absolute expertise, especially in the aggressive hyper-casual industry. Hence, developers should aim at building their own expertise and use publishers as an additional tool in the process of learning and gaining insights into the current state of the market.

At the same time, publishers should focus on teaching the development team to come up with creative ideas quickly, test them, and select the ones that work. This way, developers will increase their chances of reaching a hit, and both partners will gain significant financial benefits from their cooperation.

Hyper-casual game development is different from other games in terms of speed and its iterative nature. To increase the chances of reaching hits and earning millions, it is important to fail fast and test everything on the real audience. Even though, the advice above can help developers navigate three initial stages of hyper-casual game development, passing them doesn't mean reaching a certain hit, as it usually takes another 4-6 months of continuous work.

At each stage of hyper-casual game creation, developers need to avoid pitfalls that may slow down the process and delay the hit by months. For this reason, it pays off to involve publishers as early as possible, as they not only provide feedback and share relevant market statistics with developers but also help optimize development processes and make them faster.
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