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How Developers in the Hyper-Casual Genre Stay Competitive & What Your Studio Can Do to Keep Up

by Claire Tak on Sep 14, 2020

We break down this topic in an in-depth Q&A session with Lion Studios Global Director of Business Development, Chris Lefebvre.

It seems like just yesterday when we posted this blog about the evolution of hyper-casual and what it means for the industry. Within the last few months, we’ve noticed a deliberate shift and diversification in core mechanic design, deeper game mechanics, metagames, and art. 

To provide more context around this conversation, we sat down with Chris Lefebvre, who previously designed and produced hit games such as I Peel Good (iOS | Android), Icing on the Cake (iOS | Android), Ink Inc (iOS | Android), and Real Time Shields (iOS | Android). 

Chris, who understands what it takes to stay competitive in the mobile gaming space, spoke to shifts in the industry and what challenges developers are facing. At the time of writing, Lion Studios has an incredible 12 games topping the charts in both the App Store and Google Play Store!

The first thing Chris explained was, “Hyper-casual isn’t a game genre any more than Indie is a music genre. It’s a business model and a production tool.” 

Here’s our Q&A with Chris.

How has hyper-casual evolved and what are the potential challenges of making these games in today’s market?

In the past, there were low barriers for entry, but now there are more competitors and it’s not as easy as it once was. It’s evolving in its saturation. There are bigger swings being taken to innovate, but there’s still a large market. 

What’s a good way to improve ad engagement? 

Ad engagement that goes through the roof usually happens when you understand what users value. It results in a player being immersed in the game. In these instances, there’s real value for users in the rewarded video ad strategy because it’s tied into the core gameplay. It’s a much deeper experience.

How can developers deepen the hyper-casual game experience for players?

Think about your overall vision for the game. Developers need a vision for how to take mechanics and create a bigger experience.

Build a simple prototype, test the mechanics, and iterate off of that data towards that vision, as incrementally as you would in “hyper-casual.”  Understand what needs to be worked on, and when, to get your game to that vision. 

What should devs do to keep up?

No matter what you’re making, whether it’s casual, hyper-casual, mid-core, or hyper-core, the task always remains the same—you have to be different or better than what’s out there. 

Better usually comes down to production values and is a difficult path for solo or up-and-coming developers. 

The harder route is differentiating yourself, and that’s the opportunity that lies in hyper-core. 

This is essentially what you get when you build deeper gameplay experiences using the hyper-casual production methodology.

I think there’s a lot more room for innovation than we give ourselves credit for. 

Should developers use chart-topping games to help them figure out what kind of game to make? 

I think more often than not, game developers look to the charts for what they should make now, which is the worst thing you can do. Because literally, that money is already being made

But if you want to get ahead of the curve, which is what Lion Studios does a great job of doing consistently, you always need to look beyond what’s happening right now.  

Anything you start now will take at least one to three months if you want to see any significant scale. Of course, if you’re at a good pace and iterating reasonably you can always go faster, but often it will take time before you can scale.

What should game developers do to be different or better?

Look at chart-topping games and use them for benchmarking. 

If you look at what’s happening now for UI, level flow, for example—what’s the expectation for ad distribution, and what are some lessons you’ve learned, mechanically? 

Are more arcade games using swipe vs joystick control? Something like this can be your jumping-off point to doing something different—or if you’re up for it, better

What’s a smart investment to build a better game?

If the first challenge is getting a potential player to look at your game and then play it, the burden is on the art to communicate that clearly and in a compelling fashion. 

Invest in the ability to build and animate. Consider rigging your own 3D models, because, really, anyone can go to the App Store and throw together a T-pose animation for a game. But the quality and the extra push to help you stand out in a market is going to come down to your own, in-house talent. 

This is where you really get to build and create your own voice. Otherwise, your game will tell a very similar story to everything else that’s out there. 

What should studios think about when building their teams?

Teams in the two to 10 range generally begin to have programmers and artists. What most often happens is there’s an imbalance of programmers versus artists—they have either more programmers or more artists, but rarely is it a solid one-to-one ratio. This is an issue because it may get really hard to build pipelines that can sustain success. 

A lot of teams build their structure around how many prototypes can they get out every month. 

But what happens when one of those prototypes starts doing well and you need to add content and allocate resources to it, but doing so, pulls team members off of other projects? 

My point is to plan for volume and success—this is what seems to hinder the potential success that developers could have with a game. 

What do you think makes a good hyper-casual game?

It’s fun. 

At the end of the day, it’s a game. What made the Mario games immersive in the ‘80s has some of the same stuff that makes them good in today’s market. When playing the game, you get to run around and explore a new world. A part of that is visual, another part is mechanical, but how well is it put together? 

How does Lion Studios differentiate itself from the rest of the industry?

Together with AppLovin, I think we’re in a unique position in that we’ve had a lot of success, driven by innovation. It’s given us the resources to take the risk of being different and better.

Claire Tak is Marketing Manager, Content at AppLovin.