Simple games with addictive gameplay and minimalistic art, known as hypercasual games, always need to go a long way from an idea to millions of installations.
While developing hypercasual games, developers come up with ideas, create prototypes, and work either alone or with publishers to run click-through rate, cost per install, retention and other tests. Depending on the results of the tests developers decide whether they should continue the development of the game and promote it further, change the mechanics, or go for another idea.
Development team leaders organize a process and set up the team to continuously produce ideas, prepare prototypes, and test them. And at each stage, developers can optimize their processes to be as fast as necessary in the hypercasual industry.
On average 40 game prototypes fail. It's vital to organize a team that can iterate ideas and can prepare prototypes for testing very quickly
On average 40 game prototypes fail. To start producing hypercasual games from scratch, it's vital to organize a team that can iterate ideas and can prepare prototypes for testing very quickly.
The world of hypercasual production is not about creating one or two games, it's about the production factory of developing and testing dozens of projects. Exactly like in a factory, the right supplies need to be in the right place on time and kept moving forward so that production does not stop.
And here's how to organize this process from scratch:
- Step 1. Set up the team
- Step 2. Find a publisher to work with
- Step 3. Generate ideas
- Step 4. Prepare for the test
- Step 5. Submit a prototype and be ready to make changes
Step 1. Set up the team
- Start small
It is enough to build a team of three to five people to make 16 prototypes per month. The best setup to start with will be one game designer and two programmers. In such a team, developers work on their separate projects simultaneously, while the game designer helps both of them generate games' concepts, search necessary assets, design levels, and also provides timely feedback.
In this setup, the team is self-manageable and small enough to take into account every team member's suggestions and ideas and test them quickly.
- Postpone hiring a game artist
Successful hypercasual games can be developed without the game artist, as basic assets are available in asset stores. Game artists are only necessary once developers want to use more advanced graphics.
- Minimize the use of documents at early stages
In traditional game development, it is common to document the details on game design, complex mechanics, and advanced tech tasks. However, this paperwork can be too redundant and time-consuming for hypercasual game development.
A no-document approach results in more efficient communication in the team, which eventually results in more things done, and less time spent on paperwork.
Step 2. Find a publisher to work with
The hypercasual games industry is tough: more than 3,000 games a month are released on the App Store alone. If there is no budget for paid promotion, the chances of becoming viral and being noticed are low.
While marketing helps to be more visible and acquire players, developers usually lack financial resources and relevant expertise to use paid acquisition themselves. That is why many developers choose to work with publishers. To choose the right one, developers need to follow three simple rules.
The hypercasual games industry is tough: more than 3,000 games a month are released on the App Store alone
- Do the research. Look for a publisher that focuses on hypercasual games, not casual or hardcore/mid-core genres. Then, compare how different publishers pay developers and split the profits. Check out game development communities on Reddit, Slack, or Discord to find out what other developers say about the publishers they worked with.
- Read legal documents. Publishers are asking for source code, and that's fine, but they are also restricted in their rights to use it. The rights to the product should remain with a developer.
- Apply early. Sometimes developers contact a publisher when they have an MVP. But it is actually better to look for a publisher at the team setup stage. This way, both publisher and developer will have the chance to figure out early if they can co-operate effectively.
Step 3. Generate ideas
Regardless of the methods a developer uses to generate ideas, it's definitely helpful to approach it with a solid understanding of the market and target audience.
For example, an analysis of trending games in different stores will show which game mechanics are preferred by players, while the inspiration for other features may come from social media. Here's how to do research to extract the most useful insights:
- Monitor the market by niche. Use Appmagic to follow top charts, and Storeglide or fnd to know what new games are coming out classified by specific genres, settings or art styles.
- Decompose competitors' games. Pay attention to three main elements: the narrative context of the game (fashion, cars, farm, crafting, building...), the composition of the game mechanics used (stacking, coloring, arcade, simulation...), and the art features used in the game (stylized 2D, realistic 3D, abstract 3D...).
- Use social media. Follow developers and publishers on Instagram and Twitter to keep an eye on new ideas, follow YouTube channels with addictive satisfying videosm or subreddits such as Oddlysatisfying to get an understanding of what users might like, and type keywords on Pinterest to find additional features for an idea you've already picked up.
Step 4. Prepare for the test
Once the idea is chosen, the developer needs to prepare a prototype for the test. At this stage, speed is key. A publisher needs to test about 40 ideas on average on the way to a hit. The less time is spent on iterating over each one, the faster the developer will get to the top charts and profits. Publishers usually require either of these two different approaches to prototyping:
- A finished game in the store with a lot of content. Most publishers require this type of prototype, as it allows measuring first-day retention rate. It takes experienced developers about two weeks to prepare a game for such a test.
- Video demonstrating gameplay for CTR-tests. Some publishers require only a short gameplay video. They use it to create an ad and launch a campaign to measure CTR and evaluate the attractiveness of the idea for a future audience. This is a statistically proven method that allows to filter out unsuccessful concepts in the shortest time possible. This type of prototype is much easier to develop: it takes only two to three days and significantly speeds up the process of testing ideas.
In any case, developers should design a prototype based on the publisher's requirements, but the main thing remains the same: making a prototype is the job of the developer, not the publisher. Regardless of the prototyping approach, at this stage, developers should avoid complex development processes and prioritize speed.
Step 5. Submit a prototype and be ready to make changes
When the prototype is submitted, the publisher initiates testing to evaluate the attractiveness of the game for its future players. This process requires money and expertise in marketing and analytics. The difference between publishers' services and self-testing is that publishers give feedback and recommendations, based on their experience from thousands of tested projects.
After the test, developers should expect the following:
- Metrics and explanations. Metrics help developers understand how the audience reacts to the game and at which stage of the game its performance deteriorates. After assessing the metrics, developers can decide whether they need to develop the game further or pivot.
You need to be proactive and not follow publishers' recommendations blindly
- Market knowledge. With each new test, developers can gain experience to understand which working concepts are the most promising. Each subsequent experiment will be qualitatively different from the current one.
- Ongoing learning. You need to be proactive and not follow publishers' recommendations blindly. It is important to learn to read the numbers and test ideas as often as possible, getting rid of bad ones.
Be distrustful of publishers who say "we know exactly how to do it," because there is no such thing as absolute expertise, especially in the hypercasual industry. Build up your own expertise, and use publishers as an additional tool in the process of learning and getting insights into the current state of the market.
If your game doesn't reach certain milestones (key performance indicators) -- change the game, iterate, or stop working on it and switch to a new idea.
Ivan Fedyanin is CEO and co-founder of hypercasual publishing studio Ducky. He has spent 19 years in mobile gaming, worked as executive director at Nival Mobile, and formed Fast Forward studio at Mail.ru. Together with Ducky co-founder Alisher Yakubov, they have managed the development and publishing of 30 games throughout their career.