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Hypercasual's reign is ending: Is licensed IP in hybridcasual the path to success?

Rachit Moti CEO of Layer explains how licensed IP can be the perfect partner for the rising hybridcasual model

Hypercasual's reign is ending: Is licensed IP in hybridcasual the path to success?

While big name hypercasual games are still generating much success, new titles are finding it more difficult to find their feet in a market that is over saturated. With hypercasual games seemingly on the decline, we are now seeing a rise in hybridcasual games that also appeal to mid-core audiences.

So what do potential hybridcasual developers need to consider when creating a game in the style of this relatively new trend? CEO of Layer, Rachit Moti, [pictured left] with co-founder Chris Illuk [right] discusses the implications for developers and IP holders and what to consider when making the move from hypercasual to hybridcasual.

Analysts have been predicting it for some time, but it seems like hypercasual’s reign might be coming to an end. Downloads for the genre fell by 24% last year as the impact of increased privacy regulations and widespread market oversaturation took their toll on the profitability and popularity of the genre.

This poses a tricky dilemma for IP holders. Hypercasual games have continually proven to be an excellent fit for branded collaborations, which provide opportunities to increase game depth, player engagement and monetisation as part of LiveOps strategies. If IP holders are to continue to get their content to reach the widest audience possible, is it time to start looking further afield?

The current state of play for hypercasual mobile games

The answer isn’t as clear-cut as you’d expect. While hypercasual downloads have taken a major hit, it’s newer titles that are bearing the brunt of the pain, rather than the genre’s major earners such as Candy Crush Saga and Gardenscapes. These legacy hypercasual games continue to enjoy successful partnerships with major IPs.

Candy Crush has collaborated with a variety of big names in just the last year, with the pop star Meghan Taynor giving the game timed exclusivity rights on the launch of a new track, while others such as Saweetie and Prada have tapped into the massive reach of the game through partnership campaigns. Prada’s in-game activation alone drove an 1800% growth in traffic to their website.

Meanwhile, developers of new hypercasual games are finding the market more challenging than ever for a myriad of reasons. Firstly, the genre's popularity means it heavily relies on in-app advertising to attract new users. This has become a much more expensive task following the introduction of Apple’s ATT.

Secondly, UA costs have risen significantly due to the tougher privacy restrictions, which is especially problematic given the low playtimes resulting from the genre's pick-up-and-play nature. Thirdly, gamers themselves are feeling the pinch due to rising inflation, meaning they’re less likely to part with their hard-earned cash when playing these games.

Developers of hypercasual games are responding to these challenges by introducing additional meta layers and mechanics from mid-core games into their titles to create a new wave of hybridcasual games. In doing so, these developers have successfully widened their appeal by targeting audiences across various genres while adding new monetisation opportunities in the process.

Downloads for hybridcasual games topped five billion in 2022, generating $1.4 billion in revenue, according to data from Sensortower.

Integrating IP into hybridcasual titles

Hybridcasual games are better suited to integration with IP as their increased depth and scope broaden the ways in which IP can be worked with. Plus, given that hybridcasual games generally offer higher production values than their hypercasual counterparts, any crossovers tend to be of a much higher calibre of quality.

Leveraging the popularity of existing brands and franchises also makes sense, as hybridcasual games aim to retain players' attention for longer, and those drawn in by the IP will be more likely to stick around due to their pre-existing emotional attachment. In Q4 2022, hybridcasual games had longer average sessions and playtime than the top casual games, according to Sensortower’s Rise of Hybridcasual Report.

However, being such a new genre, developers and IP holders alike may need guidance on where to begin when it comes to integrating established franchises into their hybridcasual games. Much of our usual advice regarding collaborations remains the same: any IP integration should be faithful to the franchise and align with the fan base's expectations.

The Hotwheels and Stumble Guys integration is an excellent example of this, which added a racing mode into the game’s line-up of traditionally platforming-based stages. Similarly, Cookie Run Kingdom diversified its gameplay mechanics through its integration with the K-pop band BTS, which added an endless runner mode with rhythm game elements, complete with music from BTS.

Key takeaways

If you’re looking to drive the most engagement from a brand-based collaboration, make sure you’re exploring licensing opportunities with IP that align with your fanbase and that any IP you work with has enough versatility to be adapted across new gameplay mechanics and monetisation opportunities.

You can do this by asking some simple questions:

  • Does the IP lend itself to the creation of themed cosmetic items that can be sold during a limited time period for your LiveOps event?
  • Is there potential for a new themed battle pass or item store selling limited-time currency based on the IP?
  • If the IP you’re working with has a strong narrative, can story elements be worked into your LiveOps event?
  • And if the IP sits within a specific genre, be it music, sports or racing, can those elements be integrated into your LiveOps as new gameplay mechanics?

No matter the approach, game developers should remember that integrating IP into their LiveOps is no guarantee of a surefire hit, even when looking at a genre like hybridcasual, which is rapidly rising in popularity. But with proper planning and ensuring alignment alongside fresh new content, the route to success will be far smoother.

Edited by Paige Cook regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.