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From hype to hyper to hybrid-casual

Voodoo talks about the birth of hybrid-casual
From hype to hyper to hybrid-casual

Corentin Selz is the publishing manager for Voodoo, the publisher best-known for its work in hypercasual games. spoke to Selz to find out more about the company's focus on the emerging hybrid-casual genre. What’s your role at Voodoo?

Corentin Selz: Before joining the Voodoo team, I was a trainee solicitor for a global law firm across London and Frankfurt, working on deals and litigations. I was involved in lots of mergers and acquisitions, financing deals and international arbitrations.

But I couldn’t resist the pull of the games industry, and I’ve been a Publishing Manager at Voodoo since 2018.

I spent my first two years setting up a strong publishing team in Turkey, coaching them on how to best optimise, monetise and market their games. I’ve been back in Paris for just over a year now, and my focus is on building Voodoo’s hybrid-casual suite of titles.

Tell us more about Voodoo’s role in the evolution of hypercasual gaming

We’re extremely proud of our role as a leader in the hypercasual space, and we have been responsible for pushing forward the industry with key titles such as, Helix Jump and much more. At this time, we have reached over five billion downloads, with 300 million monthly active users and over 100 games published, all coming from both internal production and publishing partners.

Voodoo created a hypercasual business model that shaped the industry as we know it, through a combination of breakthrough testing methods and introducing the fast prototyping mindset. Combined, this has given us the ability to rapidly understand the value of a game, and distribute resources to focus on promising prototypes.

“Rapid game development has been a key feature behind Voodoo’s role in hypercasual.”
Corentin Selz

One way we expanded on this was through the introduction of Facebook testing which, over the course of four days, allows multiple tests on each game to understand whether to kill, iterate or launch a prototype.

Previously, studios had to rely on internal playtests and gut instinct, which meant the results were often extremely uncertain.

Rapid game development has been a key feature behind Voodoo’s role in hypercasual, and we were the first to actively push for building games in less than one week, followed by the aforementioned testing process.

This means that studios are able to focus on the core pillars of gameplay first and foremost, alongside drastically increasing the number of prototypes we can test.

This testing led us to find minimum viable Day One and Day Seven engagement indicators such as 55% D1 and 22% D7 retention, that are reliable ways to understand if a prototype will be successful upon release.

This process and mindset allows smaller, lesser-known developers without a track record to grow and improve their games with tools like free test campaigns and shared knowledge from the experts at the team.

What exactly is hybrid-casual, how does it differ from hypercasual?

Hybrid-casual is a combination of core hypercasual gameplay and simplified meta-gameplay from casual or midcore games. From a hypercasual perspective, we take the easy to play elements, accessibility and short bursts of gameplay that players love, and combine them with casual and midcore meta gameplay features.

These meta gameplay features add medium and long term goals on top of a hypercasual game.

Hypercasual games typically only offer short term goals and rewards, but with hybrid-casual we can start adding medium and long term goals through the addition of meta gameplay features. This boosts retention rates and offers stronger LifeTime Values (LTVs).

“With hybrid-casual we can start adding medium and long term goals through the addition of meta gameplay features.”
Corentin Selz

Hybrid-casual games allow developers and publishers to create engaging and core mechanics quickly while benefiting from hybrid monetisation strategies, such as combining free-to-play and ad-based business models with in-app purchases to boost revenue.

What led Voodoo to explore and experiment with hybrid-casual?

Our decision to enter into hybrid-casual came as a result of observing the market closely and seeing a number of patterns developing that increased our interest in the sector.

We first saw that many games were starting to combine the core tenets of hypercasual gameplay and controls, with long term meta experiences from casual titles. Titles such as Archero and Match 3d caught our attention, sparking a number of discussions internally on how we could add our own stamp on this trend.

Similarly, we were also seeing an increasing number of titles coming through our testing platform that were quite clearly not hypercasual, but instead a middle ground between hypercasual and casual/midcore principles. These titles impressed us with their much higher retention and overall playtime while operating at a higher cost per install.

We agreed that it would be a mistake not to launch these titles, or try and treat them as hypercasual. We decided instead to focus on their development from a hybrid mindset, with our attention centred around long term player retention.

Finally, from our internal discussions, we understood that as a result of Voodoo’s strong position in hypercasual, we had access to a large number of titles showing high engagement through our testing platform.

We agreed that it would be an exciting challenge to see if we could add enhanced meta gameplay, which motivated us to take this new jump into the world of hybrid design.

What sort of results are you seeing between your hypercasual and hybrid-casual games?

We have seen a promising uplift in D7 and D14 retention figures, alongside increased average playtime during our tests. Of course, the exact output depends on each individual game, but the initial results are very exciting.

Playtime has risen by as much as fifteen minutes in one of our experiments, a significant increase compared to the hypercasual baseline.

We are also reviewing how we can increase average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU) via in-app purchases (IAP), which is an important way that hybrid-casual titles can be monetised.

If we can reach an IAP ARPDAU (iOS US) of around $0.10 , that’s a strong sign we can do something big with the game.

“If we can reach an IAP ARPDAU (iOS US) of around $0.10 , that’s a strong sign we can do something big with the game.”
Corentin Selz

Coupled with advertising ARPDAU, we feel that we can comfortably reach one-year lifetime values (LTVs) of around $3, which is yet another strong indicator of the value of hybrid-casual.

Are they picking up different audiences? Do you have to market them differently?

For the time being, the audiences are still very similar, as we have decided to market these initially as hypercasual titles. During this testing phase, and as we adjust to the new market, we want to ensure that we are still leveraging core gameplay that is hypercasual in nature, so we are focusing on developing that aspect first.

Once we see consistent indications that our players are starting to increase their overall playtime and investing in IAP’s, we can begin targeting new demographics outside of a traditional hypercasual audience more specifically.

Is hybrid-casual a sub-genre of hypercasual, or a distinct new game genre in its own right?

We see hybrid-casual as an entirely new genre, despite its similarities to hypercasual. This is due to its focus on more meaningful interactions and a longer player journey, that inherently distinguishes itself from the design principles in hypercasual.

We don’t feel it's right to define hybrid-casual as a sub-genre, because the business model is radically different, and the priorities behind the gameplay experience are the polar opposite of how hypercasual titles are designed.

The difference between the goal of players engaging with a title for a few days in hypercasual, versus a few weeks in hybrid-casual may seem small, but it drastically changes how each title is created, and the entire core of the production.

Can a hypercasual game be redesigned as a hybrid-casual title?

Absolutely, that's a big part of how we are approaching hybrid-casual. We have introduced a new process of selecting one of our hypercasual titles and isolating its core gameplay. From there, we brainstorm how to add a new layer of meta-gameplay to it, which means we can innovate and build on a successful model instead of unnecessarily altering it from the ground up.

As a result, we can maintain a rapid testing process, without having to overhaul our game concepts. The more we test, the more we see what works and what doesn’t, so we’re learning as fast as we prototype.

What do developers need to understand if they’re considering their own hybrid-casual title?

One of the key things that make hybrid-casual games different from hypercasual games is the introduction of medium and long term goals on top of the core mechanics. Hybrid-casual gives developers the freedom to create any kind of objective they want for their player, whether that be RPG-style progression, sticker albums, narrative or visual progression.

The introduction of longer-term goals means that developers can go far beyond typical D7 retention rates found in hypercasual games, and they can even look towards D14 or even D30 retention.

As previously mentioned, at Voodoo, our first step is to identify an existing hypercasual game with good engagement, including retention and playtime. Next, we approach our partner studios to brainstorm the best meta-gameplay to build on top of the game.

“The introduction of longer-term goals means that developers can go far beyond typical D7 retention rates found in hypercasual games.”
Corentin Selz

The final step is to give them the source code of the selected hypercasual game so that we can work together and enhance its engagement to that of a hybrid-casual game.

The key here is co-development, and we offer studios a huge head start in the process by giving them an existing, and successful game that has already shown strong marketability and virality. All the developers need to do is build the meta-features, adding the medium and long term goals for the players. They don’t need to worry about building the core gameplay, developing the artwork or doing the programming because it’s all already there.

This is very different to the rest of the market, where other developers and publishers are building completely new games from scratch, which of course means you need more time and more people. Using this co-development philosophy at Voodoo, we can prototype hybrid-casual games in six weeks and test them for ten days with only a three-person team.

In general, however, there are some similarities when it comes to the development of hypercasual and hybrid-casual games, with the latter borrowing some key features. Striking the right balance between these ingredients is vital for success. You need the ‘build and kill fast’ mindset of a hypercasual studio, alongside expertise from casual games in meta, monetisation and live operations.

What sort of mechanics suit the hybrid-casual experience?

The core gameplay can be sourced from any type of hypercasual title that shows strong engagement. For example, if you have a game that has a high D7 retention and 15 minutes of average playtime, you have a very good baseline to work from. This can form the bedrock for a hybrid-casual game.

As for the genre, it can be anything from a shooter, strategy, runner or puzzle title, to name a few examples, but realistically it doesn’t matter too much. At the end of the day, the metrics are the most important consideration.

Is this a significant new market for Voodoo in the long-term?

Time will tell how significant it will be for us, but we are betting big on hybrid-casual and casual titles. We will never stop working on our hypercasual titles, but this development is a signifier that we are maturing as a company and exploring new areas.

The hypercasual development mindset of speed and failing fast is a cornerstone of Voodoo philosophy, so these learnings and values will play a major role in how we progress.

Would hybrid-casual titles work on other platforms, or is this a mobile-exclusive genre for the time being?

For the time being, this is still primarily focused on mobile, with Voodoo developing exclusively for the platform.

Where do you see the next big change or evolution in the hybrid-casual market? What trends are you noticing?

Hybrid-casual games aren’t new, with a handful of studios having launched their own titles over the past 12 months. But it is still a relatively untapped market in terms of its success, and we believe that hybrid-casual offers a new genre for players to get excited about.

It will be particularly interesting to see how long-time users of both hypercasual and casual games react to the enhanced gameplay on offer as they increase in popularity.

Trends in hybrid-casual games are an interesting topic. Given its scope for growth, over a few months, you are likely to see a number of different genres appear, but we have observed some definite examples of these forming.

You can see cases of action and RPG titles such as Bowmasters, Tank Masters, Archero and Art of War Legion, which is contrasted by another existing genre of puzzle games, like Match 3D.

While we haven’t seen other examples of genres just yet, there is potential in the future for cooperative and competitive multiplayer titles to enter the industry as hybrid-casual games, alongside simulation or narrative-based titles.