Whether you are developing a new title in a pre existing franchise or creating something entirely new, the process of prototyping is an important stage to ensure that the base concept is not only one that is going to captive players, but also ensure success.
The hypercasual model has dominated much of the top charts in recent years but with changing times and a competitive market, developers need to change their prototyping habits in order to adapt. We hear from Nir Regev, director of publishing at Supersonic from Unity for the latest techniques and tips for building hypercasual prototypes.
Once you’re done with ideating your next chart topping hit (let’s be positive here), the next step is to create a prototype. Prototyping is a stage that many developers struggle with, often hindering efficiency. Speed is the name of the game for hypercasual success. The more prototypes that can be tested as quickly as possible, the better. Knowing which metrics to track in this phase is crucial. While cost per install (CPI), which measures marketability, is still the number one metric, it's also critical to consider lifetime value (LTV).
Many developers take this to the extreme - they’re under the impression that traditional hypercasual games are dying and so they build their prototype with too many layers and in-depth functionalities. The result of focusing too early on in-game metrics is a very baked prototype, yet unfortunately, not actually marketable. The CPI vs LTV balance is off.
In a world where developers need to prototype fast and succeed, or fail fast while also facing the challenges of proving good in-game metrics early on, the recipe for an efficient prototyping process is complex. Here are some guidelines for getting it right.
The sweet spot: creating a 15 minute prototype
The key is to find fun and innovative gameplay, build a lean minimum viable product (MVP), and run marketability tests. Lean refers to building enough content, levels, and scenarios to be used as content for video creatives for the marketability test. At Supersonic, based on testing thousands of prototypes, we discovered that the sweet spot to see if your game has potential is 15 minutes of gameplay. This is the average playtime for the day of install in a hypercasual game. Since the initial goal is to get the players to return, i.e. get high day 1 (D1) retention, the content consumption for day 0 (D0) is crucial.
The main goal at this stage is to understand how many people finish 15 minutes of content. A 98% completion rate for each level is a good benchmark for healthy player churn for a game that doesn’t yet have monetization. If you’re not hitting this completion rate, take another look at your content before continuing. It’s important to note that each sub-genre will have its own benchmark. For example, from our experience, the sweet spot for Idle games is closer to 30 minutes.
The objective is to see if your game has potential. Once the core mechanics and gameplay have proven themselves, only then build out your game. For more insights on this, I recently spoke with PocketGamer about when to include deeper gameplay.
Remember - cracking marketability first is essential.
Building out the core gameplay
Once a game passes the marketability test, the next step is building out the prototype. First, start with the core gameplay. Decide on the controls, level design, end level sequence, goal, and difficulty of levels. Then create more layers to help with the progression and deepen the game experience. Consider where to include rewarded video and in-app purchases (IAP) in the gameplay, but hold off on actually integrating them at this stage.
Your goal is to ensure the game is fun, catchy, and engaging. As mentioned earlier, if churn is more than 2% between levels, then there’s an issue in the level balance, difficulty or mechanics that needs addressing.
An important metric to consider at this stage is average playtime per user (APPU). APPU is a combination of retention and playtime and is a new and important metric to consider. Let’s take a look at why. A prototype may have a 30% retention rate and a high playtime of 1,000 seconds or a 40% retention rate with 500 seconds of playtime. APPU combines these two metrics to determine how many seconds (on average) that users play a game. This helps you calculate how many ads to eventually show and at what intervals, then analyse whether it will generate a high enough LTV to make the game profitable.
Deepen the game experience
After optimising the level funnel, start working on creating a deeper experience with monetisation capabilities. Develop the gameplay with more meaningful content, providing opportunities for players to earn and spend their game currency through tactics like power-ups, upgrading skins, or giving a character more skills. It’s all about enriching the experience and creating the stepping stones for a strong player engagement strategy, leading to good monetisation and increased retention.
When you reach your APPU goal with your prototype, it’s time to move to the soft launch and begin implementing a monetization strategy with interstitials, rewarded video and IAP. Afterwards, start A/B testing monetisation and game features.
Trust the process
A good hypercasual game is no longer just about low CPI. It also needs strong engagement to be profitable - you must get the right balance of CPI and LTV. Focus on building the prototype out in steps. Nail the 15 minute sweet spot first and only then build out the core gameplay and add monetisation. Giving your idea the best chance possible to succeed while not investing unnecessary time in the process is key for healthy and streamlined prototype building.
Edited by Paige Cook