Editors note: This blog was written by hyper-casual specialists, JoyPac, and is based on their recent webinar: Design Strategies for Hyper-Casual Game Development. JoyPac specializes in publishing hit hyper-casual games across the globe, and today they have agreed to share their top tips and strategies.
To develop a successful hyper-casual game at hyper-fast speed, you need to have a clear production process that focuses on game design.
A lot of developers jump into creating hyper-casual games without proper planning and without proper testing. This often leaves them with little idea of how much appeal their game will have, and with a lot of hard work going to waste.
We (JoyPac) recently hosted a webinar on this exact subject, along with Umami Games and SuperPlus Games. Based on that webinar, we’ve put together five major things to consider before you set out to develop a hyper-casual game.
Feel free to watch the webinar if you’d rather sit back and let us do the talking. If not, then read on…
Step one: Brainstorm new ideas
Take all the game ideas you have and decide which one has the most potential. Which one will have the broadest appeal? Which one will be the simplest to develop? Which is the most unique?
Look for universal themes
At this early stage, it’s important to remember that themes that are universal to most cultures and age groups usually have the broadest appeal. Some examples could be: household activities, sports, animals, or jobs.
Kalle Jyly, CEO at SuperPlus Games says:
My inspiration comes from more household things for hyper-casual games or other everyday things. In the end, everything comes together in a way: books, board games, movies. Mostly, other games that are close to what I want to build play a part. They become the biggest lessons.
Don’t try to reinvent the entire genre
For your game to stand out, you only need one or two aspects of it to be unique. That might be the visual style, the story, or one particular mechanic. For all other parts of the game, you can stick with what you know works.
If you try to make every aspect of your game wildly creative and unique, you have far more things that can go wrong—or you can risk it being poorly suited to hyper-casual players.
Base about 70% of your idea on existing games that you know are successful. And then use the other 30% of your game to do something unique. This helps to ease players into the experience and then offers something new.
Keep it collaborative
If you do this in a team, you need to enter the conversation with no ego. It’s not about everyone fighting for their own idea—it’s about collaboratively deciding on the one that’ll give you the best chance for success. When the loudest person in the room wins, it rarely leads to the best idea getting the green light.
Step two: Plan out your entire development cycle
Once you’ve decided on an idea for your next hyper-casual game, it’s time to plan its development. How much time should you dedicate to each phase? You need to get the full scope of the production.
There are three main stages you should always have in your development plan:
- It should take no more than three days to go from the very first stages of brainstorming to having a playable prototype. After that, you should already be able to do an early click-through rate (CTR) test.
- Running game mechanic tests with your prototype can take anything from three weeks to two months.
- Afterwards, only if you get promising results after prototype tests, you should develop the game in full. Considering the fast-paced hyper-casual games market, you shouldn’t be spending more than a few months to develop and launch your game.
This might seem like an extremely fast turnaround but that’s the nature of hyper-casual game development.
Step three: Choose the right tools
There are various tools available to help you with planning, designing, testing and improving your game. Here are a few shared by the panelists at the webinar that you might want to try.
Tools for writing your design document
- Google documents and charts.
- Trello — for the basic game project management.
- Paint — to draw the mockups. Gameplay comes first, especially at the prototype phase. You should keep the graphics as basic as possible so you can focus on making a fun game. So even something as simple as squares and circles in Paint can be all you need.
Tools for planning, testing, analyzing and tracking game performance
- Coda.io — gives you templates for product development.
- SmartLook — records all the sessions so you can see how people are playing your game. This is very useful for tests. It’s important to track what people are doing in your game. Simply asking might not be as reliable—people might not be honest or simply might not be aware of their behavior.
- GameAnalytics — gives you a full range of player data.
- Firebase — gives you functionality like analytics, databases, messaging and crash reporting so you can move quickly and focus on your users.
- AppAnnie — tracking downloads, checking other games, tracking revenue.
- Cloud Build — helps you to do things faster, showing what you can do in other ways.
- BuildBox — a no code mobile game development tool.
- The Free to Play Game Design Bible — rules, guidelines and models that can help you get the best out of your game.
Step four: Expanding on your idea
Now you have an idea and a timeline for developing it, you can start to focus on the other aspects of your hyper-casual game.
Focus on player objectives first
We often meet developers who are already working on a game, but still don’t know what type of game it’ll be. They often don’t know what the main goal of their game will be or even what platform they’re developing it for.
When you’re developing at hyper-fast speed, you can’t afford to move onto development without making these fundamental decisions first. You might want to go back to thinking about your target audience and run through how your game will appeal to them. Then move onto the objectives and what you actually want to achieve with your game.
Kalle shares how he starts expanding an idea: “I think about the objectives or, as I call them, game elements. It’s a very high level concept that I start to categorize: what is the game for and what elements do I need for the game concept to be achieved. Only then do I start writing the game concept and split it up into features—so starting at the top and then going down from there.”
Gameplay first, story and themes later
When starting to work on a hyper-casual game, there are two approaches you can take:
- Start with gameplay and apply a theme later.
- Start with a theme or story and build the gameplay around it.
But starting with the theme can end up being a trap. If you don’t have a really good game design or great game mechanics that’ll satisfy the player, they won’t engage with the theme or story—no matter how good it is. If you do still choose to start with the theme, then think as early as possible about what mechanics will fit it.
Choose the right gameplay mechanics
The core gameplay is what really matters for mobile games—it’s the ‘make it or break it’.
There are plenty of effective game mechanics (like puzzle, stacking and swerving) that are well suited to hyper-casual games. GameAnalytics has a good advice piece to help you choose the right mechanics.
Don’t assume that hyper-casual games need to be hyper-easy
Getting the right level of difficulty gives your game a ‘stickiness’—players feel more rewarded when they’ve overcome a challenge. But you must be careful not to make it too difficult. If an action takes longer than 15 minutes, players might not come back for another challenge.
Step five: Prototyping and testing
Some developers spend a lot of time on a game, perfecting every last detail, without ever actually testing it. They assume their game will be the next big thing and proceed with absolute confidence in their idea. Then when they release it, they realize it’s not as popular as they expected it to be and they’ve wasted a lot of time and money.
That’s why it’s important to test your game as soon as possible. So once you’ve expanded on your idea and drawn up a clear concept, it’s time to build a very light version of your game and test its market appeal. This isn’t a soft launch though—that comes later.
Your first prototype doesn’t even need to be a playable version of the game
Hyper-casual games don’t need much to show what the final product will look like. A simple video that shows a fun core gameplay loop is usually enough to test the game’s appeal.
Riley Andersen from Umami Games says:
We first start with mock-ups in video and image formats and test them on platforms like Facebook to check the CTR. Afterwards, we pick the winner and do an expanded prototype based on that. And that goes forward with doing several shed-off prototypes, testing, picking a winner and then doing a soft launch.
Even with all this initial testing before soft launch, the developers at Umami Games are still putting two new hyper-casual games a month into soft launch. That’s how fast their development cycle is.
An even simpler way to test is by placing something as simple as a gif on Twitter to collect feedback. It’s a non-traditional way to test, but it could give you some insight into your game’s appeal very early on.
Running your early prototype as an ad can get you a lot of data
If you can, it’s a good idea to run tests with ad creatives. This will get you a really solid understanding of your concept’s appeal before you’ve even written a line of code.
Kalle Jyly from SuperPlus Games says:
The concept is to do something similar to a data funnel that starts with a potential player seeing an ad of your game and measuring the CTR of that. Afterwards, measuring store conversion percentage—did the player actually install the game or not? And the final step is the first purchase. Then we have the whole data funnel and can see where the turning point is and we can optimize it. That’s the path we take from concept or idea to the soft launch.
Use the results to decide which concepts to develop and which to abandon
If the results from your tests are good, you know the game has potential and you can continue developing it with confidence and take it to a soft launch.
If the results don’t justify developing the game further, at least you know at an early stage—and you can switch to a new concept, rather than wasting time and money on a game that doesn’t have the potential for success.
And finally: don’t feel overwhelmed
Developing at this speed can seem intimidating, but it’s all about process.
We’d all like to think our ideas are destined for success but the market often doesn’t respond to a game in the way you’d expect. So you need a process that can show you as soon as possible how much appeal and potential your ideas have.
If you follow our five steps, you’ll spend less time working on concepts that have no potential—and more time working on ideas you know have a chance of leading you to the top of the charts.
You can watch the full webinar Design Strategies for Hyper-Casual Game Development here.
In our next webinar, we’ll dive more into the often overlooked (but very important) topic of testing. Learn more and register for our upcoming webinar here.