· 7 min read

6 games that successfully layer in meta mechanics

With hyper-casual games facing continually tightening margins, we look at a few examples of "casual" games that have added additional meta features and mechanics to drive better long term retention.

As we’ve mentioned before, the hyper-casual market is being forced to change. With more competition, higher CPIs and tightening margins, developers need to increase their retention if they’re going to continue making money, now more than ever. And to do that, they must layer more mechanics and elements into their games.

We’ve explored how and why developers can – and should – shift from hyper-casual to hybrid-casual. But if you’re still struggling to see how that might be possible, let’s look at a few games that have used meta mechanics to make their game more engaging. Here are six games that have a short, simple and satisfying core loop, but have layered in meta features to increase their retention. Let’s dive in.

1. Archero: How to add progression systems well

Developed by Habby, released 24th March 2019.

This was one of the first hybrid-casual games. The gameplay is essentially a roguelike – you play as an archer, making your way through levels. Each level has monsters to kill and traps to avoid. But the only mechanic is that you either move to dodge attacks or stay still to automatically fire your bow.

Archero feature example

Players can upgrade their character permanently to make future runs easier in Archero.

Pretty simple. But Archero adds multiple layers on top of this core gameplay. First, you can level up during a run – firing more arrows or adding elemental attacks. Second, you earn valuable currency every time you kill an enemy. You can spend this currency between runs to give your character passive abilities, unlock other characters and upgrade your equipment. All of which make your next run easier, making it easier to progress through the levels. And, ultimately, make the whole experience more fun and addictive.

This combination of simple core gameplay, with simple meta progression, makes Archero a classic template for a successful hybrid-casual game.

2. Match Masters: Adding simple mechanics is all you need

Developed by Candivore, released 8th June 2017.

A classic mechanic you’re probably all too familiar with – match three gems to earn points. In Match Masters, however, you’re pitting yourself against other players in a sort of duel. Still, it’s a simple core mechanic. One that players are very familiar with.

Match Masters feature

Filling a page in the sticker album unlocks abilities that players can use in Match Masters.

But Match Masters goes one step further with collectibles. As you progress, you can unlock special abilities in the form of cards – things like wiping out random gems or an entire row. You unlock these cards as you play or by trading for stickers to fill up various albums.

While the meta mechanics are simple, it elevates Match Masters into a very replayable and satisfying experience, without too much extra effort from the developer.

3. Gold and Goblins: Taking a simple feature and running with it

Developed by AppQuantum, released 16th Sepetmber 2020. 

Merge mechanics work best when there’s a secondary motivation – other than just merging for the sake of merging. Take Gold and Goblins. Your goblins need to mine their way through the level, and upgrading them makes them better miners.

Devilishly simple. But this allows Gold and Goblins to add a few simple base-building mechanics into the game. Do you upgrade your goblins or your automatic mine? One passively gets you money, leading to more goblins. The other gets you through the level quicker. As a final layer, Gold and Goblins also introduces passive abilities in the form of unlockable cards. Unlock and level up the cards and you improve your mines and goblins.

Gold and Goblins Feature example

Unlockable cards in Gold and Goblins give players an aim and sense of progression.

This is a useful example of how you don’t need a huge number of meta features to turn a simple mechanic into a true hybrid-casual game. Simple additions can go far.

4. Empires and Puzzles: How meta features can improve your core loop

Developed by Zynga, released 1st March 2017. 

This is another match three game, but a single-player version. It also adds an element of tactics. Players must decide which ‘gems’ – shields in this case – they’re going to match. Matching three of a colour releases an attack on the enemy in the same row. You can’t just match anything on the board, as your attack could simply miss. On top of that, each colour corresponds to a different hero you control – adding a rock-paper-scissors element to the game.

But Empires and Puzzles isn’t just about matching three of the same thing. As the name suggests, it’s about city building, too. Using two basic resources – food and iron – you need to upgrade your base to train new soldiers, combine them to level up your favourite characters, and make use of their abilities.

Empires and puzzle feature example

There are plenty of other items in Empires and Puzzles to collect and upgrade your armies.

This base building is a classic way to transform a hyper-casual mechanic into a fully fledged hybrid-casual game. It’s a simple way to build in progression. Definitely worth checking out.

5. Word Nut: How even a single meta feature can work

Developed by Super Nutty Games, released 9th June 2018.

You don’t always need to completely overhaul your hyper-casual game and add in a dozen features to push it into hybrid-casual territory. Word Nut cleverly only adds a few extra features, but which do just enough to add a huge amount of depth to the experience. The core game gives you a few letters, and you need to swipe to spell out all the possible words those letters can create. Simple enough.

But as you progress, you unlock coins which you can use to get hints. You also unlock cards representing pets. Equipping a pet gives you a passive ability, like reducing the cost of a hint. While these are very minor additions to an already addictive concept, it means that the game starts to appeal to more types of players – the achiever or completionist, for example.

Word nut feature example

Collecting pets  unlocks passive abilities to help you in Word Nut.

Word Nut also appeals to the competitive player, simply by adding a leaderboard. It’s a great example of how to build on a solid core idea and improve it to appeal to different kinds of gamers.

6. Fish Eater.io: How to combine two hyper-casual mechanics together

Developed by Mobibrain Technology, released 28th December 2021. 

Similar in concept to games like hole.io – in Fish Eater.io you’re a fish and you eat your aquatic rivals to evolve and get bigger. The core gameplay is simply moving around until you find a prey you can chomp away at and grow bigger.

But outside the core game, Fish Eater.io has added a merge mechanic into the main menu. Buying and merging fish builds up your character, and means that you start a match in a superior state. You can also unlock talents for passive abilities.

Fish eater feature example

Certain talents in Fish Eater.io will make you stronger for your next game.

This is a clever way to combine two hyper-casual mechanics together to create something bigger than either could be individually.

It’s all about watching the numbers rise

Whatever you’re creating, it’s important to make sure your core mechanic is short, simple and satisfying. But after a while, players will grow bored of seeing the same thing.

So give the player a reason to keep going. Getting them to push for the next tier of building or unlocking another character can be enough to hook the player and give them a reason to continue. That’s all you need to increase your retention.

Do you want to keep track of your key metrics? Then remember to use GameAnalytics. It only takes a few minutes to set up and will help you learn more about your games and players.