· 7 min read

Finding Our Hyper-Casual Niche – Lessons From Platonic Games

CEO & Founder of Platonic Games, Valeria Castro, shares with us just how their studio found their gaming niche, and the steps developers can use to find theirs.

In June 2019, GameAnalytics hosted a mobile gaming event to talk about casual gaming, which we called ‘The Arcade (R)Evolution: Making Hit Casual Games‘. Valeria Castro of Platonic games somewhat stole the show with her presentation – speaking with wit and passion about how to find a niche in the world of hyper-casual gaming.

If you couldn’t make our last event, don’t worry. Here’s Valeria to fill you in on what you missed (and here’s the video of her talk):

We’re Platonic Games – a 10-person dev team from Madrid. You might know us if you’ve ever played Kawaii Kitchen, Happy Hop or Sailor Cats. As you can probably guess from those titles, we make super-cute, hyper-casual games. And there’s one question we get asked a lot.

Can we actually compete against the big developers?

In reality, no. We can’t. But the good news is that we don’t have to. Let me explain.

Big developers have three things in abundance that most studios won’t be able to match, which are:

  • Resources
  • Experience
  • Market access

But we, as scrappy little underdog developers, have a few advantages of our own:

  • We can take more risks (because we don’t have millions invested in each new project)
  • We can build unique, more intimate communities
  • We can find niches

Finding a niche is the key thing. When there are two billion customers up for grabs, we only need a million (0.05%) of them to play one of our games for it to be successful. And what better way to target them than by figuring out what exactly is missing in today’s market.

How we found our niche

When I founded Platonic Games in 2015, before we did anything, we sat down and had a long hard look at what gaps we could potentially fill in the market. The runner genre was popular and endlessly diverse. But there was one genre where we didn’t see much variety – games for girls.

If you search for games for girls, you generally find three things: cooking games, dressing-up games, and ‘taking care of something’ games. There are plenty of good games in this space, but no one was taking the more mainstream genres and making them appealing to girls. There were very few cute, girly runner games.

So we decided this would be our niche. Next we needed to find a way to ‘own’ that space. No matter how fun and awesome our games were, few gamers would play them if they were lost in the jungle of the market.

The power of keywords

We didn’t know much about keywords. But we knew that searching ‘cute’ returned an ocean of games in which ours would be mere droplets. So we looked for more distinctive keywords.

‘Kawaii’ turned out to be ideal. It’s not only a less-used synonym for cute, but it’s also a more specific one – it evokes the Japanese aesthetic of super-colorful, childlike, ‘aww’-inducing cuteness. I grew up around all things kawaii, so I thought it would be hot property as a keyword. But it wasn’t. We were the first ones to really use it.

Having such a consistent visual style makes it much easier to create a recognizable brand. Our merchandise, our website, and social media (and, of course, our games) all carry that distinctive, memorable look – so our users always know what to expect from us.

How we built our kawaii community

There are a few things we did, but for the sake of this blog and presentation, I’m going to talk about 3 key steps we followed.

Step one: Telling users the truth

We wanted the people playing our games to know who we are. Many people still assume all games are made by massive companies who just want to milk money from them. We knew we could build a stronger community by telling them the truth – we’re a little team who love making games, and every download and every review makes a difference to us.

10% of our players now leave us a review, which massively helps us improve our games and engage more with the people who play them. And it makes us happy to know people are enjoying the games we’ve worked so hard to create.

Step two: Knowing your target audience

We knew about 80% of our players were girls and young women. But that wasn’t enough to understand them or know how best to communicate with them. This is where the ample reviews came in really useful.

Our reviewers were unlikely to say things like, “well designed, effective core gameplay loop, enjoyable to play”. They were more likely to say things like, “OMG I F***ING LOVE THIS GAME SO CUTE OMG” (followed by an endless stream of emojis)

This tells us a lot. Our audience is excitable, animated, and passionate. Just because they enjoy hyper-casual games, doesn’t mean they have hyper-casual personalities. By learning this about our users, it allowed us to write and speak on a more direct and personal level. This really does go a long way, and can help build a long-lasting relationship with your players.

Step three: Use the right social media channels

We started out on Facebook and Twitter, simply because they were the channels we knew best. But our artists (who are much younger than me) said that with our kawaii style and our target audience, Instagram should absolutely be our natural habitat.

They were right. After two months on Instagram, we’d already gained more followers than our Twitter and Facebook accounts had gained in two years.

These followers are much more active too. This is probably because Instagram is the perfect place for us to talk to our followers the way they talk to us – informal and excitable, with lots of capital letters, emojis, and hashtags. (Although we generally leave out the curse words.)

Setting clear goals

We aim to release one game every six months. For hyper-casual, that’s quite a long time. But we have high standards for our finished games – we don’t release a game until it’s really polished.

We usually start out developing three or four concepts, and then narrow our focus to just the one we think is strongest. And we always soft-launch our games to no more than ten thousand players – just to make sure there aren’t any problems we’ve missed.

We have clear goals for retention rates too:

  • 40% day 1 retention
  • 15% day 7 retention
  • 5% day 28 retention

This makes a big difference in free-to-play. For advertisers, it doesn’t matter if you have ten million downloads – with anything lower than 10% retention after 7 days, you won’t make much money.

We also like to make our games ‘friendly free to play’, so we design our games around the video ads they’ll host. We want players to watch the ads because they want to, rather than because they have to.

There are still plenty of niches out there

Hyper-casual games are growing fast. If you know the market and can see where the gaps are, you can create a whole new community of gamers who’ll come straight to you for the kinds of games they love playing.

That’s the power of having a niche. You just have to find the right one, and then create and market your games to fit neatly into it.

Thanks for reading. If you wanted to catch up on the other talks during GameAnalytics’ event, you can find them here. Also, here’s a copy of the video, in case you wanted to see me in action:

How We Found A Hyper-Casual Niche – Platonic Games