Hybrid-casual: the secret sauce to higher retention and better engagement

Hybrid-casual games

Cover image source: Archero by Habby

Hybrid-casual is a fairly new concept to enter the gaming world. You may have heard the whispers around the industry and a few hybrid-casual games already entering the app stores. But it’s starting to make its mark in the market. Players are starting to spend more time in games (with time spent in apps up 80% from 2019 to 2021). And in response, Developers and studios alike are turning their attention to this new type of game development, and reaping the benefits (if done correctly).

So what exactly is hybrid-casual? How does this differ from hyper-casual? And what do you need to do to get started?

That’s what we aim to cover. Let’s dig in.

So, what are hybrid-casual games?

It’s when you mix together the simple core gameplay of hyper-casual, with the features and monetization models of mid-core. The hyper-casual market is oversaturated and extremely competitive. So the idea originally came about from developers and publishers experimenting with more features and mechanics in a bid to engage their players and increase retention.

To put it simply, hybrid-casual breaks down into three parts:

  • Keeping a simple core mechanic: So still sticking to the short, simple, and satisfying rule of hyper-casual titles. You’ll have one core mechanic for your game, which is still intuitive and easy to learn.
  • Layering in mid-core game features: So adding in progression events, leaderboards, collectables, and more, to add more depth to your game.
  • Adding in-app purchases: Offering IAPs, or even subscription options, alongside your ad strategy.

Why the shift from hyper-casual?

For years, we’ve been reading that hyper-casual is the king of the mobile gaming industry. That this genre is one of the fastest-growing genres out there. Which is true, but it’s starting to hit its peak.

So why the shift? Before we explain that, here’s some background on the state of hyper-casual gaming.

Hyper-casual has little to no other features

Hyper-casual games all focus on one core mechanic. They’re stripped back of any other features, and just focus on simple and intuitive gameplay. It takes seconds for the player to get the gist of these types of games, and usually are as straightforward as swiping or pressing a button.

Aqua Park game

Image source: Aquapark by Voodoo 

But they tend to suffer from low engagement and retention

Hyper-casual games are addictive, but repetitive. It’s due to a simple core gameplay, and lack of any additional features or motivations. Players will ultimately lose interest over time, as they don’t have a reason to come back.

Another culprit of this is due to the oversaturation in the market. This genre is the entry-point for mobile game developers. They’re simple and quick to make. You have a lot of people now teaching themselves to code and build games, starting with hyper-casual. And you see more studios turning to hyper-casual because there are more accessible deals from publishers.

So there’s an ocean of these types of games out there. In turn affecting CPI rates, retention, playtime, and LTV (lifetime value).

The ad monetization model alone isn’t working

Hyper-casual relies on ads. Interstitial and rewarded are popular types here. And it works. Players want a fun, free-to-play game that will fill up their time. And, up until now, it’s been a successful model. But with the growing competitive market, it’s not cutting it anymore.

And this affects the amount you can make from these games

To truly be successful when making hyper-casual games, you need low CPI, and high D0 through to D14 retention. Because hyper-casual games rely on ads, if your players don’t stick around and play enough of your game, your ARPU (average revenue per user) will suffer. And worse case, you make a loss.

Hybrid-casual helps increase retention and engagement

If you want to increase your retention, you need to give a reason for your players to come back. The best way to do this is by offering progression and different meta layers and features. So that they can have a sense of achievement from your game and a new motivation to play.

Archero gameplay

Image source: Bowmasters by Playgendary Limited

It gives breathing room for your CPI

Once you have IAPs in your games, your can afford to have a slightly higher CPI. It gives you the opportunity and time to increase your retention and session length, depending on the type of hybrid game.

How to develop a hybrid-casual game

It’s not as simple as just slapping on a couple of extra features. And although this genre is new and still evolving, there’s a few steps you can take to getting this right.

Step 1: Work on your game design

What we’ve been chatting about in this blog. Pair together the simple, fun mechanics from a hyper-casual title with the features and progression from midcore. But don’t just shove in random features. It’s about building a nice engaging game with progressions which you can slowly introduce players to.

Step 2: Experiment with your creatives

Optimize your ads to not only engage hyper-casual players, but also new player types. You may need to experiment with showing those new features to see what what works best for your ad creatives. And what people will react to best. You’ll need to go through plenty of rounds of testing, but you’re opening your game up to a world of new players.

Step 3: Nail your production process

Although this may be longer now, you can still transfer a lot of these skills and practices over  from hyper-casual (so optimizing creatives, ideation stage, prototyping, etc). It’s worth noting, you can expect your development cycle for these types of game to be slightly longer (so, say, for an experienced studio, four to six weeks, rather than the typical one to two weeks development time). But keep that hyper-casual testing mentality. There’s value in rapid testing.

Step 4: Perfect your monetization model

The big thing we’re gonna talk about here is balance. Going hybrid-casual means layering in IAPs. But there needs to be a level of commitment before someone will part with their cash. You’ll need medium to long term goals to get your players invested.

Players are unlikely to dip into the pockets right away. And they won’t do it for nothing. Here’s what we know players are willing to spend on:

  • Equiping new cosmetics: Skins for characters or weapons. People love customizing their look and expressing their identity.
  • Sending a gift: This implies you have a social element to your game, which is something you could easily do.
  • Getting an competitive edge: Whether they want a second chance at a level, or a much-needed boost to beat a boss.
  • Unlocking new content: This could be new equipment, characters, maps, or even bonus levels.
  • Skipping timers: If there’s a locked level or item tied to a time-element, some players may want to wait and unlock then and there.

The earlier you consider your monetization strategy in the game design stage then the easier it’ll be. It’ll be baked into the gameplay, the progression and upgrades. You can’t just take a hyper-casual game and layer in IAPs. It’s not built for that.

Step 5: Assemble your team

There’s not a one-size fits all here. It depends on what type of hybrid-casual game you want to make. But you’ll likely need some more resources and help. A good 3D artist a great place to start, as you’ll want to polish off the artwork and style. Hyper-casual games look the way they are for a reason. It’s to do with CPI. The more polished a game looks, the higher CPI it may have. Which doesn’t work for hyper-casual, but is okay for hybrid.

You can also consider tools and platforms which offer these types of features out of the box. Companies like LookLocker or PlayFab, for example, have premade game systems to save developers time here.

Take a note out of Archero’s book

Archero is easily considered to be the first true hybrid-casual game. The controls are simple and intuitive. All the player needs to do is move around and shoot (both done in one fluid action). And the core loop is straightforward. You fight, get rewards, and then improve your character and equipment.

But what Habby has done is layered in features to add depth to the game. Players can get access to collectibles, new abilities, and upgrades to their weapons. These all scream roleplaying game. And that would be the case, yet these features have also been stripped back and simplified, to appeal to the casual gamer.

Archero monetizes with in-app purchases, subscriptions, and rewarded ads. And it works, because players are motivated by the gameplay. These types of monetization models simply wouldn’t work with a purely hyper-casual game, because the player has no incentive to do so.

A data warehouse can help perfect hybrid-casual games

We mentioned it above. But one of the most important elements behind hybrid-casual is striking that balance of showing ads, encouraging subscriptions, or pushing IAPs.

Data warehouses can make it easy and faster to make important decisions. It can help you decide which items to push, and which ones to scrap. Which players you should show more IAPs to, and which ones you should show more ads to. And much more.

We actually offer data warehouse of our own, which we’ve coined the name Player Warehouse (creative, we know). You can learn more about that here.

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