Developers, Lion Studios, Casual

Pro Tips: Design, Development, and Distribution of Hyper-Casual Games

by Yubin Liu on Aug 23, 2021

Lion Studios recently participated an expert panel at PGC Digital #7, moderated by Brian Baglow, Managing Editor at PocketGamer.biz. The panelists included Erhaan Ahmad, Business Development at Lion Studios by AppLovin, Riley Andersen, CEO at Umami Games, Balaji Thangaraj Vijayan, Head of Publishing at Sunday Games, and Natalia Pakhomova, Partnerships Manager at Admix.

The group shared insightful learnings based on their extensive experience of working on hyper-casual game design, development, and distribution. Here are a few takeaways. 

What are the key principles of designing a hyper-casual game?

Accessibility is crucial. “When we design the game, we want the user to understand what the game is about and how to play, while also making sure it’s on-trend with a touch of uniqueness to stand out of the crowd,” Riley said, adding that Umami Games has very strict rules about its prototyping process and tries to find the right balance between game experience and profit. 

Erhaan of Lion Studios said he believes in the power of clarity and synergy. “By presenting an idea clearly, you’ll have a better estimation of its potential,” he said. “At Lion Studios, we use our experience and data to validate ideas, and we encourage a low barrier to entry despite the high failure rate. One benefit of working in volume is that you get to see a lot of mistakes, which is an essential learning process for us.” 

Balaji also addressed the importance of balancing the fine line between creativity and data right from day one of the ideation process, whereas Natalia observed that some hyper-casual game developers have started to build monetization into the early stage of game design by implementing in-play ads to bring additional revenue without harm to the user experience, with Brian underscoring that this is a hugely profitable area of gaming. 

How should developers approach the hyper-casual game development process? 

The panel agreed that it’s vital to have a clearly defined goal for each stage of development, from ideation to post-publishing. “You’ll first focus on marketability and then come to the retention, the goal is to make each change through A/B testing and see what works right,” Balaj said.

Another point panelists agreed on was that clarity should be a main focus in the development cycle, especially at the initial stage. “We want to capture the attention of someone who’s not necessarily looking for a game by showing satisfying interactions within two seconds and make them want to jump in and play the game,” Erhann said.

Riley, who works with a lean team, sees that capacity has shown its importance when it comes to competing with bigger studios on the hit rate. Of course it also requires the same quality and creativity in order to succeed. 

How are hyper-casual games distributed? 

The main thing is to balance your UA cost and monetization strategy, Erhaan said. “The principle is to set up a mediation in your game and figure out how you want to use all the channels,” he said. “You want to be able to measure your marketing cost and back it against your LTV. For specific channels, specific sources, you will need to get granular in order to scale your game.”

On a final note, panelists agreed that a good platform helps with marketability because it allows you to reach a large group of audience through the ads. Similar to Erhaan’s point, Balaj’s team is using their business intelligence tools to extrapolate what they can achieve, and from there they go into retention and LTV numbers.

“A soft launch is unlikely to fail except for one or two factors, which is that your UA cost suddenly increased and your eCPM dropped due to certain external market factors,” Balaj said. You need to have a solid idea of how much each user will cost versus its lifetime value to ensure positive ROI. After that, the amount of scale just depends on your budget.  

For Umami Games, which usually launches their games in the biggest markets first, such as the U.S., Japan and China, they focus on a game’s overall LTV per country, per network, and the CPI once the game starts to scale up. They optimize the traffic and evaluate each country before making the final decision. 

You can watch the full recorded session below. 

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Yubin Liu is a Marketing Associate at AppLovin.