Voodoo Interview: Discussing the secrets of hyper-casual and hybrid-casual mobile games

Hyper-casuals offer a nice feeling, a feeling of power.

Hyper-casual and casual mobile games have a fair difference in terms of the overall user experience. But what happens when you merge the two together, and what are the results for both the industry and consumers? They are called Hybrid-casual games. Over the last 12 months, consumers have started engaging more with casual or mid-core games, with time spent on apps up by 80% in Q1 2021 compared to Q1 2019, and consumer spend hitting a huge $32billion over the same period. This shift in consumer behavior is triggering a change, with some developers looking to adopt a broader hybrid-casual business model in the future. And Voodoo is one of them. So, we at GamingonPhone sat down with Corentin Selz, a Publishing Manager at Voodoo, for an interview to break down what hybrid-casuals are all about.

Before we start the Voodoo interview, you might want to know that this relatively untapped market is starting to give hyper-casual developers in particular the opportunity to continue creating engaging core mechanics, while benefiting from hybrid monetization strategies, such as combining free-to-play and ad-based business models with in-app-purchases to boost revenue. 

Let us start the interview with a brief introduction of yourself

I joined Voodoo about 3.5 years ago. This is actually my first job in gaming, before that I trained and qualified as a lawyer in the UK but then I never actually practice so I got out of it. And then I joined Voodoo. Yeah when I arrived, I started off with the hyper-casual team, working with external developers around the world. Working with them to coach them on the product types, how to make games so going through all the value chain ideation, building, testing, and launching games with developers out, that’s been lots of fun. After 5 months I’ve switched to a different team at Voodoo to start a new initiative, to focus on hybrid casual games which is the topic of today’s conversation.

What is the origin of Hyper casual games?

I guess you could point to the old games like flappy birds. Maybe these games come around 2011 or 2012. These are the kind of forerunners of the hyper casuals. But then they would disappear out of here and there, made by indie developers, and the business model wasn’t ready. When Voodoo came around in 2016 – 2017, we crafted the business model and made it ads driven, not only on the monetization side but also on the marketing side to use cross-promotion to do aggressive user acquisition on games.

flappy bird
Flappy Bird

So that, combined with the work I was doing before, which is working with external studios and coaching them, helping them make better games, I guess that’s where it kind of came from and that’s how it grew into what the business is today.

From the last few years we have seen massive growth for the mobile games industry, particularly for the hyper-casual games. What are your thoughts on this?

Voodoo created the business model and that has actually allowed lots of people to make a living out of creating hyper-casual games. Because the business model was validated and worked for publishers and studios alike that encourages other studios to try their chance. And because it’s a very cheap production cycle where you build a game in 5 – 6 days, a lot of people were interested in it. The more people are interested in it, the more creativity it got, the more games were tested and that was the very virtuous cycle we saw in the hyper-casual ecosystem over the last 3 – 4 years.

Where do you see the hyper casual mobile games 5 years down the line?

I think it will definitely still be there. The best example I can give here is the food industry. And I think people want to eat. To me the industry is here to stay because it offers something that is quite unique and not offered by other products out there, it’s a short form of entertainment, that’s hyper-casual.

And what’s also really good and certain over the next 5 years plus what will be really interesting to follow is all the changes that are gonna come out of the innovations, happening mostly because of the very fast production system. A healthy cycle of failure and repeat until we find something that works. And that’s where this division is extremely strong when you compare that to other segments of the market where it takes 12 – 18 months of production. But with hyper-casual, it could be just really fast.

How hyper-casual games fit well with the rest of mobile games industry?

It offers entertainment in a very short format and that regardless of what people say, people like that, because it fits in small pockets of time. And we see players from all segments of the age group. Yes there will be people that really look down on hyper-casual and that’s fine, you can’t please everybody, but people from all the gamer segments come and enjoy hyper-casuals. And looking at the data, I think it fits quite well with the gaming habits of people.

Dunk hit, Dunk hit voodoo
Dunk Hit – a popular hyper casual title by Voodoo

What are the key elements of a successful hyper casual mobile game?

Understandability and Juice. Understandability means that you have to understand and act immediately like a universal language so if you didn’t know the movements, the images could explain what the game is about. And juice is when you’re playing the game in itself when you’re interacting with the phone and this has to be a very juicy, rewarding, and satisfying experience.

It has to be a nice feeling, a feeling of power. The interactions you are having with your phone are very simple instructions – tap, swipe and you drop. But the consequences of those interactions have to be tremendous in-game. We call that small action big reward.

What is the general lifespan of a successful hyper casual game?

Most of them that launch, stick around for 2, 3, 6 months when they work well. But for the really successful ones, every day we’re discovering new limits on their life. Some games have been working for over 3 years but I don’t think they will have more than maybe 10 years. However, these games are just the tip of the iceberg.

What are the key differences between Hyper-casual and Hybrid-casual?

People play hyper-casual games because there’s a nice mechanic, that is super rewarding, so you play for the mechanic. That’s enough maybe day one, day 3, maybe even day 7 retentions. But that’s it, beyond that people don’t really stick around. In hybrid casual, the ambition for voodoo is to add medium and long-term goals on top of the mechanic. Metric wise that means is going beyond day 7 looking at the 14 looking at the 30 retentions and improving those medium and long-term metrics. So from a product perspective, is giving these medium and long-term goals a shot! These goals can be creating any kind of features to give these medium and long-term goals a boost.

Recently I’ve been playing Pokemon and I think it’s just a perfect game that in one game it encapsulates so many medium and long-term goals that we see today. There is a progression system when you upgrade your Pokemon, it got a narrative, it got a progression map for you going forward throughout the world. for example, you can also take RPG game progressions. These in general add very meaningfully medium and long-term goals.

We see the core revenue model of a hyper casual games are various types of ads, and in most of the cases they are really aggressive. So what are your thoughts on this?

The ads model is something where we can monetize 100% of the users. Everybody with a game would see at least a cup, or a banner, or a video. I think the reason they’re aggressive is that we balanced out the pros and cons of monetization. So obviously if you put too many ads, it becomes aggressive and destroys retention.

voodoo, voodoo portfolio
A part of Voodoo’s portfolio on Google Play

However, when the developer is smarter about the frequency and the placement of ads, it can actually come as a nice break with the game. If you take a game that’s super competitive for example you’ll see an ad after you finish off a level off or you die. And it’s actually a nice pause in the game, a breath of fresh air with the flow between the levels. If you think of games that are a bit more relaxing, a nice way to integrate ads would be through rewarded videos where we give extra rewards to the pass through the levels, through skins, through extra currency. And these actually fit best for these types of users.

What if we turn the revenue model for a hyper casual games from in-app ads to a premium game (lets say $0.99 or $1.99), how would that work for the developers?

It would be going back in time, that’s how the market started off right there with the iPhone in 2007. It was paying apps. Today that would definitely not work. Philosophically speaking, what we want to achieve is a massive scale and massive impacts. If you put a price tag at the first entry point, which is installed, that significantly reduces the number of downloads we can have.

On the other hand, we may look more into adding the option to do in-app purchases, especially when we’re going into the hybrid casual market. As I mentioned about adding the medium and long term goals, and the effect of adding these goals is to increase long term retention and to increase playtime. When the people spend more time in your game, the odds are that they are they will spend more money in the game.

These days in-app purchases represent maybe 1 or 2 percent or 3 percent of revenue, and if we can balance and then change the ratio to something more you can reach 10 to 15 to 20 percent of in-app purchase revenue, it will be very interesting from the revenue side to see what a hyper-casual title can achieve.

Did you find the Voodoo interview insightful? Do let us know in the comments section below!

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