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Studios Battle for Players of ‘Hypercasual’ Videogames, the Latest Mobile Distraction

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One of the hottest video games to hit the market in June 2022 isn’t a fantasy action-adventure, or a multiplayer shooter with stunning visuals. It is a mobile game that asks players to stock a virtual refrigerator with milk and other miscellaneous items.

“Fill the Fridge”, a creation of Jibe Games published by Rollic Games, is “hypercasual”, an increasingly popular mobile genre that is distinguished by ultra-simple gameplay, repetitive and low-stakes challenges, often rudimentary graphics and a business model that relies heavily on advertising.

Users can learn to play in seconds and often without instructions. And some hyper-casual games don’t feel like games at all, instead tapping into the trend of autonomous meridian sensory response videos by asking players to paint virtual fingernails, pop virtual bubble wrap, and cut virtual objects.

But the publishers and studios behind these apps are beginning to add certain elements of complexity, such as leaderboards, multiplayer formats and in-app purchases, to historically simple games, seeking to retain players as the market saturates. and that significant technological changes make things more difficult. to monetize apps with advertising. “Hypercasual is still in its genesis phase with so many avenues to innovate around this wonderfully pure notion of essentially a single game loop,” said Clive Downie, senior vice president and general manager at Unity Technologies. Inc.,

a 3D content development platform used by hypercasual game designers. “Developers are looking for additional ways to add complexity and challenge to games.”

The popularity of hypercasual has exploded over the past couple of years. The number of hypercasual game downloads in 2021 rose from 12.6 billion in 2020 to 7.51 billion in 2019 to 15.6 billion, according to Data.AI, a data analytics and mobile phone company formerly known as App Annie’s name. .

Investment in space has grown at pace. ‘Words With Friends’ publisher Zynga Inc., which was acquired last month by ‘Grand Theft Auto’ publisher Take-Two, in 2020 bought an 80% stake in Rollic for around $180 million. dollars, while studios such as Homa Games, Ace Games, and Spyke have each raised several million dollars in funding rounds led by venture capital and private equity firms over the past year.

According to Jay Uppal, management consultant at video game market data firm Newzoo, recent cash injections have put additional pressure on a market already saturated with hyper-casual games. Hypercasual games are quick and inexpensive to develop, and studios are using a strategy of releasing volumes of them to online app stores to test user interest and see which ones resonate, he said.

“We are able to test around 800 different prototypes per month on the App Store with real users, and very quickly we can see if a game has potential,” said Alexandre Yazdi, general manager of Voodoo SAS, a developer French backed by Goldman Sachs. and publisher of hypercasual games. “On average, two become hit games.”

Gameplay of “Deliver It 3D”, one of Voodoo’s most popular hypercasual games.


Photo:

Voodoo/goofy player

Land grabbing by studios for gamers has led to a phenomenon of clones. Developers periodically copy successful game concepts from other studios, modify them enough to avoid intellectual property disputes, and upload their own versions with similar names and descriptions. For players captivated by “Fill the Fridge”, for example, there are also “Fill Up Fridge”, “Fridge Restock”, “Fridge Organizing” and “Fridge Master 3D”. Hypercasual game publishers are also spending big to promote their games in the form of ads on other games, as well as on social media platforms such as TikTok, in their quest for user acquisition, gaming executives say .

Alongside traditional interstitial ads, many publishers offer reward ads, which entice players to watch a certain number of ads in exchange for an in-game bonus, and playable ads, which allow users to play a version demonstration of an advertised game.

A rush of users has prompted some advertisers to get creative. Some advertise gameplay that doesn’t reflect the true content of the advertised game, or depict someone deliberately misplaying a game to appeal to players’ sense of competition, Newzoo’s Mr Uppal said.

An advertisement for the nail salon game “Acrylic Nails”, for example, shows a player cutting a virtual client’s nails so badly that they bleed, although this doesn’t seem possible in the game itself. CrazyLabs, the studio behind the game, did not respond to requests for comment.

The simplicity of hypercasual means players play for shorter periods of time — and lose interest more quickly — than those in more complex games, Uppal said. That means publishers have historically relied on a steady stream of new users to monetize a game through ad revenue and have developed a culture of “new users at all costs,” he said.

That appears to be shifting in favor of strategies focused on retaining existing players, which the studios hope will ease the cost pressures of endless user acquisition campaigns and diversify revenue beyond advertising.

Voodoo is starting to create more games that offer in-app purchases, allow users to earn cash or cryptocurrency, and challenge them with long-term goals, Yazdi said. The idea is to keep them hooked, rather than pushing them to quickly flip through various other games, he added.

The rise of play-to-earn video games – in which players trade NFTs – offers a glimpse of how the metaverse could entice users with monetary rewards, and the pushbacks that could come with it. Photo illustration: Josephine Chu

Apple Inc.

2021 update to its operating system’s privacy policy, making it harder for companies like Snap Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc.

to collect data that indicates which ads are shown to which users, further persuaded Voodoo to develop more games that can generate revenue from in-app purchases, rather than advertising alone, he added.

Rollic, meanwhile, is updating some of its most popular games with new layers of gameplay to keep gamers invested, according to Burak Vardal, the company’s co-founder and CEO.

“High Heels,” a game that challenges players to walk a model down a track in sky-high stilettos while collecting gems and dodging obstacles, now offers players the chance to adopt pets for their avatar, for example. Rollic has also started adding online leaderboards that pit players against other games in real time to raise the gameplay stakes, Vardal said.

“If you had suggested adding this to a hypercasual game two years ago, [the industry] would have laughed at you,” he said. “But we did, and it worked really well.”

Corrections & Amplifications
“FIll the Fridge” was created by Jibe Games and is published by Rollic Games. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the game was a creation of Rollic. (Corrected July 21)

Write to Katie Deighton at katie.deighton@wsj.com

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