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Introduction to Hybridcasual Gaming

As the costs of acquiring mobile players have increased, one of the genres hit hardest was Hypercasual, which relied on high volume and high churn to monetize through aggressive exposure to ads over shallow gameplay. With the challenge being the acquisition of NEW players, the obvious solution is to increase the retention and monetization of the players you can attract, while still maintaining the low initial development and prototyping costs associated with Hypercasual gameplay.

However, increasing retention is not a trivial task, especially as casual games become more complex, spanning a spectrum of depth that extends all the way up to mid-core and hard-core games. The lesson from casual games is that the gameplay itself doesn’t need to be deep; instead, the meta-game elements provide depth over time. A key challenge for games transitioning from Hypercasual to Hybrid Casual is designing an economy that supports the meta-game connected to shallow action arcade gameplay.

In order to delve into the details of a successful economic transition, we will examine two games from the company often cited in the “Hypercasual-is-dead” discussions: Voodoo. This Publisher has been quite successful in applying the Hypercasual methodology to identify compelling hooks, and then upgrading the games to Hybrid Casual when it makes sense. For this analysis, we will focus on two games centered around masses of little blue characters: Crowd City and Mob Control.

Case Study: Crowd City’s Simple Economy

Crowd City exemplifies the quintessential straightforward action hypercasual design. It uses a premise of trying to grow bigger by consuming other smaller players that is common in the io style of games that often inspire hypercasual games. The game includes a minimal layer of elements on top of cosmetic skins (no actual gameplay functionality) and leaderboard competition. The game’s currency consists of People acquired during matches (played against simulated players). This currency enables a meaningful progression across matches within the io style gameplay, while also facilitating increased opportunities for both forced and rewarded ads to enhance monetization. The acquired people are utilized for upgrades, enhancing scoring potential. Skins are obtained through keys found during matches, which unlock chests offering a chance at a random skin; however, these skins do not impact gameplay.

Mitigating Currency Inflation with Creative Solutions

A fundamental issue with the typical hypercasual economy design is its simple currency inflation and the superficial depth of expenditure opportunities. In the realm of ad-supported gaming, it is logical to permit unlimited player engagement with constant ad exposure, as opposed to employing casual design’s restrictive mechanisms, such as energy systems. Inflation becomes an inevitable consequence of earning currency with each gameplay. To mitigate this, the cost of available upgrades, serving as a currency sink, escalates with each purchase, aiming to prolong and deepen the currency’s utility. Despite these efforts, the diminishing returns on the meta-goal of leaderboard advancement necessitate mere repetitive play. Voodoo, aiming to avoid the game’s decline, introduced a retention strategy by incorporating a mission system, complete with a separate Mission Leaderboard.

The mission system requires players to allocate “people” towards missions, which essentially act as timers rewarding XP. This XP boosts the player’s position on the Mission Leaderboard, which is reset weekly. This mechanism provides a continuous currency sink without altering the gameplay, shifting the focus from leaderboard grinding to basic retention and progression on the mission leaderboard. Regrettably, the system’s lack of depth and gameplay impact, coupled with the artificiality of player interaction, limits its effectiveness over time. Nonetheless, Voodoo’s subsequent title, Mob Control, showcases their capability to imbue games with greater depth, despite starting from a similarly superficial basis.

Transitioning to Hybridcasual: Mob Control’s Approach

Mob Control features gameplay that diverges slightly from Crowd City and follows another trend at the time, which involved sending people or bullets through multiplier gates. It centers around mobs of little blue people who are launched from a cannon, including an occasional giant version. Unlike using people as currency, the game opts for a more traditional approach with coins. The gameplay remains relatively simple and straightforward, yet the variety in level design has been increased to reduce repetitiveness.

Introducing Complexity: The Clash Royale-Style Card System

The game’s first economic layer began with a premise similar to that of Crowd City, focusing on spending coins to upgrade both basic and giant characters. However, once Mob Control was recognized for its potential as a Hybridcasual game, the upgrade system was enhanced in complexity and depth by adopting a Clash Royale-style card system. This addition not only introduced the need to collect an additional, random reward—cards—but also advanced beyond mere cosmetic changes by allowing different cards to affect gameplay. This provided players with goals and incentives, keeping the gameplay engaging. Economically, this approach maintained vertical spending growth akin to Crowd City’s upgrades while enabling horizontal expansion through the addition of new cards over time.

Learning from Crowd City’s mission system, Mob Control introduced a leaderboard system that incorporated timers and economic sinks as part of the progression system. Players could now earn Bricks from battles, which served as crucial resources for building their base and added depth and variety to earnings. Players initially use these bricks to construct three main buildings: Expeditions, Barracks, and Defense.

Building a Sustained Engagement Model

A brief overview of these buildings reveals that they require bricks and a timer to produce coins, rank stars, XP, and a base shield in the case of Defense. Rank stars contribute to your leaderboard rank, similar to Crowd City, but Mob Control organizes ranks into league groupings, with higher-tier leagues offering increased resources from battles. XP contributes to upgrading the buildings themselves, increasing their production timers, costs, and output. Each building has unique production characteristics, with Expeditions primarily generating coins, Defense offering a base shield while producing fewer coins, and Barracks acting as a sink for excess cards by requiring cards in addition to bricks for production. These buildings provide a consistent long-term progression system, with timers and resource costs pacing progression for sustained engagement.

The game also enhances its mostly faked social elements by introducing a base storage and attack system, where players store bricks in their Town Hall and protect it from looting with up to three shields. Expanding the Town Hall’s capacity over time encourages spending to prevent battles from yielding no brick earnings due to maxed-out storage. This spending is further incentivized by the threat of attacks from simulated players, which necessitates acquiring shields from Defense to minimize potential losses.

Additionally, Mob Control features a season pass system with daily, weekly, and seasonal missions that offer rewards from both free and premium tracks. These missions, which require a mix of battle participation, resource acquisition, and upgrade spending, enhance retention by extending engagement over time.

Innovative Monetization Strategies

Monetization in Mob Control is more complex than in Crowd City, thanks to these elements. Alongside a substantial use of ads for free player monetization, the game offers a variety of spending options, including in-app purchases (IAP) for coins, booster packs of cards, a premium season pass, two levels of VIP subscriptions, two different starter packs, and an ad-skipping currency called Skip-Its. This setup effectively boosts both retention and monetization without significantly complicating gameplay, apart from the added variety from the card system.

Balancing the Economy for Engagement and Revenue

The real challenge lies in balancing the economic elements to maintain player engagement and encourage spending or ad viewing. With earning opportunities like coins and bricks being virtually uncapped and scaling with league promotion, the game smartly employs spending gates and throttles, such as card requirements for upgrades and timers for building progression, to pace the season pass and maintain a healthy economic balance. Without the economic levers both retention and monetization quickly suffer and the game ends back in Hypercasual territory.

While earning coins is unrestricted, acquiring them primarily requires active play, as using buildings to generate coins necessitates bricks obtained from battles, with timer lengths increasing with each building upgrade. This constraint on passive earnings encourages ad viewing to supplement coin acquisition. The Town Hall’s limited brick storage capacity discourages excessive gameplay without engaging in building upgrades, which can be expedited by watching more ads. Importantly, the game’s overarching goal revolves around using buildings to earn rank stars, ensuring that coin spending on card upgrades contributes to the broader brick and timer economy rather than directly to progression. The primary method of obtaining cards—through booster packs earned in battles—creates a cycle of play and spending that keeps players engaged.

Mitigating Risks: Balancing Play Intensity and Economic Inflation

Now, the risk here is that driving too heavy of play risks inflation problems like in Crowd City, but that’s mitigated here by keeping the leaderboard tied to buildings and creating larger amounts that need to be saved up for both in increasing card upgrade costs but also in the number of cards required to upgrade. The shop also has 3 daily card options available for coins which helps sink some coins into cards that way as well, although it would probably help if booster packs of cards could be bought for escalating coin costs. In addition there is an important motivator to collect and upgrade cards beyond just preference, season pass missions. Many of these missions require the use or upgrading of specific cards so that players can’t just stick to the ones they like. The missions requiring winning with certain cards help force players to consider upgrading those cards as the difficulty of winning scales with the player’s rank so that upgrading cards is required to keep up with the curve and the increase in resources won by rank scales slowly. Exclusive season pass reward cards are the cherry on top of motivating players here.

One of the more unique aspects of the economy worth considering for monetization is the idea of Skip-Its as an ad skipping currency. These allow players the option to spend money to get the rewards from rewarded ads without needing to watch the ad, but for a price higher than the ad itself would have paid Voodoo. These Skip-Its are occasionally given out as rewards, but sparingly and without the kind of risk usually accompanying giving away a premium currency because the economy is balanced around these rewarded ads already existing. The Skip-It’s also act as a nice kicker to give away as part of bundles and for the premium season pass as an incentive that doesn’t really cost Voodoo anything significant due to the fact that it’s usually for already getting the player to spend.

Conclusion: The Future of Hybridcasual Gaming

All of these features and economic complexity simply underpins the truth that Hybridcasual can be more profitable now than Hypercasual but it forces developers to carefully structure the meta-game and design a well thought out economy to reap the benefits. Of course, developers can also just go straight to casual gaming, but gameplay in casual games has stagnated into slowly evolving groups of copycats while Hypercasual-style core gameplay at least offers the opportunity to try lots of new ideas and build on those that work. When it comes to building that economy we can help make the process as easy as prototyping your next Hypercasual gameplay.