5 profit-driving benefits of hybrid-casual games
In the mobile gaming industry, casual and hyper-casual games are prevalent on app stores. In fact, hyper-casual games were the number one genre for mobile game downloads worldwide in Q3 2021 with over 3.5 billion downloads. They’re simple to develop, easy for users to learn how to play, and their quick-to-win nature makes them both attractive and addicting. But with notoriously low engagement and user retention amongst these casual games, mobile game developers needed to make a change. This change has materialized in the form of a massive rise in the number of hybrid-casual mobile games.
What is a hybrid-casual game?
A hybrid-casual game is a mobile game with casual or hyper-casual core game mechanics which are boosted by the features and monetization models of mid-core games. Still an emerging category of mobile games, hybrid-casual games retain the positive easy-to-pick-up nature of hyper-casual or casual mobile games for users while improving on cost per install and lifetime value for app developers.
Hybrid-casual vs hyper-casual games
Let’s rewind quickly and take a look at the full range of mobile game categories to see why this merging of features is so successful. Marketers usually distinguish the category of mobile gaming apps according to their mechanics and level of user engagement required.
- Hyper-casual games: "Tap-to-play" games that usually require nothing more than one or two swipes or taps to be played. The most beginner level mobile gamers can easily play these games.
- Casual games: Simple gameplay mechanics that demand little time or effort from the user to learn or play thereafter. Think of games meant to be played when you are waiting for the bus.
- Mid-core games: Games that require skills and strategy to progress, while also being more demanding of the user’s time.
Hardcore games: Intensive, detailed gameplay that requires a lot of time commitment to be both mastered and played.
Now, we have the new category of hybrid-casual games. In mobile gaming, hybrid means a combination of the above categorizations. When defining hybrid-casual mobile games, however, hardcore game features are not included. The most noticeable and common mid-core feature to add to a casual core is a game economy, whether simple or intricate. With the introduction of a game economy alone, mobile game developers are able to diversify their revenue streams.
Think of hybrid-casual mobile games as having the following “recipe”:
Casual or hyper-casual core game mechanic + mid-core features meta layered within + in-app purchases = hybrid-casual game
Why hybrid-casual games are so successful
When you take a look at the numbers, it’s clear why so many developers of casual mobile games are turning to the hybrid model. As of July 2022, mid-core games have accounted for nearly 37% of market share of mobile game revenue in the U.S. alone. The breadth of monetization strategies available with mid-core features make these ganes a popular choice for app developers.
Mid-core features are equally popular with users. Average playtime within the top 25% of each game category jumps from 28 minutes in casual games to 35 minutes in mid-core games. Install ratios increase from 51% for casual games to 54% for mid-core games.
The good news is you don’t have to develop a new hybrid-casual game. You can convert your existing hyper-casual or casual mobile game by adding meta layers over time. This approach is not only more budget-friendly as you spread out the additional development requirements, but also helps maintain user interest because you are constantly releasing more engaging features.
Not yet convinced? Here are 5 reasons you should turn your casual game into a hybrid-casual game.
- Competitive advantage: The hyper-casual market is oversaturated and extremely competitive. When choosing between the same gameplay, users will often search no further than the top 3 search results. Give users a game that is both easy and provides continued, unique value over time to keep them coming back.
- Increased user acquisition: Your app has just opened itself up to a much wider audience by attracting players who are interested in the types of gameplay features you’re adding through your meta layers. Convert to the hybrid model to differentiate your app with features that will draw more users in.
- Better engagement: Quick games naturally lead to short sessions. Meta layers give players something to work on once they’ve finished a core gameplay session, helping to keep users’ interest and therefore extend players’ sessions.
- Longer retention: Give users more reasons to come back with new content, additions to gameplay, and continuous opportunities for progression.
More opportunities to monetize: Typically casual and hyper-casual games are monetized with in-app ads alone. Adding these meta layers introduces new opportunities for in-app purchases and therefore diversified revenue streams for app developers.
7 types of meta layers to make your game hybrid
What do these mid-core features look like in the form of meta layers? Here are a few examples of meta layers you can add to a hyper-casual or casual mobile game to make it a hybrid-casual game. Add any combination that suits your game and your users’ interests.
1. Narrative meta layer
Guide players through a storyline with character dialogue or introduce conversational pop-ups from in-game characters.
Example: Farming game Family Island includes an overlaying narrative with a cast of characters, guiding the user throughout a long-term storyline that connects to the core gameplay. New features and achievements are also “announced” by in-game characters via speech bubbles.
2. Decoration meta layer
Earning rewards, currency, or building up gameplay time allows users to incrementally and continuously decorate a location like a house, world, or camp, or decorations can be earned for characters like clothing, makeup, or accessories.
Example: Merge-3 game Merge Dragons offers a “camp” gameplay where users can earn in-app currency to purchase various decorations for their dragons’ base. The more that users interact with the core gameplay or the camp gameplay the more land is made available for use.
3. Customization meta layer
Users can customize the look and feel of their core gameplay from their character to the game’s skin (font, colors, or theme).
Example: Word game World's Biggest Crossword offers customizable backgrounds for players as they complete puzzles.
4. Upgrade meta layer
Allow players to upgrade items related to gameplay such as tools, their character’s skill or appearance, or aspects of sideplay games like buildings or rewards.
Example: Archery game Bowmasters allows users to purchase upgraded characters by using the in-app currency they earn through gameplay.
5. Collection systems meta layer
Collect skins, characters, rewards, or resources by spending a certain amount of time in-app, earning in-app currencies, completing levels, and so on.
Example: Archery game Archero sprinkles loot boxes throughout gameplay that include with special rewards such as rare abilities or additional health points, in exchange for in-game currency.
6. Social meta layer
Provide a way for users to play alongside each other with guild systems, dual playing modes, or live events.
Example: Word game Words with Friends allows users to play in real-time with other real-life players, from friends to strangers.
7. Special playing modes meta layer
Introduce limited-time playing modes, events, characters, etc. The time frame could be based on a season or holiday, a sponsorship, the day of the week, and so on.
Example: Merge-3 game Project Makeover teamed up with Queer Eye to release a limited “time makeover” event which swapped out their usual characters for avatars of Queer Eye’s Fab 5 cast.
While we’ve seen hybrid-casual games beginning to crop up over the past several years, the pace is really starting to pick up as the benefits of introducing mid-core features become increasingly apparent.