Back

TapNation Playbook – A Complete Guide to Developing a Profitable Hypercasual Game

TapNation – Jul 10, 2024

Introduction

Hypercasual games have exploded onto the gaming scene, and quickly demonstrated the unrivaled competitive advantage of elegance and simplicity. The term itself became popular in mid-2018, when the bouncing ball game with rotating towers Helix Jump, blew up in the mobile market and became the most downloaded game of 2018, surpassing Fortnite and PUBG with 334 million downloads. Whether it was a coincidence or not, the popularity of this game took place at the same time as the introduction of the new term, “Hypercasual game” into the game designer’s list.

It is essential to grasp a deep understanding of the appeal of hypercasual games before trying to create them. The term “Hypercasual” refers to mobile games that are lightweight, minimally designed, and can be created quickly while providing a high level of engagement and replayability. Use minimalist, straight forward interfaces and tried-and-true design principles to attract the greatest number of players. 

AppMagic top 2024 hypercasual mobile games

Our aim here isn’t to guide you into making a hypercasual game today. We strive to tell you how to create successful hypercasual games that will stand the test of time A game that won’t get lost in the crowd, and will earn a lot of money.

Are you ready to jump right in? Then let us proceed and make our way to the VIP list on Google Play and the App Store as quickly as possible.

Let’s look at these steps and understand the process of development:

  1. Game Design
  2. Game Art
  3. Game Development
  4. User Acquisition
  5. Game Monetization
  6. Tips for getting published

 

STEP 1 – HYPERCASUAL GAME DESIGN

 

(A) BRAINSTORM IDEA

Good brainstorming isn’t just throwing random ideas around.

At first, you should analyze the current trends in the hypercasual game market. Then each person taking part in your brainstorming process should try to find the key element in those trendy games. The simple, intuitive element that attracts players (game mechanics, art style, settings, etc.). After this analysis, try to put as many ideas as possible on paper.

Remember that when brainstorming, you should always focus on the potential of an idea rather than its risks. All ideas should be accepted at first, no matter how crazy and difficult they might be. Difficulty and risk assessment are for later, you should keep an open mind during brainstorming, and start from the theory that all the concepts could become hits. Usually, at this point, some ideas will already be more appealing or popular than the rest.

Then try to elevator pitch the idea to someone who wasn’t in the brainstorming, and watch their reaction: do they understand the concept? Do they visualize it? And are they hyped by it?

Tips by TapNation Dev. for Gaming Ideas:

Snackable:
Hypercasual games are played a couple of minutes per day spread over multiple small sessions. Those games are played while waiting or on the road, and thus players should be able to stop the game without being penalized for their gaming experience. To do so, small levels of a minute or two are best suited for the hypercasual players.

Intuitive:
Hypercasual games are made so that everyone can play them, so they should be accessible to anyone. The more intuitive, clear, and straightforward your game looks, the more people you can hope to attract.

Flattering Visuals:
Players will most likely come to play your game after seeing it in an ad. It’s in the first 3 seconds of the ads that you are most likely to convert a viewer into a player, so you better make the game as visually appealing as possible to stand out.

Reward Player:
Each session you play should feel like a Jackpot in a casino. But since playtime in hypercasual games is short, you want to make sure your player gets their jackpot, their satisfaction, no matter how long they’ve played. And the best way to do it is to plan as many satisfying elements as possible (rewards) obtainable throughout the game. Little Jackpot, big jackpot doesn’t matter, as long as players are gaining something for everything they do in the game.

Introduce Obstacles progressively:
The first 3 levels should always be super easy. Starting from level 4, obstacles and new gameplay elements should arrive progressively, one by one. You don’t want to burn all your content within the first 5 levels.

Create Maximum levels:
To keep hypercasual game players around for the longest time possible, you need to create a habit of playing your game in the player’s life. Something to play “a couple of levels every morning”. But unlike habits, you don’t want the players to play consistently the same level. You still want to create novelty while staying true to the reason the player downloaded the game in first place. And the best way to accomplish that is to make as many levels as possible with small variations between each of them to create a good surprise/habits ratio.

(B) 3C & CORE MECHANIC

Once the development of the hypercasual game starts, the first thing that you should spend time on are the 3C (Character, Camera, Controls). The 3C are what the player will see / use 90% of the time in your game, so you want them to be as polished and satisfying as possible.

If you manage to optimize the 3C close to perfection, the rest of the game will be bonus. Because only interacting with the character will be satisfying in itself.

For the core mechanics: think depth rather than diversity. Once you have your core mechanic, think about the different situations you could use it in.

Archero is the best example in that case: the mechanic is always the same (Hold and drag to move / stop to start shooting). But by adding random tweaks to this core hypercasual gameplay via the random upgrades, it will change your entire playstyle, while still using the same mechanic.

Another good example is Mario. In Mario the core mechanic is to jump to survive, you must first learn to jump above holes and obstacles. Then you discover that you can jump and hit bricks to find bonuses… And afterwards, learn to time and control your jump, and land on enemies to kill them. So, in the end, there is only one mechanic (jumping), but depending on how you use it, you can explore, gather or kill.

In conclusion: for the prototyping phase, focus on the 3C and the core gameplay. If those elements are perfect, 90% of the game is done, and the rest is just polishing and making it look better.

STEP 2 – HYPERCASUAL GAME ART

 

(A) ART DIRECTION

Art direction can be a game changer in our quest for the best CPI. Some art directions are most suitable for specific types of games. This is not an absolute truth (there are always exceptions) but for instance, games about cars perform better with realistic graphics. Whereas games like runners perform better in a cartoon / low poly art style. Testing different art directions early is a good idea to understand what your audience’s preferences are. It is important to benchmark your game, and verify what is the most recurring art style for a given game genre. You might think that it would be best to do things differently in order to stand out. But in general, there is a reason why all the competition goes for a similar art style for a specific genre (because it works).

However, it shouldn’t mean that you should copy exactly the looks of similar games. You can choose the same art direction (ex: cartoon) but still manage to express your uniqueness in the way you do it. Shortcut Run and Wacky Race are both in cartoon style, but are nothing alike. Differences can be through the colors, the environment, the animations, the characters, etc., while remaining true to the same artistic direction.

In the dynamic world of game publishing, keeping up with current trends like Skibidi Toilet and Poppy Playtime is crucial. Additionally, adhering to some fundamental principles can significantly boost your game’s appeal and success.

  • Optimize for Mobile Viewing: Remember that visuals will be quite small on phones. Ensure your designs are easily visible and recognizable on smaller screens.
  • Use Bright, Saturated Colors: Bright, saturated colors tend to attract more attention and can make your game more visually appealing.
  • Keep the Composition Simple and Clear: A straightforward and uncluttered composition helps players quickly understand and engage with your game.
  • Make it Dynamic and Visually Appealing: Dynamic visuals capture interest and encourage users to explore your game further.
  • Follow the Artistic Direction: Consistency is key. Ensure that all your visual elements align with the overall artistic direction of the game.

Effective AB Testing for Hypercasual Game Art and Icons

Conducting AB tests is essential for refining your game art and icons. Here are some guidelines to make your tests more effective:

  • Test Different Elements: When performing AB tests, vary the elements you test to understand what specifically drives user engagement.
  •  Aim to Attract New Users: Use AB testing as a tool to attract new users by identifying the most compelling visual elements.
  •  Draw Inspiration from Competitors: Analyze your competitors’ successes and draw inspiration from their strategies. This can provide valuable insights into what works in the market.

By following these strategies, you can enhance the appeal of your game and increase its chances of success in a competitive market.

STEP 3 – HYPERCASUAL GAME DEVELOPMENT

 

(A) DEVELOPING FIRST PROTOTYPE

When it comes to hypercasual game design, elements such as core game mechanics and dynamics must be present from the start, regardless of how simple your prototype is. If you’re thinking Hypercasual, you’ll want your games to be satisfying from the start, so the visual and rewarding aspects should be present before attempting any tests.

At the prototyping stage, visuals must not only be appealing but also have high readability to ensure that they (creatives) are understandable in about two seconds. Remember that the first test is where you’ll get a first glimpse of a game’s marketability and ability to scale, so make sure the visuals, gameplay, and overall feelings are all there from the start and are showcased in the best way possible, as this will manifest in better CPIs.

(B) PROJECT TEMPLATE

The realization of a project template allows to organize and accelerate the development of the game, it also allows to very easily improve the different parts of the game and add content. Here are some important points to make a clean project for your games:

Automation
The automation can be done on several elements of your hypercasual game, first of all the generation of levels. When testing your game, we will need a small number of levels. However, when you want to increase the content of your game to improve retention, the automatic level creation will allow you to do it very quickly. Moreover, it will be much easier to modify the level generation code to apply a level design change rather than modifying all your levels one by one to adapt them to the new level design.

Automation also means the creation of tools that will allow you to create your next hypercasual game more easily. For example, if you make a runner, you can directly create tools to make your game (character control, animation, level creation, score menu, …). These tools can be used as templates to create new prototypes much faster. And so on.

To do this, you will have to make sure that your project is well organized, especially in your folders. In your Asset folder, you should only put the most important folders that will serve as categories for all your assets. Do not put assets in the root of your folder; put them in the right category. Your hierarchy can quickly become confusing so be careful to organize everything well.

Make your projects so that they can be reused, not just by you.

Development Tips – To Improve Game Performance

In order to improve the performance of your hypercasual game, there are several points to consider.

You should absolutely avoid putting loops and greedy code in the update functions. To avoid redundant code in the update, you can call them once and store the result in a variable. For example, if you want to retrieve a variable remotely, you should retrieve the value only once and then store it in a variable that you can use in your update. To remove loops in the update, you can use Coroutine or Jobs to distribute or parallelize the work so that it is not blocked.

An important part of the performance can come from the physical rendering of your game, for that, there are several things to do in order to lower the computation time.

  • Enable adaptive force
  • Increase Time Step
  • Don’t use Mesh collider but primitive collider
  • Replace GameObjet with rigidbody by entity

The last step to improving the performance of your game is to improve the rendering time. To do this, you need to work on and optimize your mesh. Reduce the number of polygons that don’t have any holes and make sure that all the triangles are well connected to avoid duplicating unnecessary vertices. Compress your textures as much as possible if they don’t have too many details or if they can be tiled (keeping a power ratio of 2 in size in order to optimize the use of the graphic memory). Moreover, it is important to reduce the number of GameObjects for a model.

Programming and debugging tips

Design patterns are a very important programming tool that will allow you to solve a large part of the programming problems you may encounter. They will also allow you to improve your creativity by opening you to new possibilities.

Here is a list of patterns that will be very useful:

  • Observer pattern
  • Command pattern
  • Singleton pattern
  • Flyweight pattern
  • Composite pattern

It is very important to use GIt in order to version your code, because in case of a problem, you will be able to go back. This will allow you to work more easily in a team but also to work at the same time on several versions of your game without slowing down the others by switching from one to the other. It gives you a history of all the versions of your game and the changes that may have been made by you and your team. Visual Studio provides a debugging tool that will allow you to add breakpoints to your player to be able to see the state of the variables when you want. You can also run your code step-by-step.

Unity gives access to a very useful debugging tool when your game is built on your phone: Android Logcat: this tool will allow you to see the logs of your game in real time.

Every year, we test hundreds of prototypes at TapNation, working closely with studios all across the world. We provide studios with insights and advise game creators on how to develop a successful hypercasual game for the long run and how to build amazing games through our Publishing Platform.

We are adding this game development guide to our platform. Our platform provides game developers and studios a more technical framework to develop a successful game, which will assist you in saving time on iterations, improving game performance and KPIs, especially while scaling your game, and improving your team efficiency.

STEP 4 – USER ACQUISITION

 

SOFT LAUNCH AND TESTING

Before launching your game on the market, it is necessary to test it for a number of aspects.

The first step is the Testing process, in which, thanks to amazing collaboration between Publishing Team, Developers and User acquisition team, the main metrics and games potential are tested. If it is decided that the game has all the needed preliminary kpi, we move on to the iteration tests and adjust the gameplay based on the previous results.


Once all is ready, the next step is Soft launch. It gives you the possibility to test on a small part of its potential audience the different components of the hypercasual game that you want to confirm. User experience or FTUE (First Time User Experience), monetization, retention, for each step, there is a soft launch phase. Soft-launch provides an opportunity to test the server infrastructure while ensuring it will be able to handle the load of a global launch, with determination of needed adjustments in order to scale the game globally with success and be managed in terms of profitability. By carefully managing a soft launch, we can significantly reduce the risks associated with launching the game and gain insights that are critical for making the necessary adjustments to ensure the game’s success upon its full release.

 

Pre Soft-Launch Activities

  • Market research

Market research is the process of looking at the game market through numbers, facts and opinions. It’s about finding what the audience wants and what action is required while making and operating the game.

  • Target audience

Understanding and prioritizing the target audience is a very important point, from initial concept development to long-term growth strategies, making it a fundamental component of successful game development.

  • Determining the target audience

Determining the target audience is key to reaching loyal and high-profit players, in order to ensure the ROI (return on investment). To effectively determine the game’s target audience, we consider the three main general aspects of target audience grouping: demographics, psychographics and motivation.

  • Player information and motivation

Understanding player motivation is crucial when preparing for soft-launching a mobile game because it directly influences how well the game meets the needs and expectations of its players, which in turn affects the game’s success.

By tapping into player motivations, our team can create a more engaging, rewarding, and enjoyable experience that is likely to succeed in the competitive mobile gaming market. This approach not only enhances the player’s experience but also contributes to the game’s overall success by aligning product development with user expectations and preferences.

What is the Soft Launch Strategy mainly consist of ?

  • Geographic Release

The game was released in chosen countries and then gradually scaled globally. Soft Launch countries are chosen based on their resemblance to the game’s target market in terms of demographics, player behavior, and spending habits. This allows us to gather data that will be indicative of how the game might perform in larger, similar markets. After successfully managing the soft launch process, the game is scaling, gradually increasing the user base, server load, and operational capabilities to ensure that the game can handle growth without performance degradation.

  • Testing Key Features

During the soft launch, our team focus on testing game functionality, server stability, monetization strategies, marketing tactics, and user engagement mechanisms. It allows us to gather data on how the game performs across different metrics without the risks associated with a full-scale launch.

  • Feedback and Iteration

The limited release provides valuable feedback from real users, which is helpful in adjusting and improving the game. This might include tweaking gameplay mechanics, fixing bugs, or improving user interface and user experience elements.

  • Marketing Strategies & Creative Testing

Marketing strategies along with different creative videos are central to test different marketing messages and channels to see what best resonates with our audience. This helps in budget optimization and developing a strategy for the broader launch.

Creative Team focuses on producing a variety of creative videos in order to promote different parts of the gameplay. This is in combination with current market trends, which will gain user attention and result in higher install rate.

What are the main stages in the Soft Launch Strategy ?

Technical stage

In the technical stage, we are mostly focusing on data health, crash rate and tracking in general.

Retention stage

In the Retention stage, we measure D1, D3, D7 Retention, first-time user experience (FTUE), tutorial completion rate and many other aspects.

Monetization stage

The monetization stage measures the ARPU, conversion to payment, and Dx ROAS, which require running purchase (ROAS)-oriented campaigns.

How to Soft-Launch

There are as many strategies for Soft-Launching your game as there are games. The key to success is to tailor your optimization to the performance and data your game yields.

Our advice is to start your Soft-Launch with high caps and tailored target bids. It is essential that these bids be set according to all the data-learning you experience from testing your game. These campaigns are, of course, adjustable according to the traffic you are seeking.

In the first few days of soft launch, as you gather some knowledge, you can start bidding progressively to a higher target bid. It is essential that you continue working on the product during Soft-Launch to keep improving your LTV, thus leaving more room for UA to access higher CPI bids.

On another note, we highly recommend (in order to maximize your installs per thousand of ad impressions) carefully considering your launch localization and timeline. In the most probable case, you will be launching in high tier countries, analyzing the data from the first few days of your soft launch, and then launching your hypercasual game completely in the country that your learnings point out as being the most promising. The most common practice for Soft-Launch is to launch in the US, and if your data doesn’t show sufficient learnings to choose another geographical launch, that’s what you should do. As for the timeline of your launch, the best practice is to launch on high usage days and hours. This means Friday/Saturday/Sunday and rush hour (7–10 p.m.).

As a critical component of the sustainability and growth strategy in the SL Process, which, with data-driven analysis and optimization, contributes to growing the user base and ensuring a positive Return On Investment, UA managers take the following actions:

  • Developing Acquisition Strategies
  • Campaign Management
  • Performance Analysis
  • Optimization
  • Market and User Research
  • Cross Functional Collaboration with other teams
  • Retention Strategies
  • Budget Management

 

UA Managers create and manage marketing campaigns aimed at reaching potential users through various channels, including:


Main Networks :

  • Applovin
  • Google Ads
  • Mintegral
  • Unity Ads
  • Facebook
  • IronSource
  • TikTok

Many others :

  • Snapchat
  • Adjoe
  • Tapjoy
  • App Samurai
  • Mistplay
  • Appier
  • AppNext etc.

 

Performance analysis during the soft launch process of a mobile game is a critical step that helps us understand how well the game is functioning in a live environment and what improvements are necessary before a full release. 

Performance analysis focuses on several key areas:

  1. User Engagement Metrics – Daily Active Users (DAU), Session Length, Retention Rates and Churn Rate.
  2. Monetization Effectiveness – Average Revenue Per Daily Active User (ARPDAU) and Conversion Rate
  3. Technical Performance – Load Times, Frame Rate, Crash Rates and Server Response Times.
  4. Player Feedback – User Reviews and Ratings, Support Requests and Community Engagement.
  5. Marketing Effectiveness – User Acquisition Cost (CAC), Marketing ROI: Return on investment from various marketing campaigns, Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) and Ad Performance.
  6. Device and OS Compatibility – Bug Reports and Performance Metrics (Battery drain and heating issues on various devices).

 

What are our SL objectives ?

High and More Diverse User Volume

This will provide more comprehensive  data, which will reveal a wide range of interactions, player behaviors, and potential issues that might not be apparent with a smaller group

Optimizing Acquisition Costs

Achieve a sustainable cost per acquisition (CPA) that aligns with the lifetime value (LTV) of users, ensuring profitability.

Integrating a mix of Web3 technologies and traditional in-app purchases (IAP) into a mobile game monetization strategy

This model offers innovative ways to generate revenue while potentially increasing user engagement and loyalty. This inevitably requires careful planning and execution.

Long Term Growth and Success

Regular analysis and optimization, as well as new updates and adjustments regarding market trends and the game’s functionalities,.

STEP 5 – GAME MONETIZATION

 

If you’re focusing on hypercasual games, you’re probably reliant on ads. Therefore, it’s critical to choose the right ad formats, A/B test them relentlessly, and fine-tune for ad frequency, localization, and other factors.

In-app advertising
In-app advertising is one of the best monetization models you should consider when creating a hypercasual game. Your ads could either be banners, videos, interstitials, additional lives (rewarded) or even watching ads.

An important thing that you should keep in mind when creating a Hypercasual game is that the number of people who engage with such games is massive and the sheer size of the audience itself makes this one of the finest monetization models.

Rewarded video ads
Is known to be very effective, especially when it’s integrated well and offers real value to the user. Video ads are also an effective way to passively let prospective players know what your core game mechanics are like before they download.

Rewarded videos are a way to engage the user at the right moment while they’re using the app and ask them to perform a task for a reward. They’re also two times more effective than interstitial videos.

High ecpm/High Completion viewer rate 

Interstitial ads
Interstitial ads are full-screen ads that cover the entirety of an app’s interface. These ads can be seen in mobile apps and games at natural pauses or points of transition, such as when leveling up or navigating views. They can also yield positive results if they do not interrupt gameplay. An interstitial ad, for example, would work well at the end of a level, or at the end of a video with a clear call to action for the user.

Banner ads
Banner ads are small banners placed at the very bottom of the user’s screen, taking very little space. Unlike full-screen interstitials or video ads, they don’t interrupt the gameplay and therefore can be shown constantly, during the whole time of the game. They are refreshed every (even 5 seconds is possible) 10 seconds to 30 seconds, and so show many ads during a whole session. They are a good source of complimentary revenue for interstitial and rewarded videos.

In-game ads
In-game ads are a new form of advertising appearing more and more into games. They merge into the game design, so don’t interrupt the gameplay by appearing full screen, or in part of the screen. For example, it may appear like a real-life billboard inside the game content that the player can see or pass by like a game element. These are among the less intrusive and generate good complementary revenues

Audio ads: No videos to bother the user, just sound. It is possible to close it or mask it as well. It is suitable for runner games. For example, as a ballon who follow the user (Monster Squad Rush); It is also complementary with other formats!

In-App Purchase
In-app purchases are a popular monetization strategy, particularly for freemium apps. Freemium apps are the most common type of app that restricts user gameplay. Marketers can target freemium app users and encourage them to buy additional levels, boosters, or currency. This is to generate cash flow in exchange for their free download. Because not everyone will make a purchase through an app, it is critical to include a low-cost option.

PUBLISHING A GAME: TOP 3 TIPS

 

TIP 1: CPI (COST PER INSTALL)

The first step to publishing your hypercasual game is the CPI. It doesn’t matter if your game is the best game ever; if people don’t download it, then there’s no point. The CPI represents the appeal of the game. When viewers watch the ad, statistics show they will know within the first 3 seconds if they are going to download it. This is why you need to have a clear understanding of the creative market and optimization of your ads.

So, make sure for the creative video to try different camera angles, colors or environments. To make sure you don’t miss out on an opportunity because of a small detail,. Viewers convert into players within the first 3 seconds. This is why your creative video should focus on the funniest/best moment of the game. It doesn’t matter if all the features are represented.

Creatives aren’t a tutorial; they are a hook!

TIP 2: THE RETENTION ⇒ In-game KPIs: Retention & playtime

Once we meet the CPI requirement, and players keep coming to your game, you want them to stay as long as possible. This is where retention & PT come into action.

If CPI represents the sexiness of the hypercasual game, retention is the “fun indicator.” If the game is fun to play, players will naturally come back the next day.

We can obtain good retention through the progression and the game flow. You don’t want to burn all of your assets on the first 10 levels. It is necessary to “spoon feed” the players with one feature at a time.

We want to make sure that you have enough strong content for the users! As, we want them to come back to game 2, 10, or even 30 days after the very first session. The question you should ask yourself is: How can I make a user spend more time in my game?.

TIP 3: A/B TESTING

Once you get the CPI and in-game KPIs, your hypercasual game is ready to be published in its roughest form. But the work isn’t over; on the contrary, it’s important to run A/B tests to always improve on your KPIs, on top of cement retention and other key metrics.
A/B tests should be done before a soft launch in order to get the best version possible of the game. But even after getting published, A/B testing new game content and monetization is key. Because this is the best way to keep your game alive. They also retain the top position for the longest period of time. 

The content of the A/B tests should be about small details / additions. You don’t want to mess up the core formula of the hypercasual game after finally getting good KPIs. A/B tests should focus on visuals (UI, colors, characters, etc.) and monetization (skins, spinwheels, etc.).

INTRODUCING EACH FEATURE / GAME ELEMENTS / LEVEL DESIGN IN 3 STEPS:

 

(1) Introduction:
Provide a safe space / safe level for the player to freely use the new feature and test its limits. Usually, there should be only one way to end the level: using this specific feature to make sure the player gets it.

(2) Learning curve:
This phase should test if the player has understood the feature. The level should be harder and trickier than for the introduction. Alongside the one in “learning curve,” we can introduce a new feature.

(3) Mastership:
Players should be more than familiar; they should be trained and experts in using your mechanics. Once we validate the mastership, you can start to add features and elements on top of it, following the same 3 steps.

Overall, each level should be a test. You want to test and make sure your player is ready for what comes next. It might sound very school-like, but we gain user-satisfaction through constant learning and mastering. Because it is a proven fact that skill mastery is a key element of player satisfaction.

AFTERWARD

 

It is a fact that in the ever-growing app marketplace, studios fight for the user’s attention. This same attention span is also getting smaller and smaller.

However, hypercasual games surprisingly rely on trendsetting games. These are the ones that conquer huge segments of the market. They disrupt the market by creating popular trends in their wake.

We’re living in a dynamic and growing market. So, it is crucial to always keep an eye out for new features and ideas that will define tomorrow’s market.

Sooner or later, you too will have a taste of what it means to succeed in the hypercasual world. With the help of this foresight, the trusted expertise of a publisher, and a constant referral to the key elements in this guide,!

In the meantime, why don’t you let us support you in your journey?

We’ll be waiting!