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How to speed up your hyper-casual game's launch at every step of the publishing process

by Nir Regev on 03/11/21 11:07:00 am   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

In the fast-paced world of hyper-casual games where retention can be relatively low, competition is high, and the games in the top charts are frequently changing, the pace of publishing matters. The faster you can launch your hyper-casual game, the greater your chances of staying ahead of clones and competitors with similar concepts, and therefore generating significant profit. 

Having worked on dozens of games that successfully reached global launch, here are six tips for speeding up the launch process at each step of publishing. The first three relate to efficiency - the best way to find, build, and test the right concept that has the lowest CPI to streamline the rest of the publishing process. The last steps focus on getting your game ready for launch and taking a data-focused approach to design tweaks so you can iterate quickly and effectively. 

Improving efficiency from the start

Base your game concept on industry analysis

Starting with a clear main concept for your hyper-casual game lays the foundation for success in the publishing process, helping you get through the rest of the steps faster and easier. Base your concept on market trends from successful games, and video creatives that have gone viral across social platforms. Explore forums, Instagram pages, and YouTube accounts dedicated to trending video creatives and stay clued into what’s becoming popular on social media. You can also look at sites like App Annie and SensorTower to help you explore previous successful apps and use them to inform your concept. With a better idea of what’s going on in the market and some great examples to reference, it’s easier to create a successful idea that leverages current trends. 

We can look at the large following of the YouTube ASMR phenomenon as an example of a trend which spawned the popular and diverse hyper-casual ASMR game culture. Games like ASMR Slicing, Dish Washing ASMR, and Super Slime Simulator have users cut through objects, scrubbing dishes, and playing with slime, respectively. All feature the gratifying noises and sound effects that symbolize the genre, but they take the general idea of ASMR in three different directions. 

As this example demonstrates, you can build a hit game when it’s based on what you can already see resonates with people, and doing so can help you increase your efficiency. This step is about starting the publishing process off on the right note to set you up for a faster route to launch. 

          

Build multiple, short prototypes

Once you have a great concept, you’ll start designing different versions of your game and testing them to see which has the lowest CPI. From all your prototypes, publishers will only choose to launch the ones that pass the marketability test. So you should test as many prototypes as you can, but without investing too much time or effort in perfecting each one before getting a positive result during marketability testing. The goal is to quickly confirm which prototype has potential based on its CPI - aim for a CPI lower than $0.25. Once reached, then you can start building it out and perfecting it. 

I’ve seen prototypes with only two levels that play in a loop, but these two levels are so fun and engaging that users actually repeat them again and again. On the other hand, I’ve seen prototypes with 40 levels where users don’t get past level 3. Instead of building out multiple levels of your game from the start, focus on gathering maximum data with minimal effort, like the game with just two levels succeeded in doing. The prototype can give you valuable insights into what’s working for your game and what’s not - examine the CPI from each marketability test, then iterate and test again with a new version. 

Generally, we’ve seen that 10 levels and 500 seconds playtime are effective benchmarks to start from to quickly see how sticky a game is and get a sense of how much users like it.

Focus on core gameplay in your creatives

After creating a prototype with a promising CPI, the next task is showing it off in a way that will hook users through engaging ad creatives. Simplifying gameplay in the creatives is the first tip I usually give to developers before they submit their game for marketability testing. Your concept can be great, but no player will grasp it unless you show off the gameplay clearly within the first five seconds of a video ad creative. Pixel Rush is a game that does this really well, letting users see clearly what it would be like to play and encouraging them to try for themselves.

Adjust your creatives by thinking about what will be the clearest and easiest to understand for every user - accessibility is key in hyper-casual games. Prioritizing clarity in your creatives before even submitting them for marketability testing can help you get through this step even quicker.

Analyzing the results of the marketability test after you’ve showcased the concept accurately in your video creative can also help you understand if the gameplay is engaging and what parts of it are the most compelling. Making design decisions based on this data can help you prioritize what changes will have the most impact with the least amount of effort, to reduce CPI faster. 

Making impactful game improvements to get to launch faster

First, let’s look at CPI benchmarks and what happens if you don’t meet them.

Know when to kill your game

Generally, a game that passes the marketability test has a CPI of $0.25 or less - if your CPI is significantly higher, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and build a new prototype. Don’t fall into the trap of wasting time trying to improve your CPI instead of testing other concepts or making a significant change in the tested prototype - it might sound harsh, but if your CPI is above $0.40-$0.45, it’s probably a good idea to move on to a new idea. Publishers can sometimes cut a CPI in half with game tweaks and UA improvements, but when the CPI reaches above $0.45, you’ll likely spend the same amount of time making game changes as you would just building a new prototype from scratch. 

Anything lower than $0.40 opens a small door of opportunity for you to try a few iterations and see if they make an impact, but keep checking your CPI to determine when it’s time to cut your losses. 

Analyze your in-app metrics to determine your benchmarks

Once you’ve achieved your target CPI, your goal is then to maintain efficiency - focus on building the game out with 30-40 new levels each update. In our experience, this is the sweet spot for hyper-casual games to reach playtime and retention benchmarks. With the CPI hopefully as low as it is already, it’s more important to focus on making game improvements than adjusting your video creatives so you can see that the game generates enough engagement over time. 

As you make game design changes, take a look at your in-game metrics, aiming for the following benchmarks:

  • Retention: D1 retention rate of 40-50% and a D7 retention rate of 10-15%
  • Playtime: 600-1000s
  • Funnels: No numeric benchmark, but this metric helps you see how users act in the game and where they’re dropping off, making it an important factor to look at as you analyze your game’s performance. More than 5% churn per level indicates flaws in the user experience

Looking at each of these, you can see how your tweaks are affecting performance by looking at your KPIs. Start with the changes that require the least effort and then check their impact so you can hit these benchmarks more efficiently.

Work on optimizing one part of your game at a time

As you begin making game tweaks, don’t work on everything at once, otherwise you can’t track how each change affects your KPIs. Start by making fast and effective iterations to the parts of your design or gameplay that you think most affect your metrics, until you hit your benchmarks. A good place to start is simplifying your levels so the game appeals to everyone, like Stacky Dash did by changing the color and environment of the levels and streamlining the layout.

A/B test your game design and monetization

While working on optimizing your game, testing different iterations in the monetization stages reduces the time it takes to understand which version is the most effective ahead of global launch. Publishers will usually suggest A/B testing ad monetization with different placements and timers, between the soft launch and global launch. 

Recently, we’ve also seen how A/B testing game design improvements before soft launch and in the retention stage can help continue to lower CPI and optimize in-game metrics. When testing game features, make sure the change can be made quickly and easily - level design, different tutorials, and camera angles are all design elements you can iterate on that don’t necessarily require much time or take up a lot of developer resources. It will depend on your game, but in general keep in mind that in-game testing is meant to be done quickly with the goal of optimizing your game through to global launch. 

Speed matters

Getting from ideation to global launch in weeks instead of months can be a major advantage in the world of hyper-casual games. With the tips laid out above, you can move through each step of the publishing process more efficiently while optimizing your game so you’re best set up for success at global launch. 


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