Building out your hyper-casual game and soft launching

Back to course
Class 20 How to ship a hit hyper-casual game

Building out your hyper-casual game and soft launching

Beginner | 11 minutes

Now that your game is marketable, watch this class to get tips for building out your game, adding depth to it, focusing on metrics like play time and retention, and preparing for soft launch.

Let's put these tips to good use

Grow your game with ironSource

Welcome back everyone! I’m Maayan from Supersonic.

By now you know the different approaches to creating a new hyper-casual game concept, and running marketability tests using the concept prototype. Let’s say you’ve done this, and your concept has a nice, low CPI on your Facebook campaign. Now it gets real.

It’s time to start building out your game, adding depth to it, focusing on metrics like play time and retention, and preparing for a soft launch.

There are three important things you need to bear in mind after seeing your concept has marketability potential.

1. Remember that your target audience in hyper-casual is BROAD. You’re not targeting a niche audience of hardcore gamers – you’re targeting everyone. Remember that without scale, it’s hard for games in this genre to succeed. So keep your game simple, clear, and easy to pick up and play for all audiences.

2. Second, keep the story and theme consistent through the progression layers and metagame. keep an eye out for the details! This will help increase the connection between the player and the game

3. Third, focus on your level design. You should aim to generate the right feelings and emotions from players in your levels – in the next few minutes we’ll go a bit deeper into what kind of emotions and motivations you should focus on.

Understand your sub-genre and player psychology

To design levels that’ll engage players and increase your play time and retention rates, you’ve got to understand the psychology of the subgenre you’re in. What feelings are they motivated by? What kind of gameplay experience will keep them coming back?

Here’s a few examples of different subgenres in the hyper-casual category, and the typical motivations of their users.

ASMR – this is all about escapism. Players want to relax, have an auto-pilot experience that doesn’t require much from them, and receive instant and easy rewards.

Puzzle – users like an easy challenge that involves thinking and solving puzzles, finding patterns, and being creative. They are driven by the satisfaction of winning.

i-o – i-o games focus on winning – users are driven by competitiveness and want to have a high chance of winning.

Action – users want to feel excitement, through fast-paced levels where they can assert their power and superiority. Users like it being easy and satisfying

To get inspiration about different types of features and level designs, you can try building into your game, download a few of the most popular games in your category and get inspired by them.

Optimize based on data

As you add more levels, characters, mechanics, and general depth to your game, you should keep a close eye on your in-game metrics that reflect user behavior.

Metrics like retention, playtime, and user dropoff at each level can confirm that your game is on the right track for soft launch.

Run A/B tests for every aspect of your game, from characters to creatives, to be sure you don’t miss out on any opportunities that could give your game’s performance a boost.

Keep in mind that at this stage, it’s about striking the balance between perfection and production speed.

In some instances, it’s better to take your time, run A/B tests, and monitor all of the data closely, while in other cases you’ll need to make decisions based on experience and instincts.

The hyper-casual market moves quickly – someone else could publish a game with the same concept if you don’t do it first, or the trend that your concept is based on could lose its virality.

So definitely do your best to optimize and maximize your game’s LTV potential, but always be practical about it.

After building out your game, it’s time for a soft launch.

Soft Launch: Optimizing UA

The soft launch stage is a chance for you to run a controlled environment for testing and optimizing to help you avoid wasting ad spend – and also shorten the learning curve before the big launch.

The soft launch shows you what’s likely to be your best-performing creatives across several different UA channels – it’s a crucial step before investing the time and money in a global launch. That’s when you’ll push your game live across UA channels and ramp up your marketing spend.

When launching your game, your goal is to maximize profit by optimizing your UA side and maximizing LTV. Let’s start with your user acquisition strategy.

Firstly, not every UA channel is the same – they all have different audiences, with different demographics and behaviors. So make sure you adapt your strategy for each network and channel.

This means bidding granularly based on ROI predictions on each platform and making decisions based on the data and technology you’re using.

Also Keep testing and optimize creatives, and apply your learnings to each channel. During your soft launch, you want to figure out which types of creatives perform the best on the different networks.

To give you an idea of the amount of creatives you can try out during soft launch, I’ll share a quick story.

We published a game called Bridge Race that eventually reached first place in Q2 2021, and during its soft launch we made 181 video ads AND 15 different playable ads that included interactive end cards.

This is a critical time to test as much as possible to see which creatives scale the best, and it was a big reason why Bridge Race got to the top of the charts.

Tips to improve your creatives during soft launch

Here are some tips to make your creatives simpler, clearer, and more appealing, to get users to try your game.

-Make all key elements of your creatives clear and big enough across platforms and devices

-Create a contrast between the background and characters Using simple color associations – for example, red is danger (enemies, obstacles), green is safe (signs of directions, your team)

-Avoid themes that people immediately associate with certain audiences (like spaceships for the sci-fi fans) – you don’t want to alienate audiences because they quickly decide your game is made for someone else

-Try out catchy soundbites that will stay with your target audience long after seeing and hearing the video
Use bright colors – they evoke happy memories and associations

We put some of these tips to practice for the creatives we used for the soft launch of Emoji Puzzle, which highlighted the gameplay and characters.

Emojis enhanced the already-broad appeal of their association game, and the simple gameplay, catchy music, and bright colors helped Emoji Puzzle get to the #2 spot on Google Play Store and get awesome KPIs, like a $0.22 CPI, 47% D1 retention, and more than $0.60 LTV.

Now let’s unpack a few more great creative practices for your soft launch.

Create videos that feel shareable

Hyper-casual users see many ads as they play a game, and you want yours to stand out from the crowd. A nice way to do that is to make your creative feel funny and shareable.

Bazooka Boy is a great example of this – the creatives we produced with the Lightneer team showed off the humor in the game through kill scenarios.

Users can’t always predict what happens next in the game – like a ricochet killing off the player – which makes it engaging, surprising, and funny.

With these compelling creatives, an optimized UA campaign, and additional game tweaks, Bazooka Boy went on to achieve less than 20c CPI, an LTV of over $1, 1200s playtime, and $0.40 D1 ARPU.

Show a frustrating gameplay scenario

Players love cognitive closure – the concept that our brain is wired to get answers and solve problems as quickly as possible.

A fail situation that shows people failing at even the simplest tasks in your creatives doesn’t provide that cognitive closure.

This can make users think that the people who are playing in the ads aren’t as smart or good at the game, prompting them to do better and solve the problem.

When watching your creatives that show a fail situation, users should want to take charge of the phone and do it by themselves – some might want to try it out, and see why others failed on what seemed like such simple instructions.

With Join Clash, we designed a version of the video creative that showed a fail situation in which the player loses the level and the text at the top clearly shows they’re frustrated. This creative helped Join Clash reach #2 on iOS and Android in the US, attract more than 150M installs so far, and earn a 2x increase in LTV.

So, definitely test out this approach in your creatives!

Give users a video that relaxes and satisfies them

Many players seek a form of relaxation from everyday life. A good creative can tap into that, giving a feeling of gratification and accomplishment.

For example, the feeling of ‘cleaning the scatter’ (e.g. wiping a board clean, sorting beads, combining shapes) is super satisfying, and requires a simple action or mechanic, such as collecting an object, jumping, cutting, or shooting.

In Bead Sort, players sorted beads into the right colors. We showed this gratifying mechanic in our video creative, which earned incredible engagement and helped the game reach #1 on iOS and Android in the US, achieved an IPM of 45+ and boosted LTV 20%.

Try a variety iterations that interest users

When you target a wide audience, different situations and features are going to resonate with a variety of people – whether that’s a male vs. female character or a city vs. forest environment.

When we designed variations of our video creative for Hide ‘N Seek across different UA channels, we tried out different color schemes, camera angles, and maze setups.

After a soft launch phase that took less than a week, we found the top performing creatives and used those for global launch.

Using these creatives and making game improvements helped Hide ‘N Seek reach #1 in Google Play Store, increase retention 48%, and boost playtime by 33%.

Maximizing LTV

All of this ad creative stuff is just one part of the soft launch puzzle. You also need to make improvements to your game itself and how it monetizes users. Doing this is key to getting that high LTV you want.

This could entail A/B testing new ad placements – like placing rewarded videos at different levels, or changing the capping of your interstitial ads. To learn more about ad placements, head to our course called “Building a winning ad placement strategy”.

You can also improve LTV by adding new elements and features to your game, as we talked about earlier, to improve retention and playtime. Ultimately this leads to more opportunities for monetizing users and boosting LTV.

Using technology like our LiveGames dashboard gives you full transparency into your game’s performance after launch to help spot opportunities for improving LTV.

Preparation for global launch

Improving your creative performance during the soft launch stage makes global launch more efficient, affordable, and successful.

Every hyper-casual game is different – the creatives that will engage your audiences could showcase a frustrating situation, a relaxing level, or a standout new mechanic users haven’t seen before.

Testing these suggestions and seeing what performs best during your soft launch can set you up to scale quickly and maximize profit when you go global.

Let's put these tips to good use

Grow your game with ironSource