Hyper casual games are an exceedingly popular genre, attracting players from around the world.
Yet from a development perspective, hyper casual isn’t just an app category: It’s also a design process. Making hyper casual games requires studios to design highly-engaging experiences using only the bare minimum of mechanics and art elements. Hyper casual design pipelines need to be highly efficient as a result, allowing developers to create entire games — from concept to launch — within the shortest possible timeframe.
In other words, successful hyper casual studios don’t just make games — they design pipelines that will maximize their efficiency. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the resources that help developers do just that:
- Choosing a game engine
- Making the right design choices for hyper casual
- Hyper casual resources
Choosing a game engine
Given the fast pace of hyper casual development cycles, studios don’t have time to create custom engines for each release. Thankfully, there are many third-party engines available that developers can license for a reasonable price. This helps studios save on development time while leveraging existing support channels for their chosen game engine.
While there are many engines to choose from, some lend themselves to hyper casual design more effectively than others. Here are some examples:
Unity is one of the most popular mobile game development platforms — hyper casual or otherwise. It offers extensive cross-platform support, lets you import assets from Maya or Blender, and can be used to produce 2D or 3D games. Unity offers large volumes of supporting documentation, and powers major releases such as Pokemon Go and Angry Birds 2.
Few engines are as robust as Unity, but Buildbox doesn’t need to be: Each supported feature is well-suited for hyper casual development. With Buildbox, games can be crafted without a single line code by assigning in-game roles to imported art assets. Completed titles can be exported to Android, iOS, and Windows PC formats to be distributed in their respective storefronts.
GameMaker Studio 2
GameMaker products have supported indie and AAA development for years, and GameMaker Studio 2 is no exception. It features a drag-and-drop interface that simplifies level design and entity creation while enabling advanced features using an easy-to-grasp programming language. In 2019, GameMaker supports mobile, console, and even web-based productions, and is a cost-effective choice for many studios.
Cocos2D-x is a 2D open-source engine made freely available to development studios. Not only does it stand out in terms of its extensive supporting documentation, but also for supporting exceedingly small apps: Even 1.5 MB games are supported!
SpriteKit is a 2D-focused game development framework with one particularly unique perk — it’s designed by Apple and fully supports the iOS platform. That makes it easy to leverage Apple’s first-party tools and resources while producing games for the App Store. SpriteKit projects can also be integrated with GameplayKit for additional functionality.
While this is far from an exhaustive list, it proves that game engines are plentiful and offer many resources that would benefit hyper casual publishers. Yet a game engine is only the first step — now you have to design!
Making the right design choices for hyper casual
When designing hyper casual games, it’s essential to keep your audience in mind. Most players are looking for a brief yet engaging gameplay experience that will pass the time between other activities, such as riding the bus or taking a work break. As such, hyper-casual mechanics don’t have to be especially complex or nuanced. It should be possible to fully complete a single play session in under a minute — but the experience should excite them enough to play again!
In practical terms, developers should keep the following 6 design choices in mind:
- Hyper casual games focus on a single, easy-to-understand core mechanic that is refined to be as engaging as possible.
- Minimalist interfaces and art designs are recommended to ensure players quickly grasp the rules, negating the need for a tutorial.
- Players should be able to quickly demonstrate a game’s concept within seconds of starting the app.
- Use A/B testing to optimize all parts of a game’s experience.
- Don’t feel obligated to be especially original. Be on the lookout for emerging mobile trends that can be iterated upon in their own work.
- Borrow from existing game mechanics and find ways to improve the experience, no matter how slight each improvement might be.
It should go without saying, but replicating trends does not mean developers should just copy a game outright. Plagiarism will be taken offline by app storefronts, and it remains one of the quickest ways to harm your studio and brand. That being said, finding your spin for existing game mechanics is an easy way to develop your hyper casual portfolio.
Hyper casual resources
The aforementioned tools should provide a start, but developers might want some advanced resources or a better understanding of hyper casual best practices. The following items can help expand your work in this emerging field:
Hyper casual games might be minimally-designed, but there still do require engaging art assets for players to engage with. For first-time developers, creating these assets can be a real challenge — which is where asset storefronts come in. These services offer a wide range of prebuilt in-game assets, such as textures, character models, or levels.
While the unmodified assets can take the appearance of finished products, that is not what asset stores are intended for. Licensed assets can be used to add additional content or models to new projects that developers have limited time for, or they can be modified with editing software to develop new creative elements. In short, prebuilt assets are time-savers that help you focus on new game mechanics instead of visual environments.
- Unity Asset Store Technologies: Maintained by Unity Technologies and offers compatible Unity engine content.
- Unreal Marketplace: Maintained by Epic Games and offers compatible Unreal engine content.
- GraphicRiver: Offers a comprehensive range of art assets including characters, environments, and GUI interfaces.
- Orbolt Smart 3D Asset Store: Offers fully customizable assets created by the Houdini community for animation purposes.
- Scirra: Offers sprites, music, and other 2D gaming resources.
- OpenGameArt: Offers free 2D assets under the Creative Commons License.
- Freesound: Sound effects can be just as important an asset as in-game art — these are also provided under Creative Commons.
While hyper casual represents a relatively new market, there are still educational resources such as books and courses that offer practical developer advice:
- Crushing Hyper-Casual Games: The folks behind the Buildbox engine published a 100-page eBook that breaking down the entire process of making hyper casual games — from concept design to marketing. Written by developer Trey Smith, this book is a comprehensive guide for professional game creators.
- Seriously Snackable: This seven-hour course arrives courtesy of two successful hyper casual game designers from the RisingHigh Academy community. It provides an overview of hyper casual development, detailed breakdowns of popular titles, and best practices for 2D and 3D game design.
- The F2P Toolbox: Hyper casual is the natural evolution of ongoing trends in the mobile gaming space, particularly in terms of free-to-play (F2P) advertising. This “brainstorming tool” highlights the biggest game design and publishing lessons from this field and offers suggestions for incorporating them into your work.
Of course, perhaps the best way game developers can learn about hyper casual games is to build one themselves. By choosing the right game engine, following common design principles, and leveraging key resources as outlined in this article, you’ll be well on your way towards making a successful and engaging title.
For more information on monetizing your hyper casual app or advertising it on other platforms, contact the mobile experts at Tapjoy today!