Indie artist and developer George Zarkua wrote a big thread on his Twitter page about the structure of the hyper-casual games market. He spoke about the history and development of the genre, relations with publishers, filling the market with money and the trend towards wholesale borrowing of other people’s ideas. We share material based on motives.

How it all started

Zarqua considers the success of Flappy Bird to be the starting point, after removing it from the store, people began selling phones with the game installed at exorbitant prices. “Yes, farting apps have always been popular, but a portal to hell was opened 7 years ago,” the artist writes.

The next stage Zarqua highlights release 2048, which was, in fact, a free and simplified clone of Threes. The authors received huge traffic and founded the Ketchapp publishing house.

As Zarqua notes, publishers then did not look at specific indicators, but took games based on their intuition. At the same time, only three people initially considered all applications in Ketchapp. “It was enough to write a letter, and now they are signing a publishing contract with you,” the artist recalls.

The main difficulty was that a small circle of people had to manually read reviews, check bugs, and inspect prototypes. All this was done through Hangouts, which eventually led to a huge queue of people wanting to release their games.

Separately, Zarqua recalls the cross-promo, which at that time was just two text files on the publisher’s server with the serial numbers of projects. “That is, your game comes out and it is placed 11th in the list. This means if a person plays some other game of theirs, then on the 11th advertisement he will see yours. It’s about half an hour later,” the artist explains.

This approach often led to a large number of failures. Some games that the publisher did not believe in suddenly took off, and the authors of successful projects, on the contrary, could not re-create another hit.

During this time, Zarqua managed to publish two games, both of which are Utopia publishers. “One of them has sunk into oblivion, having received a not very solid five-digit. And the second one started from high positions, but almost immediately fell due to low indicators,” he recalls.

Changes in Google Play algorithms

The shake-up in the hyper-casual market happened after Google suddenly “rearranged something somewhere”. As a result, 98% of the games were rearranged and stopped receiving traffic.

This played into the hands of Zarqua, whose game began to be recommended in hundreds of applications as similar. “This has led to millions of trailer views, tens of millions of horse races, and a very pleasant monthly passive income,” he says of the unexpected success.

Long queues and the Chinese App Store

On the wave of success, Zarqua recalls how he and the team made an update for the game to maintain interest in it. However, the publisher published it only two years later.

In anticipation of the release of the update, Zarqua continued to make content for the game, while doing several more projects at the same time. The team gave a couple of titles to another publisher, but they did not bring money at all.

Everything changed when one of the projects, Rooster Rumble, suddenly earned about a thousand dollars in a day. It turned out that the reason was the users of the Chinese App Store, the existence and potential of which many developers did not suspect at that time.

The arrival of big money and the beginning of the “stage of indicators”

As soon as the hyper-casual market stabilized, “big uncles” came to it with serious money. They created entire departments and took games solely on the basis of indicators. “It was the Stalingrad of the hyperkage world for publishers who ranked three through a notebook,” Zarqua recalls.

As a result, the old publishers were unable to adapt and scale to the changed market. According to the artist, a new “stage of indicators” began at the same time.

The main indicators for evaluating the success of projects were CPI and retention. The ads were tested in the USA exclusively on iOS, the rest were classified as “insolvent”.

“This has led to the fact that the market has adjusted to the user’s taste. 99.5% of games did not pull out indicators. Those that were pulled out were immediately mercilessly cloned,” explains Zarqua.

The Era of plagiarism and borrowing

“Literally everything can be stolen in a hypercasual,” Zarqua explains. It’s not just about mechanics and visual style, but even about conference texts.

Zarqua recalls how then they came up with the idea of making technological, but at the same time simple games. They began to pay more attention to physics and hoped that this would give them at least some head start in time.

This approach had a downside — publishers refused to accept their games, because they were afraid that players simply would not believe in their truthfulness. “Dude, the trailers are too beautiful, people don’t believe that it’s not fake and that they can be installed,” Zarqua heard about these words.

At the same time, individual publishers appeared who “laundered traffic”, driving almost any game into the top. This complicated the assessment of the market and did not allow us to say exactly what the audience liked.

Zarqua recalls that he managed to cooperate with many publishers. However, at some point one thing became obvious — no one would give money for a difficult game or a risky game, no matter what unique idea it was based on.

The “solution” of the problem turned out to be quite simple. “You just need to take a teaspoon of simple Soviet soda and …” — Zarqua ironically ends his thread.