5 reasons why Voodoo beats small game developers on the app store

by Tom Kinniburgh

Mobile gaming has shifted, again. The hypercasual genre has begun to dominate the free app charts. In 2017 Ketchapp (now owned by Ubisoft) started a revolution of simplicity in game design with mobile titles such as Tower or Ballz. The games focused on clear visuals and simple mechanics and very light progression systems.  They also importantly removed IAP as the core monetization and replaced it with Advertising revenue. The games were so simple and casual that anyone could understand them in under 10 seconds. Since then, there has been a proliferation of publishers, studios, and solo indie developers each working on similar casual titles. Space is highly competitive, but there is a clear king of the app store, Voodoo, recently receiving $200 million from Goldman Sachs.

Sensor Tower Mobile App Downloads June 2018

Reviewing the estimated data on Sensor Tower for June in the Top 100 US Free Game charts, Voodoo accounted for 24.7%* of all the free downloads. Broadening the view to all Hypercasual games, approximately 57% of all free game downloads can be attributed to this space.**  

Number of games in the Top 100 Free Games US Chart - June 2018

PublisherNumber of Games
Lion Studios3
*Data taken from Sensor Tower estimated US game downloads from June 2018
**Data taken from Sensor Tower estimated US game download from June 2018 and assessing the apps mechanics and monetization stream
***Rock of Destruction, Stone Skimming, Dune, Twenty48 Solitaire, Fight List, Paper.io, Twisty Road, Splashy, Waves, The Cube – What’s Inside, Flying Arrow, Stack Jump, Rolly Vortex, Baseball Boy, The Fish Master, Snake VS Block, Color Road, Helix Jump, Hole.io

Of all the genres of games released on the app store, no other genre commands the pure number of downloads that Hypercasual games do.  The simplicity of the gameplay, coupled with the speed of gamers learning and mastering the challenge creates a voracious need to download the next new idea, older games are quickly discarded or deleted. This has not escaped the notice of many game developers with hundreds of studios trying to build the next mega hit. However, Voodoo has truly mastered both the sourcing and promotion of their titles making it tough for studios to compete. How has Voodoo dominated the Hypercasual space?

#1 Game Design doesn’t matter

5 reasons why Voodoo beats small game developers on the app store - game publisher hypercasual ketchapp mobile publisher publishing voodoo voodoo games

Voodoo doesn’t care about your game’s design. Voodoo cares about your game’s market potential. As a publishing house, the majority of their releases can clearly be seen as “inspired by” reproductions of older games.

  • Tiny Wings – Dune
  • Donut County – Hole.io
  • slither.io – paper.io

In each case, success is not down to the game mechanics or technical quality of the product, but Voodoo’s ability to market games more effectively and reach a larger audience than those original games. Bad game design still won’t make the cut, but innovative game design is not as important as tried and tested successful mechanics. If you want help with your hyper casual game design we wrote a post of the Top 10 Hyper Casual game mechanics present today.

This is very hard for the average game developer to swallow and it’s hard to think that game design is the least important aspect to Voodoo’s success. What set’s voodoo apart is their ability to work with a large number of talented studios each working on simple, tested, game designs, and then apply industry-leading marketing and growth practices to push games to the top of the App Store. Dictating which game design is the most popular is something the market decides, not something Voodoo strives to set.

#2 Voodoo releases games faster than you

Making rough approximations through tracking the releases of the majority of HyperCasual publishers on both Google Play and Apple App Store, Voodoo have released 7 new titles that reached top 300 in the US Free in the last 30 days. Most of the other publishers have released between 0 and 2. This is a phenomenal pace compared with classical studios or even publishers who might schedule 1 or 2 apps per month in order to give it the support needed. This highlights a fundamental shift in business practices.

Most developers’ first start to iterate, test and soft launch titles in cheaper CPI countries such as the Philippines or New Zealand. Based on the feedback they got back from players, designers and developers optimize and iterate the FTUE or monetization balance to slowly improve the LTV and retention.  When a studio is confident in their polished products, they would approach Apple and Google to showcase their app and hope for a feature. At the same time, they might allocate a large marketing budget and test multiple ad variants in order to be confident in having the largest splash possible. This is too slow for hypercasual, this is not the way Voodoo approach app releases.

The hit recipe to mobile game development

Voodoo may have 100-200 development studios each working frantically on new game designs.  In each case, the focus is the core gameplay. The meta and even the advertising is left out for the initial soft launch release. Core loops are then tested without fanfare into key territories such as the US or China in order to see if there are good responses to the mechanic. Voodoo released a simple guide for their gameplay style (Snackable, Youtubable, Straight forward, Not punitive, Innovative) which clearly restricts multiple game designs from the table.

Games are then measured on a brutally tough scale. Each game needs 50%+ D1 retention to even make the cut.  This creates a very competitive environment where stats and data become the key to becoming picked up by these top publishers.  As a developer you want to know that your game can actually reach a large audience, this is where Voodoo has developer a lot of skills.

#3 Voodoo grows games cheaply

In a system where CPIs are low, games can grow fast. If you’re able to spend $1 and make $1.50 back then you should just keep spending more money and grow faster.  This relationship is often quoted as LTV > CPI (check out the bible for more details).

5 reasons why Voodoo beats small game developers on the app store - casual games Game Design Game Developers hyper casual hyper casual games hypercasual hypercasual games voodoo 1

Different genres of free to play mobile games have different monetization profiles and can roughly be categorised by their mechanics or via their audience.  Games with the highest monetization profiles (i.e Casino games) are able to spend $50+ per user because the LTV of their titles is very high. However, their audience is usually quite small.

IAP based monetization models focus on generating the most revenue per user but in doing so their audience becomes harder to find. Hypercasual as a genre works so well because they can lower the CPI to incredibly low levels through clear advertising creative and data-driven programmatic marketing. However, without clear IAPs or items or gacha systems, the model relies on users watching and engaging with advertising. Getting the balance between a very low CPI while maximising the Advertising yield is where the profit is.

#4 Voodoo have better relationships than you

5 reasons why Voodoo beats small game developers on the app store - 3

As a developer, you must tread a fine line between showing as many ads as possible (that result in an install) while not breaking the user’s enjoyment of the game. Getting the right ads presented at the right time results in much higher eCPMs.

Because of this, many genres of game perform better than others simply because they create natural breaks in the gameplay where an ad can be shown without disturbing a users playtime.  The better the app is at retaining players through its core loop the more opportunities there are to show ads and therefore the higher the LTV. But this isn’t the only piece of the puzzle. You must show the highest performing ad to the right user in order to efficiently display ads that will result in installs.  

Voodoo is in a better position to maximise this than other studios. Due to their immense size and scale, they have more relationships at better rates than your average development studio.  This means the ads they show are more likely to result in higher paying installs, increasing the LTV further.  The mobile ad networks are ruthless and competitive: everyone wants to work with the largest player. When considering the Hypercasual segment as a business strategy you must take the business development time into account.

#5 Voodoo can scale games into profitable cash cows.

Scaling games to become profitable cash cows

For larger businesses, opportunities must provide enough profit for them to seem interesting. I would say that any game that can drive $10,000 a day in gross revenue is enough to support a smaller gaming studio. Many studios don’t think about making games in terms of gross profit and they often neglect to think about the number of users necessary in order to make that magic $10,000 per day.  

Hypercasual games tend to make lower revenue per DAU. A typical game will be anywhere between $0.01-0.10. Along with their large network of titles Voodoo also has a large volume of data on who their most active players are. Using in-game events to look into player actions, helps you to know clearly which players are playing your games the most. The larger the Voodoo game network becomes the more refined the company can segment or target individual players with effective marketing messages.

As they expand into new genres and different players engage, further refinements in their voice or creative might work better for individual game types. By doing hyper-specific segmentation you can get lower CPIs and more ad views.

What becomes hard for developers is to perform this correctly and at scale. This requires a team of people to analyse, review, create and then execute effective marketing. Voodoo has learnt how to do this very well.

Competing against Voodoo

The biggest mistake most game developers make when attempting to attack the hypercasual gaming market is to think they can innovate through game design. Voodoo has proven that innovation in game mechanics is not as important as cheap and effective marketing. Their pace of release and the scale of their network is growing all the time allowing them to learn and understand their users more and more. To have a viable shot at competing you must be prepared to invest heavily in a strong data warehouse, a talented marketing team and use metrics and data to decide which games have the strongest business case.

Even though this seems like an impossible task, strong-willed and talented studios can carve out their own niche. Find a mechanic that you know well and has strong retention metrics, then work on expanding or perfecting the metagame. Be careful to keep the mechanics pure and simple or you will lose what makes hypercasual special. You must also be ruthless with your game designs and drop anything that doesn’t make the cut, be quick, be bold and follow the low CPIs. Studios like Playgendary, Lion and Super TapX show that it can be done.