What Are Hybrid Mobile Games?
The mobile games industry is currently undergoing an unprecedenting surge of activity. According to App Annie’s State of Mobile 2020 report, global revenues for mobile games at the end of 2020 broke $100 billion. As the industry evolves, developers and designers are taking risks and breaking boundaries when it comes to genre. In a recent study partnered with Google, App Annie did a deep dive into innovation in hybrid mobile games, and how consumers are responding to games that blur the lines between genres.
But first, what do we mean by the term “genre,” and how that understanding shifting as our approach to mobile games evolves?
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What Does “Genre” Mean With Regards to Hybrid Mobile Games?
“Genre” can be something of a nebulous term in the mobile games industry. Some view it in terms of core loop and gaming mechanics, with all games being lumped into the following categories:
- hyper-casual: fast-paced, repetitive games with simple mechanics and no or very limited characters or narrative – e.g. Flappy Bird, endless runners
- casual: more complex games but still widely accessible, which can include characters and storyline beyond the core loop, and some light strategizing and puzzle-solving – e.g. Gardenscapes
- mid-core: games that have more high-level strategizing and complex narrative, taking features of hardcore games and making them accessible to a wider audience – e.g. Raid: Shadow Legends
- hardcore: these are games with high levels of strategizing and a steep learning curve, which generally require a large time commitment from players – e.g. Skyrim
However, many game analysts prefer to look at games in terms of more specific subgenres, such as RPGs, simulation, casino/gambling, strategy, racing, battle royale, sports, action, and so on. And the fact that we are living in a golden era for mobile games, with a thriving market allowing publishers to get creative, means that developers are launching games that combine two or three or even more of these different subcategories. It’s not uncommon to find an RPG that combines features of a battle royale, simulation, and puzzle game, for example. And the fact that most of these mobile games are free to play (F2P) means that these games are accessible to anyone with a smartphone.
Core vs. Meta: The Different Layers of Hybrid Mobile Games
The core game loop of a game is the meat and potatoes of gameplay. It’s made up of the basic mechanics (for mobile games, a series of taps and swipes) that the player repeats again and again, ad infinitum. With hyper-casual games, the game may consist entirely of different iterations of the core game loop. With casual games, the core game loop may be broken up by cut scenes or special events to keep things interesting.
Hybrid games often introduce meta game loops to reward the player for repeating the core loop enough times. Meta elements tend to involve collectible, customization, or narrative elements to keep the player hooked. For example, with the match 3/swapping game Gardenscapes, the core loop is swapping candy tokens, with opportunities to purchase power-ups. And the meta levels allow players to customize their own extensive garden, as well as engage with other characters in the game universe. In the farming simulator/RPG Stardew Valley, the core loop is planting and harvesting vegetables, with higher-level loops involving more varied activities such as mining or fishing, and occasional cut scenes.
Strategies, Match, and RPGs Most Popular Subgenres
According to App Annie’s study, Strategy, RPG, and Match games were the most popular subgenres of game in H1 2021, both in terms of number of downloads and consumer spend.
By analyzing gaming trends in different regions, they have further identified hybrid genres where there is opportunity for market expansion. In particular, hybrid mobile games that are seeing enormous growth are:
- Luck Battle: social-oriented, chance-based games where players can battle and loot from each other, often monetized by consumables and featuring tournaments – e.g. Coin Master, Pirate Kings
- Merge Saga: games where users merge items into more powerful items, with saga-based game progression, monetized with gacha systems and loot boxes – e.g. MergeDragons, Ever Merge
- 4X March Battle: games where players build cities and armies, and attack other cities, often involving chat features, consumables, and live events – e.g. State of Survival, War of Kingdoms
- Match 3 Swapping Games: games that combine a repetitive core loop of matching up tokens (a la Candy Crush), which is rewarded by allowing the user to customize items or environments, often monetized by power-ups and other consumables – e.g. Gardenscapes, Project Makeover
- Idol Training: games where players train “idols” and compete them in different activities/professions – this subgenre has seen a 127%+ increase in both downloads and revenues, mainly in the US, Japan, and Korea, generally monetized through gacha and other consumables – e.g. Uma Musume Pretty Derby
- Puzzle RPGs: games with the narrative and multiple characters of an RPG, where solving puzzles is the primary combat mechanism – e.g. Monster Strike, Puzzles and Dragons
Are Hybrid Mobile Games Worthwhile?
Most developers will agree that combining two or more genres tends to have great results. You’re potentially attracting players from multiple fandoms, while simultaneously lowering the amount of competition. What’s more, when it comes to monetization and engagement, you can take the benefits from both genres your game embodies. For example, endless runner games tend to have high customer acquisition rates, but also high churn rates. Whereas RPGs and other mid-core games often have higher retention rates, but it can take a while for them to monetize players.
By adapting the strengths of different genres, developers will ultimately be able to craft a fun and engaging gaming experience that will bring players back again and again. To read about how push notifications can drive a liveops campaign to maximize player retention and revenues for your mobile game, take a look at our blog post: How to Use Push Notifications and In-App Messaging for LiveOps
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