Innovating with genre mashing in mobile gaming

How developers use ‘genre mashing’ to build new and unique gameplay styles

The top mobile game charts are a good place to spot recent trends and innovations in mobile gaming. Lately, you may have noticed ‘genre mashing,’ where developers combine multiple gameplay styles into a single mobile game. While becoming more common, this concept is not entirely new.

In 2012, GungHo swept the globe with Puzzle & Dragons. Considered by many as the ‘godfather’ of puzzle RPGs (role playing games) on mobile, Puzzle & Dragons layers combat and monster advancement with a match-3 puzzle game mechanic. The game has more than 62 million global installs. In 2014, Summoners War kick-started the era of CC RPGs (card collecting role playing games), allowing players to play the role of, collect and evolve as many characters as they encounter in game. After launch, the game has continued to evolve into a massive real-time multiplayer online game where players join guilds, compete in PvP tournaments, and defeat boss monsters in new dungeons together as a team. Today, genre mashing happens around the world on mobile and even beyond mashing just games.

In this article I share examples from mobile developers showcasing their games’ origin stories and inspirations. More importantly, you can discover how they use genre mashing to innovate and differentiate in a competitive market while matching and transforming player behavior.

Game + Game

Rodeo Stampede combines an endless runner with a builder metagame

Rodeo Stampede was created by Australian developer Featherweight and their publisher Yodo1. The team has seen tremendous success by layering a builder and collector metagame on top of a traditional endless runner. This increases replayability and long-term retention, leading to their global appeal and user base of over 95+ million.

Genre mashing is a great way to inject very tangible points of difference between your game and others in that same genre. By adding the zoo building metagame to Rodeo Stampede we were able to take what could have just been a subtle twist on an endless runner to something much more unique.
— Dylan Bevis, Co-founder of Featherweight

Gardenscapes is one of the most iconic recent genre mashing successes from Russian game developer, Playrix. It brilliantly interweaves two game types their core audience loves: match-3 and builder.

Combining design choices from different genres is a great way to stand out in an established and crowded mobile market… We saw the opportunity and enriched the traditional match-3 formula with great storytelling.
— Igor Elovikov, Creative Director of Playrix

Magic Rush, by Chinese developers Moontoon and Elex, elevated a traditional RPG (role playing game) with the swipe actions of a tower defense game, and the social appeal of strategy games’ communities. This deliberate blend of genres offers rich storylines and character development with real-time-strategy multiplayer, fulfilling multiple gamer needs. Magic Rush is now the #1 top grossing game in 16 countries and in the top 10 in 68 countries on Google Play. In regards to initial concept and the future, Moontoon shared this comment:

This is a product of our estimation of the market trend, analysis on players’ demands as well as team advantage. We planned to make a global mobile game at the very beginning. In recent years, RPG has always been the most popular game genre in the Southeast Asia region. Strategy games, on one hand, fit into the global market better, and make up for the lack of social interactions in traditional RPGs.
 — Zheng Zhong, Operation Manager of Magic Rush

Game + Entertainment

In addition to mixing different game genres, other developers have seen success reinventing fun by mashing gaming with three unlikely industries.

Game + Storytelling

Pocket Gems’ game Episode uses mobile and gaming as a medium for storytelling. The game launched back in 2014, as a format for storytelling. Built from the ground up on mobile, Episode has a portrait format, allows for bite-sized consumption, and leverages user generated content. Episode invites viewers to become characters in original stories, celebrity-inspired episodes and popular Hollywood franchises, while shaping their characters’ fate in the game.

Episode has found their most loyal users are part of the younger mobile-only generations. They built Episode specifically for this audience, knowing they have grown up with smartphones, and thus expect their entertainment to be interactive and visual.

Through surveying our female players aged 13–25 years old, we found 14% use their phones for 12+ hours a day and 11% even check their phones in the shower. Episode has formed a new class of creator. We’ve shared our storytelling tools and made them available so anyone can create and publish their own interactive mobile stories to an audience of millions.
— Lauren Luke, Business Development at Pocket Gems

Game + Design

Select your favorite pieces and design your own spaces

Game developer, Crowdstar (a Glu Mobile studio), created Design Home — a canvas for design and creativity, offering a positive sum game of win-win interior design challenges to create happiness, positivity, and confidence. Crowdstar has been providing a unique gaming experience for the past 5 years, mashing up reality and gaming in design contests, initially with Covet Fashion, and now with Design Home. Their audience has a median age in their early 30’s, and is predominantly female, deeply passionate, and engaged. Crowdstar blends a mobile and real-life experience in their game with a simple shop-design-win game loop opening up a world of content experiences that players can’t get in their own home.

The game enables players to mix-and-match, and visualize completed designs in a way that mood boards could never duplicate. It builds a more tangible experience by providing a mixture of very relatable settings (house in the suburbs), aspirational settings (tropical island), and fantasy settings (moonbase or gingerbread house).

Moreover, Crowdstar partners with real brands, and uses real products in their game, providing links on all the items so users can buy the products in real life. Real price points in game are part of the learning process and the items chosen are “aspirational” but not “out of reach.” Crowdstar hand crafts each setting and introduces new, real products every day, while maintaining licensed content relationships with partners.

While we’re happy with our aesthetics now, the goal is to be able to ‘fall into the room’ and ‘taste the air.’ There are a lot of new technologies including AR, VR etc. that have the potential to transform this space quickly.
— Chris McGill, VP & GM at Crowdstar

Game + Music

Life is Beautiful in-game event

WRKSHP’s Beat Fever is turning mobile gaming into a new distribution and social channel for music. Using in-game live events in-sync with real-life music festivals, WRKSHP is blurring the lines between the real and virtual world, allowing musicians to engage with fans, and even launch new songs in the game. WRKSHP presents a unique value proposition to both users and musicians.

Music is a universal language that connects us all. In today’s day and age, a hit song can go around the world instantly and impact billions of music fans. We want to allow music fans to interact with music! We felt mobile music gaming needed to be revolutionized for our generation.
— Charles Ju, CTO & Co-Founder of WRKSHP

Historically, players had to pay to unlock new songs. WRKSHP opted to license popular music directly from labels, allowing music fans to interact with songs for free. They use in-app-purchases and a subscriptions model to monetize. In addition, they are innovating on three fronts for their new game design model:

  1. A commitment to fresh content through weekly in-game live events. For Beat Fever, WRKSHP schedules events alongside those happening in the music industry. For example, they worked with Oliver Heldens to debut his new song ‘What The Funk’ in game. When a new event starts in-game, a new zone opens up with a story and songs available for a limited time. Players then play and compete with others to climb the leaderboard and win rewards.
  2. Partner with real-life events and music festivals. Partnering with the likes of music festivals and concerts. For example, at the Life is Beautiful Music Festival, WRKSHP had a live pvp tournament playing between sets where fans could compete to a Zhu song before he performed!
  3. Take ‘social’ to the next level. WRKSHP invited some musician friends, such as LA Riots, to come into their office and play live against players as they felt that alongside traditional social media outlets, playing live against fans is a complementary engagement platform. The stream successfully attracted thousands of viewers, and provided a unique and fun way for the artist to directly interact with players and fans.

Hopefully, you have gained some useful insights from the developers above, and can feel assured that even in today’s incredibly competitive mobile gaming market, games that innovate continue to attract many loyal fans. How would you use genre mashing to innovate, differentiate, and engage in your mobile games?


What do you think?

Do you have questions or thoughts about genre mashing, or stories of how you were able to drive innovation through this new wave of mobile gaming? Continue the discussion in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.