Mixing Genres into Hybrid Mobile Games: A Success Formula?
(This article was originally published on Udonis’ blog.)
Is mixing genres into a single game a good or a bad idea? How can you get the best out of both worlds?
To answer these questions, I analyzed hybrid mobile games.
Find out what hybrid games are, why they are a hot mobile game market trend, how they should work, and more.
Let’s dive right in!
About Hybrid Mobile Games
A few years ago, mobile game categories were pretty straightforward. It wasn’t difficult to guess — Candy Crush Saga is a puzzle game, Clash of Clans is a strategy game, etc.
Over the years, game publishers became more sophisticated. They’ve been taking mechanics from different genres that work and started combining them.
If something works separately, it’s probably going to work even better when combined.
This combination is called a hybrid mobile game.
By definition, the term hybrid stands for a mixture of two (or more) very different things. In this case, it’s about smashing two mobile game genres into one game.
Some even call hybrid mobile games the “hybrid genre”.
Whatever you call it, hybrid mobile games are growing at a crazy pace. According to Kantar, the global spend in hybrid games has been growing 7x faster than that of average mobile games.
All of this brings developers new opportunities, but also some new challenges to deal with.
How Do Hybrid Mobile Games Work?
When I say hybrid mobile games, I don’t mean you play a first-person shooter and then you play a little bit of match-3 on the ground with your shotgun.
Hybrid games are more sophisticated than that.
It usually works like this — one genre makes the core of the game. If the game uses elements from another genre, it usually appears in the game’s meta layer.
Mixing genres is especially common in the casual category. More and more games combine casual core gameplay with different meta mechanics.
Here are some of the most popular meta elements that appear in hybrid games with a casual core:
- Collectible meta
- RPG meta
- Light construction and customization meta
- Narrative meta
Each of them comes with its own advantages and purposes.
For example, a collectible meta can fit with almost every type of core gameplay. In it, players usually collect stickers, characters, or items.
The RPG meta, on the other hand, is all about deepening casual games. Aside from simple core gameplay, players can do things like upgrading equipment, characters, or items.
Light construction and customization meta is very common in the match-3 space. For example, they appear in the form of decoration, fashion, and personalization meta layers.
Finally, the narrative meta can also be a great fit for almost any game. The story usually works as a hook to get players more invested in a game.
Hybrid Mobile Games: Pros and Cons
Hybrid mobile games are growing in popularity, and there are many reasons for that.
The potential advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages, so let me count them all.
Pro: A Wider Player Base
Just like you and I have our favorite genres, so do most players.
When they look for games to play, something about them has to match their taste.
For example, a player who usually enjoys RPG games may go and install a puzzle hybrid game with mid-core elements.
Since this game also includes puzzle mechanics, it attracts casual and puzzle players as well. Just like that, you’ve got two huge groups of players your game can attract.
Pro: Getting the Most out of Both Genres
As you probably know, every genre comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.
For example, hyper-casual games can attract almost anyone. However, they need to earn money as quickly as possible before players churn.
On the other hand, RPG games attract mid-core gamers that don’t churn so quickly. However, these games need to keep players for a while to earn money off them. Just having great gameplay won’t do it.
Mid-core developers have to work hard on retention and monetization strategies for their games.
None of this is easy.
When you blend two different genres together, things can potentially get easier. You get an opportunity to focus on each genre’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
Pro: Better Engagement, Less Churn
“I got bored so I deleted the game.”
This is one of the main reasons why players uninstall games. This is especially true for games that bring simple, repetitive gameplay.
However, when games combine different gameplay types, the situation is better.
According to Kantar, hybrid gamers are less likely to churn if a game is repetitive or not engaging enough.
Pro: Less Direct Competition
Since hybrid games combine genres, they usually don’t have many similar competitors to look out for.
This is especially true if a game is the first one to combine certain genres. This gives it a starting advantage in a market that didn’t even exist before.
Con: Balancing It All out
Mixing genres brings certain problems as well.
Some of them are: How should you define your art style? How should you set the game difficulty?
When you have a specific target audience in mind for your game, these questions are pretty simple to answer. However, with two genres in mind, achieving a balance between them becomes an issue.
Hybrid Mobile Games: Popular Mashups
When it comes to combining different genres, some combinations are more common than others.
Here are some of them.
Puzzle + RPG
Even though they are completely different, these two genres can work great together.
Why is that?
In most cases, the “puzzle part” in such games consists of match-3 gameplay. And we all know how big and profitable this puzzle subgenre is.
However, traditional match-3 games are not re-engaging enough for some users.
This is where RPG elements come to the rescue.
An RPG layer can bring engagement and monetization elements that deepen the game. For example, guilds, subscription features, gachas, etc.
As a result, such games may be able to attract a match-3 audience that may spend more than they usually would. And of course, an RPG audience that would thrive on the game’s diversity.
Some examples of successful Puzzle RPG games are Best Fiends, Dragon Ball Z, Empires & Puzzles, etc.
Idle + RPG
Idle games may not be a genre of their own, but they are a subgenre worth mentioning.
When a game has idle mechanics, this means the players are progressing even when they leave the game. When they come back, they can enjoy the fruits of being AFK. For this reason, idle mechanics are also known as “appointment” mechanics.
By nature, idle games are very sticky.
When you combine this with RPG elements, you get an extra set of benefits. Especially when it comes to re-engaging and monetizing players.
For example, a lot of idle RPGs have PvP modes or guild features. These mid-core features can make games competitive and social.
Some examples of successful idle RPGs are AFK Arena and Ulala: Idle Adventure.
It’s interesting that top-grossing idle RPG games all come from Chinese publishers (GameRefinery). This is not only the case in Asia but also in the US market. I guess the Chinese have a knack for creating great hybrid games.
4X Strategy + Puzzle
In this case, we have a strategy subgenre that fits great with puzzle games.
The 4x strategy subgenre consists of four gameplay features:
In such games, players pay attention to things like resource management, troop training, world exploration, base building, fighting enemies, etc.
Since they are all based on the same concept, 4x games often turn out to be very similar to each other.
For this reason, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd.
Going hybrid is one solution to this problem. A lot of hybrid 4x games include puzzle features, usually match-3 or merge mechanics.
These mechanics help these games lower entry barriers, diversify the gameplay, and attract a wider audience.
Some examples of such games are Puzzles & Survival and Top War: Battle Game.
RPG + Strategy
Not all hybrid mobile games have to mix completely different genres. Sometimes, they are staying safe — in their own category.
In this example, it’s the mid-core category.
The RPG and strategy genres are a natural fit. Hence, it doesn’t feel very unusual when they are combined into one game. For example, strategy games can come with an RPG character-collection meta layer.
In such games, players can enjoy the strategic, tactic part, as well as the more straightforward RPG layer. Some players prefer one over the other, but both are equally important for progress.
Naturally, this expands the ways a game can engage and monetize its player base.
Hybrid-Casual (Hyper-Casual + Mid-Core)
New times call for new terms, so let me introduce you to this one.
The term “hybrid-casual” stands for mobile games that combine simple hyper-casual gameplay with mid-core mechanics.
For example, a game can have a simple, easy-to-learn core loop. Players can learn how to play the game instantly. At the same time, it can include mid-core meta layers and monetization features.
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Ideally, this combination can help you acquire users at a low, hyper-casual cost and monetize them as mid-core users.
This is the dream.
Naturally, this is a difficult mission that requires a lot of time and know-how.
Examples of Hybrid Mobile Games
Today, hybrid games are all over the app stores’ top charts.
Therefore, it wasn’t difficult to find examples of successful hybrid mobile games.
Let’s analyze them and learn from them!
State of Survival: Walking Dead
State of Survival is a zombie apocalypse game by KingsGroup Holdings.
The game falls into two genres: strategy and RPG. Its gameplay mainly consists of base building and a PvE battle mode. Additionally, the game also includes a character-focused RPG layer.
The players’ main goal? Defeating zombies and other players.
How do they achieve this goal?
They need to become strong enough. They can do this by upgrading their base, knowledge, and heroes.
In other words, they have to progress on both fronts — in both the strategy and the RPG layer.
All of this brings additional depth to the game. As a result, it should boost the game’s retention rates and player LTVs.
Mixing these two genres also helps the game acquire more players.
The thing is, the strategy 4x genre is generally less “approachable” than the RPG one. The RPG layer has the potential to lower the entry barrier and attract a more diverse player base.
If there is a game out there that is a little bit of everything, it’s Archero by Habby.
Archero’s core loop is utterly simple, so it can be considered hyper-casual. The whole game is simple and easy to learn, so it technically falls into the casual genre. However, the app stores also put it into the action category.
Wait, there is more.
The game also contains RPG elements — equipping and upgrading characters.
Overall, the game has hyper-casual, casual, action, RPG, and arcade elements. As such, it falls into the category of hybrid-casual games.
With all of these different elements, Archero gets to attract different types of gamers.
Its simple controls attract casual gamers looking for leisure and fun. On the other hand, its demanding levels and meta layers draw the attention of hardcore gamers.
Top War: Battle Game
This game by Topwar studio brings a smart blend of 4x strategy and puzzle mechanics.
More precisely, merge mechanics.
In merge games, players need to drag identical or similar items and merge them together.
This puzzle games subgenre has been trending for a couple of years already. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that this is the mechanic Top War developers chose for their game.
How do these two genres fit in exactly?
As I mentioned earlier, a big part of 4x gameplay is base building and troop training. Unlike most 4x games, Top War doesn’t have long upgrade wait times. Instead, players need to merge units together to upgrade them instantly.
Besides these two genres, the game also contains an RPG layer — hero collection.
All of this is rounded up with a cartoonish art style that we can usually see in games in the casual category. As such, it has the potential to attract a very broad audience.
One thing is for sure, Top War brings a refreshing and innovative combination of genres. Most importantly — it works. According to GameRefinery, the game is climbing top-grossing charts in both Asian and Western markets.
This game by Lilith Games is yet another successful hybrid.
Even though the app stores classify it as RPG and strategy, there is more to this game.
AFK Arena also includes idle mechanics, which puts the game in a separate category — idle RPG.
It’s also important to mention that the game comes with simplified graphics. This makes it feel less complex than most mid-core games.
In a lot of ways, AFK Arena works like any other turn-based RPG game. Players need to collect loot, collect and upgrade heroes, and fight battles.
However, idle mechanics are a major part of player progression in this game.
The thing is, even when they are not playing, the players’ chests are automatically filling up with loot. For this reason, AFK Arena players tend to plan their sessions ahead.
The idle mechanics also play a big role in the game’s user acquisition strategy.
For the most part, AFK Arena’s ads show off the game’s idle features. This is because they are the most “marketable” feature of the game that can attract a wide audience.
On top of all this, this game also has a match-3 mode. It’s not something that all players need to engage with, but it certainly brings more diversity to the game.
Thanks to its meta layers, Playrix’s Homescapes is also considered a hybrid game.
However, this game remains completely in the casual category.
It combines a puzzle match-3 core with simulation genre elements. More precisely, with decoration and narrative meta layers.
With this kind of approach, the game gets to attract more than just match-3 enthusiasts. Because of its diversity, there are many other reasons why people install and keep playing this game.
If it were match-3 only, its audience would mainly consist of players who enjoy problem solving and progressing.
Thanks to its meta layers, this is not the case.
Homescapes’ simulation genre elements mostly attract people looking to express themselves in a game. This group of people enjoys the game’s interior design features, storytelling elements, or both.
This genre combination also helps with user retention.
Basically, it makes gameplay richer and more diverse. All of this to prevent every game’s worst enemy — bored players.
How to Create Successful Hybrid Mobile Games?
In hybrid mobile games, one genre is always prevalent, while others usually work as additions.
However, this doesn’t mean you can work hard on one, and neglect the other.
How do you combine the two in the most effective way possible?
Let me give you some guidelines. I will be following it up with screenshots from Archero because this game does a great job at it.
Start Things Right
If you’re combining two genres, one of them is usually more accessible than the other.
You will want to use this genre to attract users via your user acquisition campaigns. For example, if you’re combining casual and strategy elements, it makes more sense to start things casual.
This is because casual mechanics can engage almost any type of player.
What happens after the install?
You need to welcome your players right.
In other words, the players’ first-time user experience should be as simple as possible.
Welcome them with a tutorial, and don’t bother them with more complex features just yet.
For starters, you can only give players a glimpse into deeper gameplay. For example, reward them with equipment items they will need later, or let them collect XP points.
My main point?
In this phase, don’t give players anything that needs lengthy explanations.
Gradually Introduce New Features
Once your players are on board, you can introduce them to more of your game.
If you previously gave them a glimpse of meta gameplay, now it’s time to let them try it out.
Let’s say you already gave them equipment items.
Now, let them equip. Also, teach them what kind of benefit they will get out of it.
This step has to feel significant and pleasing. Basically, you want your players to think of this step as a fun intro to a deeper gameplay.
If you really want it to feel great, you can make that equipment item a major gameplay boost. This would definitely encourage them to engage with the meta layer of your game.
Later on, occasionally (after a few levels or stages) introduce new meta mechanics. Once you run out of things to teach them, consider the players onboarded.
The key thing to remember?
You need to keep it slow so you don’t overwhelm players that take the game casually.
From time to time, you need to give your players reasons to come back to the game. This is important for both of the genres you have included in your game.
Here’s what I mean when I say reinforce.
I mean — remind players about the meta, set goals for them to achieve, etc. For example, you can set goals that are currently unreachable.
However, they shouldn’t feel impossible to reach. Players should feel that if they keep playing — they can complete these goals.
Make the Most out of Both Genres
More genres don’t necessarily mean more money.
However, hybrid games open up some new monetization opportunities.
First, you will use your “more accessible genre” to attract a big player base. Then, you can use your “deeper genre” to try and monetize as many players as possible.
In such games, your goal isn’t to earn as much money ASAP. Instead, you want to engage and retain players, and then make money.
How can you achieve this?
According to Google and Kantar, the best monetization mix for hybrid games are in-app purchases and rewarded video ads.
The same research brings hybrid gamers’ monetization preferences:
- 33% of players watch rewarded video ads to earn more lives or energy
- 28% of players make IAPs to obtain exclusive items
As you can see, the players’ motives for watching ads and making purchases are completely different.
One thing is for sure — they both have to be relevant to the game. Plus, they have to help players progress in some way.
A Final Word on Hybrid Mobile Games
The future seems bright for hybrid mobile games.
They seem to be an especially good way to stand out in an oversaturated market. Done right, they can be great for making more money, too.
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