The future of puzzle games and key differences between puzzles and hyper-casuals

Mobidictum did an interview with Flime’s Leonid Zverugo and talked about the future of puzzle games. We also covered what awaits the hyper-casual genre.
Flime's head of production Leonid Zverugo
We got expert opinion on puzzle and hyper-casual games.

Various game genres are rising and falling in the mobile game industry. Hyper-casual and puzzle games frequently take their place in the top-paying mobile game lists.

Some game studios prefer to specialize in specific game genres. Hyper-casual and puzzle games are among these genres. So, what awaits game studios investing in these two genres in the near future? As Mobidictum, we focused on this issue and interviewed Leonid Zverugo, one of the experts in the industry.

Leonid Zverugo is the head of product at Flime, a sub-brand of Gismart. He also has a career in the game industry, starting from being a developer and moving up to senior management positions. We asked Zverugo questions about the future of puzzle games and the Turkish and European game market and got their opinions.

“Word Search Together” from Flime

Puzzle games are very popular among Turkish studios and in quite a few European countries. We assume they see promising potential in puzzle games. What do you think about puzzles and their future? Especially in the near future.

The puzzle genre is indeed very popular today, and user interest keeps on growing. At the same time, it is a rather complicated product from a business point of view. Due to the fact that the monetization model here involves advertising, unlike, for example, games in which most of the revenue comes from in-app purchases, it is hard to accurately predict revenue based on open data or competitor cases. This causes difficulties when building a strategy.

On the other hand, revenue from puzzle games, with the right strategy, can be generated for years after the launch, which is virtually impossible in hyper-casual games. So, I would say that with the proper experience, a technical background, an effective team, smart marketing and a serious approach to business, puzzles – as a business model – seems to be a very promising direction.

Do you think the golden period of hyper-casual is coming to an end? Even if we are not close to the end of an era, could puzzles be a good alternative after hyper-casual?  

If you look at hyper-casual games as an easy way to enter the market, then I’m here to say, that era is definitely over. Today it is very difficult to become a strong player in the hyper-casual genre.

The requirements for games are also changing. Smartphones are evolving, which means that the audience’s requirements for game quality are also changing. In addition, the price of buying traffic is increasing. It has become more expensive not only to create games, but also to promote them. Currently, games need more and more downloads. If we look at hyper-casual games from a player’s point of view, they are still at the top of the charts. I think that hyper-casual games will eventually evolve and continue to attract players.

What are the differences between puzzles and hyper-casuals regarding player retention, CPI, and audience?

Puzzles demonstrate a higher retention rate compared to hyper-casual games. In hyper-casual, retention drops by the seventh day, so the biggest task on the first day is to attract the maximum number of players by “spamming” them with ads. Good puzzles even on the 30th day have 15-20% of the initial audience, which then falls off very slowly, and even by the end of the year, it is quite realistic to keep 3-5% of players.

A very interesting aspect of this genre is the audience. In contrast to hyper-casual games, puzzles are played by a much more adult audience. This can be considered an evergreen area: people who used to play hyper-casual games five years ago are growing up and looking for games that make them think, rather than simple time-killers. This behavioral trait defines the foundation of the genre, which is calm and thoughtful gameplay. Puzzles tend to be a long-term investment from the gamers’ side, and this is a key aspect that differentiates puzzles from hyper-casual games.

Another difference between these two game categories is how it operates. While in hyper-casual projects, you don’t have to spend a lot of resources to update games after their release, in puzzles, you have to add more features like in-game currency, tournaments, social mechanics, challenges, and events, which are added to the main gameplay and content.

The Cost Per Install (CPI) for quality audiences in the puzzle genre is obviously higher. Whereas in hyper-casual projects, a good CPI is considered to be around 20 cents, in puzzle projects, it can reach several dollars. Here you can spend $5 on advertising to attract a player so that he or she could pay you back $7 later. For example, some market players conduct their ad purchasing based on a yearly Lifetime Value (LTV). They attract users in advance with the expectation that they will “pay it back” over the course of a year. In the first few months, it may not generate revenue, but six months later, after the break-even point, the investment will start giving a return.

Yes, the intensity of generating income in the two genres is different, but puzzles look more advantageous for long-term strategies.

According to Statista’s report, total revenue in puzzle games has reached almost $23b in 2022. Almost half of the revenue comes from in-app purchases that we don’t see in hyper-casual games. So what are the monetization differences in puzzles? Should studios focus on in-app purchases or both?

Information about games with subscription monetization models, in-app, and some other non-advertising types, is available through various services or tools. It is easy to see how much a game earns from in-game purchases as this information is trackable through the stores. In the case of advertising monetization models, it is rather difficult to get accurate data. For example, we can see how many downloads the game has, and then it can make an income forecast based on our experience.

It’s worth mentioning that there are several subcategories in this genre that may differ in terms of monetization models. For example, the ad monetization model is more likely to suit logic puzzles like EasyBrain, while products similar to Match 3, are more likely to go with in-app. But there are exceptions everywhere, so it’s better to choose a model based on your particular target audience and your ability to attract it. For example, we like to experiment and can test several types of monetization in one product.

Today, you don’t need to have a studio to create a hit hyper-casual game. You can do it with a 2-3 people team and a publisher. Is it the same for puzzles, or do studios that want to switch their games to puzzles need to do in-company development, grow the size of their team, and so on?  

Creating a hyper-casual hit is a bit like a lottery. It requires a lot of factors to coincide. If a team has enough time, money and enthusiasm, properly laid out processes, strong product expertise, a technical base and tools to work both on development and game marketing, then it may be possible for a game to become a hit. But even with all the ingredients for success, the chances are still not very high. Within the puzzle game genre, your chances are slim to none, because puzzles are much more of a technological product. Games need to be constantly updated, they require their own servers and a different level of product management.

Advice for studios who don’t have in-house capabilities to create ‘puzzle games’ – what do they need to do to create that capability? Do they need to hire particular specialists or can they train up their team as they might do for creating hyper-casual games?

The most important recommendation here is to find a good product manager who is a triple threat. Someone who understands all the nuances of the genre, recognizes the needs of the audience, and who knows how to optimize processes to make the most of the available resources. Without an expert in product development, it would be almost impossible to make a puzzle of a decent standard. Once you’ve filled that role, the next most mandatory positions include, at the very least, a cool developer and an equally cool Computer Graphics (CG) generalist.

And beyond this, you’ll need expertise in publishing: analytics, marketing, and so on. When all the pieces of the puzzle come together, you need to be patient, as the success of a puzzle – as opposed to a hyper-casual game – becomes visible slowly, over time.

Now let’s talk a little bit about you, Flime and Gismart. How does Gismart help studios to switch to the puzzle genre? Do you help them with your marketing tools, or do you share your know-how?   

Despite the fact that we are a strong and professional team with well-established processes, we are open to cooperation with studios, because we have more ideas than we can implement on our own.

As partners, we offer our product expertise and a large amount of technical know-how in product development and marketing. The tools we have built and tested over time help us take a strategic approach to product development and marketing campaign planning. A partner studio only needs to focus on game production, while we provide full support in all other aspects.

Please tell us a bit about Flime and what you do in the company?

Flime is a mobile game development studio, part of the Gismart umbrella brand which consists of several independent sub-brands including casual, social and blockchain gaming as well as wellness, pet-training, music and utilities mobile products. Flime grew from a small team of game developers into a company with products that are played by over 500 million people worldwide taking Gismart’s overall product downloads over a billion. We started our journey with HTML5 games for social platforms, later expanding into hyper-casual game development. Earlier this year we shifted to creating puzzle games. I had several roles within the company before becoming Head of Production. I’m in charge of the whole product development and distribution cycle: from the idea and game testing to the overall strategy for bringing games to market.

More about Leonid Zverugo and Gismart:

Zverugo started out as a Java developer. He later became interested in executive positions and tried his luck as a project and product manager at several major IT companies and startups. He then set up his own studio focused on outsourcing and development solutions. Starting his own business gave him a deeper insight into his business processes. He realized he could gain many more productive experiences by working in a large company with solid foundations. That’s why he joined Flime, part of Gismart focused on game development.

Gismart is one of the world’s leading game and application developer and publisher companies. The company continues its activities with three main focuses: hyper-casual and casual games, musical entertainment applications, and wellness products.

The games and applications developed by Gismart have more than 30 million active users, and the games they have developed have exceeded 1 billion downloads to date. Still, the company continues its expansion policy and aims to reach more studios and users.

The company’s mobile game portfolio includes many famous titles such as Vip Guard, Angle Fight 3D, Piano – Keyboard & Magic Tiles, and Cross Logic – Puzzle Game.

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