How Azur Games grew its hypercasual games to 1.5B downloads
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Azur Games is one of those companies that has quietly become one of the top ten game publishers in the world with over 1.5 billion downloads. It did so based on the hyper-casual games emerging on mobile devices.
Today, the company has more than 300 employees in Cyprus and Eastern Europe, said Dmitry Yaminsky, CEO of Azur Games, in an interview with GamesBeat. And in the first quarter, Azure’s Stack Ball and Hit Master 3D games were among the top 20 most downloaded games in the world, according to measurement company Sensor Tower.
During this successful run, Yaminsky found that while many hypercasual games remain big hits for about a month, they quickly drop out afterwards. But the downloads are not going to zero. On the contrary, they fall to maybe 10% or 20% of the first digits. And then they stay at that level of maybe 100,000 downloads per month for a long time, giving games a longer lifespan and a more predictable revenue stream. And with so many games in the library and pipeline to come, Azur Games has a pretty good company that can support the employee base, Yaminsky said. Stack Ball is the biggest hit, with over 300 million downloads, while WormsZome.io has over 200 million downloads.
But the competition is not easy. There are rivals like Voodoo Games, SayGames, Rollic, and others.
Yaminsky previously worked in the advertising industry, but decided to get into games after a downturn in 2014 and 2015.
Yaminsky officially launched the game publisher in 2016 in Moscow to release midcore games, or those with hardcore themes but which can be played in short cycles on mobile devices. The company found a studio that was working on a title called Modern Strike Online, a mobile version of Counter-Strike. And they helped them with the launch with the marketing at first.
This game became a huge success with over 70 million downloads and Azur Games acquired half of the development studio.
“It was very successful. And with the launch of the game, I decided to work on other games. And so after the company started as a mobile publisher, then we started our own development, ”he said.
In 2017, hypercasual games – which maybe take a minute to play – started to take off, thanks to new game companies like Voodoo Games. He moved the seat to Cyprus.
“We weren’t sure how to approach user acquisition for the new market at the time, so we decided to fund and run an experiment – two people on the team created a hyper-casual game that became a success, ”Yaminsky said. “It turned out that two or three people can create a project with better metrics than a team of 60 people in the midcore segment. It was our pivot. ”
In the first experiment, one person worked on programming and another on art. It took about a month to complete the game. On day one, the game generated $ 1,000 in advertising revenue. On the second day, it was $ 2,000.
“Then we started to acquire users,” he said. “Back then, it was so easy. There were so few competitors. A lot of people said it was impossible. I said it was my money. Let me waste it. In fact, the first game I launched was a real success.
Grow the business
Some companies have started to produce games like factories. It was relatively easy to develop into hypercasual back then as the market was small and the developers were very excited to showcase their games.
That’s when we knew we had to stand out from other publishers and tried to see the teams for their potential, refine the prototypes and accumulate expertise within the company ”, Yaminsky said. “It was a breath of fresh air for the industry, as most editors back then were just looking at the opening bars – if they were good they would take over the project, if not, they would send it back to the developer. . ”
Azur Games has started to build a comfortable ecosystem for developers and to develop projects within it. He shared his experience and actively helped budding studios and solo developers enter the market. As a result, marketing budgets increased, studios learned to trust Azur Games, and the company began to attract many new developers.
While the head office is in Cyprus, the team is dispersed, with back offices in Dubai and Moscow. Most people work remotely, which allows the business to grow quickly. About 50 people work in marketing and analytics, while a team of 30 motion designers work on creative ads that help games spread. About 200 people work on midcore projects, which may have higher margins.
“We are trying to forge our own path,” Yaminsky said. “Many companies in the market are still waiting for completed projects with good metrics. But at Azur Games, we believe in teams and improve projects ourselves. ”
While hypercasual games still provide the most downloads, Azur Games has branched out into the casual games and midcore games segments. These games will start releasing in the months and years to come.
The hypercasual department consists of several mini-teams, which include a producer, two or three product assistants and two or three game designers. Each mini-team works with a limited number of studios.
“We prototype about 200 games a month, and after testing them, we release about one or two games a month,” Yaminsky said. “In other words, to get a lot of downloads you have to do a lot of work, which is not always visible from the outside.
Stay ahead of the competition
Now that the hypercasual is a big market, companies like Zynga have acquired hypercasual companies like Rollic, and the market is crowded.
“You can only win as a business if you share your expertise with developers more than with others, run tests faster, use your own analytics, and invest your skills and experience in development,” said Yaminsky. “We focus on communication and making the necessary resources available: for example, if the team does not have motion designers, game designers or artists, we involve them as needed.
In other words, the current strategy is to provide favorable conditions and infrastructure for development within its ecosystem. This means the company is ready to share anything that could help developers make the right decision, with trend tracking data being one example. At the same time, the company never reworks games for studios and only suggests direction.
This means that the business must find the right teams to build long-term and mutually beneficial relationships. He has invested over $ 10 million in developers to date. Many developers are in Eastern Europe, where companies have learned to move quickly and efficiently without increasing costs, Yaminsky said. There are also a lot of educated programmers in the area.
“Above all, we always assess the potential. If so, we are ready to invest our own efforts and substantial sums, ”Yaminsky said. “For example, if there is a studio with an annual turnover of up to $ 5 million, we are willing to invest up to $ 10 million for a 20-30% stake or even more. in some cases. During this time, the studio maintains control of the project, and we are only helping to develop it in all directions, including marketing.
In 2019, the market got a lot more competitive, and now it’s even hotter. In May, the company spent more than $ 15 million on marketing. The company also tries to offer developers more favorable terms than others, such as paying well for each prototype. This allows them to cover development costs, so they can feel comfortable trying more things than they would in a different setting, Yaminsky said.
“Regarding the product strategy, we aim to increase the lifetime value of users and pay more attention to in-app monetization,” he said. “This means that we plan to do more in-depth projects, but we always take into account the resources of the studio – if the developer doesn’t have a lot of experience, he works on simple mechanics.”
A successful game can get 300,000 to 500,000 downloads per day, but Yaminsky thinks the long run matters a lot. In the long tail of a hit, a game can generate $ 100,000 to $ 400,000 per month. With 10 to 30 of those hits, the long tail generates a consistent income that runs into millions of dollars per month.
Now, the company is looking for more game studios to invest in to continue to generate more success.
“The number of competitors keeps growing and we have to stay competitive,” Yaminsky said.
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