The rise of Casual Competitive games
In the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of a new type of game genre: the casual competitive games. Supercell has been a pioneer, starting with their blockbuster game Clash of Clans in 2012. While on the surface, CoC can look like a simple strategy game, it innovated the genre by incorporating a lot of real-time decision-making in the combat of this base-building game instead of using a more common turn-based approach.
Since then, their following titles have kept evolving towards real-time competition, in a way holding the hands of their players towards this natural progression:
- Clash of Clans: single player with asynchronous player interaction
- Clash Royale: slow-paced real-time player interaction
- Brawl Stars: fully real-time competitive player-versus-player game
Then we saw the success of Fall Guys in 2020, which took a casual approach to the Battle Royale genre that was already highly popular but limited to more “hardcore” players. In 2021 came the eerily similar Stumble Guys which focused on the mobile market, and generates up to half a million dollars in revenue per day.
How can we define Casual Competitive
Casual competitive games have some common elements that make them highly successful:
- Short match duration: no large time commitment
- Fast-paced player interaction: intense bursts of gameplay
- Simple mechanics: easy to pick up
- Often mobile-first: easy to play from anywhere
- Use of authoritative server: cheat prevention and improved player experience
Why are we seeing this trend now?
Demographics is one part of the equation. People in their 30s who used to play games day and night now have a job and a family, and they often can’t justify spending hours just learning the mechanics of a game. That’s what casual competitive games have over their more hardcore competitors: they are easy to pick up, and matches are short and intense, so you can have fun for a few minutes and then go back to washing the dishes. There’s no need to spend hours learning about all the skills and item combinations to start having fun. Also, as mentioned previously, we’ve also seen the natural evolution of casual players towards real-time games, as they are more engaging and answer the need for social interaction.
On the developer side, making successful multiplayer games has been reserved in the past for big studios with a lot of money to spend on R&D and multiplayer infrastructure. Today, however, it’s easier than ever before to make a multiplayer game considering all the solutions now available in the game engine and multiplayer tech.
The democratization of game making has affected all layers of game creation:
Game Engine: Unity has democratized game making with its free personal license since it launched in 2005, and Unreal followed suit in 2015.
Game Services: Playfab, a pioneer in democratizing game services, launched in 2014. Many other backend-as-a-service providers followed suit, and there is now a plethora of new game services solutions offering solutions for leaderboards, account services, matchmaking, etc. To name a few: Braincloud, Pragma, AccelByte, Beamable, LootLocker, etc.
Netcode: UNET, the propriety networking solution created and later abandoned by Unity, spawned a few children that made players and object synchronization much more accessible for game developers. Photon PUN and Mirror Networking are two prominent examples.
Game hosting: making authoritative servers has long been reserved for AAA studios. But along the way, new solutions started to make this easier, beginning with Gamelift in 2016 and then Agones, which both manage server fleets to scale based on demand. Edgegap is a new type of hosting provider that doesn’t rely on fleet management, but rather spawns game servers instantly in the best location for players and automates server management.
We’re currently in a perfect storm for casual competitive games. On one side, gamers ask for more short-matches, fast-paced games that will test their skills without spending hours learning about specific mechanics. Conversely, game developers now have tools to build these multiplayer games effectively. As a testament to this, we’ve seen the number of multiplayer games developed for mobile platforms explode in 2022. In my crystal ball, I see a possibility for the next Candy Crush to appear as a casual competitive game that will take the world by storm. Is there a new King about to be crowned?