Hybrid-Casual Puzzle Games: Redefining the Puzzle Genre

Are games like Candy Crush and Gardenscapes losing popularity? Find out how hybrid-casual puzzle games are transforming the puzzle genre!

It’s no secret that hybrid-casual games are taking the mobile gaming world by storm. This has led to a widespread opinion that hyper-casual games are dying and are being replaced by this new genre. 

But have you ever stopped to think about their effect on other major gaming genres

In this article, we’re looking into hybrid-casual puzzle games and their effect on one of the biggest & most profitable mobile gaming genres — puzzle games

Let’s dive right in!

The State of the Puzzle Genre

puzzle genre downloads and revenue
Source: SensorTower

The puzzle genre is massive.

When it comes to their all-time downloads and revenue, puzzle mobile games have reached some mind-blowing figures. Over the years, these games have accumulated over 50 billion downloads and generated $42 billion in revenue (SensorTower).

What do we mean when we say puzzle?

There are many different games under the puzzle umbrella. 

According to SensorTower, the genre consists of 19 subgenres. Among these, the Swap subgenre leads the way both in downloads and revenues.

Swap games account for 16% of the genre’s all-time downloads and a whopping 61% of revenues. This includes well-known titles like Candy Crush Saga, Royal Match, and Gardenscapes. 

puzzle game subgenres

Besides Swap games, the most downloaded puzzle subgenres include Physics, Riddle, and Word games. The revenue rankings paint a completely different picture, with Swap games followed by Blast, Chain, and Hidden Object games.

Rise of Hybrid-Casual Puzzle Games 

Now, let’s take a look at the puzzle genre from a completely different angle — by product models. 

The games in the puzzle genre can be grouped into five major product models:

  • casual
  • mid-core
  • hyper-casual
  • exclusive access (paid)
  • hybrid-casual

Casual puzzle games have been dominating the puzzle genre for years, accumulating 32.9 billion all-time downloads and 41.3 billion in revenue. 

Their history has been bright, but their future looks less promising. 

casual puzzle decline and hybrid casual puzzle games rise
Source: SensorTower

In 2022/2023, casual puzzle downloads and revenues have started to decline. The same happened with mid-core and exclusive access puzzle games, as well as hyper-casual puzzle downloads. 

Only one of these product models saw a rise in both downloads and revenue — hybrid-casual puzzle games. Their year-on-year revenues increased by a whopping 429%, while their downloads rose by 9.19%. 

The rise of hybrid-casual puzzle games has had a negative impact on other puzzle game models. While the casual model maintained a relatively stable position, others have suffered a more serious decline.

Now that you’re aware of how big of a trend hybrid-casual games are, let us introduce you to their typical characteristics. 

So, What Are Hybrid-Casual Puzzle Games?

Hybrid-casual puzzle games combine features from both casual puzzles and hyper-casual games.

At their core, these games offer simple puzzle gameplay.

For example, matching, pairing, or merging. 

What sets this core apart from casual puzzles is its simplified nature, designed to appeal to a broader audience. Inspired by hyper-casual games, they feature simple controls and a short learning curve.

On the other hand, drawing from casual puzzle games, they offer much more depth than hyper-casual games. This is done by adding things like social features, meta layers, collection systems, etc. 

The goal of these games is to strike a balance between simplicity and depth. 

This balance should make the games appealing to a wide audience, while also ensuring high player retention and lifetime values. 

Simplified Casual Puzzle Elements 

Casual puzzle elements in hybrid-casual puzzle games aren’t the same as those that appear in casual puzzle games.

Instead, they appear as lighter, simplified versions. 

For example, many hybrid-casual puzzle games feature narrative, decoration, or building meta layers. While these layers certainly help engage players, they are not as complex as those found in classic casual puzzle games (e.g. Gardenscapes, Project Makeover).

Simplified Meta Layer in Collect Em All

Simplified Meta Layer in Collect Em All hybrid-casual puzzle game

Collect Em All comes with an utterly simple core gameplay that feels almost hyper-casual. 

In it, players need to connect same-colored balls into chains to crush them. 

Simple as that.

Upon completing puzzle levels, players are introduced to the “hybridized” part of the game. This includes leaderboards, mini-games, and most notably — a decoration meta layer. In it, players get to decorate different rooms, make design choices, and express themselves. 

However, unlike in casual puzzle games, players don’t engage with meta layers for a long period of time. They do what needs to be done, see how they are doing, and then swiftly proceed to the next task. 

The purpose of such meta layers? 

Making the game more diverse while adding an additional set of goals for players to achieve. 

Hybrid Monetization: Casting a Wide Net

Just like they inherited casual and hyper-casual elements, hybrid-casual puzzle games also embraced monetization features from both genres.

They took over ads and IAPs, blending them into a hybrid monetization model

This strategy helps developers monetize a wide range of players, getting the best of both worlds.

Here’s an example of how this looks like in a hybrid-casual puzzle game. 

Hybrid Monetization in Triple Match 3D

Hybrid Monetization in Triple Match 3D - a hybrid-casual puzzle game

Triple Match 3D has an incredibly simple core gameplay where players find and match the same items from a pile. On top of that, the game includes a variety of engagement features like leaderboards, teams, and daily and weekly rewards. 

This setup makes a fertile ground for hybrid monetization. 

The game makes money primarily through interstitials + IAPs.

Interestingly, the game gets away with displaying an interstitial after every level. On top of that, it offers an array of IAP offers  (e.g. removing ads, coin packs, bundles, pop-ups). 

The secret to making this work is offering relevant and timely IAPs, appearing only when players are most likely to consider them. 

Finally, the game also features a couple of rewarded video ad placements and banner ads almost constantly present on the bottom of the players’ screens. 

Hybrid-Casual Puzzle Leaders

Now that you’re familiar with the definition and growth of hybrid casual games, you might be wondering exactly which games are driving such strong growth.

Spoiler alert  — we already mentioned two of them. 

rise of hybrid-casual puzzle games
Source: SensorTower

According to SensorTower, the top hybrid-casual puzzle games by revenue from Q1 2022 to Q1 2023 were: 

  1. Triple Match 3D (pair)
  2. Match 3D (pair)
  3. Collect Em All! (chain)
  4. Match Tile 3D (pair)
  5. Brain Test: Tricky Puzzles (riddle)

As you can see, the majority of games in this list fall into the same subgenre Pair. These games are also prevalent among the top 10 hybrid-casual puzzle games, taking up as many as six positions. 

Pair games also show impressive retention rates.

hybrid-casual puzzle games pair retention
Source: SensorTower

As you can see in the image above, the retention rate for these games is incredibly stable. On day 1, they usually have retention of 40% or higher, gradually decreasing to approx. 7% to 3% by day 90 (SensorTower)

How come all these games achieve such stable results?

It’s pretty rare to group a couple of games together and observe such similar player behavior patterns.  When players start playing these games, they quickly learn how to play and get hooked, resulting in great day 1 retention. 

As players continue playing, they discover more depth through the games’ various features and layers. Thanks to this process, many of them remain engaged for an extended period of time, maximizing their long-term retention. 

Final Thoughts

Hybrid-casual puzzle games are undoubtedly a major trend.

A quality hybrid-casual puzzle can sustain revenue and growth for years. Therefore, if you have the know-how and resources to develop such a game, we recommend taking this route. 

Meanwhile, make sure you’re always up to date with mobile gaming trends. Subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll keep you in the loop!  

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