In our first edition of Dev Talks, we got the opportunity to talk to Masaya Murakami, the head of hyper-casual games at KAYAC Inc.
As you may know, KAYAC Inc. is one of the biggest mobile gaming studios in Japan, specializing in hyper-casual games.
In this interview, we put a special focus on the studio’s latest hit — Number Master: Merge and Run.
About KAYAC Inc.
Founded in 1998, KAYAC Inc. is a company with a long history in gaming.
They started developing and releasing mobile games in 2011, but, it took years until they made their way to the global top charts.
Their first big international break was Park Master from 2019, which reached over 100 million downloads. In 2021, the studio had another major hyper-casual hit, Ball Run 2048.
Today, KAYAC Inc. is the biggest Japanese mobile game publisher by downloads.
Not only that, but they are also a strong contestant in the international hyper-casual arena. Their games have been downloaded almost 500 million times, and this number is rising by the day.
About Number Master: Run and Merge
Released in July 2022, Number Master: Run and Merge quickly rose to the top of the hyper-casual charts.
The peak month for the game was December 2022 when it reached the #2 position on the top charts (AppMagic).
Since its release, the game has gotten over 20 million downloads and still continues to rank high on the charts.
How did it get there?
Let’s hear it directly from Masaya Murakami, head of hyper-casual games at the studio.
Can you tell us a bit about the development process of Number Master: Run and merge? How long did you work on the game? How many people worked on it?
We created this game the same way we develop all our basic hyper-casual games. We built a prototype of the game in about two weeks, conducted market testing, and got a good score with this game, while many games do not pass the test.
The team that worked on the game consisted of three people — one game planner, one front engineer, and one designer.
Where did the idea for the game come from? Any popular games you drew inspiration from?
I created this game idea while working as a manager of the business. Our team, from the manager to the creators, values working as if we’re playing. We want to have fun working together.
For this game, I focused on different trends from a couple of hit titles.
The first trend comes from our game, “Ball Run 2048”. Although this is a very simple running game with a merging rule, it showed us that it is possible to succeed even with such basic elements.
The second is the trend of level-up games, which we noticed in titles like Super Cent’s “Hit & Run: Solo Leveling” and Lion Studio’s “Level Up Runner”. I thought that the game could be made much simpler, following in the footsteps of Ball Run 2048.
The last trend I focused on is the rules from “Hero Tower Wars”. I’m sure many of you have seen in-app ads for this game. In this title, the player wins against smaller numbers but loses against larger numbers. Since so many people understand and play this game, we decided to apply a similar concept to Number Master.
Basically, Number Master was created as a combination of all these three trends.
Can you give us a quick walkthrough of the marketing strategy for Number Master: Run and Merge? How do you attract and retain players?
In hyper-casual gaming, most users are traditionally acquired through in-app advertising.
Initial market testing ensures the scalability of the app by making sure the cost per install (CPI) is low enough. This means that you can acquire many users at low advertising costs.
The key is ideation and A/B testing.
Our company has a culture that places great importance on coming up with ideas. We believe that as long as you have ideas, things will always improve. Also, most people in our company love playing games, so we are never short of ideas.
We take the ideas that come to us, put them first, and then let the market decide if they are good enough through A/B testing. Whether it is video ads, playable ads, or game implementation, we will pursue better creativity through A/B testing.
What do you see as the main reason the game hit the top charts soon after its launch?
Hyper-casual games often take a big jump after launch, and Number Master has been one of them. The market loved it, and we put our ad creatives and ad budget into it, and it went on to top the charts worldwide.
Right now, the game monetizes with ads only. Did you consider hopping on the trend of hybrid monetization and expanding its monetization strategy?
The number of games that incorporate hybrid methods of in-app advertising and in-app purchase, known as hybrid casual games, is gradually increasing.
Voodoo, one of the leaders of the hyper-casual game industry, is also shifting to casual games. To ride this big wave, we are looking to increase engagement in our games and introduce in-app purchases.
Other new monetization methods such as in-play advertising, audio advertising, and web3 monetization are also on the rise. We are paying attention to these trends and we plan to incorporate them into our games in the near future.
Were there any challenges or obstacles you faced during the development and launch of Number Master: Run and Merge?
Fortunately, there were no major obstacles to our launch. However, we have a steep road ahead of us to grow the app more and move toward hybridization as we said above.
If any of your readers have any knowledge about hybrid games, I would be happy to hear from them. In the same spirit, if there is anything we can do to help others, we will. I believe ideas and marketing are our strongest weapons here in Japan. 🙂
Last but not least, can you share any advice for aspiring game developers in the hyper-casual genre?
Succeeding in the games market is getting harder and harder by the year. The recession has made advertising more difficult, and the mobile games market is saturated with competition, especially when it comes to hyper-casual games.
However, we have been making hits recently, which tells us we still have a chance.
The first step is to study hard. There are many successful titles out there, and there are many seminars available.
Study, analyze, and unlock the secrets.
And don’t be discouraged. It is so challenging that even we don’t know if we will get a good result 1 out of 20 times. Just by not giving up, the probability of winning goes up dramatically.
Since we develop and publish in-house, we do not specialize in publishing for outside teams, but we do want to support teams that want to create interesting games and compete. If you need some assistance from us, feel free to contact KAYAC Inc.
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