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Rollic has crossed two billion lifetime downloads across its portfolio of hypercasual games, or accessible titles that you can play in a minute or less.
While hypercasual games have had a challenging time in the past year, Istanbul-based Rollic was able to boost its audience and engagement with more use of live operations, online leaderboards, seasonal events and customizable characters. Rollic has now launched 19 games that have hit No. 1 or No. 2 in the U.S. App Store.
I talked with Rollic CEO Burak Vardal, who cofounded the company in 2018. Zynga acquired the company in October 2020 for $168 million, and then Zynga itself was acquired by Take-Two Interactive this year.
Rollic began adding live services to its titles in 2021 with the launch of the first-ever live online leaderboard in Hair Challenge, the rewarded ad “Adopt a Pet” feature in High Heels, and seasonal holiday events across six of its games.
To date in 2022, Rollic has debuted 14 games that have ranked in the top-10 most downloaded games in the U.S. App Store, including Car Lot Management, Coffee Stack, Colors Runners, Hoard Master, Crowd Evolution, and Fill The Fridge.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with Vardal.
GamesBeat: Tell me more about your history at Rollic, and the history of Rollic as well.
Burak Vardal: We co-founded Rollic, two partners and I, back in December 2018. It’s quite a young company. We started as a hypercasual game publisher, and we’re still a hypercasual publisher and developer. Since the beginning we’ve launched more than 200 titles in total. The latest news is Rollic passing 2 billion downloads worldwide in July. We’ve launched more than 15 titles that reached first place in the United States app store and worldwide app store.
GamesBeat: How many people are on the team now?
Vardal: Right now we’re 165 people. The whole team is in Istanbul. But of course we work with a lot of third party developers as a publisher. We have many product managers, game managers, who work on the ideation and production of games. Then we have developers, artists, and other traditional game company divisions.
GamesBeat: How much of your portfolio is internal versus external development?
Vardal: Our external development network is huge. Right now about 90 percent of our production is coming from our third party developer partners.
GamesBeat: Did a great deal change for you after the Zynga acquisition? What’s different?
Vardal: Hypercasual is a totally different world. When we joined Zynga, they didn’t have a hypercasual division. We joined as a new sub-genre of mobile games, which is generally an advantage when joining a giant like Zynga. But our vision for mobile gaming–the differences between sub-genres like casual and hypercasual in the current market are very small. Games are becoming closer to each other. We’re creating more media around our games, more levels, more content. Casual companies are trying to find scalable concepts like hypercasual does.
Joining Zynga was a huge advantage for us. We have the culture of always producing something new in an ongoing way. Zynga has this franchise culture, which is directly opposite, related to managing live games for a very long time and building a lifetime of more than five years for their titles. That was something we didn’t have. Our way of conceptualizing games and doing scale tests was a new thing for Zynga. The integration was a big win for both companies. Rollic’s scale is more than three times bigger now compared to when we joined Zynga. I can say that it’s all gone well.
GamesBeat: Hypercasual — I hear people say some hyperbolic things about it these days. I remember Frank Gibeau saying that one of the things about Rollic that’s helpful to Zynga is that it brings a different kind of user in front of them that they were not otherwise familiar with. They were not reaching that kind of user. That became very important at a time when there was less visibility because of Apple’s IDFA changes. When you don’t know where you’ll be able to source users, having a great funnel for users through hypercasual is very important. That helped protect the company. It looked like that generally worked. But Zynga did face an impact that it talked about later on from IDFA. Eventually it sold to Take-Two, which guaranteed a more stable environment in which to operate.
I’ve heard other people say that hypercasual is also affected in some ways by IDFA, which to me didn’t always make sense. Some people say that hypercasual is dying because of IDFA. That reasoning doesn’t sound right. But I guess the question is, what are some of the macro trends affecting hypercasual? How have you seen this part of the industry change?
Vardal: Being in the kitchen of these things, on our side things look a bit different. I’d say totally opposite. First of all, hypercasual as a genre is the result of the consuming habits of the world right now. People are consuming things very fast. Their attention span is lower than at any time before. People are looking for different, but fun mechanics and entertainment for 10-15 minutes a day, and then they want to move on to a new thing. If you analyze TikTok, this is what TikTok is, right? You spend several seconds on a video, have fun, and move on to a new one. You don’t spend 50 minutes on it.
That’s the most important point. For a game genre to succeed on a mass scale, it should represent the consuming habits of the world. Therefore, I think hypercasual will never die, because these consuming habits won’t change. The second thing is, since hypercasual games are being played by literally everyone, the effect of audience-related targeting measurements is much lower at the hypercasual scale. We’re not looking for a specific audience. We’re looking for everyone. Therefore, in our world, we don’t have much depth to our audience analysis. When you have 2 billion downloads, how specific can the audience be? It’s everyone. You can’t segment that audience. Our different games attract different people, but in the total funnel, hypercasual is a living organism that’s still growing. The main reason is that massive scale based on the consuming habits of the world.
GamesBeat: Is ad revenue in hypercasual being affected by any major trends?
Vardal: There are effects, of course, but generally it’s based on seasonality. The beauty of ad revenue in gaming, though, is that it’s always optimizable. If you see a softness over a couple of days, it’s very easy to get out of that and create new systems behind your game. It’s based on CPMs. It’s based on other companies paying for it, not individuals. The source of ad revenue is coming from the marketing spend from other companies, whereas in-app purchases come from individual spending. That’s the main difference. The trend differences in ad revenue are much lower than in other monetization systems.
At Rollic we’re all ad revenue. We love it. In the current general economic structure of the world, ad revenue may have more advantages because, again, it’s not directly affected by what’s in the pockets of individuals. I think ad revenue in gaming will continue to grow in the future, both in the short term and long term.
GamesBeat: I’ve been playing this Idle Siege game from Gameloft obsessively for a while. It shows me ads whenever I want to do something – if I want to speed up gaining a level, I can choose to see the ad or spend in-game currency. I don’t know whether choosing the ad makes me a good customer or a terrible customer. I haven’t spent any money on the game so far. But I’m always clicking the ads.
Vardal: I think the question is for you. Would you like to spend four dollars, or would you like to watch an ad? Every user is different. The future lies in giving users the chance to choose. That’s lovely, because you can either spend cash or you can watch ads. Some like to spend money and some like to spend time watching ads. Our job as game companies is to predict which makes the bigger LTV, predict that you’re a non-spender, and optimize the ads we serve you accordingly. That’s probably what they’re doing, and it’s what we do. If the user is not willing to buy something, we understand that very quickly, so we start offering them ad opportunities to earn more in the game. That’s a win-win for both parties.
GamesBeat: You don’t mind making money one way or the other.
Vardal: Of course. It’s better than not monetizing you at all. With the current CPMs, we’re seeing a positive trend after IDFA. Ad revenue LTVs are becoming much higher. I suspect that at some point they’ll be competing directly with in-app purchase LTVs, which is great. There are some users watching more than 500 ads in our games per month. They love it. The total LTV is very close to an in-app spender. It’s all about monetizing properly without having a negative impact on the user experience. It’s best to give the user the chance to choose.
GamesBeat: Are there predictions you can make going forward, whether for the rest of the year or in 2023? What do you see happening with hypercasual at an industry level?
Vardal: At the highest level, a lot of consolidation is happening. Take-Two, Zynga. You can see this going on in the gaming world. But other big companies that aren’t in hypercasual yet are still trying to understand it. Meanwhile, companies like Zynga that already have a hypercasual division, they have the advantage in terms of scale. The keyword for the future in hypercasual, it’s still growing. I can see a reasonable percentage growth in hypercasual businesses. But the trick behind that growth opportunity is hypercasual game companies becoming better game designers and creating better games.
This is still gaming. When it’s not console or big casual titles or MMORPGs, I think sometimes people leave aside the importance of creating a better game. But it’s the same for hypercasual. If you want growth, you need to make better updates, more features, bigger bold beats, more scalable concepts with better long-term retention. In the current world, for Rollic, with the amount of concepts we test and analyze every month, I think we have the biggest advantage in creating better games compared to other companies. That’s the biggest factor right now. We have a huge amount of experience to understand what to produce next. That’s a lot of leverage that only hypercasual companies have right now.
The growth, especially in mobile gaming, lies in how quickly and successfully we can use our data and our experience to create better games. We can’t do it with the games we produced three years ago. We need to improve ourselves every year. The future lies in merging the culture of new in hypercasual with the culture of live to make better games. That’s how I see the future of mobile games on my side.
GamesBeat: Did you ever make use of any Zynga IP? Do you think it’s possible that you could make use of Take-Two IP going forward?
Vardal: For the hypercasual business, it’s not necessarily relevant. We’re doing a lot of very quick prototyping and quick testing with new concepts every month. In the short-term future for Rollic and hypercasual, IP mergers aren’t looking very relevant to our business. But in total with Zynga and Take-Two, it makes a lot of sense.
GamesBeat: What is Turkey like when it comes to the studio community there? Is there still lots of startup activity?
Vardal: Rollic was one of the main freewheels of the Turkish gaming startup ecosystem. When we started as a game publisher in 2018, early 2019, there were a few studios in Turkey making games. They were trying to publish their games with global publishers, and their success rate at that was very low. Before Rollic, there were only two games released by a Turkish studio through a global publisher. We launched more than 200 titles with more than 80 different Turkish studios in the last three years.
Of course, without talent it’s impossible, but I think the gaming culture in Turkey is a perfect fit for founding gaming startups. The majority of Rollic’s current production is in Turkey. We’re still moving forward with our Turkish studio partners, who we’ve known since their foundations and worked with very closely. Some of them are computer engineers. Some of them come from PC game companies. Some of them come from global console game companies. But they’ve all come to create a new Turkish game company, on the level of a startup with five or six people, and that’s enough for hypercasual. I feel like hypercasual provides the foundation of the Turkish gaming ecosystem, and then we’ve seen a lot of successful game companies coming up with more investment. The Turkish gaming ecosystem will continue to grow in the future.