The power of small changes: how a 5-minute adjustment changed the fate of our hyper-casual shooter
We’ve been diligently working on a project for several months that was on the brink of being discarded after initial tests. However, the game is now flourishing and generating revenue for the Airicore studio, despite being their first foray into this genre and style.
Dead Raid is a first-person shooter boasting realistic 3D graphics in a dark zombie horror theme. The protagonist navigates through locations, taking down zombies with various weapons. The diverse weaponry and shooting experience are the core fun elements of the game.
The first test revealed promising marketing potential, showing low CPI and a good CTR. However, 19% R1 was concerning.
The ‘feel’ of the game is crucial for retention, creating a sense of fun and encouraging players to continue through levels and stay engaged with the game. So, our initial focus was on analyzing the core mechanics. Often, when a game launches with subpar product metrics, the root issue lies in the gameplay experience.
Originally, Dead Raid’s shooting mechanics resembled those in Western Sniper. Players aimed at the enemy by dragging their finger, then released it to fire.
This method, however, slowed down the gameplay significantly. Our new zombie shooter demanded dynamism – the hero is constantly on the move, facing enemies that charge at them. This is a stark contrast to the sniper genre, where engagements are distant and cover-based.
Recognizing that shooting mechanics profoundly affect gameplay, we decided to make them more interactive.
The modification was quick, and now players automatically shoot by aiming at zombies. This change not only made the gameplay more dynamic but also allowed players to enjoy the distinct behaviors of different weapons much earlier than they did before.
A week of testing post-change showed an immediate 6% increase in R1 and a 30% boost in playtime. We aimed for higher metrics, but it was clear the project had potential, so we continued development. The already low CPI allowed the project to be profitable, despite mixed product metrics.
By the time of the full release, thanks to several adjustments, we achieved an R1 close to 30% and an R7 at 5%. While these metrics aren’t perfect, they show significant progress. Alongside these updates, we also integrated monetization strategies. This dual approach not only enhanced retention but also multiplied LTV several times over.
With that, we kept working on the feel, reduced vibration in certain aspects, enhanced shooting with bows and crossbows, and enlarged zombie hitboxes for more visible impact effects.
We also fine-tuned the sensitivity for consistent gameplay across various devices regardless of the matrix and resolution. Bosses, a bullet time effect for sniper rifles, and destructible levels were added, and we continue to release regular updates.
Now, the focus is on enhancing the project — adding content, features, new levels, enemies, and improving graphics. But all this stemmed from the revamped shooting mechanics, a change that took mere minutes to implement.
Final thoughts: navigating low initial product metrics
Firstly, don’t hesitate to move on to another project. Capturing an audience isn’t always feasible, and sometimes it’s more efficient to develop a new game than to invest months in complex hypotheses and total revamps.
However, if you believe in your project and it struggles with retention, the gameplay likely needs revisiting. Gameplay can be dissected into several elements:
- The foremost element is the feel, as in gameplay experience and enjoyment. This requires experience and a keen observational eye.
- Next is balance. Overly challenging early levels can hinder progression and dampen initial gaming experiences, impacting early retention.
- Finally, content variety. This is more about long-term engagement and can be resource-intensive.
In our scenario, tweaking the shooting control was a five-minute task followed by a week of testing. In general, I recommend focusing first on the feel, the controls, and the camera — the fundamental elements that players encounter first.