FunPlus goes hybrid-casual with new Barcelona studio


FunPlus’ new studio in Barcelona is staffing up to create hybrid-casual games, we can reveal.

The new studio, led by King veteran Felipe Mata, is quite a departure for the developer currently best known for hardcore strategy games like State of Survival and King of Avalon.

FunPlus Barcelona boss Mata told us that the new office could have up to 20 staff by the end of the year, and that the developer’s first casual games could emerge by early 2024.

The new base in Catalonia reflects FunPlus’ overall diversification plans, Mata tells us, and is also partly a reaction to IDFA, which continues to squeeze developers at both the hardcore and hypercasual ends of the spectrum.

“We are going to focus on casual puzzle games – you could even refer to them as hybrid-casual,” Mata told us. “We want to have very fast development cycles and we want to focus on innovating in the core mechanics.”

Puzzle-RPG Call of Antia is the closest FunPlus has come to casual games to date, alongside makeover game Design Island.

“There are many other casual publishers that have heavy metas and need to deliver a lot of content with every update – we want to focus more on the casual experience of the gameplay, have more simple metas and try to do this very fast,” he continues. “That’s why hybrid-casual may be a label for what we want to do. We want to adapt and learn a lot from hypercasual developers.”

That means typical IAP-based monetisation will mix with ads that operate “in a respectful way for the players,” says Mata.

He also acknowledges that market conditions are a factor in the move into uncharted territory for FunPlus. “Expanding into other types of genres is very important for us, and it will make the company operations more resilient to the current economic situation,” says Mata.

“With the impact of IDFA, games can’t rely so much on user acquisition,” he continues. “There’s a need for developers to really shift in direction – the situation for hypercasual developers is not as good as it was with the changes we’re seeing with IDFA and Google’s ad policy. Also midcore or hardcore developers need to broaden the audience so they don’t rely so much on paid marketing to get users.”

FunPlus has had a small support office in Barcelona since 2019, but now it’ll be home to a growing game development team.

So it follows that marketability testing will be central to the development of these new games, which will be based on newly-created IP.

“We don’t want to rely on paid marketing,” he says. “We need to find new ways to expose our new games that is not only based on paid acquisition. We want to be similar to hypercasual in terms of fast prototyping.”

That approach could include soft launching a very early version of a game and tweaking from there. “We want only to invest in ideas we think could take off because the metrics we see are strong,” he says. “We don’t have specific numbers of how many games we want out – we want to test many of them.”

Those first games could be out in early 2024, says Mata, who plans to hire a team of around 20 at FunPlus Barcelona by the end of this year.

Mata spent seven years working through roles in data, monetisation, production and new IP at King. He moved to become head of new games at Zeptolab before joining FunPlus.

Mata previously spent over seven years at King, where he worked on games like Bubble Witch, Papa Bear and Diamond Digger Saga before helping create new King games that didn’t get to market. In 2020 he moved to Zeptolab as head of new games, most recently launching Downhill Smash and Overcrowded. He moved to FunPlus in November 2021.

FunPlus is currently hiring a handful of senior folks to establish the foundations of the studio, people with previous casual, puzzle and hypercasual experience. Once that core is solid, Mata will flesh out the team further.

He adds that working fully remote is fine for established studios, but not for a startup-like environment at FunPlus Barcelona. It is a hybrid workplace, with three days in the office and two from home.

“We consider that for creating new games – and especially for teams that haven’t worked together before in the past – they need to be working together side by side in the office,” he adds.

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