Kwalee gets serious about casual games with Playrix-style plan to rejuvenate “stale” genres

 

In his first interview as Kwalee’s new head of casual games, King, Activision, EA and Wargaming veteran Callum Godfrey told us:

  • Kwalee’s first casual game is in pre-production, with soft launch potentially early next year
  • The company aims to rejuvenate stale genres with new mechanics, like Playrix has with match-3
  • Its new casual team, led by Godfrey, could grow to around 25 in the next twelve months
  • Acquisitions are on the table following its deal for Tictales earlier this year

Godfrey was hired as Kwalee’s first head of casual games in May, and is building an internal team to produce casual titles as well as looking to partner with – and potentially acquire – external studios. 

Best known for its slate of hit hypercasual games like Draw It, Airport Security and Traffic Cop 3D, Kwalee is now pushing out “into every area of the games industry,” says Godfrey. That includes PC and console games, on top of casual mobile.

“We want to move into non-hypercasual games,” he tell us. “The analogy I like to use is that the hypercasual business is like being a professional sprinter. We’re going to use those muscles to run but we’re doing a long distance race now rather than a sprint.”

Games like Rocket Sky, Jetpack Jump and Draw It have established Kwalee as a hypercasual hit-maker, but now it wants more.

It’ll be a steady start for now, says Godfrey. He was appointed in May, but an internal team of around 10 already has Kwalee’s first casual game nearing the end of pre-production. It is being tested with a small group of players before heading into full production, and could go into soft launch early next year. 

Godfrey can’t confirm what the game is exactly, but he can talk around the areas of the casual market he believes are ripe for a bit of disruption.

“We think there’s some stale sectors of the market which have been stagnant for a while in terms of interesting new features, interesting mechanics or interesting things that help differentiate,” he tells us. “Things like the classic Mahjong and Solitaire-type games, bubble shooters – where there have been long-established market leaders that haven’t had to innovate.”

What Playrix has done in match-3 is a great example of how to rejuvenate a genre, says Godfrey. “They laid on the narrative element, which has now become the new norm for how people do casual puzzle games,” he says. “And not just in match-3, but in merge games and in hidden object games. That new meta layer has been super successfully applied to a whole range of things. So we’re looking now to bring elements a little bit like that to different ranges of games that have been kind of, I guess, innovation or feature-stagnant for some time.”

Kwalee’s head of casual mobile games Callum Godfrey has previously worked for Codemasters, Activision, EA, King, Wargaming and Bossa.

Godfrey also suggests that some parts of the mobile business are not as fast and dynamic as they think they are. “We talk about mobile as being this thing where we iterate fast, we fail fast. But I think over the course of the last five or six years we have slowly moved away from that, and the timelines, the team sizes, the amount of upfront planning and preparation that goes into making mobile games now is actually getting much much closer to triple-A console and PC development.”

Working with teams well-schooled in hypercasual means that Godfrey’s team is able to “get rid of a lot of the fluffy stuff that’s kind of crept into the industry over the last three, four or five years,” he says.

Starting with Godfrey, Kwalee’s casual games department could reach about 25 by this time next year, a mix of internal developers and publishing staff.

(Let’s quickly get the blockchain / web3 question out of the way here: “It’s not currently part of our strategy, at least not as far as I’m aware,” says Godfrey. “But I think as a business you have to always be open to the opportunities that come up.” So there you have it.)

Kwalee’s first acquisition came earlier this year when it snapped up Tictales, maker of spicy romance games like Perfume of Love.

Kwalee’s not averse to acquisitions, either. It bought narrative game outfit Tictales in January of this year, and continues to be on the lookout for deals that fit Godfrey’s vision. “We’ve already gone through our first acquisition and we’re definitely open to others in the future, depending on what studios are out there and what their product offering and studio offering looks like,” he tells us.

“When we look at acquisitions, it’s not just about  who they are and what they bring to the table,” he adds. “It’s about how we can provide something back to the partners we want to work with as well. So yes, we are definitely in the market for people who are of the right fit for us.”