Less is more for Voodoo casual games VP Alvaro Duarte.
The former King VP joined Voodoo a little over two years ago, and has since helped transform the company from a high-volume hypercasual specialist to a hybridcasual publisher that aims to release just four new games per year.
“There’s almost nobody at Voodoo left that is working on hypercasual,” Duarte tells us. “We’ve completely transferred our teams. As a genre, hypercasual has a lot of appeal for players and I think there is still a need for these kinds of interesting mechanics. Players still love it.”
So to put it bluntly: hypercasual’s not dead – it’s just dead to Voodoo.
“Apple’s new rules regarding IDFA make the business model much less interesting,” says Duarte. “So that’s why we’ve said that it’s dead for us…there are a lot of companies that are still trying, but we feel that this is not where the future is anymore.”
“There’s no more of the fire-and-forget type of approach of hypercasual. Now the idea is to release around four games a year. Hybridcasual has moved from a venture project to being the core of our company.”
That shift has meant that Voodoo has been “completely reorganised” in the last two years, Duarte tells us. There are now two main teams. A launch team constantly tests, prototypes and develops new hybridcasual gameplay mechanics, and a live team evolves existing games by adding deeper content, economy and meta features.
Making changes on that scale – and that quickly – has not come easy. Projects have been cancelled and studios have been closed, including a couple we’ve profiled in the past, Voodoo Berlin and The Next Hype.
“Like any new project, it took iterations on processes as well as the teams,” says Duarte. “Those teams are no longer at Voodoo but now we are able to recruit the teams that are fully dedicated and in-line with the strategy.”
As Apple’s policies neutered the hypercasual market, internal processes also went through an uncertain period. “You wouldn’t believe how many mistakes and how many iterations it took us to really understand and frame the right process,” says Duarte.
“We tried lots of things – we had a hypercasual game that was already live and we said okay, let’s try to release a sequel. It sounds very intuitive, but it didn’t work…it took a lot of iterations to arrive at the idea that no, actually, we need to stop hypercasual and we need to dedicate the company completely to hybridcasual.”
The turning point came with the release of Collect Em All and Mob Control, both games that came to define what Voodoo sees as hybridcasual – hypercasual-style visuals, low CPIs but metas that grow and deepen over time.
“From that point on, there was no more energy spent internally trying to convince each other that this could be done, because once you had these games that paved the way, suddenly it was much easier to double down on this strategy.”
The acquisition of Israeli studio Beach Bum in 2021 was a big moment in the company’s change of direction, too. “They are the leaders in tabletop games and board games – Backgammon, Gin Rummy and so on,” says Duarte. “They are ex-Playtika and have a very, very good understanding of player segmentation and economy, so we are also able to bring some of that knowledge to our games.”
Voodoo is also still on the lookout for more M&A if the opportunity is right, says Duarte. “We are constantly screening for companies to acquire,” he says, which are mostly “casual and midcore studios”.
“The idea is not for us to purchase a studio and suddenly I need to go there with my team to change the leadership, the culture, the processes…the idea is to help those companies that join our team to be even more successful with us, for example, to help them on their marketing.”
With that sharp turn into hybridcasual complete, Voodoo’s product pipeline now looks very different. Duarte says his teams still test as many as 1,500 prototypes per year – a mix of hybrid, casual and core gameplay types. But now Voodoo will only move forward with a handful of those games, and only once they have passed a multitude of stress tests that have been honed over years in the hypercasual game.
At launch, a game will likely have a team of around six; as the game blossoms into a more feature-rich, casual-style game, a game might have as many as 20 people working on it. But that rigorous process means Voodoo can feel confident than when it does release a new title, it has a good chance of being a Collect Em All or Mob Control-sized hit.
“Once we say, okay, let’s take it live and let’s scale, we know that this will be a certain level of success,” adds Duarte. “Because it has the right metrics, the right gameplay, and especially the right CPI.”