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Idle Tycoon Games: Market Overview

29 Jun 2022

Authored by: AppMagic

A deep dive into the Idle Tycoon games market: Is it big? Is it growing? Is it hard to enter? What does it take to create a hit? Let’s figure it out!

Idle tycoons have been drawing mobile game dev community’s attention during the last several years due to the appealing balance between seeming simplicity of production and potential yield. Besides, many of those who have been busy in the hypercasual games market started seeking ideas of more complex games with higher LTV that would help fight back the constantly increasing CPI.

By 2022, cumulative monthly net iAP revenue of idle tycoons spiked and exceeded $21M, and their cumulative revenue (including ad revenue) could have hit the $30M mark. Note: here and further on, we only consider casual tycoons, not hypercasual ones, which are a different story (a different genre, per se). The speed-up in growth may be mostly attributed to several relatively new hits that highlight a new spin-off of the genre.

All of the above has inspired us to write this article and have a closer look at what’s happening in the market segment.

To deliver you more quality insights, we’ve asked a couple of top pros that are highly experienced in this market for comments: Egor Pavlyuk, Alina Zlotnik and Elizaveta Khilkovskaya from AppQuantum (lead bizdev and two producers respectively). AppQuantum is the publisher of one of the best performing idle tycoons—Gold & Goblins. So, the guys do know the business.

Top grossing tycoons

First and foremost, let’s see what’s going on with the cumulative revenue of idle tycoons: what about the scale, the dynamics, the diversity of the market?

In the graph below, we can see that the market has been growing steadily and quite fast during the last few years (click on the image to learn the details). 

We can see that there were several very strong titles that caused the growth of the market segment in 2021. Let’s try to figure out what’s so special and interesting in these games. We’ll list the games according to their revenue as of Jan-Apr 2022.

#1: Gold & Goblins ($13.1M net iAP revenue as of Jan-Apr 2022)

The game first appeared in stores in Sep 2020. On the outside, the concept looked quite innovative because of its distinctive direct control gameplay.

On the inside, the game is also pretty noteworthy. Our interlocutors from AppQuantum told us that the game had a 50% D1 retention rate and a 10% for D30. It was developed by a small company called RedCell based in Canada by guys who had vast experience in development of Idle Tycoons. Therefore, its game design is not as simple as you might think. The retention numbers are just amazing: we have always thought that long-term retention was not a metric idle tycoon game developers could brag about.

Nowadays, many try developing idle tycoons. Many just copy successful titles. However, few (if any) of them succeed. The guys from AppQuantum say that most of the games in the genre are done poorly, and that developers usually underestimate the complexity of the game design, kind of following the “Cargo cult” without understanding nuances about why exactly the top performing games of the genre perform well.

Does it mean that the development costs should be high for a game of the kind? Egor Pavlyuk from AppQuantum thinks that even a team of 3-5 people can develop a game of the same quality as Gold & Goblins, if they really know what to do.

Here’s a notable metamorphosis that happened to the game: in autumn 2021, the revenue of Gold & Goblins grew 4-fold from $700K to $2.8M in net iAP monthly revenue, and from $2M to $8M in total net monthly revenue (including ad monetization). Pretty impressive for a game that can be developed by a team of 3-5 people, huh?

We’ve asked Elizaveta Khilkovskaya, another producer with AppQuantum, how the publisher contributed to the success of the title. 

She told us that the publisher and the developer had agreed on this from the very beginning: RedCell works on the game according to their idea, and AppQuantum is responsible for the business part (and doesn’t interfere with the game development itself). Overall, on the side of the publisher, there were several times more people involved, compared to the game development team itself. These people worked on monetization, user acquisition, marketing analytics, ad creatives (70 new ones per week), product analytics, elaborating live-ops ideas, ASO, store featuring nominations, etc.

Talking about that huge increase in revenue that happened in November 2021, Elizaveta said: “A lot was done during that period, but the biggest driver of growth was this creative:”

You may have seen a lot of similar creatives employed by different publishers. Elizaveta says, AppQuantum was one of the first publishers who adopted it for their product, and it worked outstandingly well. 

#2: Idle Mafia ($11.5M net iAP revenue as of Jan-Apr 2022)

The game has been on the radar since April 2020. It was really innovative with their battler mechanics—essentially a simplified version of the party management mechanics common for team battlers. 

The game came out a long time ago—in March 2020. But what’s interesting, in summer 2021 it managed to grow nearly 3 times in monthly revenue.

We see a series of major app updates during the intense growth period. But we also see many major updates at any other time, so we can’t say for sure, based just on the update timing and their patch notes, what caused the growth.

We asked all our 3 interlocutors about their opinion, and they all agreed that these were social interaction mechanics added in the game that could really affect its key metrics.

At the current stage of development, the game is unbelievably rich with metagame and live-ops. You can just check YouTube and wow at how different the late-stage gameplay can be to what you see when you just start playing the game. This abundance (surely, well-grounded) seems to be what helps the game thrive for years.

Century Games Publishing, a company that developed the game, is a very large and prosperous one. They operate very big (in terms of production) top revenue generating games: 4x strategies and farms. Their annual net revenue exceeds $550M. So their interest in idle tycoons (and Idle Lumber isn’t their only tycoon) adds points to the idea that games of the kind may earn A LOT.

#3: Idle Lumber Empire ($10.3M net iAP revenue as of Jan-Apr 2022)

The Bronze medal goes to Idle Lumber, another tycoon of the new generation that contributed massively to the overall growth of the market segment. It’s notable in terms of its core mechanics, with depots attached to every craft shop—and different types of goods that the shops deliver. Idle Lumber isn’t the only and the first idle tycoon that employed this paradigm but the one that proved: this version of the core mechanics may perform really well.

#4: RuPaul’s Drag Race Superstar ($6.8M net iAP revenue as of Jan-Apr 2022)

This one really catches the eye. Not only thanks to its performance, but to the setting:

And if you didn’t know (we didn’t), there was a very popular eponymous show on American TV in 2009-2016. See some cuts here, you’re gonna enjoy it (not guaranteed though) 🤣.

At its core, the game is a pretty conventional tycoon, but with the addition of metagame in the form of outfit battle mechanics (necessary at least to substantiate the use of the IP). 

This game also contributed a lot to the cumulative revenue of the newly developed idle tycoons and to the whole market segment, with monthly net revenue peaking at $2.5M in January 2022 (now down to $1.5M/mo).

Talking about IPs, Eastside Games, the publisher of the game, employs them a lot. The company has published a lot of idle tycoons, and many of them are very successful: Trailer Park Boys, Archer, Always Sunny, and others. Recently, they’ve soft launched Wizard of Oz with gameplay copied from Gold & Goblins. It’s really curious to follow how it’s going to develop for Eastside Games and how well they have managed to deconstruct the gold-digging goblin game.

#5: Idle Miner ($5.6M net iAP revenue as of Jan-Apr 2022)

Idle Miner is the oldest top performer released on Jun 30, 2016. It’s noteworthy with its high and very stable performance during many years.

We suppose the secret of this longevity is the very good base (an initially strong concept) plus a large loyal audience plus a lot of live-ops.

A word on the large loyal audience. It may sound counterintuitive: how may an initially large loyal audience impact revenue years after the launch when it comes to simple games like idle tycoons, right?

Well, it looks like the audience may stick a lot to games of the kind and pay a big dollar, especially if the game is based on a franchise. Here is a graph for accumulated RpD (revenue per downloads ratio) over LT (lifetime of the game). It highlights the pace of ROI accumulation and gives some info about the lifetime of paying users.

We see that the metric may grow for years! Part of the growth can definitely be attributed to the constantly improving ability of a game to monetize its audience. But strong, stable growth usually signals that part of the long-living audience keeps on playing and paying.

Also, we surprisingly see that the LTV of an idle tycoon in the US may exceed $10. But be careful with this metric: if you see a very high LTV, but the number of downloads is small, it clearly tells you that the target audience is small (willing to pay, though).

Here’s one interesting thing about Kolibri Games, the publisher of Idle Miner. They registered the “idle tycoon” trademark on Aug 29, 2019, and started sending around accusations of trademark infringements to many idle tycoon developers. It looks like it’s legal to register a name of a genre and prevent others from using it in their games’ names to monopolize organic traffic coming from the name of the genre. Mobile platforms seem to be doing nothing about it (letting Kolibri follow through with the plan).

We’ve found 36 different trademarks by Kolibri, with different possible names of games. Egor Pavlyuk tells us that Kolibri now doesn’t allow certain game developers to use the term “idle tycoon” in game names in any combination. Here’s a post by a user of the Unity’s developers forum about getting a similar claim about his game Idle CEO Tycoon in 2019. Though, we still see a lot of games named “Idle smth Tycoon” in the stores, so it’s not quite clear how Kolibri’s lawyers pick the prey.

Egor admits that, unfortunately, we can expect this type of behavior on the part of the publishers to become more common in the near future as part of the battle for traffic.

#10: Cats & Soup ($2.3M net iAP revenue as of Jan-Apr 2022)

We skipped positions 6-9 in the chart, as there’s not much sense in describing every game: we want to only highlight the most notable ones. And Cats & Soup is a noteworthy one, indeed.

This game almost completely neglects the economic aspect of the tycoon games paradigm: you can find details about different “shop” upgrades in the game’s UI, but it’s totally unnecessary: after all, you have a big button in the UI that beckons you to “make the best possible investment”, so you just tap it whenever you have enough money saved. What a player is supposed to do is to place new “shops” (or “venues”, you name it) with cute busy cats in them, tap the cats to make them purr, and enjoy watching the kitties dashing all around the soup pot cooking and having fun.

Here, in the beginning of the video, you can see a player tapping the “make it all better” button:

You can also dress up the cats and decorate their mini-rooms. But this mechanic doesn’t play the key role in a player’s daily routine.

There’s no mechanic of dropping the game state, when you have to restart  your progress from scratch over and over again. So, in Cats & Soup, you just keep on developing the same world.

This whole approach is quite rare for idle tycoons, but not unique. For example, here’s another similar game, Penguin Isle. It was released in August 2019 and has been performing quite well. Games of this kind might define a separate sub-genre of idle tycoons.

#16: Law Empire Tycoon ($0.8M net iAP revenue as of Jan-Apr 2022)

The last of the top performers we’d like to mention is Law Empire Tycoon. It’s quite a sophisticated tycoon in terms of in-game economics: a user needs to spend a reasonable amount of time to figure out how different production chains work and how to optimize them. 

This game also doesn’t have the mechanic that makes you constantly reset your progress. There’s no hyperinflation of the soft currency. There’s even no event locations. The game feels and plays a little bit like a regular large tycoon game that came from the PC. 

It’s not the only quality game of the kind in the stores. We’ll follow the evolution of this sub-genre: it looks like the next step in the series of consecutive shifts towards the increasing complexity of the genre.

Top popular tycoons

Now let’s change the angle of view and check out idle tycoons with the largest number of downloads. 

We see that the market wasn’t really growing in terms of downloads during the last several years, unlike the revenue. That’s probably saying that the genre is moving fast from ad monetization to the iAP-based model.

Focusing on the last month in our graph, two new games with outstandingly large market share draw our attention. These are Idle Lumber and Cats & Soup mentioned earlier. The first one is very popular in developing countries: the top 3 countries in terms of downloads are India, Brazil, and Indonesia. The second game is quite popular in the US, but its low iAP revenue per user didn’t allow the title to compete for a better ranking position in the grossing chart (it was just 10th, see above). 

There are nearly no games in the top free tycoons ranking that we didn’t see in the grossing ranking earlier. That being said, if you are thinking about starting to work on a new idle tycoon, trying to figure out top promising product ideas, you should be focusing on investigating the current top grossing examples of the genre.

In conclusion

The genre of idle tycoons is evolving, and the market is rich with new successful titles, and it’s growing. These are all good signs for product executives. Our colleagues from AppQuantum believe a game of the genre can earn not just millions but tens of millions a month. Which, taking into consideration the low costs of production, sounds really tempting. On the other hand, designing a really engaging game may not be as simple as one wants to believe.

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