This is the introduction to a full deconstruction written for Naavik, a research, consulting, and advisory firm which enables their clients to master the business of gaming.

Royal Match: Dream Games' Regal Performance

Wednesday, 25th of May 2022, 16:42 +02:00

The puzzle game category has experienced double-digit year-over-year revenue growth for years now; 34% in 2018, 17% in 2019, 29% in 2020, and 16% in 2021. In January of this year, mobile marketing agency Udonis wrote this as part of their Puzzle Games Report:

The state of mobile puzzle games. | Source: Udonis

The matching games subgenre includes eon-old titans like Candy Crush Saga, Homescapes, and Fishdom, which all have seen near-continuous revenue growth in recent years. These games terrorize the waters in the bloodiest ocean of the casual game space, while only a very select few manage to not get eaten alive.

Casual puzzle market growth in 2021. | Source: Deconstructor of Fun

Every year, growth in the puzzle games category can be attributed to only a handful of huge successes. For the rest of the contenders, it's a hard-knock life. When looking at Classic Match-3 and Puzzle & Decorate (which is predominantly match-3 as well), only 2 new games during the last 5 years have managed to safeguard a spot in today's top-10 (based on revenue). The first one was Magic Tavern's Project Makeover. Most recently, Royal Match, Dream Games' regally themed smash hit, was added to this exclusive list. The rest of the spots are still taken by aforementioned oldies.

To get an idea about the success of a game like Royal Match, one can have a glance at the revenue of other top match-3 games in comparison to the years before and how they fared. It then becomes visible that Project Makeover, Candy Crush Saga and Royal Match have been the three fastest growing match-3 games in terms of revenue. Something to keep in mind when comparing to Project Makeover, is that all Royal Match revenue in 2021 came from new players as the game only officially released in February. Project Makeover had already acquired ~20M players in 2020.

YoY Revenue Growth for the top 12 match-3 games in 2021. Worldwide, both platforms.

This makes Royal Match the 8th most lucrative match-3 game in the world in 2021 based on absolute revenue:

Absolute Revenue for the top 12 match-3 games in 2021. Worldwide, both platforms.

Want to hear another impressive Royal Match stat? Out of the top 10 list of 2021's revenue growers, Royal Match is the only remaining grower in 2022. Literally all other competitors from 2021's leaderboard are in decline, including Project Makeover, the fastest grower of 2021. New competitors in terms of revenue growth are classified as "other" - more hybrid-casual successes like Zen Match (which is #2 in the revenue growth chart below) and Cube Master (which is #10 below).

Revenue Growth for the top 10 match-3 games in 2022 YTD. Worldwide, both platforms.

From the perspective of downloads, Royal Match acquired a huge number of new players (nearly 30M) in 2021. It was only bested by Project Makeover - which had an insane year in terms of UA - and Tile Master.

YoY Downloads Growth for the top 12 match-3 games in 2021. Worldwide, both platforms.

Regardless of growth in 2021, it's important to note that the games from the days of yore still topped the charts in terms of absolute downloads throughout the year.

Absolute Downloads for the top 12 match-3 games in 2021. Worldwide, both platforms.

For 2022 year-to-date, Royal Match downloads have actually plateaued. The fact that (compared to last year) it now has double the Revenue Per Download justifies its #1 spot in the 2022 revenue chart above.

How is Royal Match still the only deep-casual game that is left standing right now? How did Dream Games manage to book this massive success while other long-term successes like Candy Crush Saga and Homescapes are declining during the current march of lower-budget, hybrid games? Who is the company behind this success?

What sets Dream Games apart as a company?

The Dream Team

In 2019, Turkey-based Dream Games was founded by 5 ex-Peak Games employees. Undoubtedly inspired and seasoned by the success of their old company's hits, Toon Blast, Toy Blast, and to a lesser degree their match-3 switcher Lost Jewels, they set out to create their own success. The ambitious quintet consisted of Soner Aydemir as CEO, Hakan Saglam as CTO, Ikbal Namli as Head of Software Engineering, Eren Sengul as Product Director, and Serdar Yilmaz as Art Director.

Maybe the most striking aspect of this ensemble at the time was their confidence in regards to the casual puzzle market and its saturation. Many CEOs in the space -already around that time- would argue that trying to penetrate this shark tank of a market segment by making yet another match-3 game with a renovation meta would be suicide, especially as a newly founded company. But the founders had a couple of tricks up their sleeve in which Makers Fund and Balderton Capital believed solid enough to board the Dream train. A short financial timeline:

  1. In November 2019, to fund its initial inception, the team of founders -together with a handful of trusted employees- raised a $7.5M round of seed funding.
  2. In March 2021, coinciding with Royal Match's global launch, the startup secured a $50M round of Series A funding. It was the largest Series A in Turkey's startup history.
  3. Only 3.5 months later, at the end of June, the company secured another whopping $155M in Series B funding.
  4. In January this year, the latest funding round of $255 Series C was secured.

This staggering turn of events has led the company to be valued at $2.75B, only 2.5 years after its founding date. With less than 80 employees at the time of its Series C, Dream Games surpassed Supercell in highest valuation per employee, with every employee being worth about $34M. It's arguably an unfair comparison given the difference in both companies' life cycles, their cash flows, and the amount of games they produce, but it's a very impressive feat nonetheless.

At the time of the Series B, it became clear that Dream Games truly aims to take a game to the highest levels of perfection before releasing it, not unlike immensely ambitious companies like Supercell. Outside of games, Pixar has been mentioned as a reference, which started off with a very careful exploration of what they thought was the most surefire way to success. In Pixar's case it was a lot about fine tuning their famous story spine, and testing it until it was perfect. Because of the rigidity that was required throughout the process, the length of a Pixar project could be up to 3 years.

Pixar's Story Spine. | Source: Khan Academy

The same laser focus can be seen in the way Dream Games operates. As CEO Aydemir said when raising the Series B last year, "When Pixar started, it was very low frequency, a movie every 2-3 years, but eventually the rate increased. And it will be similar for us. This year we need to focus on Royal Match, but if we can find a way to create other games, we will." With an intense focus on perfectionism and an urge to design elegantly, the team grabbed the match-3 bull by its horns and started making changes that increased the player's quality of life in ways never seen before.

Finding the Right Wedge

Even though the biggest match-3 competitors are typically occupied with adding complexity to their games (in terms of meta), the team behind Royal Match went the other way and obsessed over simplicity. As a result, Dream Games scooped up millions of players that play games mostly to feel accomplished and skillful by trying to solve puzzles.

This approach holds similarities to what King has been doing with its Candy Crush titles for more than a decade - a heavy focus on the puzzles with a very minimal meta layer around it, which creates a very slight dose of long-term progression. However, whereas King refrained from innovating on its meta games, Dream Games took away all possible friction that most puzzle-hungry players felt when trying other heavy-hitters like Homescapes and Lily's Garden: no written narrative and no customization when decorating.

Scaling Meta Game Complexity across 4 top-grossing titles.

In a way, Royal Match does what Hybrid-Casual developers have been trying to do for some years now, albeit in a more high-fidelity landscape: wedge right in between the old-fashioned, one-dimensional, core-focused games and the deep casual games with rich metas. This has found an audience to cater to that doesn't want to get bored soon and search for a new game but also isn't looking for a deep game with too many bells and whistles. This means that Royal Match, from day 1, has been an attempt to capture the classic match-3 players, as opposed to Puzzle & Decorate aficionados.

Because the focus is more on the core game experience, more attention has to be put on things like fluidity of the puzzle board, color & power-up balancing, power-up combinations, transparent modifiers, and overall level design. When zooming in on the levels of the game, it becomes clear quite quickly that Royal Match has gone full force towards loss-aversion mechanics. Its levels are extremely well-tweaked towards the creation of near-misses that create a never-before seen pressure on players to spend some currency on extra moves, or force them to activate those in-game boosters.

Scaling Core Game Pressure across 4 top-grossing titles.

Additionally, Royal Match's levels are designed for easy use of power-ups the player might have acquired in the numerous events of the game's well-oiled machine that is its live-ops calendar.

To deconstruct the exact way how Royal Match was able to achieve the above, we'll dig into the following topics:

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