What Are Roguelites? A Deep Diveby@max-albert
510 reads
510 reads

What Are Roguelites? A Deep Dive

by Max AlbertApril 10th, 2023
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript
tldt arrow

Too Long; Didn't Read

Roguelites is the fastest growing play pattern in the world. Giving birth to many #1 hit games across mobile & PC stores such as Sssnaker, Mighty Doom, Survivor!.io, Vampire Survivors, & Hades just to name a few. This play pattern is infiltrating many other games including Roblox, Minecraft, & Fortnite.
featured image - What Are Roguelites? A Deep Dive
Max Albert HackerNoon profile picture

A Deep Dive Into the Play Pattern That Is Eating Gaming Alive

Are you ready for an intense gaming experience that combines permadeath with a sense of progression? Welcome to the world of Roguelites!

You start with no powers, beat level 1, and you get to choose between 3 new powers: fireball, ice-shard, and thunder-shot.

Beat level 2, and you get to choose more powers to add to your character. This time its: multi-shots, ricochet shots, and homing shots.

Beat level 3, and you get to choose between even more powers: your damage-over-time effects deal double damage, your shots spawn twice as many projectiles, and your enemies are stunned after being hit.

You realize that choosing fireball, with multi-shot, and increasing damage over time allows you to stack a “burn” effect quite easily on enemies & that adding increased burn damage is a very powerful combo.

You’re able to follow this strategy up until level 12, where you beat the entire game! By then, you have an incredible load out of powerful abilities that work together in interesting ways.

You lose this loadout but feel a tantalizing obligation to play again from level 1 to try to explore other combinations of powers.

Even if you lose before the final level, it’s okay; you will lose the main powers, but you may still upgrade your base damage and armor for the next play!

If you’ve seen a game like that before, chances are you’re not alone. This is the play pattern of Roguelites, the fastest-growing play pattern in the world.

Giving birth to many #1 hit games across mobile & PC stores such as Sssnaker, Mighty Doom, Survivor!.io, Vampire Survivors, & Hades just to name a few.

But what’s most incredible is this play pattern is infiltrating many other games including Roblox, Minecraft, & Fortnite.

In this article, we will dive into the play pattern of Roguelites and how these game mechanics are changing everything about how game designers think about creating new games.

What Is a Play Pattern?

play pattern is a series of game mechanics put together.

Rather confusingly, Roguelites are sometimes an entire genre of a game in itself. You may describe a game like “Hades” to be a Roguelite, just like you may describe NBA 2K as a “sports” game, or Mario Kart as a “racing” game.

That said, Roguelites is much more than just a genre; it’s also a play pattern. This is what’s fascinating and powerful about Roguelites, is that this play pattern can be integrated into every other genre of game.

Including sports games, racing games, action games, adventure games, strategy games, and even puzzle games.

This is one reason why Roguelites are growing rapidly in popularity. It’s quite extensible.

Roguelites didn’t just spawn out of the void. Roguelites are the product of many decades of iterating on another niche genre of game: the Roguelike.

Understanding the history of how we got to Roguelites from Roguelikes is important to understand why they’re so addictive & ubiquitous throughout gaming.

What Is the Difference Between Roguelites and Roguelikes?

Roguelikes are a brutally challenging play pattern that featured 3 core game mechanics:

  • Permadeath — when you died, all of your progress was lost, and I mean all progress.

  • Procedural Generation — The levels were generated via AI or a sophisticated algorithm. So on the next playthrough, the levels would not be exactly the same.

  • Consequential Progression — Just as described in the intro, players were able to progress their characters in very meaningful ways in one life. They chose interesting powers and abilities that dramatically altered gameplay. These powers interacted with each other in very interesting ways. This offered loads of replayability since players felt obligated to play again and again to find cool combinations of powers.

Roguelikes were only popular among the most hardcore gamers. Losing all progress upon death is bitterly frustrating. Thus, Roguelites came onto the scene!

Roguelites are almost the same as Roguelikes. There’s one key difference. Players are allowed to keep some stats upon dying. Base damage upgrades, armor, health, and maybe even a big ability.

Boom! Now, Roguelites are appealing to casual gamers who don’t like to be punished so hard for losing. However, Roguelites still retain the addictiveness & replayability of traditional Roguelikes.

This change came just in the nick of time! Roguelites are bursting onto the scene just as the gaming developer community is growing desperate to publish effective hybrid-casual games.

The Difference Between Hyper-Casuals and Hybrid-Casuals, and Why Roguelikes Are the Perfect Hybrid-Casual

Counterintuitively, hyper-casual games (especially on mobile) are the largest and most lucrative genre of game in the industry.

To put it in perspective, if hyper-casual games were its own entertainment industry, it would eclipse the entire movie industry in the United States in size & revenue.

Examples of hyper-casual games include Flappy-Bird, Temple-Run, Doodle Jump, & Helix-Jump to name a few.

Hyper casuals are incredibly great at one thing: reducing a metric known as Time to Fun.

Time to Fun is a measurement of how much time it takes for the player to start enjoying the game. A really great game has a TTF of five seconds or less.

TTF is really a measure of extensibility. If a game takes a very long time to fun, then that means it has a high barrier to entry. Maybe there are a lot of complex rules to learn before serious play can commence. Maybe the game genre itself turns people off.

Games with a TTF of more than a minute are generally considered inextensible & can only be enjoyed by a niche group of gamers that belong to a certain demographic.

Games with a low TTF are beloved by almost every age group, every gender, & every demographic. Hyper-casuals fall into the latter category.

Hyper-casual games are designed to be easy to play and fast-paced, requiring little to no commitment from the player. While hyper-casuals have dominated gaming for the past 5 years, developers of hyper-casual games are struggling with another metric: Retention.

Retention is the metric that illustrates if players are still playing a game a certain number of days after their first day of play. In the mobile world, a strong Day-1 Retention is 60%, Day-7 Retention is 10%, and Day-28 Retention is 4%.

This is often surprising to most but it’s true: If only 4 out of 100 players are still playing your mobile game 28 days after starting, then your mobile game is one of the strongest games on the market at engaging players long-term.

Even still, hyper-casuals often fall short of these metrics because of their simplicity. Many players feel they’ve exhausted all content well before 28 days are up.

On the other hand, hybrid-casual games combine accessibility and simplicity with depth and complexity.

Hybrid-casuals attempt to set up a game that onboards players rapidly like a hyper-casual but introduce new game mechanics later on in order to add depth & keep players entertained for weeks.

Roguelites perfectly fit this category, as they are easy to learn but offer a lot of depth to the game, providing great TTF and retention metrics.

Examine the graph below for a minute:

Games in the upper left quadrant — high retention but also high TTF — may have sophisticated interesting gameplay but it takes too long to learn the rules which ultimately turns most players off. Civ 5, Kerbal Space Program, and Starcraft are examples of this.

Games in the lower right quadrant — Low retention but low TTF — may be wide-reaching but unable to keep players engaged in the long run. Helix Jump and Flappy Bird are examples of this.

Games in the upper right quadrant are the envy of the eye for game developers. They’re super popular but also retain users in the long term. Games such as Wordle, Candy Crush, & Roblox fall into this category.

Roguelites often exist in the upper right quadrant. Roguelite “Survivor!.io” for instance has sub-5-seconds time to fun but an astounding 9% day-30 retention. It’s one reason why Survivor!.io holds the single-day record for the most in-app purchase revenue of any game in iOS app store history.

To summarize why in one sentence: Roguelites are great at “drip feeding” game mechanics into the game.

Players start with very limited abilities; the game starts quite simple. But it expands into a very rich game, with lots of depth and combos to explore again and again.

Do Other Play Patterns Often Lead to These Results?

The short answer is no.

While there are certainly individual games that have minimized TTF and maximized retention, there’s no single play pattern that produces such consistently positive results as Roguelites.

It’s why game designers are racing to introduce Roguelite game mechanics into their games & it’s reshaping the standard for how we make games in 2023 & beyond.

Video game publishers, & designers alike try to only greenlight projects that have the ability to meet certain criteria. One new element that smart game-makers will look for in 2023 and beyond is if your game has the potential to have a low TTF but strong retention.

It’s easier said than done but necessary to compete with the next wave of popular gaming titles!