Introduction: Habby’s Recipe for Success
A couple of years ago, Singapore-based developer Habby caught our attention with a super fun, high-paced arcade game called Archero, which helped Naavik coin a term for a new genre: hybrid-casual. Archero emerged among the wave of hypercasual titles, combining a juicy core with a light meta. And while it was an immediate success revenue-wise, its metagame raised a few eyebrows, and we evaluated that Archero’s scalability, and therefore long-term success, would remain limited.
We were not wrong. Whereas many successful titles start slow and grow their revenues through live ops, new systems, and all the after-launch development, Archero’s income peaked, dropped, and flatlined rather quickly.
Right now, Habby is attacking the market with a new hit based on killing hordes of enemies: Survivor.io, a game that, two months after its global launch, has already reached numbers that put Archero’s success to shame.
This new game is comparable to Archero in so many respects that we recommend re-reading the original deconstruction (that is, if you don’t mind spoilers).
What are the similarities? Both games are controlled by one finger, use auto-aim, quickly ramp up player abilities, and combine mid-core rogue-like mechanics with highly polished user experiences.
Both games also use the exact same meta of dungeon progression (complete one to unlock the next) and combining items, rarities, and upgrade scrolls.
Two months in, the new game’s numbers look quite promising. Survivor.io quickly surpassed Archero’s previous peaks, especially its revenue numbers that keep reaching new heights almost on a daily basis.
Archero, however, did have strong day-1 retention out of the gate (nearly 80%!), and Survivor.io’s retention is more in line with where Archero is today (mid-40% range).
Naturally, we want to know whether Survivor.io will experience a similar story — will it gradually flame out like Archero did, or will it hold up better over time? To best answer this question, we need to look at three things: 1) Habby as a company, 2) Survivor.io’s core gameplay, and 3) the setup of the metagame that enables conversion and reconversion.
Habby: The Company
Let’s start with Habby. The company was founded in Singapore in 2018 by Stefan Wang. From what information is publicly available, Habby acts mainly as a publishing studio and has about 50 employees, according to LinkedIn. Each game in its portfolio has been developed by companies all over the world. These games are unsurprisingly quite varied in genre, though they all share a good amount of polish.
Survivor.io is already the second most downloaded game published by Habby and recently claimed second place revenue-wise, which is really impressive for a game that has been out for less than two months!
Habby’s modus operandi is to take existing premium games (Binding of Isaac and Vampire Survivor, respectively), add an enticing and casual visual style, polish the hell out of the UX and game experience, and add a gacha-based meta that lays the foundation for the F2P business model. It’s a solid recipe, although not a perfect one. Bringing a premium title to F2P has economic repercussions, and we’ve already seen how Archero struggled with long-term problems that weren’t obvious to players who initially got hooked on the addictive and fun gameplay.
Let’s look at what makes Survivor.io’s core gameplay so fun, how the meta is set up, and then we can answer the real question: Will its future be brighter than Archero’s?
The Core Loop
The levels are infinitely scrollable in one or two axes, and the zoomed-out view gives far more leeway to AOE (Area of Effect) damage; plus, it makes movement more relevant.
- The player gets to equip and level up six passive and six active temporary abilities.
- The more enemies the player kills, the more XP they drop, and collecting that XP (green, blue, and gold dots on the ground) and leveling up quickly to get new abilities is a crucial dynamic.
- A normal round lasts up to 15 minutes (there are also shorter and more intense dungeons), and there’s a boss at each 5-minute mark.
In short, the game is a hectic and mass-damage take on Archero's rogue-like mechanics, where the main variable that matters toward the end of a dungeon is the DPS (Damage Per Second). If you can't deal with the masses, you’re — just like in the image — done.
Let’s look at the mechanics in more detail.
The Timer: From Midcore to Hardcore
The timer makes the game quite hardcore, even if it isThe Timer: From Midcore to Hardcore
The timer makes the game quite hardcore, even if it is relatively well hidden behind the casual art and how quickly the player gets, as the ads say, from zero to hero. Making the commitment to play for 15 minutes straight (although, yes, you can take a break by hitting pause) — in which time players can sometimes get to the end quite easily only to get smashed by the final boss — does not exactly bring to mind the word ‘casual.’
This is a good example of how a subtle mechanical difference can lead to a huge difference in experience. In Archero, the player was passing through up to 50 consecutive dungeons, each communicated through a number, making the achievement quite clear. In Survivor.io, the high score is indicated solely by the longest time spent surviving (it would, for instance, greatly help to mark the moment when you pass the previous high score), which lowers the experience of the achievement.
Needless to say, gradually making progress means relying more on grinding. In order to grow stronger and be able to pass the latest challenge, the player can either keep entering to see how far they get or grind lower levels. And this is where the timer’s predicament lies: in Archero, it took only a few minutes to run through an older dungeon for coins and scrolls, but in Survivor, the player needs to actually play for 15 minutes! We can only hope that Habby will introduce autoruns at some stage.
Movement and Strategies: How Much Do They Matter?
The setup actually feels more casual than Archero — the player doesn’t need to learn the enemies’ sophisticated moving patterns and carefully dance between their attacks. Regardless of who exactly the enemy is, at some point the main zombie attack style resembles massive, seemingly endless hordes.
The core dynamic here is based on the relationship between XP and time. Dead zombies drop XP that players manually collect, and this XP is used to attain and upgrade abilities. Unlike in Archero, which uses straightforward predictable progression (a similar amount of enemies in each stage and therefore a similar amount of XP to claim in each dungeon), here, the player levels up more if they kill more zombies and collect more XP at a faster rate. Often when the player isn’t strong enough, it makes sense to focus two key abilities: 1) vacuuming up the XP on the ground from wider distances, which makes the level-up curve faster, and/or 2) speed, which also helps the player outrun enemies.
So, at first glance, we see the clear advantages of having a flexible and zoomed-out setup as well as the fact that the player’s choices for abilities matter. This is great for the easily consumable experience that Survivor.io is trying to be; however, even if there are varied strategies, in the end, the make-it-or-break-it moment relies on how much damage you can deal and how fast.
There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Power
What Habby did in Survivor.io's case is use the meta from Archero — exhibit A being the hero and its gear:
Exhibit B: the player progresses through a similar set of dungeons:
Exhibit C: the player gradually increases the hero’s stats in the meta:
What makes a metagame successful can vary and include multiple elements, but it usually boils down to this: a successful metagame needs to take over at the later stages of the game when it comes to goal setting (compared to the early days, when most goals are set in the core).
The core gameplay doesn’t stop being fun, but it’s the broad variety of goals (social, mastery, completion, etc.) that keeps players playing. These goals are not for every type of player, but they will keep the most engaged ones in the game, which is the core purpose.
Factors Behind Habby’s Meta Issues
The problem with Archero’s and Survivor.io’s meta is a combination of several factors:
1. Rogue-like and power progression are an ill-fated romance
It’s ingrained in rogue-like games’ DNA that the player will attempt to reach the same goal until they perfect the walkthrough enough to successfully pass the level. It’s not uncommon to have a layer of permanent progression, but often the content is purposely limited, and the game holds players back so they can experience this difficulty. Rogue-like isn’t a genre for the faint of heart.
On the other hand, meta progression in power-based games constantly brings the player to the limit of what enemy they can beat — letting them level up, finish the enemy off, and the cycle starts anew. Or, to put it simply, rogue-like and power progression are a hard match because of the innermost workings of each.
By the way, Habby takes this hardcoreness from the games it bases its own games on; it’s not unusual to be stuck in one single dungeon for months or longer (speaking from personal experience)! Talk about 100 attempts on one Candy Crush level. That can be hard to swallow, especially for the mid-core-ish/hypercausal patience-lacking audience that Habby is targeting. If you need proof of how limited the impact of meta is on the core, look no further.
2. Long-term retention and monetization depend on meaningful variety
We can see that introducing new heroes in Archero didn’t bring about an outstanding stream of revenue:
Why? Because it’s ingrained, again, in the nature of rogue-likes that any progress takes a lot of effort to earn, meaning new IAP heroes cannot be significantly stronger than the old ones. There’s also sunken costs issues: new heroes have to be leveled up from scratch, which isn’t compelling to the players who’d rather keep playing with the heroes they already have leveled up (we saw similar issues in Genshin Impact).
Even if Habby isn’t building a true rogue-like, it still needs players to feel the grind in order to want to pay to skip it, but in this setup, it means finally completing the current dungeon only to experience the exact same frustration in the next one. In the end, it’s not about the path memorization, the choreography, the step-by-step, or the huge achievement when you finally beat the boss. It’s about how nothing you learned in the last dungeon applies in the next, no skills were earned, and no equipment can be strong enough to pass immediately. All meaningful progress in the meta needs to be taken away in the core, or else players progress too quickly.
3. The metagame (and monetization) works well only in the beginning
Fun Yet Unsustainable?
Despite all of our critiques thus far, we want to be clear that Survivor.io is a fun game, and just like Archero, the gameplay is incredibly polished, catchy, and provides a good balance between luck, skill, strategy, and randomness. But also like in Archero, we see similar issues with the game’s sustainability. These issues will undoubtedly be partially offset by new features. For example, between starting and finishing this report, we’ve already seen a brand new battle pass, and it’s likely that more features proven in Archero will follow (new heroes, more granular item progression, events, etc).
This time, it’s unlikely that Habby (or Gorilla Games, the developer) has not been aware of these meta issues from the start. It’s also a bit unfair to talk about a lack of success caused by the meta — the numbers tell a different story so far — but consider it a warning.
Ultimately, Suriviro.io is selling a promise that isn’t being completely fulfilled. The game loses its charm in the first week or two because of its power trip, and then it takes it away from the player and makes it so that they will quite literally never experience it again — not with that early, attractive ramp-up at least. Players are left to grind for bits and pieces of progression to feel the brief satisfaction of passing the current level and then falling into the same despair yet again. It’s not common for a game to prevent players from monetizing through this hurdle, but Archero and Survivor.io do exactly that. Given the way the meta is set up, the lack of (meaningful) progression tracks will lead to many occasions in which the player spends money only to not get stronger at all (we tested this ourselves).
Data in More Detail
The revenue curve for Survivor.io is thrice as steep as Archero’s was.
There are three key factors responsible for this steep growth:
- Survivor.io launched with more completed features and to more mature audiences.
- The game is experiencing high organic downloads and strong UA campaigns in China (dark blue) and the US (light blue):
3.China especially is contributing massively to this new success. Check out the China revenue charts of Archero vs Survivor.io below:
China revenue is even outperforming contributions from the US:
In Survivor.io’s case, the US makes up only 14% of the total market’s revenue (compared to 51% with Archero). Clearly, there is a significant shift in the players’ geography: Taiwan, China, and South Korea total over 75% of Survivor.io’s revenue!
Survivor.io took Archero’s best practices and launched with a skyrocketing speed. How high and for how long it will fly depends on how the game manages to retain and reconvert its userbase, and that is, once again, potentially thwarted by a system that makes it difficult to introduce meaningful long-term progression. Let’s quickly summarize the pros, cons, and look to the future.
What’s Working for Survivor.io
- Great execution, intuitive learning, and clear power communication
- Early-on power growth is clear and understandable
- Hypercasual, exponential fun, power tripping
- Emphasis on valuable purchases, chapter completion offers, and an early rise in power through conversion
- All the points above combined with succeeding in China leads to substantial revenue numbers.
What’s Working Against Survivor.io
- Everything in Survivor.io is tilted towards a strong, exciting, and dopamine-driven early experience that eventually halts.
- Neither new areas nor new mechanics can be introduced with ease. At some point, the game will have to adapt and introduce new content that isn’t held back by these particular limitations.
- Examples for game designers: hordes of zombies coming from every direction prevents the meaningful use of obstacles; also, the scalability of fighting enemies is mainly found in melee combat, as ranged attack is almost unusable. The price that’s paid for the feeling of smashing through thousands of enemies is the inability to use more complex strategies.
- Experience-wise, splitting combat into rooms (like in Archero) also provided a more substantial feeling of progression.
- The game requires significant time investment from the player. Lasting 15 minutes in the game with increasing difficulty is comparable to battle royales like Fortnite. That narrows the audience down to more mid-core players, and we will probably see players churning earlier.
- The quicker the player rises — leveling up their character and gear, whether via playing or paying — the faster they hit a progression wall.
What Can We Expect?
Will Survivor.io ultimately bring more revenue to Habby than Archero? The answer is likely yes — especially given the rapid downloads and revenue growth, success in new markets, and superior early RPD curve (as seen below) — and that’s a success worth celebrating.
We suspect, though, that the lack of scalability in the game’s core and meta will bring the skyrocketing success to a halt. New players may currently be streaming in, but this hypergrowth in downloads will reach a cap, and, similar to Archero, we expect to see overall player numbers reach a tipping point and start to wane.
To support this claim, just look at the retention rates. Survivor.io’s retention is low (and worse than Archero’s), especially D30. This will most likely improve with new features, but it’s also likely that the game won’t behave the same as Archero, which is even today managing to keep its D30 around 10%.
Habby is doing what it does best: adding a shiny coat and F2P adaptation to a well-thought-out game that’s easy to scale and monetize early on. Add in its broad reach, and we see numbers that are absolutely impressive. However, the difference between a good idea and a great idea is the sustainability of scalability. And while, once again, we’re not saying it’s impossible to scale such a game, it is hard. It is a complex design problem that requires understanding the core of the systems and being willing to go the extra mile to rewards players for staying long-term. We’ll see whether Habby can solve this conundrum but color us skeptical for now.