The word “casual” has long been flung out as an insult on video-game forums and social media. It’s deployed to belittle the interests of people who enjoy more relaxing experiences than gritty shooters, strategy-rich online games or time-sucking RPGs. Unsurprisingly, it’s most often hurled at anyone who says they like mobile games.
For Voodoo, “casual” isn’t an insult. It’s a cash cow.
Voodoo is a French publishing company founded by Alexandre Yazdi and Laurent Ritter in 2013 with a focus on bringing iOS and Android titles to as many smartphones as possible. This was a time when the App Store was booming, and a few high-profile developers were raking in the dough. Ridiculous Fishing, Device 6, Year Walk, The Room Two, Impossible Road and Badland all came out in 2013, for starters, and Voodoo has been capitalizing on the energized mobile market since with its own titles, including Snake Vs Block, Paper.io, Flappy Dunk and Rolly Vortex.
Voodoo proudly describes itself as a company that “develops and publishes highly casual mobile games” — not just casual, but highly so. Today, Voodoo is a ubiquitous name in mobile gaming; it’s the No. 1 publisher on the App Store in terms of downloads with more than 150 million monthly active users. Voodoo games generated 300 million downloads in 2017, and that figure is on track to hit 1 billion this year. In May, Goldman Sachs invested $200 million in the publisher.
Financially, Voodoo is crushing it. But in the eyes of many independent developers and their fans, Voodoo is a shady beast constantly hunting for scraps of game ideas that it can quickly transform into profit.
Take one of Voodoo’s latest titles for example: Hole.io. Players control holes in the ground that grow bigger as they consume objects on a city street. It’s a simple, clever idea, but it didn’t come from Voodoo.
Ben Esposito is a Los Angeles game developer who’s made a name for himself working on indie hits The Unfinished Swan and What Remains of Edith Finch. His latest project is Donut County, a game in which players control a hole in the ground that grows bigger as it eats the surrounding environment.
Esposito had this “hole in the ground” idea and began working with the mechanic in 2012, and since then Donut County has evolved into a story-driven game celebrating the sights of Los Angeles in a clean, pastel-art style. After six years of development, Esposito has recently been ramping up his marketing efforts — Donut County is due to hit iOS, PC and Mac this year, and it’ll be a reasonably priced premium title, meaning it won’t be free-to-play.
Meanwhile, Hole.io is free, and it hit the App Store, Google Play and desktops in June. It’s the No. 1 game on the App Store in the Arcade category, and it’s been