The story of an engineer meeting hyper-casual

Umut Onel, Game Lead at Sunday tells the story of how he met hyper-casual.
sunday hyper casual
Umut Onel says that game development is his passion, and he is happy to be a part of the Sunday team.

The hyper-casual industry is full of people coming from different countries, cultural backgrounds, and even different careers. Hyper-casual makes game development, game design, and game art accessible to everyone, through its hands-on approach of fast development times and small but extremely scalable projects. 

Umut Onel works as a Game Lead at Sunday. He did not study game design or anything related to video games. He studied Material Engineering at the METU in Ankara with his only connection to video games being his childhood. In his second year, his roommate asked him if he wanted to help out developing a video game. He had some experience in software development but this became the kick-off for his career in hyper-casual:

“I have always been interested in games, you know, gaming in general. But I’m not a gamer! I don’t call myself a gamer, but I was into it. In my free time, I started as a 2D artist and then slowly became a game designer so to speak and from there started to develop games and teach myself the groundwork of coding.”

Umut Onel, Game Lead at Sunday
Umut Onel, Game Lead at Sunday

While engineering studies’ also included simple C coding classes, it was an incubator program on campus that sparked Umut’s ambition to work in game development. Umut and his roommate still went to all necessary classes to receive their bachelor’s degree but they really spent most of their time after and in between classes at the pre-incubation center “ATOM”. It provides space and resources at no cost but pleads to its members to connect and share their efforts and experiences with others in the gaming community.

It was clear for Umut that after graduating he did not want to work in the materials industry, doing the same thing every day. Game development was his passion and even though their work was still nothing more than a hobby, he chose to do stuff that he enjoyed and where he could embrace his creativity:

“In-game development the only limit is your creativity. You can do anything. Creating things that million people can enjoy and that you enjoy while creating. For example: When you create a mechanic and can’t stop playing while testing it, you know you’ve created something valuable. I enjoy all parts of development but especially when your product design takes shape and connects with development and art, that’s when the magic happens! At the time we obviously didn’t aim to get money. But I saw some other guys getting really good money and I thought: “Wow! Okay! Yeah, we can do that too.” And so I learned both the technical side of the game industry and the business side there. If you saw interesting projects you were just asking, like, how do you do that and they just told you all the “secrets”. That was the spirit at ATOM.”

By that time, around 2016/2017, hyper-casual slowly started to become a known label for a special kind of ad-monetized games and while most games were still monetized through purchases on the app stores. Umut and his friend also released their first hit to the Apple app store and got featured on the front page: “Newton – Gravity Puzzle”. It was a huge success for the young developers and created a good amount of money. So while Umut and his partners were graduating from University, they were already making money in game development and it was pretty clear that their future was in hyper-casual.

“To ‘become’ hyper-casual, actually, was totally natural for us. Since we were a small team with two people, we weren’t able to make big games. We started making small games which converted us to hyper-casual. So when I gained this hyper-casual experience on both technical and business viewpoints, I just continued on that.

After graduating from university, Umut decided to move to Australia. For the next two years, he was working solo for many big hyper-casual studios as a freelance game designer, artist, and developer. Providing many prototypes in a short amount of time sharpened his skills and understanding of what it means to be successful in hyper-casual. But being far away from friends and family, and also doing everything by himself, came at a cost:

“I love Australia but I was tired of doing solo development. It’s really hard to think about game design and arts and other stuff. You have to do everything! I have to do everything and I have to be quick because I don’t have a team and I have to develop two games in one month. You know, this was the contract agreement. And it was really tiring and at some point, I just burned out. I didn’t want to develop games at that speed anymore because I noticed that I can’t improve myself while doing everything. I told myself: “Okay! You need to focus on one thing!” Do you want to be a game designer or do you want to be a game developer? Or do you want to be an artist?”

Umut Onel, Game Lead at Sunday
Umut Onel, Game Lead at Sunday

With that decision in mind, Umut was scouting for jobs in Europe to focus on game design and to be closer to his friends and family again. Even though Covid was on the rise, it didn’t take too long for him to get a visa and move to Germany. After arriving there, he had two stints in different companies working as a game designer and later even being the head of a studio. It was then when Umut learned a very valuable lesson after being a “Solo-Player” for a long time: The most important thing, when you are responsible for a team or even a studio, is creating a positive working environment for your employees. This builds the foundation for successful creative processes and high production quality. 

Although being responsible for a whole studio, with budgets and all, he always made sure to be well integrated into the process of game design and to not fall out of touch. But the managing responsibilities grew bigger and so did the teams. With that happening, his daily tasks took him further away from the products he loved to create as he needed to become more entangled in strategic business decisions instead of designing games himself.

This helped Umut realize, or better remind him, why he likes to be working in small teams and hyper-casual in general. Becoming a Game Lead at Sunday and being responsible for a small but fast team allowed him to fully focus on game design again. 

“I always wanted to manage my own studio from the beginning of my career. As a Game Lead at Sunday, I feel like a mix of Game Designer (completely away from the business and management side) and Head of Studio (completely away from the production side). Sunday offered me the freedom to be involved on both sides. I like being involved in projects! I like changing colors and I love making animations for myself. When an artist designs something and I think it’s not quite right, I can just jump on it and say: “Let me try something.” and maybe I can improve it and they love it and so I can share my vision with them, helping them to get better. At Sunday we have a happy working environment with super talented guys from different cultures. We have full responsibility and freedom. We listen to everybody and believe every idea is valuable and can make significant changes. We work smart and care about work-life balance. We also have a super nice – social office where people can spend their free time and improve themselves in every aspect.

P.S. You can become a pro ping pong player!

Sunday is a leading Hyper Casual publisher from Hamburg, Germany and best known for its hit-game Cat Escape! With 50M downloads, it is enjoyed by people around the world and recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. As part of the AppLike Group, the ad tech know-how and marketing capabilities of Sunday result in profitable hits for its partners. If you are interested in working or publishing with Sunday, please visit

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