As Top Drives turns five Hutch’s top devs tell us what makes a hit

Hutch Studios has a lengthy and fascinating history. While they produced several minor hits throughout their history, it was the smash hit Top Drives that truly made an impact.
It’s accurate to say that Top Drives gave Hutch a considerable boost and kicked off a period of growth that has been ongoing for the UK-based developer. With the release of other titles, such as F1 Clash, Hutch is rapidly becoming a household name in the world of driving game developers on mobile platforms.
Last month, Hutch celebrated the fifth anniversary of Top Drives and, at this special occasion, Jonathan Alpine, the chief creative officer, Tim Mannveille, the chief product officer, and Ian Griffiths, the game director, met with us to chat about game creation and share the behind-the-scenes story of what makes Hutch tick.
Why was Top Drives such a success?
Tim Mannveille explains that “it successfully taps into two areas of interest for car fans that no other games have done – the endless fascination of how different cars perform in different scenarios, and the desire to build a huge collection of the broadest possible range of cars.” Ian Griffiths adds that “the game taps into a car enthusiast’s mindset by making it about knowledge of cars in unpredictable environments rather than learning specific reaction-based game mechanics.” Additionally, every single one of the thousands of cars in the game has its own relevance, which is the game’s way of celebrating cars all around.
Jonathan Alpine notes that “a big part of it is its innovation. It really does let people play with the world of cars like no other title. And then there’s the strategic depth on offer. The core idea of the game is straightforward but as your collection grows, the combination of cars, challenges, upgrades and opponents means the routes to success are almost infinite.” In the end, the successful launch was only the beginning, and the team deserves recognition for the game’s growth and evolution over the past five years.
How did Top Drives’ success affect Hutch as a studio?
Tim Mannveille mentions that “Our previous games had been much more casual and would only be successful for a few years at most. Top Drives showed us what long-term success on a games title could look like, how it allows us to go deeper and build on an idea for far longer. That’s the route we’re now much more interested in going with almost all of our titles.” The financial success of the game also allowed Hutch to put more resources into it for the long run, giving them space to develop new and upcoming titles from there.
It was Hutch’s first innovative, server authoritative live game, according to Ian Griffiths. He notes that they had a lot of experience in this area, but Top Drives enabled them to develop those skills more broadly. He also says that it gave them the opportunity to put more resources into it for the long run and provided them with room to develop new and upcoming titles.
Jonathan Alpine explains that “the commercial success let us grow the team, our studio premises and invest in new products like our F1 Clash title. But it was also the first title that really felt like a gaming service. And this meant a big shift in team structure, process, and development mindset. As well as raising our ambitions to new heights!”
How do you think the industry has changed in the five years since Top Drives’ launch?
Tim Mannveille thinks that “there have been obvious changes, such as the rise of battle-pass driven free-to-play cross-platform games, and more recently the challenges of marketing in a post-ATT world. But when it comes to Top Drives, what hasn’t changed is that he’s not seen another game do what Top Drives is doing either directly or even in an area outside of cars but with a similar roster of collectible units.”
Ian Griffiths believes that the industry undergoes these meta-patterns over time, and they try to take what’s beneficial and discard what isn’t. The pandemic sparked a clear increase in users across the industry, and crypto was something they investigated early on but didn’t suit their objectives. Finding the best talent remains a challenge, and it has been a part of improving work benefits. At Hutch, they were one of the first companies to transition to a four-day, 30-hour workweek.
Jonathan Alpine feels that “the mobile market has matured significantly in those five years. It’s unquestionably more challenging to launch new products, but the flip side of this is that having successful services is more important than ever before.”
What lessons can be learned from a business perspective about Top Drives’ success?
Tim Mannveille thinks that “these days, a lot of people test an early version of their game out in a few markets to get data on whether the game is promising. Top Drives demonstrated to us that the signs of potential success can be more subtle than anticipated. The other significant aspect is that we created systems that would allow us to run all kinds of in-game events and offers, without any concrete plans on exactly how that should work – by trying experiments and following the player response, we were able to figure out what the game ‘needed’ far better than we could have from some closed-door design session”. Ian Griffiths adds that “he thinks the lessons are that with a solid base, you can really build to success.” Jonathan Alpine adds that “a lot of companies set benchmarks that a new game has to hit to proceed. This can work really well. But with Top Drives, it encouraged us to take a different approach. Taking a step back during testing and really looking at how the game was performing. Some of the common data points were awful but there were nuggets that pointed to something really exciting and these drove the decision to keep going.”
So, what’s next for Hutch?
According to Tim Mannveille, “The market is always….”