Things move fast in the mobile world. Since the release of the original iPhone, almost every industry has been up-ended by mobile innovation, and gaming is no exception. Developers have embraced the design affordances of modern smartphones to create engaging experiences loved by millions that starkly contrast what video games used to be. There might be no better example of this than the explosive popularity of hyper casual games.
These entertainment experiences have irrevocably changed how the gaming industry thinks about engagement, retention, UA, monetization and more. They’ve set new standards for rewarded advertising practices, welcomed new audiences to the world of gaming, and contributed to the industry’s all-time high of $43 billion in revenue for 2018, an 18% jump from the year prior.
So why should developers be thinking about this new genre and its role in the mobile gaming ecosystem at large? Well, let’s start with the basics.
Hyper casual games are typically action-oriented titles that have been designed to appeal to the widest possible audience. They use minimal interfaces and simple gameplay loops to get players into the fun as quickly as possible. Every part of their design, right down to their nearly non-existent startup time, has been designed to ensure players can enjoy them anytime, anywhere. Because they’re so accessible and fit so easily into small pockets of time, hyper casual games enjoy massive levels of engagement that often exceed more complex titles that can require greater time and attention from players.
Most titles are monetized using rewarded in-app advertising placements. Players earn mechanical bonuses like extra lives or additional points in exchange for watching short videos or engaging with playable ads. While in-app purchases are available in some capacity, the primary monetization strategy for hyper casual developers is to launch a title, acquire users, and obtain ad revenue before players move one. Thankfully, the genre’s minimalist aesthetic allows studios to release titles much faster than normal. More sophisticated publishers will leverage naturally occurring network effects and cross-promote users across their portfolio, building a critical mass that can then be monetized more effectively.
A better question might be: Who doesn’t play hyper casual games? Compared to other mobile gaming categories, hyper casual has an incredibly broad appeal. Publishers have found that players from different countries and unique global markets will enjoy the same games, even if they don’t speak the same language. This is largely because their minimal and intuitive designs often make localization unnecessary — anyone from any background can download a hyper casual game and understand its core mechanics without needing a detailed tutorial. This also means their first-session drop off is much lower, leading to higher overall retention numbers.
This also means that hyper casual games perform above average when it comes to user acquisition. As the prevalence of smartphones increases around the world — particularly in developing nations — the international appeal of hyper casual games has soared alongside it. In 2018 alone, hyper casual growth surged by 485% to represent 510 million active players.
Better still, the latest research suggests hyper casual games have managed to increase the number of mobile gaming players without cannibalizing other app categories.
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Of course, hyper casual game production and marketing are not without their challenges. hyper casual markets have quickly become one of the most competitive when it comes to visibility. A handful of top publishers produce multiple games each year thanks to partnerships with satellite studios and are able to dominate the app store charts by cross-promoting users from one title to another. With so many apps in the marketplace, it’s often difficult for independent developers to stand out.
Competition and global market growth is also raising acquisition costs, however slightly. According to data from Tenjin, the average hyper casual CPI in December of 2018 was $0.15 for Android and $0.36 iOS devices. As of last June, those figures have increased by 6% and 29% respectively ($0.18 and $0.47). On the whole, this might limit the window of time that publishers can produce and marketing hyper casual games at effective margins.
Despite these challenges, many opportunities still remain for developers operating in the hyper casual market. Hyper casual markets will continue to help grow the mobile gaming landscape, and at the end of the day, that’s an excellent opportunity for our entire industry. For more information on marketing or monetizing your hyper casual game, get in touch with the mobile experts at Tapjoy!