How can a game be hyper and casual at the same time?
They’re not hyper and casual, just hyper-casual. These games are all the rage these days. Whether you have 5 minutes or 5 hours to play, hyper-casual games are the perfect way to fill the gaps in your day with some good ol’ gamin’.
How did this genre become so popular? Are hyper-casual games overnight successes or have they been slowly gaining momentum towards a singularity of gaming?
In this article, we discuss the history of hyper-casual games, the various mechanics that can contribute to their addictive gameplay, and what we can learn from the widespread success these games have achieved. You can also jump to our animated visual for a hyped up version of a casual infographic.
Hyper-casual games are easy to learn and play, plus they’re addictive, with very little time and attention required.
These games typically have intuitive mechanics that can remain consistent throughout gameplay or can require more dexterity as the game increases in difficulty.
More intricate games can alienate players who do not have the time required to learn or play, but hyper-casual games eliminate both of these barriers. The intuitive user interface paired with a user experience that entertains is the perfect recipe for continued engagement and long-term retention.
Where did these games come from? Have game developers been adding complexity for complexity’s sake all this time, or is history repeating itself?
It’s arguable that some of the earliest video games developed can be considered hyper-casual. Video games like Space Travel and Pong meet most of the criteria of a hyper-casual game and were created in 1969 and 1972, respectively.
These games were easy to learn and play, but unfortunately, computers and video game consoles were extremely expensive and rare. This made playing these games casually a real challenge.
This all changed in 1975 when Atari released the home version of Pong, which opened the door to thousands of home gamers.1
Games like Breakout (1976), Pac-Man (1980), and Tetris (1984) all became immensely popular and continue to be played to this day. Google even snuck in an easter egg that lets you play “Image Breakout” within the search results.2
Today, we carry powerful gaming consoles around in our pockets. And when the urge to game strikes, we can easily break out (no pun intended) our devices for some hyper-casual gaming. What about these games has turned the hype into a phenomenon?
Games have casually turned into big businesses.
Within half a century, video games have gone from hobbyist projects to accumulating revenues of over $100 billion per year. By some estimates, the gaming industry is on track to double these already impressive numbers by 2023.3
That’s a lot of Monopoly money…and it only took slightly longer than it takes to play an actual game of Monopoly.
Mobile gaming is the driving force behind the recent growth of the whole industry, and hyper-casual games are behind mobile gaming growth, with these games topping the app store charts.
Voodoo, a leading hyper-casual game developer, has been steadily acquiring new users and keeping them engaged. In a press release from May 2018, they reported 150 million monthly active users and a total of 300 million downloads in 2017.4 More recently, Voodoo reported more than 1.5 billion downloads across its portfolio of games.5
So what about these games drives such incredible numbers of downloads and levels of engagement?
If these games are easy to learn, what keeps users engaged and motivated to keep playing?
Despite their ease of use, a great hyper-casual game is incredibly difficult to master. As the game progresses, users become more comfortable with the mechanics even as the gameplay becomes increasingly more challenging.
Some mobile games utilize hardware within the phone to manipulate gameplay. The accelerometer and gyroscope, for example, can determine the phone’s physical orientation in space and detect rotation and twists.
Most hyper-casual games stick to one aspect of the mobile hardware: screens.
What are some of the popular screen mechanics in hyper-active games today and what games use them?
Games with timing mechanics are those with limited time to make your move or risk losing. The speed at which the game components move determines the difficulty of play. Breakout uses timing mechanics in which the ball moves increasingly faster and the player must match this speed with their bounce bar before the ball falls out of bounds.
When using timing mechanics, the gameplay can be very short, which contributes to the hyper-casual narrative. Game creators also understand how frustrating it can be to quickly lose and have to reset from the beginning, which is why many games, Breakout included, give you multiple chances to fail before the entire level is restarted.
Games that use agility mechanics typically make you act fast, face impending doom, and/or catch the metaphorical (or literal, depending on the game) carrot. A classic example of agility mechanics is Pac-Man. The goal of Pac-Man is to collect dots while escaping ghosts.
Another simple example of agility mechanics is the game Snake, where agility becomes increasingly difficult as you collect apples. As the levels progress, agility becomes even more important and increases the difficulty of mastery.
As one of the most popular game genres within the app store, puzzle mechanics games make for casual entertainment through mental challenges. Tetris, one of the longest-running success stories in gaming, is a great example of puzzle mechanics.
As pieces fall into place the player must modify the shapes to fit within the bigger picture. As mistakes stack up, the gameplay becomes increasingly more difficult as the space and time to modify the puzzle pieces shrink.
Mergers and acquisitions? Sort of.
In games using merge mechanics, you usually combine or swap cells in a row or column to achieve the game’s goal. In Candy Crush Saga, for example, you swap pieces of candy between two cells to align three or more of the same variety, eliminating those pieces. This is a simple — but addictive — user experience.
As the pieces fall into place and more are eliminated, the chain reaction of candy crushing stimuli contributes to an even more addictive experience. At times, the user isn’t even playing, but happy to indulge their senses as the pieces continue to work themselves into a winning position.
Hyper-casual games are standing on the shoulders of giants.
Social networks like Facebook and Twitch have brought gaming to new audiences and new heights of success. Zynga games, for example (remember FarmVille?), used Facebook to connect millions of users through games.
With the introduction of mobile games such as Words With Friends and Draw Something, social mechanics brought a new format for hyper-casual gaming. Each player can choose to make a move whenever they feel (or have time) which makes for a very casual gameplay experience.
It’s like the five rules of dodgeball: dodge, dip, dive, duck, and dodge. Only the strategy is even simpler: swerve.
Games that require the player to move on a track or move out of the way of oncoming hazards use swerve mechanics. Voodoo’s Twisty Road, for example, has the goal of keeping a ball on a narrow roadway. Temple Run and Subway Surfers are similar examples where you avoid death traps while endlessly running.
The goal of one of the most popular hyper-active games of all time, Flappy Bird, is to keep the bird in flight while avoiding hazardous obstacles.
All of these mechanics are intended to keep users entertained and engaged within gameplay. The more time invested into a game the more players might be willing to invest in other resources, which is the topic of our next discussion: monetization.
It seems today most hyper-casual game developers have made a concerted effort to shield players from ever reading the dreaded words, “Game Over.” Instead, creators strive to get players back into gameplay as quickly as possible. This keeps users engaged longer and therefore creates more monetization opportunities.
What are some of the top strategies these gaming companies employ to monetize their amassed audiences? We cover four of the most popular below:
One of the most popular monetization strategies, for both premium and freemium apps, are in-app purchases. Freemium apps particularly benefit from the in-app purchase model as they offer the basic app for free.
In-app purchases can be used to grant access to additional levels that are otherwise inaccessible to users of the free app. They can also be used to sell ability boosters, extended play time, and even in-app currency.
Matchington Mansion, a game launched in 2017, has experienced rapid growth exceeding 50 million downloads. What’s even more impressive is their in-app purchase strategy has brought in over $100 million in revenue. This means the average user spends $2 on in-app purchases.7
Although not every player will make purchases, and it’s likely many will continue to play for free, there will be a segment of users who purchase far more than $2 over the lifetime of their relationship with your game.
Whether you are a premium or freemium app, or even a gaming app, you should include in-app purchases within your monetization strategy. Include options that are financially attainable for most users, such as $0.99, but also include options that can raise the bar for your power users.
While in-app purchases make headlines as the latest and greatest monetization strategy, a tried and true monetization strategy worked quietly without much fanfare.
In-app ads have grown to overtake in-app purchases as the leading source of revenue for hyper-casual games. In fact, September of 2018 saw the majority line crossed as ads accounted for 56% of revenue, compared to in-app purchases.8
When advertising within your mobile app, it’s best not to compromise the user experience. Do not invade the experience with too many popup ads or display ads that distract from the user interface and risk uninstallation.
Games frequently use interstitial ads between levels or pauses in gameplay to advertise, which does well to keep the experiences separate.
It’s no coincidence that companies like Voodoo and Ketchapp are responsible for 48% of all arcade game downloads.9
These companies have multiple apps topping the app store rankings and they do well to cross-promote the other games within their portfolio. This could be seen as a dangerous strategy. If the goal is to keep users engaged with the game, why would we want to cannibalize our active users?
We know that 77% of users stop using an app within three days of download, so how do we keep hyper-casual gamers playing? Suggest other games they may be more likely to play on a regular basis.
This can also translate to businesses beyond gaming who have products that they can cross-promote. Many businesses use mobile apps to the benefit of their omnichannel marketing strategy.
All apps are free, right?
Actually, 43% of apps in the App Store are premium and 44.9% of those premium apps are games. This means that they have a price of $0.99 or more just to download the app. This is a great strategy for games and apps that have achieved a high level of attention in the press and widespread popularity among the gaming community.
Minecraft, for example, has a premium price tag of $6.99. However, it doesn’t stop there—they also use a combination of the other strategies outlined above.
When considering a premium mobile app strategy, it’s best to consider whether users would be willing to pay for your product without a trial. This is the benefit of the freemium model paired with in-app purchases, advertising, and cross-promotion. Users are able to use the product, have their aha moment, and decide whether to invest in the paid options.
The rise of the hyper-casual gaming industry has been a slow progression over decades. The more recent growth of mobile gaming has brought hyper-casual games to the mass market. The next time you are on a long flight, bus, or train, take a break from your own game to see how many other people are gaming themselves.
Whether your app serves the hyper-casual gaming market or any other category, CleverTap helps keep users engaged and retained. Use CleverTap’s machine learning diagnostic tools to gain valuable insights into your app’s growth engine. Learn more and schedule a live demo now!
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