Hyper-Casual Games - The Complete Developer's Guide

In the last few years, hyper-casual games have exploded in popularity. Find out how you can capitalize on this lucrative mobile trend with our comprehensive developer’s guide to hyper-casual.

Though hyper-casual games aren’t exactly new, they are definitely having a moment in the mobile space. Users are embracing the simplicity and minimalist design the category is known for, even though hyper-casual isn’t listed as an official genre in the App Store or Google Play. Developers looking to make a mark in the mobile gaming space should be paying attention to the hyper-casual movement, and this guide is here to help.

In this guide, we cover:

  • The basics of hyper-casual games
  • Best resources for learning about hyper-casual development
  • Why hyper-casual games don’t need to get featured to succeed
  • Lessons all game devs should learn from the success of hyper-casual
  • Ad monetization for hyper-casual games

What are hyper-casual games?

To develop hyper-casual games, you must first understand their appeal. Hyper-casual refers to lightweight, minimally-designed mobile games that can be produced quickly while offering a high level of engagement and replayability. Each game in the genre uses minimalist interfaces and tested design principles to attract the widest number of players.

Interestingly, hyper-casual games are often exclusively monetized using ad placements, as opposed to in-app purchases. Typically, the business strategy of hyper-casual publishers is to quickly launch a game, acquire as many users as possible, and obtain revenue through advertisements in a short span of time. Since the lifetime value of hyper-casual games is low, this fast-paced turnaround lets publishers maximize their revenue before pivoting to new trends.

You might already be familiar with some of the biggest hyper-casual games. As of 2019, hyper-casual publishing is dominated by the following companies:

Voodoo: This Paris-based publisher is the current reigning hyper-casual champion, responsible for 24.7% of all free App Store downloads. It's also growing quickly, thanks to a recent $200 million investment from Goldman Sachs. The publisher is known for popular titles like Hole.io, Ball Blast, and Snake vs Block.

Ketchapp: The first hyper-casual pioneer, but certainly not the last. Owned by French gaming publisher Ubisoft, Ketchapp boasts almost 50 million downloads per month and an estimated $78 million annual revenue. It was also responsible for popular fidget spinner apps during their heyday. Notable games include Color Ballz, and Rush.

Tastypill: A small publisher punching well above its weight, Tastypill has featured at least one title in the App Store’s Top 100 downloads since 2015. What it lacks in launch volume, it makes up for in consistent quality and revenue. Its most popular games include Sling Drift and Impossible Bottle Flip.

Lion Studios: Lion is the latest addition to hyper-casual publishers with its 2018 founding, but one that has already boasted multiple #1 apps in a single year. If its rapid growth continues, it could easily compete with Voodoo and Ketchapp one day. Check out Color Tube for a sample of its work.

Playgendary: This Munich-based team is unique for transitioning to hyper-casual after publishing games in other genres. That perspective provides a unique sensibility to its apps, most notably the smash hit dungeon maze explorer, Tomb of the Mask.

Kwalee: Founded by David Darling, the gaming industry icon behind Codemasters, Kwalee is a mobile publisher with several hit games in its portfolio. It’s recently been pushing the envelope on chart-topping hyper-casual apps, including Looper, Hoop Smash, and Skiddy Car.

Unlike some other genres, hyper-casual games work on a global scale because of their simplicity. Without complicated tutorials or a lot of text to translate, developers can easily open up these apps to new markets, creating a universal experience that mobile gamers the world over can enjoy.

For more information, read the full article - What Are Hyper-Casual Games?

Top Five Resources For Learning To Make Hyper-Casual Games

Now that you have a basic idea of how the hyper-casual market works, you’re probably looking for more resources so you can get to work. We’ve rounded up the best ones here.

RisingHigh - Seriously Snackable

For anyone looking to learn about the world of hyper-casual game development from those with experience, the RisingHigh Academy is the community for you. With over 18 million downloads so far, Kevin and Jilly share their expertise in this seven-hour course. “Seriously Snackable” breaks down the building blocks of successful hyper-casual games and teaches the fundamentals of metric-driven publishing strategies that have afforded them success.

Build Box

Everything about hyper-casual games is fast, including their development cycles. Build Box is a lightweight, logic-based development environment that gives non-coders the ability to take hyper-casual games from prototype to published SKU in record time. Used to develop proven app store heavy hitters like Color Switch and The Line Zen, Build Box is everything developers need to push out high-quality hyper-casual titles in under a week.

Crushing Hyper-Casual Games

Also from the folks at Build Box, this helpful eBook, entitled “Crushing Hyper-Casual Games,” has more than 100 pages of design and development best practices. In it, Build Box CEO Trey Smith breaks down the hyper-casual phenomena, runs through the fundamentals of what’s made them so successful, and explains how new developers can do the same. At only $5.99, it’s an easy choice for anyone interested in developing a better understanding of this rapidly evolving genre.

Deconstructor of Fun

Founded by Michail Katkoff, a producer and strategist with tenures at Supercell, Zynga, and Rovio, Deconstructor of Fun hosts some of the most insightful game design conversations on the web. All of the contributors to the site are both gamers and game developers, offering plenty of perspectives on what makes a mobile game enjoyable. Founded in 2012, it serves as a goldmine of invaluable thought leadership and strategic content for any developer looking to succeed on mobile.

Gamesbrief - The F2P Toolbox

Hyper-casual games are all about taking the design affordances that have made traditional mobile games so successful to their absolute limits. Before developers can do that, they’ll need an expert-level understanding of sound free-to-play design, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better primer than Nicholas Lovell’s F2P Toolbox. A seasoned games industry consultant and pundit, Lovell has made a name for himself by publishing data-driven, actionable content that has allowed developers of all sizes to achieve app store success.

With these resources, you’ll be well on your way to publishing your own hyper-casual game, so get reading!

For more information, check out the full article - How To Make Hyper-Casual Games

What All Developers Should Learn From Hyper-Casual’s Success

On a platform historically dominated by puzzle, social casino, and build-and-battle titles, hyper-casual games are changing the status quo. They’ve managed to combine simplicity, approachability, and creative business practices to produce unique, profitable gameplay experiences that have seen them dominating app store charts.

With that kind of success, there’s clearly a lot that other devs can learn from hyper-casual’s rise. We’ve picked out the top three lessons that every game developer can learn from the success of the hyper-casual genre.

Cultivate Retention Over Acquisition: As digital real estate becomes harder to acquire as users tend to focus on fewer than two dozen apps on their devices, all signs point to a future in which publishers will need to dedicate equal if not greater effort to retaining their existing users through a steady stream of engaging content releases as they do managing growth funnels to bring in new installs. Luckily, the hyper-casual genre is uniquely designed to adapt to this trend.

Through the power of cross-promotion, hyper-casual publishers are able to take advantage of natural churn tendencies to direct traffic from one app in their portfolio to another, cultivating a large and diverse user base in the process. Combined with a regular release cycle, hyper-casual publishers can make portfolio-retention a key metric, rather than limiting themselves to the performance of any single title.

Shorter is Better: There’s mounting evidence to suggest that offering shorter gameplay sessions may be advantageous to achieving commercial success, regardless of platform. Gone are the days when developers could cater only to players with more time than money. Today, everyone’s a gamer, including adults with careers and families. With more time commitments crowding their schedule, developers have an opportunity to offer modern players meaningful gameplay experiences that are small enough to fit into what little free time they have.

One of the reasons hyper-casual games have become so popular is because they do just that: value their users’ time and make it easy to get in and play. Developers like King.com have gained traction with titles that fit into transit trips, bathroom breaks, and baby feedings; more recently, hyper casual publishers have taken this to the absolute extreme with lightweight applications that let players enjoy meaningful gameplay experiences in less than five seconds.

Multiplayer Drives Engagement: The success of .io hyper-casual games, in which small groups of players participate in casual competitive gameplay sessions, points to the value of prioritizing multiplayer functionality. Not only do their chart positions indicate high download and engagement numbers, but the ability to interact and compete with other players, however nominally, also serves as a powerful monetization driver.

With the majority of modern publishers relying on rewarded ads and cosmetic upgrades to drive revenue, creating opportunities for players to contextualize their own achievements against those of other players can have a powerful impact on conversion rates. Of course, implementing multiplayer features in such small, simple gameplay experiences can be a tall order, even for experienced developers. Thankfully, there are a variety of turnkey solutions available through platforms like the Unity Asset Store that take care of the heavy lifting for a nominal fee. With a little creative reskinning and modification, these templates can be used as a foundation for building .io games on par with any of the most successful titles in the app store.

To find out more, see our full article - 3 Lessons All Game Developers Should Learn From The Success Of The Hyper Casual Genre

Ad Monetization for Hyper-Casual Games

Hyper-casual titles represent a stark departure in the mobile marketplace from the whale-driven, IAP-centric, tentpole economies traditionally found in the social casino and build & battle genres. This new publishing approach, which has allowed innovators like Voodoo to attract investor attention to the tune of an estimated $200 million, is the product of a disciplined, data-driven approach to growth.

By unifying the traditionally disparate practices of user acquisition and mobile ad monetization, data scientists are constructing efficient growth engines to power some of the most lucrative app portfolios in the mobile industry. By utilizing this data, mobile app publishers can optimize the entire growth cycle to create a revenue-positive feedback loop.

Tenjin’s data-science-as-a-service team has been able to identify a number of advertising best practices from which any publisher pursuing a hyper-casual portfolio can benefit. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Ad format matters. Banners and playable ad formats typically produce lower engagement rates due to the shorter session times, and should be avoided. Rewarded video ads are easily integrated into gameplay either as extra-life or currency-generating mechanics and are capable of producing a healthy CPM. Non-rewarded interstitial ads are best saved for users that have opted not to engage with rewarded ads after being given significant opportunity.

Know your mediation options. Be sure to check eCPM and fill rate in your key markets and make the appropriate choice between black box or full-control mediation. Make sure cross-promotion options are available; access to user-level data is a must. In-house mediation offers represent an obvious trade-off between overhead cost and control/data access that might not make sense for smaller publishers. Opting to forego mediation in favor of an exclusive can have its benefits, but again, full data access is key to making this work.

Pay attention to performance indicators. Classic ad performance metrics like eCPM, ARPDAU, retention, and ROAS should all still loom large in modern growth marketers’ minds. Be sure to also make an informed choice between relative and absolute retention tracking, especially considering the majority of hyper casual users will only stay engaged for three to seven days. Remember also to take full advantage of custom events for Facebook ad optimization, and don’t forget to track the effects of cross promotion on user value.

For more info, check out Ad Monetization for Hyper-Casual Games: A Data Scientist’s Playbook.

Hyper-Casual Games Can Thrive Without Being Featured

With the millions of apps currently available in the App Store and Google Play, it’s hard for new games to stand out. For years, it was assumed that you had to spend hundreds of thousands on marketing to even get noticed. As mobile design consultant Adam Telfer put it, “Don’t expect to get noticed unless you seriously invest in your discovery.” The only way for developers to earn meaningful returns on their efforts without investing a small fortune in paid acquisition was to hope Apple and/or Google found their product innovative enough to feature.

Recent trends, however, suggest that may be changing, thanks in part to the rise of hyper-casual games. Rather than refining a single idea through an extended soft launch, hyper-casual publishers ship multiple titles every month with little or no advertising support, submitting them to the crucible of the open market. Feature support, which for many has been the be-all-end-all for mobile success, has little place in this model.

That’s not to say that it wouldn’t benefit a publisher’s ability to validate and/or grow a prospective hyper-casual title over time, but it’s certainly not mandatory. There are much more important elements for that category, like a strong data warehouse and a talented marketing team.

For more information, check out the full article - Why Hyper-Casual Games Don’t Need to Get Featured to Succeed

Hyper-casual games appeal to a wide audience, a rare feat in today’s crowded app marketplace when attention spans are shorter than ever. With these resources, you should have a comprehensive understanding of what makes these minimalist games work and be ready to start making or marketing your own.

For more help and info about all things hyper-casual, Tenjin's customer success team is ready to help. Just drop us letter at info@tenjin.com to learn more.

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