What Are Hyper-Casual Games?

What are hyper casual games, and why have they grown by leaps and bounds in 2019?

Hyper-casual games are in a unique position. The new mobile genre absolutely exploded in popularity in recent years, with many experts -- including Tenjin -- calling it one of the biggest drivers of mobile growth. Our own 2018 Hyper Casual Games CPI Benchmark Report analyzed a staggering $48 million of paid hyper-casual game installs, and it has yet to slow down.

Despite this success, we should remember that hyper casual games are really new. The discussions and terminology surrounding their growth often aren’t recognized or well understood by the very customers who made them successful. As of writing, there is no hyper casual genre page on Google Play or the App Store, suggesting the terminology is more useful to mobile marketers and industry insiders.

What we can say is that hyper casual is no longer just the rising star of mobile games -- its time has arrived. Hyper casual games are fully established in today’s marketplace, with multiple titles featured on App Store and Google Play on any given day. While the genre isn’t the only mobile gaming success story, it is easily the most accessible and widely embraced sub-category of the app marketplace.

As our understanding of hyper casual becomes more concrete, it’s worth taking a step back to consider the big picture. What are hyper casual games, what do they look like in 2019, and why are they important for mobile developers, publishers, and marketers?

What are hyper casual games?

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. Hyper casual apps are exclusively monetized using ad revenue, 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, and thousands of gaming apps are downloaded each day, this fast-paced turnaround lets publishers maximize their revenue before pivoting to new trends. If marketed correctly, hyper casual can also cultivate retention for specific publishers, if not titles themselves.

In many ways, hyper casual games are a natural extension of our modern-day app ecosystem. Mobile games have always encouraged streamlined, highly-optimized designs with a laser-focused user experience. And with new games arriving daily, publishers expect apps to have a reduced, almost-disposable lifecycle. The minimal design of hyper casual games does not mean production is simple, however. Developers often need to follow rigid formulas to emphasize short session lengths with immersive user experiences that feature high-quality gameplay assets. For resources on hyper casual development, we recommend our guide on the subject.

The most popular hyper casual games and publishers

Today, 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.

The state of hyper casual games in 2019

Unlike other genres, hyper casual games are immensely popular on a global scale. Their simple designs and minimalist interfaces have the unintended side effect of making lengthy localization processes unnecessary. After all, if a game tutorial doesn’t need to communicate objectives through written language, there’s no need for translations either.

Above all other features, this simplicity drives the success of hyper casual games. Apps that succeed in North America can see equal success across Asia, Europe, or the Middle East. Soft launches have become more cost-effective because publishers can test games in low-CPI countries like Brazil. While individual marketing campaigns may vary, advertisements can be delivered through identical hyper casual apps.

Hyper casual publishing has become a more challenging industry compared to the past five years. Publishers and marketers are keenly aware of hyper casual’s benefits, prompting intense competition between studios. Most projects have consolidated under the banner of the previously mentioned studios, making it harder for newcomers to enter the field.

Where will hyper casual games go next?

Concerns about hyper casual competition aside, the market still has room to grow. After initial delays, the genre is finally breaking ground in China, where our research shows the country ranks seventh in total hyper casual downloads. Its global appeal and short development time are also creating exciting opportunities for developing mobile markets.

Hyper casual is here to stay, but how it will evolve remains to be seen. Perhaps the greatest benefits haven’t even been realized yet, but will emerge when an incoming generation of international game designers add to the potential we see today.

Looking to better understand the fast-paced hyper casual games industry? Download and read The 2018 Hyper Casual Games CPI Benchmark Report today!

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