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Indie devs: Hyper-casual, AR, header bidding, and console-quality games are trends to watch in 2019

by Lewis Leong on Oct 16, 2018

Europe’s top independent mobile game developers gathered in Berlin, Germany for our Amplify workshop last month. The event covered everything from taking your game global to how creatives can influence your game’s design. We surveyed our indie dev attendees to see what they thought would be the biggest trends to watch in 2019, and what piqued their interest in 2018. From the 25 responses, hyper-casual and augmented reality topped the list, and hyper-casual also made the list of biggest trends from 2018, along with header bidding and cross-platform and console-quality games.

Hyper-casual has gained increasing momentum in the past year—88% of the surveyed developers said it was the number one mobile trend in 2018, and over a third expected it to continue as the top trend in the new year. The genre has dominated the top free app store charts in 2018, thanks to its fun and instantly snackable gameplay.

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For developers, hyper-casual is a trend to follow because of its ability to scale. Hyper-casual games are simple to develop and launch, allowing devs to quickly prototype and see what works, then they can quickly monetize with ads, in-app purchases, or both. And with the right ad formats, hyper-casual games are extremely effective at monetization. The fact that hyper-casual games can break through the top free apps charts to sit next to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Netflix is extremely impressive.

Header bidding, an emerging mobile programmatic method where advertisers are given a “first look” at a publisher’s inventory, helps developers monetize more effectively. Nearly a third of respondents recognized it as one of 2018’s top three mobile trends. Console-quality and cross-platform games also sat comfortably with over half of respondents putting one of the two in the top three mobile trends for 2018. Fortnite and PUBG showed just what was possible on mobile, with Fortnite hitting over $1 billion in revenue across mobile, console, and PC. The game generated $100 million in revenue from the App Store in just 90 days, showing the massive potential for console-quality games on mobile.

 

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Looking ahead at 2019, 36% of developers said that AR would be another big mobile game trend to watch. Pokémon Go showed how AR could work effectively for mobile games, but there’s been a dearth of breakout successes in the category so far. However, that could change in 2019. We’re seeing an uptick in AR games like Dumpling Design’s Smash Tanks, which was built using Apple’s ARKit. The Machines, made by Directive Games, shows how powerful AR can be on mobile—and it was featured in Apple’s iPhone X keynote.

With improvements to ARKit and powerful hardware in the form of the just-released iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max, mobile AR games will only create more immersive experiences in 2019. However, developers will have to be aware of the technical limitations of developing on both Android and iOS. “If you’re thinking of doing an AR game on Android and Apple, you’re pretty much thinking about two SKUs,” said Dumpling Design CEO Travis Ryan.

It was interesting to see how much momentum hyper-casual has gained within the past year. The vast majority of those surveyed identified the genre as something to look out for in 2018, and many believe it will keep strong into 2019. For developers, header bidding is an exciting technology to see emerge on mobile, helping them to monetize more effectively. It’s also great to see that the continued enthusiasm around AR games, and we can’t wait to see what indie game devs come up with in the coming year.

Lewis Leong is AppLovin's Content Marketing Manager.

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