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The Evolution of Hyper-Casual Games

by Eugen Quiring on Jul 6, 2020

For the past several years, hyper-casual games have been the talk of mobile game developers. The genre seemingly came out of nowhere and dominated the app store charts. As the genre grew, some critics brushed hyper-casual off as a fad as the games were too shallow to retain players. However, hyper-casual has proved itself resilient, and is absolutely not a fad, thanks to the ingenuity of its developers. 

Let’s take a quick look at the rise of hyper-casual games, how the genre evolved over the years, and where it’s going in the near future. 

Hyper-casual games: a brief history

In 2014, the mobile games industry was rocked by a no-name developer with a super-simple game. That game was Flappy Bird. Developer Dong Nguyen had released the game in May 2013 but it didn’t go viral until early 2014. The game spread like wildfire and at its peak, was making $50,000 per day from in-app advertising, according to Nguyen. 

Some developers and publishers began to realize the huge market potential for ultra-simple, easy to pick up and play games, launching the hyper-casual games industry. There was clearly a demand for this type of game but was there a sustainable business model for hyper-casual? The answer is clearly “yes,” thanks to in-app advertising and sophisticated user acquisition.

Advantages of hyper-casual games

One of the biggest learnings from hyper-casual game developers is just how quickly development can be achieved. Hyper-casual game developers create many concepts and prototypes, look at the data, and decide which concepts have potential. Since hyper-casual games focus on a core gameplay mechanic and are simple to play, they are also simple to develop and have mass appeal.

The simplicity of hyper-casual games and a data-driven approach gives hyper-casual games a competitive advantage because they allow developers to test quickly before creating a game that may flop. Instead of guessing what players want, extensive testing and quick prototyping allow hyper-casual game developers to know if a game is marketable. 

With the data collected from testing and iteration, hyper-casual games can then scale quickly. Cost per install for hyper-casual games is typically below $0.50, which is much lower than other genres that target loyal fan bases in hopes they spend money on in-app purchases. Since hyper-casual games are predominantly ad-driven, it allows hyper-casual game developers to begin making money immediately, which can be funneled back into UA campaigns to scale the game. 

Challenges for hyper-casual games

New challenges arose as the market for hyper-casual games matured. UA costs are increasing across the board but are still well below other genres. Hyper-casual developers also have to deal with rapid player churn, as the genre’s simplistic mechanics may be fun for a few days or weeks but bored players will abandon the game. 

Additionally, the hyper-casual games market is ultra-competitive, leading to a lot of competition and copies. A developer may have a good game, only to be outdone by a competitor with a copycat game that uses the same core mechanic, but has a more sophisticated UA strategy or can deliver a higher quality product. 

How hyper-casual games are evolving

The secret of hyper-casual games is out, and there’s no replicating early successes. The industry is becoming more sophisticated, as are the games. Developers have adapted with new UA strategies and game design elements that better retain players. 

One obvious change in the hyper-casual games industry is the focus on the quality and depth of games. Hyper-casual games still need to be simple and easy to understand but quality can be improved. From better graphics to more sophisticated metagames, hyper-casual games are introducing a maturing player base to increased depth in games. For example, players can collect new characters and cosmetic upgrades while they play, which adds an additional game mechanic that’s unrelated to the core gameplay.

On the monetization side, hyper-casual developers are embracing in-app bidding, which provides publishers with an unbiased auction for each impression instead of relying on a manually curated waterfall. For smaller hyper-casual game developers, the introduction of in-app bidding services like MAX by AppLovin has freed up a significant amount of time for them to spend creating great games instead of monitoring a monetization stack. 

Developers are also looking for additional ways to increase efficiency by automating repetitive tasks like UA and even ad creation. There are now more tools than ever to help small studios free up time and compete with the incumbents in the mobile games industry. That increased competition means new and better games for players and we can’t wait to see how the hyper-casual games industry grows in the future. 


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Eugen is Business Development Manager (CIS and Eastern Europe) for Lion Studios.