Hyper-Casual: Mobile gaming’s newest genre

by Johannes Heinze on May 3, 2017

I just wrapped up a three-part series on called “The Ascendance of Hyper-Casual,” where I talk about the emergence of hyper-casual as a new genre in the mobile gaming space.

In part one, I define three general categories that mobile games have been broken down into: casual, mid-core, and hardcore. The first games launched on iOS were casual games that were paid downloads. Casual games are straightforward with mass appeal — think Candy Crush. Casual games were followed by mid-core games, characterized recognizable design along with adapted controls and metagaming. Beyond updated gameplay features, though, around the time mid-core gaming came around, UA teams started using cross-promotion and ad networks to acquire players.

Some mid-core games cross over into the hardcore category, where there are fewer users who play less frequently, but conversion costs are higher. In hardcore games, social networking is a part of the game, as well as the monetization strategy. Monetization of hardcore games is reliant on the commitment of the players, and is largely whale-driven.

In part two, I introduce the new genre of “hyper-casual” games, which are lightweight and instantly playable. They’re often addictive, because gameplay is just a tap away, and sessions are short, so players can stop playing at any time. UI for these games tends to be minimalistic — they’re sort of a revival of simple arcade games from the 70s and 80s.

Where hyper-casual games also differ from their predecessors is in their monetization strategies. Hyper-casual games generally offer few IAPs (which usually account for more than 70% of revenue for other genres), and they monetize through video ads. This yields relatively low revenue per active user, but the appeal and “stickiness” of the games makes up for it.

In part three, I expand on the monetization strategies of hyper-casual games. Because the majority of monetization in hyper-casual games is through ads, quality is important. It’s crucial to maintain a good user experience while maximizing player touchpoints with ads, and this requires optimizing the frequency and format of ads. Often, the best option is a skippable video after one or several of the most prominent game loops.

Players of hyper-casual games can be acquired at extremely low rates, so even though CPIs are increasing and gaining traction in the app stores is difficult, developers of hyper-casual games have a lot of opportunity. Hyper-casual games tend to be less costly to make, and users monetize almost immediately since ads are the primary revenue source, meaning that UA campaigns can be optimized early on. Hyper-casual games make the biggest share of revenue in the first couple of days, unlike IAP-heavy genres, where the most active users make the most money over time.

With any genre, players will always want more content. With hyper-casual games, it’s possible to build a portfolio and cross-promote your brands, allowing them to essentially support themselves. Hyper-casual games offer opportunities to mobile game developers that previous genres didn’t. Because of the snackability of content that hyper-casual games offer players, as well as their relative ease of development and optimal setup for continued monetization, hyper-casual games are likely here to stay.

Johannes Heinze is managing director, EMEA at AppLovin.

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