What are Hyper-Casual Games?

I recently attended a talk by Voodoo’s head of Berlin studio Alexander Willink at the White Nights conference. He spoke about Hyper casual games, an emerging genre which first grew to prominence in the app charts in early 2017. In this post I’ll explain what hyper casual games are, but firstly we can detail the prior existing categories, for contrast.

Pre-existing Categories

Prior to hyper casual there were 3 broad genres of games on the mobile market; casual, mid-core and hardcore.

Definitions of these 3 genres are debated, but I will summarise them as follows:

Casual: Games which are easy to learn and require little time or learned skill investment from the player to progress. Typically free to play with monetisation through ads and play tokens which become necessary after the player have progressed to a certain point.

Hardcore: Games which require longer play sessions to progress. Require a lot more time investment from the player and be less forgiving, therefore they tend to have a smaller, but devoted audience. These are more likely to be paid apps with a higher price tag.

Mid Core: Games that are easy to learn, allow progression with both short and long play sessions, but are more engaging, more competitive and more challenging casual games. A distillation of the essential elements of a hardcore game which allow a wider audience to play for shorter durations. These are more likely to be a paid app with a lower price tag.

Image result for timberman gameplay
Fig 1. Timber Man, a Hyper Casual Game.

Hyper Casual

Now Hyper Casual games are an emerging genre in the mobile games market, having. So what are they? The first hyper casual game was, arguably, Flappy Bird, but some good recent examples are Love Balls or Crowd City. These games are minimalistic in both style and input from the player, making them both instantly playable and instantly comprehensible from a screenshot (good for going viral).

Hyper-casual games tend to be small in file-size which allows users across the globe to play, often using older or less capable devices. This allows for the maximum audience size. This also allows users to go from discovering the game in the app store to actually playing in a very short time window.

Image result for crowd city game
Fig 2. Crowd City by Voodoo Games.

Players open the app and are typically immediately in the game, no loading or narrative setup and typically very minimal tutorials. They contrast feature-rich games like Diamond Diaries Saga or Puzzles and Dragons which require users spend many hours before they’ve really experienced the full extent of the game. According to Hugo Peyron, Voodoo’s publishing manager ‘people want a ‘snackable’ game. If something takes longer than 15 minutes, that’s going to dissuade them from coming back for another challenge’.

In the studio, these games are typically rapidly created, iterated and prototyped. Unlike more complex games, studios have several dozen version to hundreds of hyper casual games being prototyped every month – the creative team cannot get too invested, as their work can be abandoned in favour of a prototype with better 7 day retention. While this may sound cold, it allows for reduced time and money investment in games which won’t be a hit with players.

Monetisation

One of the reasons hyper casual games can succeed is mobile ads. Often these games incorporate banner ads gracefully, appearing onscreen but not interfering with the delicate gameplay of taps and swipes. Interstitial ads are reserved for after failing – or some other instance when the ad’s appearance will feel less intrusive.

Image result for knife hit game
Fig 3. Knife Hit by Ketchapp, note the in-game ad.

Using rewarded video ads – such as a free play for watching an ad or unlocking avatar skins – has proven to be very positive with players. Knife Hit has a tier of knives only available by watching ads. This is a clever way of incentivising the ads and gelling them into the game experience more smoothly.

In Summary

I think Hyper Casual games are the fruitful union of modern ads monetisation and the minimalistic style of and addictive, simple gameplay of 1980’s arcade games. I hope this exploration was useful for you.

 

 

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