From the moment that Flappy Bird flew its way into our lives in 2013, hyper-casual games have been a big part of the mobile games industry. These tiny titles, which make their money through advertising, have helped power companies like Voodoo and Ketchapp to global superstardom. This is particularly the case in China, where hyper-casual titles have smashed their way to prominence.
But what’s the appeal behind hyper-casual? Why are these games so big in China? And what’s the opportunity for developers looking to break into both spaces? Let’s take a look.
What Is Hyper-Casual?
Hyper-casual games are snack-sized games. They are tiny, simple and have become a worldwide sensation. These games often feature a simple mechanic, which makes them very easy to pick up and play. There is usually no tutorial, and the game can be played in short bursts of as little as a few seconds at a time.
The idea behind these games is that players will become compelled by a mechanic and play through numerous sessions at a time. This means that mobile advertising served in the game regularly refreshes with each completed session, increasing views of banners and helping the publisher monetize.
How Does The Hyper-Casual Business Model Work?
Just one word: advertising. “The majority of the revenue, more than 80 to 90%, comes from ad monetization,” stated Tal Shoham, COO at IronSource in an interview with VentureBeat.
Hyper-casual games’ short playthroughs make them perfectly formatted for ads. Something as simple as displaying an ad between matches can generate a high number of impressions in a single session. But get the advertising mix wrong, and user retention and session length might go down. Some simple A/B testing can be the best way to ensure you get these numbers right.
In-app purchases are not common in hyper-casual games, though some are experimenting with one-time purchases to remove ads from the game.
Where Did Hyper-Casual Emerge From?
As we mentioned earlier, Flappy Bird can reasonably be considered the first hyper-casual mega-hit. Though its creator pulled the game from app stores, the combination of simple game design, compelling mechanics and ad-funded monetization remains the basic starting point for the genre.
But it evolved significantly when Ketchapp entered the market. They built on the basic business concept of Flappy Bird by rapidly creating a portfolio of interlinked hyper-casual titles.
However, they are far from the only global player in the hyper-casual space. Voodoo is another publisher with dozens of games in the market. Even Tencent has gotten into the game, with Jump Jump taking the Chinese market by storm in late 2017. At one time it attracted an impressive 400 million players in a matter of days.
Hyper-casual games might be tiny, but their impact on the mobile market is big. As much as 30% of games downloaded in China are hyper-casual. The success of these games has even attracted Goldman Sachs — it recently decided to invest $200 million into Voodoo. Overall, the hyper-casual market hit a year-over-year download growth of over 200% in 2018, with an impressive 340% year-over-year revenue growth, according to Deconstructor.
Hyper-Casual Gaming In China
The great licensing freeze slowed down the overall Chinese games market in 2018. Starting in March of that year, games could not be approved for release in China. And, to make things more difficult, the Ministry of Education issued a list of recommendations to reduce play time in teenagers.
While large companies like Tencent and Netease have the resources to implement the government’s increasing list of demands, small and medium companies were having a tougher time staying above water. (Full disclosure: Voodoo, Tencent and Netease have worked with Mintegral.)
That is, until mini-programs took over. Mini-programs are small apps that run inside a larger app, such as WeChat, where mini-programs serve 200 million daily users and one billion monthly active users worldwide.
How To Succeed In The Hyper-Casual Game Market In China
There are three rules to succeed in the hyper-casual game market in China.
First of all, it’s incredibly important to understand the core characteristics of the genre. If you can’t regularly make new games featuring compelling mechanics with seamless ad integrations, you won’t be able to keep up with the competition. But if you can, then many of the same rules for hyper-casual success in the West apply in China.
Second, don’t forget the App Store as a route to market. While Tencent’s mini-programs are hugely influential, the Apple App Store is a quick and effective launch channel. Even offering hyper-casual titles for free is a great way to quickly bridge into China before going deeper into the economy.
Third, developers looking to get hyper-casual titles into China’s mini-program market need support. Although the barriers to entry are not as high in the mini-program as in the rest of the Chinese game market, you will need local knowledge to help you hone your game into a mini-program and get it into WeChat.
That doesn’t take into consideration other barriers hyper-casual titles face in China, such as finding domestic advertising networks that’ll partner with you, running user acquisition correctly in China and integrating functions like leaderboards, chat and sharing with other Chinese social networks and chat apps.
Hyper-casual is big across the world, but the nature of the Chinese video game markets makes it a prime place to release such titles.