Is it Really the End of the Hypercasual Gold Era?
Timothée BRUNEAU – Jan 31, 2023
For a long time, hyper-casual games felt like “Western”, a gold rush with rag-to-riches stories and underdogs getting to the top charts with simple yet innovative ideas.
And just as the cow-boys, one could think this era starts to falter: too many people and not enough gold. To find the “hit nugget,” you need to dig further and harder…
So why are the cow-boys riding slowly now?
Like the gold rush, the “easy to develop / high income” appeal of the hyper-casual industry lured many young studios and publishers in.
By the time more people entered into this field, users have grown accustomed to playing on mobile devices and tend to have higher expectations about their gaming experiences. And with more games leading to more competition for everyone, the rush was only starting.
Understand the KPIs first
During one of his talks, Alex Willink, who used to be the General Manager Berlin Studio at Voodoo, explained that in order to create a successful game for the casual audience, the two holy metrics to watch out for are CPI and Retention (Source: Youtube Video). CPI represents the “sex appeal” of the game, how attractive it is, and Retention represents the “fun” of the game: the inherent fun you get with the core gameplay. To create a successful game, you need to hit the requirements for both these criteria.
Back to the far west
As previously mentioned, the industry got more and more crowded over time. And since hyper-casual games are simple yet clever by nature, which makes them accessible, it resulted in a fiercer competition and thus higher CPI as time passed.
To counter this rise of the CPI, we observed two kinds of response from the industry:
Firstly, a heavy focus on trend-based productions, such as the Squid Game, Poppy Playtime, Rainbow Friends or Alphabet Lore games, which are usually a standard hyper-casual game where you slap a skin of a current trend to take advantage of its popularity and focus on getting a great CPI.
Secondly, the birth of the “Hybrid-casual” games, or what I like to call the “Super-casual” (a bit less casual than hyper). They basically look like hyper-casual games, but usually have more polished and deeper gameplay with features coming from the casual games, such as hybrid monetization and longer time of development (eg. arcade idle games). This strategy aims at maximizing Retention, and compensates for the higher CPI.
Of course both responses have pros and cons. The trend-based games can sometimes feel like there is a kind of dissonance, when the slapped trend doesn’t really match the spirit of the actual game (eg. slapping Steve from Minecraft in a car race). In my opinion, it is important with this kind of games to be careful not to turn them into simple clickbaits without any depth. On the other hand, bringing inspiration coming from other types of media to mobile gaming is always a good thing to have more diversity.
As for hybrid-casual games, they require more advanced development. It takes more time and more money to make them without any guarantee of getting a CPI that is low enough to be profitable. However they are closer to a “standard and complete” game. So with a better quality and a bit more work to find the right CPI angle, players will likely stay longer than your average hyper-casual games from 2018.
Pick your Gold
In short, it is clear that the hyper-casual games evolved a lot from what it used to be 5 years ago, but is it really the end of the Hyper-casual Gold Era? Hyper-casual games were still the most downloaded and successful games in 2022, with a never ending growth of mobile gaming overall. Some publishers (including TapNation) also integrating Web3 features into their games to take them to the next level. It is now up to each studio and publisher to decide which path to follow for the future: trend-based hyper-casual games, hybrid-casual games, Web3 casual games… There are still many opportunities to look for going forward!
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