Ivan Spizharskiy, Head of Publishing FreePlay, a gamedev veteran with massive 16-years experience in the industry, has shared some thoughts on what 2022 may mean for hyper-casual gaming and it’s developers and players.
Over the last few years, there was a tremendous rise of a new mobile games market – hyper-casual. According to sensortower.com data, hyper-casual games generated over 37% of all mobile games downloads in 2021.
Quantity Does Not Equal Quality
2021 witnessed a huge spike in hyper-casual prototypes (a prototype is an early version of the game for measuring basic KPIs). April 2021 was a record high month for prototyping: over 4500 hyper-casual games (based on Boutique Insights Platform data) were tested at the same time! This is an extreme number, considering an average of 500 prototypes (based on Boutique Insights Platform data) per month were tested in Q1 2020.
What is even more surprising, quantity does not result in quality, as the number of hits (successful hyper casual games with over 10.000.000 downloads overall) published each month was and still remains between 15 and 25 (based on Boutique Insights Platform data) through the whole 2020 and 2021.
Yes, it does not correlate with the number of prototypes tested. Even more so, there is no definite trend for either increase or decrease.
Hyper Casual is Slowing Down
2019 was a very successful year for hyper-casual, almost doubling download numbers (comparing January 2019 to January 2020, based on hyper-casual data on sensortower.com). 2020 was also bright, bringing another 30% in growth (based on sensortower.com data). January 2021 established a new record, reaching over 1.2 billion (based on sensortower.com data) downloads, and that’s where things started to go down.
Unlike the rest of the mobile market, hyper-casual kept small downloads growth over the first half of 2021, but Q3 is the first negative quarter (-7%, based on sensortower.com data), with Q4 estimated to be even lower.
What does it mean? Some think that might be a correction after rapid growth and external factors not helping any longer. Others believe it is a long-forecasted stagnation. It is also important to note that the number of downloads does not equal revenues, which are hard to estimate when it comes to hyper-casual. Nevertheless, this trend will reveal new approaches and new ideas for promotion and will stress the importance of creating qualified products.
New Market Members are Getting Upset with the Market’s State
In some way, hyper-casual was a gold rush for gaming. Many developers and publishers tried their best for what seemed like an easy success. Yet few succeeded. As of Q3 2021, the chance of producing a hit was around 0.5% per each prototype made (based on Boutique Insights Platform data).
Since April 2021, the amount of new prototypes produced has kept decreasing, reaching about 3000 per month by the end of Q3. This is likely a sign of some players turning their back to the market. Another factor that might have affected: hyper-casual games are getting longer to produce.
Making Hyper Casual Games in 2021 is Not Easy
Before the boom, hyper-casual games were perceived as easy prototypes that could be made with a small team of juniors and some Unity Store Assets. If anything we can learn from the 2021 prototype rush, it is that inexperienced teams fail more often.
Store assets are still widely used, but custom-made models, animations, and visual effects are becoming increasingly important to stand out. This highlights another market problem: the increasingly high demand for talents.
How to Succeed in 2021: Workflow, Ideation, Talent
The harsh truth of hyper-casual resulted in many teams understanding they need to evolve on many fronts: skilled artists, experienced designers, and knowledgeable unity developers are of extreme value.
Hyper casual games are getting more complex in game design, content-wise larger and prettier when it comes to graphics. Naturally, teams are becoming more and more selective in the ideas they try. Identifying and producing the most potent idea in the shortest amount of time with sufficient quality depends heavily on your team’s skill.
A Deadlock for Publishers
Market changes haven’t gone unnoticed by hyper-casual publishers. Tested prototypes used to be a valid KPI for many, and teams capable of fast and mass production were perceived as fit for the market. PPP (pay per prototype, a short one-time payment for a finished prototype) dominated over other market models, with many publishers being not picky about quality/idea.
The failure of the quantity model came with the realization that only experienced/potential teams really matter. Thus, many publishers are now turning towards investment/acquisition of the most potent and promising teams. Not only it allows developers to effectively use the publisher’s resources, but it also removes the fear of losing this team to a rival publisher.
It is Going to be an Interesting Year
With all the rapid changes happening, the hyper-casual market has finally become an institutionalized and mature market, losing its “gold rush” allure. Putting aside all the troubles for market players, one thing for certain: we are going to get better games.
If you used to avoid hyper-casual for this particular reason, maybe now it’s time to rethink and pay more attention to it. Keep in mind all the problems described and try to avoid them from the very beginning, inspire your team, develop better products for your users, and your prototypes could become a success story even faster.
Ivan previously worked for My.Games (Bombastic Brothers, American Dad: Apocalypse Soon) and Nival (Prime World, King’s Bounty: Legions, Defenders), has recently joined FreePlay studio, a developer of most downloaded game in 2020 – Join Clash, and also released another two hits this year, Count Masters and Fidget Toys Trading, that boomed top gaming charts for several month. Total number of product’s downloads has reached half a billion all over the globe.