The hyper-casual landscape in 2023: Trends and insights for developers

Azur Games publishing lead, Sergey Martinkevich shares insights on the development and monetization of hyper-casual games

The hyper-casual landscape in 2023: Trends and insights for developers

In an increasingly competitive and growing market such as the gaming industry, the pieces are always moving so remaining informed on trends is increasingly important.

Instantly playable lightweight hyper-casual games have dominated much of the mobile market in recent years, with easy to pick up and play titles. However, since the genre is being overworked some are branding the genre as dying.

Following an invite-only meetup between Azur Games and Google Ads to explore trends in the mobile games market, Sergey Martinkevich, publishing lead at Azur Games shares what is really going on behind the scenes.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, many people expected the mobile game market to slow down. However, the current situation can’t just be described as a slowdown. It’s actually a decline, with both eCPM and profits decreasing.

Today, we’ll delve deeper into the hyper-casual genre, looking at which types of games developers should focus on and how to increase their chances of success.

Looking at the overall size of the market

This graph shows the three main categories of games, casual, core, and hyper-casual. This includes mid-core, hardcore, shoot-them-down, and other genres for core games. As we can see, the overall volume of the market is increasing.

However, hyper-casual games, one of the fastest-growing genres in the industry for the past few years, aren’t experiencing the same surge. In fact, they may even be declining at times.

Some experts have gone so far as to declare that hyper-casual is dead. But we don’t need to be quite so pessimistic, the situation is more nuanced than that.

Hyper-casual competition

This graph shows the number of hyper-casual prototypes and commercial releases each year.

Compared to 2021, the number of prototypes released in 2022 increased almost tenfold. In January 2023, the same number of prototypes were released as in the entire year of 2021. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for projects to stand out from the crowd and make a name for themselves. Next, let’s examine the volume of the market.

In 2022, we saw a 50% increase compared to 2021, but the volume still lags behind the competition. Looking ahead to 2023, we don’t expect significant market growth despite minor positive adjustments factored in, and we’ll likely see a repeat of 2021.

Turning to monetization

We may see a minor correction in eCPM in the near future, but we don’t expect it to return to the levels seen before
Sergey Martinkevich

eCPM is an important indicator of genre health, as a significant portion of our revenue comes from ad monetization. We’ve spoken to numerous industry representatives and have found that the situation is similar across the board, as seen in this screenshot. The highest figures were recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by some corrections, and now we’re seeing a decline.

Recently, we discussed an idle game that achieved a 300% ROAS with one of our team’s producers. It reminded me of a similar game we had in spring of 2022, with a comparable quantity of rewarded videos watched by users. We compared the eCPM and found that it had fallen by half. Nevertheless, we achieved a good ROAS due to better onboarding, content delivery, and potentially better monetisation and lower CPI.

Why is this happening? First and foremost, it’s due to changes in user behaviour, as users are not playing as much as they did during the pandemic. Additionally, large advertisers are reducing their ad spend, which reflects current market trends. With high supply and low demand, it’s no surprise that the eCPM is falling.

Top 300

These were the top 300 mobile games based on downloads when this article was written. The graph is divided into years, indicating when each game in the top 300 was released. As shown, 2022 only contributed 18% of the games in the current top 300. It’s important to note that this year had the highest competition. However, 2021, which was considered non-competitive, provided 42% of the current top 300 games. It was indeed a productive year. Interestingly, games released in 2020 still account for a fifth of the top 300.

Old but gold titles are in no rush to leave the top 300. Fruit Ninja, for instance, has been on this list since 2010. Azur Games also has a few such games, such as Stack Ball and Worms Zone.

To sum up, competition is intense, and the market volume is not increasing. eCPM is declining, and the old but gold titles are still dominating the top 300. However, things are not looking bleak elsewhere.

2022 gifted the gaming industry with several noteworthy releases. One standout title is Tall Man Run by Supersonic, which boasts over 100 million downloads. The significance of this game lies in its genre as a runner game, a genre considered to be on the decline. Despite this, it still has a respectable number of installs, although the trend is downwards. Yet, a runner game is one of the most significant releases of 2022.

Fill the Fridge by Rollic Games is also a significant title in the hyper-casual genre, revitalising the organiser sub-genre. This is significant because it shows that if you create an outstanding game, it has the potential to become popular even if the trend is declining.

And how can we forget about Save the Doge by Wonder Group. It may have played a significant part in the surge of the puzzle genre in 2022.

Here are a few more notable releases from 2022:

Bucket Crusher from Voodoo, for example, breathed new life into the destruction sub-genre.

Let’s talk about sub-genres

When scroller downloads decreased, runners downloads slightly increased
Sergey Martinkevich

Arcade cannot be considered an independent genre since it can be applied to various games, including racing and more. However, it can be an indicator of the health of hyper-casual games.

As with scroller games, the purple line is falling, but this is due to the problem of sub-genre definitions. Many analytical tools label sub-genres differently, and for some reason, in late 2022 and early 2023, the scroller sub-genre transformed into a runner. In reality, they are almost the same. Puzzle and simulator sub-genres are performing well, which is interesting since they were considered dying sub-genres in hyper-casual gaming two years ago.

Again, the black line is a general trend since puzzle sub-genres can intersect with other small sub-genres. However, we see a slight increase. More importantly, we can see how small sub-genres are developing. For example, power-level puzzles, which as Save the Doge, didn’t get any downloads until mid-summer. Overall, puzzles are performing quite well.

Idle games

Installs have increased even if we compare it to the beginning of 2022. And over the past two years, growth has exceeded 100% in terms of both installs and monetization.

Another interesting feature is the decrease in Idle Arcade on almost all analytical tools. However, this is not a decrease in actual installs but a division into several tags. In any case, the market for these sub-genres is growing despite the competition.

Moving on to runners and shooters.

Runner installs are still decent, and many are in the top 300. This subgenre is very mature, but the trend is declining, even with Tall Man Run reaching 100 million downloads in 2022. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly difficult to scale runner games.

Hyper-casual shooters are growing, but you have to be cautious because they are challenging to scale and maintain a good flow of content and game design. The problem of tags arises again because hyper-casual shooters are not the same as traditional first-person shooters for all analytical tools. For instance, Tank Stars is a 2D game with over 300 million downloads, but it is also considered a shooter.

Satisfaction and .io games are declining slightly, but they still have a good number of installs. If you’re working in this genre, success depends on the quality of your games and whether you can stand out and make an impact.

Interestingly, strategy games have tripled in volume and have maintained stable installs. This suggests that exploring strategy games in the hyper-casual genre could be worthwhile.

In-app monetization in hyper-casual games

Clicker and idle games have shown amazing growth. Puzzles occupy leading positions as well. .io games have experienced a decline but still have decent metrics. Scrollers have also declined, but it’s not all doom and gloom because runners have remained primarily stable.

Let’s look at the information from open sources.

It’s important to note that for the .io genre, the top-grossing game is Battle of Balls, which is very popular in Asia and accounts for 80% of the revenue of the current top five games in this genre. Therefore, when using analytical tools, you should be very careful.

And here’s how developers behave considering the data we’ve reviewed:

We see more prototypes being released in puzzle, clicker, runner, and strategy genres. It’s worth noting, however, that every sub-genre has its own pace, and if you want to succeed, you need to analyse your competitors and their product decomposition thoroughly. Only then can you take a risk and create something trendy.

Here are the first candidates for decomposition:

It’s obvious that things like idle games and puzzles are currently trendy, but it’s important to dive deeper into the market and conduct your own analysis.

Wrapping things up

Many useful analytical tools are available, such as AppMagic and Sensor Tower, which can provide valuable information, even on a free basis. In-house tools from big publishers are also worth paying attention to.

It’s not the easiest time for developers. Yes, we expect some market growth, but mainly in less affluent regions. At the same time, games bring less profit, so instead of searching for a hit, you can focus on creating several projects with average metrics. This can be a good source of funds to focus on something more profound.

Nevertheless, specific sub-genres are growing. Therefore, diving into the market and monitoring what happens daily can significantly increase your chances of success.

Edited by Paige Cook

PocketGamer.biz regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.