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Why hypercasual gaming app marketers need their own playbook

Adjust's Alexandre Pham breaks down the monetisation of hypercasual games, player retention, and in-game ads in a new world of privacy
Why hypercasual gaming app marketers need their own playbook
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Alexandre Pham is Vice President, EMEA at Adjust

Small and mighty hypercasual games have taken the world by storm in recent years. But the unique levels in which the genre engages players are significantly different from mid- and core gaming, and requires its own playbook to make the most of in-app marketing.

How hypercasual games are different

Adjust’s data indicates hypercasual installs increased by 44 per cent in 2021, far above the installs increase of non-hypercasual titles (28 per cent). But installs don’t tell the whole story: users spent 22 per cent more time on casual games than on hypercasual.

It makes sense that gaming and entertainment apps in general boast longer session lengths compared to, for instance, banking and payment apps. But while sessions for non-hypercasual games were down 0.01 per cent in 2021, following a year-on-year (YoY) increase of 27 per cent in 2020, hypercasual sessions were down three per cent in 2021 YoY.

Accordingly, average session of hypercasual games hovered at 16.8 minutes, while casual gaming and sports gaming apps were at 21.6 and 22.7 minutes, respectively.

“The hypercasual vertical are characterised by lower retention rates”
Alexandre Pham

We see similar patterns play out when we look at time spent in-app. The median numbers for non-hypercasual gaming is much higher than in the comparison verticals, with the day zero (in-game median of 21.8 minutes), one (50), three (44.5), seven (42.6), and 30 (41) patterns in Q4 2021.

Hypercasual is a completely different story, dipping down significantly faster. Our Q4 data shows that on day zero, time spent in-app is a mere seven minutes, jumping up to 13.7 on the next day. By the seventh day, time spent in-app is down to nine minutes - falling to 7.6 minutes by day 30.

What the data tells us

The hypercasual vertical are characterised by lower retention rates. Looking at Q4 2021, Adjust found that games retained best on day one, at nearly 28 per cent of players, followed by hypercasual at 25 per cent. However, just seven per cent of hypercasual users return by day seven (compared to a median rate of 13 per cent for all mobile gaming verticals) and only 1.7 per cent return by day 30.

This poor retention rate is due, in part, to the simple game mechanics and developers funneling users into the next game in their portfolio. The nature of hypercasual games means that marketers won’t focus their efforts on improving retention - instead, they need to perfect the art of monetising users quickly and then pushing them to the next game.

This also explains why hypercasual games have more partners than other apps - even other games. The median number of partners per app hovers at around six for all verticals combined in Q4 2021. Games is above the median of the other verticals at seven overall, with hypercasual even higher, at 10 – bonus tip: consider increasing the number of partners you are working with if you haven’t already, looking at their creative and targeting capabilities.

Hypercasual games aim to acquire the maximum revenue per user in the first two days after download, as retention rates dip heavily after that. This goal is especially important as hypercasual has the highest ratio of paid installs to organic installs, reaching 3.35 by Q4 2021. To be clear, this isn’t a bad thing. Because install prices are very cheap, casual games try to drive as many users as possible to their apps as quickly as possible.

Additionally, within that first two-day usage window, casual games often use cross promotion in their advertising to get users across to other apps in the developers’ libraries quickly, and is also a reason why iOS 14.5+ App Tracking Transparency opt-in rates for games have been high - gaming users like targeted advertising.

Comparatively, the paid:organic ratio for the overall gaming vertical was just 0.66 in the same quarter.
It’s clear that when you’re paying for users, monetising them takes on new importance. Hypercasual games stand apart from the larger vertical - not only in terms of cost, but in the strategy required to monetise effectively. So, what do marketers need to know?

How to quickly monetise hypercasual games

“Aim to acquire the maximum revenue per user in the first two days after download”
Alexandre Pham

Hypercasual games are generally free to play, and as such rely on ads to monetise. The quickest path to ad-supported success is through personalised ads. We often think about personalisation in terms of the products we advertise or using a person’s name. But in the hypercasual world, marketers need to think about personalisation differently. This is especially in light of iOS 15+ and the increased focus on privacy.

Experiment with the frequency with which you show ads. Hypercasual users tend to be used to seeing more ads and are more tolerant of frequent ads. In fact, they can display more ads than gameplay within a minute and still hold the attention of their audience and generate revenue.

There are limits, however. Our research shows that hypercasuals that show more than four ads per minute hit a ceiling at around $35,000 per month in revenue. The sweet spot appears to be between two and three ads per minute, a total that enables hypercasual game companies to boost their revenues by as much as 10 per cent.

Ironically, this may mean hypercasuals are in a better position in the post-IDFA era, where apps will need to show more ads to make up for the lost revenue of more targeted ads.

Marketers can also tweak ad formats used - videos, interstitials, native - based on user preferences. If you find videos are engaging users more than interstitials, don’t waste precious time on lower-performing ads. If you’re employing increasingly popular rewarded ads, experiment with different prizes to see what users are more likely to engage with.

Monetising free-to-play games is always a balancing act, but this is especially true for hypercasuals where players come and go quickly. But publishers can use this to their advantage, by cross-promoting other games within their portfolio — ensuring that users who enjoy one game move on the next when it’s time for a new challenge. This keeps more eyes on ads across their larger suite, enabling hypercasuals to monetise more effectively.