Dong Nguyen released Flappy Bird in May 2013. A long-time Mario fan, he reached out to his favourite title for inspiration – and sprites – to create what turned out to be his magnum opus: a side-scroller game that was surprisingly hard. The game sat silently on the app marketplaces for half a year before it was suddenly picked up by the masses, becoming a massive hit – so massive that, at one point, it was making $50,000 a day. This is in spite of it being bashed by critics for its “insanely irritating, difficult, and frustrating” nature. But Nolan Bushnell, creator of Pong, praised it for its simplicity, and so did Doom co-creator John Romero, who called it a “reaction against prevailing design the way grunge was a reaction to metal”.
Flappy Bird was the first hyper-casual game that reached mainstream success – at least the first one to bear this name. Games with similar properties have been around for ages, though – just think of slot machines that were invented more than a century ago. The slot games at Spin Casino bear all the properties of the hyper-casual genre: they are simple, they have almost minimalistic user interfaces, a very steep learning curve, and they are often free-to-play. Of course, the games at Spin Casino can be played with real money – but that’s a story for another time.
What are hyper-casual games?
In a nutshell, hyper-casual games are those (usually mobile) games that are very easy to play, require little to no learning, and can be played immediately after they are downloaded and installed on a device. These games usually have simple, almost minimalistic user interfaces, simple, often 2D designs, easy mechanics, and simple colour schemes.
Hyper-casual games are often played on an infinite loop and can be played while multi-tasking. Oh, and they usually rely on little more than ads to generate revenue.
The hyper-casual genre started with Flappy Bird but rose to prominence in 2017 thanks to game developers like Ketchapp, Kwalee, and Voodoo. And they have become insanely popular: at one point, 10 out of the 15 most downloaded games in the app marketplace of your choice were hyper-casual games.
Why are hyper-casual games so popular?
The secret to their popularity is in their simplicity. The more feature-rich a game becomes, the harder it is to learn – let alone master. As opposed to “classic” mobile games, the hyper-casual titles are almost rudimentary. Players can learn to play them in seconds and can set them aside whenever they want without feeling guilty about abandoning a game mid-level. This, of course, also makes them immersive and very addictive.
Besides, they also reach a very wide audience. As they are very easy to play and rely on simple interfaces and controls, they can be picked up by pretty much any demographic, from kids to elders.
How much money do they make?
Hyper-casual games are very simple, which makes them easy to develop and deploy. And they make a surprising amount of money: according to estimates, games in the genre generate between $2 billion and $2.5 billion each year. No wonder the big names have wanted in on the gig.
Ketchapp, made famous by the hyper-casual puzzle 2048, was absorbed by Ubisoft, while French game developer Voodoo.io has seen its games downloaded close to 4 billion times to date – and it received investments worth hundreds of millions from Goldman Sachs and Tencent.
Hyper-casual games are a true modern-day success story. They are easy to make, they monetize their entire player base, and they generate profits quickly and easily for their developers. They are simple, inclusive, and perfect for gamers and non-gamers alike. This is what makes them perhaps the most successful genre today.