Hypercasual mobile game trends to watch in 2021

Hypercasual is one of the most talked about genres in mobile gaming. It gained traction at an unprecedented rate when Flappy Bird went viral in 2014 and has remained the top download category ever since.

Despite the ease of play and fast development times, hyper-casual games face a number of challenges. Competition continues to escalate as the battle for player attention heats up. And for a genre that is so heavily reliant on advertising, IDFA’s impending changes will really shake the market. And that’s why the hyper-casual genre is constantly evolving – to remain attractive, relevant and competitive. Based on conversations with Supersonic Studio experts Tomer Geller (Lead Game Designer) and Neve Toubul (Head of In-House Games), here are some of the trends we predict will happen in 2021:

Hypercasualization of everything

There is a growing awareness that anything and everything can adapt to the hyper-casual genre, even if it doesn’t seem obvious at first glance. Take, for example, the new genre of minigames (new to mobile, but common on consoles) – it’s a few small actions that, on their own, don’t meet the criteria for a successful hyper-casual game, but collectively they do. Choice-based games like Save the Girl, Chat Master, and Let’s be Cops 3D are yet another example of a sub-genre that has been adapted for hyper-casual experiences, as we can see in games like Save the Girl and Let’s be Cops. This trend of hyper-causalization is likely to continue and we will continue to see an increase in spillover effects as more concepts are hyper-causalized.

The games use more advanced mechanics

On the other hand, we have already started to see the emergence of hybrid-casual games and predict that this is just the beginning. It’s an experience that mimics the gameplay and appeal of hyper-casual games, but with heavier content. For example, this could mean taking elements from mid-core or strategy games and combining them with hyper-casuals to create a new subgenre. We can see this in Ancient Battle, which combines strategy and other genre mechanics with core hyper-casual mechanics.

This evolution is interesting. Hyper-casual games originated as a genre that is easy to play but skill-based, which has become somewhat more indulgent and even easier to play over time as they increasingly compete with the scrolling action of social media news feed. In 2021, part of the genre will return to its roots, and we will see a return to skill-based games that require more thought and attention. This is an important turning point for the genre.

IP games are becoming hyper-casual

In 2020, only 5% of hyper-casual games were supported by third-party IPs, but several acquisitions in the past two years are perhaps a sign of upcoming changes. Zynga’s acquisition of Rollic and My.Games minority stake investment in Mambo Games brings together intellectual property-strong publishers with hyper-casual game studios. To summarize the aforementioned hyper-casualization trend, we will begin to see more recognizable names joining the hyper-casual club.

IP addresses will enter the hyper-casual gaming market, whether this is their first foray into gaming or not. For existing IP games, introducing a simpler gameplay in a hyper-casual format could help them expand the appeal of their game (and therefore IP) to a much larger audience. For other brands, it could help them break into the gaming market, as we’ve seen so many others in the adventure (think Harry Potter and Family Guy) and puzzle genres (think Frozen). Whether used by newcomers to the gaming industry or not, the large potential audience of hyper-casual games and their easy-to-play format can be used by IP-based brands to build awareness, franchise loyalty, and possibly sales as well.

IDFA shakes up the market

Apple’s IDFA changes will impact the hyper-casual industry, which relies heavily on ad monetization – the big question that remains is how. Ultimately it will all come down to exactly how SKAdNetwork 2.0 will work and how mobile app attribution will adapt to it – both are relatively unknown at this time. This will require publishers and ad networks to adapt their technology, tools, and strategy to the new reality and learn how to maximize universal access and monetization in line with the new guidelines, and the outcome will be critical for the hyper-cue industry.

Given Apple’s stance on IDFV, some industry pundits predict that hyper-casual games will benefit from their large existing user base, allowing them to cross-promote their games across their portfolio. Either way, this change is a tipping point for user privacy that will force every industry player to rethink how they grow and monetize their business.

It’s all about the visuals

More alternative game design themes will create a wave of hyper-casual games. For a genre that relies so heavily on creatives (since ad creative is ultimately a mini version of a game), it makes sense that games that have interesting creatives will quickly gain an edge. These are unusual, unexpected and slightly awkward games that generate curiosity in both negative and positive ways. Consider getting a caesarean section on vegetables or raising a baby in the womb. These alternative themes allow you to create visually stimulating creatives so that they evoke noticeable emotion in a potential player who is intrigued to learn more.

And not only will the visuals change, but the way they are created. As technology becomes more powerful, standard resources become more complex and players’ expectations for more realistic environments increase, so the current simple cartoon style of hyper-casual games will be updated to make them more complex and realistic. For example, stickmen from the Unity Store are a popular and widely used asset, but more and more we see them being replaced by more realistic characters that mimic the facial features and movements of a real person.

As an inspiration to other categories and a marketing tool for brands, these second-hand “simple” games continue to prove not only their endurance but also their strength and influence in the broader mobile gaming market.

Nadav Ashkenazi is the CEO of Supersonic Studios, IronSource’s mobile games division. Nadav oversees all aspects of Supersonic, including developer partnerships, game development, monetization and user engagement, data analysis and technical support.

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