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6.3 billion reasons why big brands should look at hyper-casual gaming

by Julia Smith

April 13, 2021

By Niklas Bakos, Founder, Adverty

Hyper-casual mobile games don’t usually take long to describe: slap a series of cartoon opponents as hard as you can (Lion Studios’ Slap Kings); collect enough high-heel extensions to stride over all the obstacles in your path (Rollic’s High Heels!); manoeuvre a growing black hole around a city, swallowing anything that will fit, from pedestrians to queues of traffic to entire blocks (Voodoo’s Hole.io).

In their comically simple concepts, their broad appeal and their ad-dependent, free-to-play revenue model, hyper-casual games - which at their most basic have also gamified wood-turning, untangling cables and ironing - inhabit a different realm to the big-budget, almost cinematic world of console blockbusters. Nonetheless, they are steadily taking over the mobile gaming business.

Installs of hyper-casual games more than doubled in the quarter ending March 2020, and sessions grew by 72% that month, when lockdown began in many parts of the world [source: Adjust]. As the year wore on, hyper-casual games racked up 6.3 billion downloads, accounting for 31 per cent of all mobile games and stretching its lead as by far the biggest mobile game genre [source: Sensor Tower].

Not a genre but a business model - and a good one

As others have pointed out, hyper-casual isn’t really a genre at all, but a business model: a hyper-casual game is simply one that derives at least 95% of its revenue from ads. We pay with our time and our eyeballs, and in the past year, many of us have had plenty of time on our hands. As lockdown relaxes, or grinds on, depending on your location, the total global gaming audience has swelled to 3bn people, male and female, young and old.

Hyper-casual has a number of particular strengths for advertisers. For one, its audience is as broad as the already inclusive gaming audience ever gets. There is no specific target market for a game about bouncing a ball down a never-ending sequence of platforms (Voodoo’s Helix Jump - 503,983,656 downloads and counting) or zapping onrushing enemies with your magic finger (Lucky Kat’s Magic Finger 3D) - other than people with time to kill and a compulsion to play something.

Another strength is the intensity of the experience: games are fast, furious and skilful and, for all their simplicity, require a player’s full attention. Some might argue that brands prefer to be in the more premium environments of AAA console games, but hyper-casual’s appeal to all ages, its accessibility to anyone with a smartphone and the quality of its audiences’ focus should all be of interest to marketers.

Room to reconsider hyper-casual advertising

Those who know hyper-casual games will be aware that the value exchange is often fairly blunt: play the game, watch an ad, repeat. Sometimes, the games end so fast that you’re watching ads nearly as much as you’re playing. To an extent, that model is clearly working fairly well, but to us it can feel like a missed opportunity for smarter, more integrated formats.

In more general gaming, the successful in-game brands are those that don’t attempt to elbow their way to the fore but respect the gameplay, find unobtrusive but complementary positions and even enhance the experience.

Hyper-casual games are ripe for some of that kind of thinking. Simply because watching an ad is part of the deal, doesn’t mean the ad has to be disruptive. Research has told us that unobtrusive formats are often more effective than disruptive ones, and ads that reach out of the gameplay have an opportunity to enhance the connection between the player and the game.

An opportunity for integrated ads

Many hyper-casual games have the same potential for background advertising in virtual contexts as their more premium counterparts - billboards, bus shelters, passing taxis. In addition, they have a witty style that lends itself to cheeky brand incursion, as well as an audience that expects a little advertising in return for the game.

Why shouldn’t an oncoming villain be branded? Why not offer advertising on the platforms the ball bounces on, the cage around the one-on-one slap fight, the T-shirts the game wants you to iron? And when players interact with a brand, especially in an intense context that doesn’t disrupt the game, it goes without saying that brand awareness improves.

We are working with Dutch studio Lucky Kat to find creative ways to embed ads within their games. Our In-Play format allows advertisers to fit seamlessly into games, with brand awareness ads in realistic virtual locations, just as our In-Menu format lets brands place contextually-relevant, performance-focused banner ads in between games in a more traditional style.

Hyper-casual games are a world unto themselves, and while in some eyes they may lack the prestige of paid-for games, their pull is remarkable. Leading publisher Voodoo alone had chalked up 3.7 billion game downloads as of August 2020, with more than 300m monthly active users.

In-game advertising is gradually beginning to reap the respect it deserves. Brands such as Aldi, Lidl and Ikea are forging new gaming-related partnerships, and a recent survey from Pocketgamer.biz indicated that 46 per cent of developers cite in-game advertising as a key monetisation opportunity for 2021. So when you’re evaluating the broader opportunity, make sure you evaluate hyper-casual games, along with the fancier kind.

Image Credit: Supersonic Games

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