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Last update: September 2021

6 mins to read - 2020/06/17

How Great Push Notifications Boost Hyper Casual Games

Hyper-casual gaming may sound like something straight out of science-fiction. In fact, it’s the fastest-growing genre of mobile games in Q1 2020, according to a report by Adjust. While gaming app installations have spiked across the board since January, downloads of hyper-casual games grew by 103% in Q1. And number of gaming sessions increased as well. Already at a billion sessions in December 2019, Q1 2020 sessions increased by an average of 72% in March. In Asian countries, those numbers were even higher, with sessions in China increasing by a staggering 300%. What is the explanation for this surge? What does it means for the gaming industry? And crucially, what is the driving monetization model for hyper-casual games, and how can you use push notifications to kick that up a notch?

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hyper casual gaming report 2020 china japan south korea us germany uk
Image Source: https://www.adjust.com/resources/downloads/hyper-casual-report-2020/

What Does “Hyper-Casual” Mean?

Exactly what it sounds like. Hyper-casual games are games with simple, unsophisticated mechanics that load instantaneously. They deliver immediate fun and satisfactions from simple tasks performed. They are often referred to using terms such as “tap to play” and “snackable”… the potato chips of the gaming industry, if you will. Hyper-casual games tend not to have any sort of narrative, and they have minimalist design. For example, think of games like Sky Ball or Helix Jump. Their instant, randomized gameplay means that they can be repeatedly played. This and their soothing, fast-paced gaming mechanics make them highly addictive. They are highly intuitive to play, making them accessible to a wide variety of gamers.

According to ironSource, hyper-casual games occupy 10 of the 15 top most downloaded games. Compare this to a year ago, when there were only 3 hyper-casual games in the top 15. Clearly their dramatic takeover of the gaming charts, it’s clear hyper-casual has an enormous appeal to a wide range of device users. The fact that they offer soothing, almost meditative gameplay for players who don’t want to put a lot of complex thought into gaming may offer some insight on their recent popularity. As is the fact that they’re easy to install and play on smartphones, a device which nearly everyone has nowadays. Clicking on a hyper-casual gaming app to log a few minutes of gameplay to relax and unwind while commuting, or waiting for dinner to cook, is fast and easy – and slots perfectly into the modern lifestyle.

In an interview with ironSource, founder of Destruction of Fun Mishka Katkoff explains the foundation of this appeal:

“As casual games implement deeper, mid-core features they become more engaging, but also more complicated. This, in turn, opens up a segment for hyper-casual games to dominate – games that are easy to start and fun to play.”

How Are Hyper-Casual Games Monetized?

Most F2P gaming apps make their revenues through a combination of in-app ads, in-app purchases (IAPs) or rewarded monetization. For hyper-casual games, in-app purchases and in-app ads are the two main sources of revenue.

In-App Advertising

In-app ads work especially well in hyper-casual games, since there is no narrative or cohesive story arc to interrupt, so players generally have more tolerance for them. Length of playing session and average number of daily user sessions should contribute into the length and frequency of ads you show. For example, if your game consists of short, quick bursts of gameplay, that works better with short, fast ads – whereas longer sessions might fit better with a more detailed interstitial ad that covers the full interface of your app.

Up the ante on your in-app ads by including rewarded videos. In addition to generating ad revenue, rewarded ads create an incentive for users to watch them. These rewards can include bonus points, in-game currency, extra lives, and so on. It not only generates more revenue for the app due to increased impressions, but it’s good for the player as well, resulting in longer session length and higher retention rates.

In-App Purchases

In-app purchases are a less prevalent monetization tactic for hyper-casual games, with 3.7% of players in the US, 3% in the UK, and 1.9% in South Korea making an IAP purchase in a month. But just because hyper-casual doesn’t have the same scope for buying cosmetics, collectables, and subscriptions as casual games is no reason to discount IAPs completely.

Despite their design and gameplay simplicity, hyper-casual games still have the potential for features that support IAPs, such as:

  • loot boxes, where players receive a randomized, collectable prize for a small price
  • consumable items, which briefly boost the player’s gameplay abilities, e.g. potions, jet packs, shields, etc.
  • limited-time IAP bundles, that offer items that are valuable within the game, such as currency, at a discount

How Can You Boost Engagement for a Hyper-Casual Game?

As we can see, hyper-casual games are easy and addictive to play, so user engagement as well as retention rate tend to be organically high. And their ad revenue model is so effective for them that other industries are taking note and trying to imitate it. However, the number of ads per minute shown can have an adverse effect on user retention. According to Adjust data, showing 4+ ads per gaming session can drive user retention down to less than 20%.

hyper casual gaming report 2020
Image Source: https://www.adjust.com/resources/downloads/hyper-casual-report-2020/

The optimal number of ads that can generate revenue without driving users away seems to lie around 2-3 per minute. And most hyper-casual games are so successful in this model, that marketers see no need to build onto it. However, it’s important to also take user preferences into account. According to a survey by Udonis, players of hyper-casual games would ideally prefer longer ads spaced out over 10 minutes of gameplay, as opposed to short ads interrupting gameplay every few minutes. Moreover, 69% of South Korean players prefer to be rewarded for watching ads (understandably).

So is there any space for improvement, or at least for experimentation with different approaches to monetization? Many developers of hyper-casual games seem to live by a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” ethos when it comes to monetization. However, this is where push notifications have an enormous potential to fully optimize your combined in-app ad/purchase monetization strategy.

Using Push Notifications to Optimize Monetization Tactics

The majority of hyper-casual revenues come from ads. By extension, the more players engage with your game, the more ads they will view – and the more revenue your game will earn. And push notifications are the #1 means of driving users back to mobile apps. Push notifications are a key tool for building habitual usage of your gaming app over the first 24 hours after installation. And they are the foundation of a robust user retention campaign, especially important for mobile games, which see upwards of a 95% churn rate in the first month.

According to anonymous OpenBack Engine data, ~20% of a hyper-casual game’s active players come only because of a push notification.  You can also expect at least 5% of gaming sessions are resulting from notifications. And where push notifications are a great way to drive players back to the app to complete gameplay (and view ads) they are also a powerful driver for more active revenue streams, such as in-app purchases. Push notifications are ideal for communicating sales, promotions, and other limited-time opportunities for users.

For example, send new users a discount code via push to get them to make an early purchase in your game – app users who make purchases early on are more likely to make more frequent – and costly – purchases down the road. Or, you can combine push notifications with in-app messages: get the user back into your app with a notification saying “Ready to blast some gems? Come back and play level 52 now!” Then, once they’ve completed the level and viewed an ad, offer them a discounted loot box via in-app message.

If you would like to read more about push notifications, and how they can boost engagement in F2P games, read our blog post: Top LiveOps Strategies for Free-To-Play Mobile Games.

Or for a one-on-one consultation, get in touch with one of our experts.

To read more about how to use OpenBack to boost player retention and maximize revenues, download our Case Study: Dreamworks How To Train Your Dragon App, School of Dragons

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