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Hyper-casual trends to follow (and not to follow)

Creating a hyper-casual hit isn’t as easy as it looks. Developers that have made it have learned to go deep into game design, to understand what makes users tick, and to create something that users will want to keep playing.

Tomer Geller, Blogger

July 21, 2020

6 Min Read

Take a look at snapshots of the top 100 charts from the past year and you’ll see clear trends of games that made it. But succeeding it in the long-term is a different story. Six months ago for example, simulation games like Woodturning 3D and Ink inc, which were inspired by social media trends of the same concepts, dominated the charts. While this simulation sub-genre trend subsequently decreased significantly, we’ve recently seen a new wave of simulation, social media inspired trends rising in the charts, like the tie dye videos which have led to games like Tie Dye and Tie N Dye entering the market. These recurring peaks and troughs have shown us that while the marketability of simulation games may be strong (since they’re based on social media trends), their longevity is lower and their trend cycle is shorter. 

There’s a very strong argument in saying that a hyper-casual game is a super-mini version of a AAA game. If this is the case, then it stands true that such games should follow the same design pillars as these big game studios. Three such items are commonly termed the 3Cs - camera, controls and character (here depicted as gameplay). What’s interesting in the hyper-casual game genre is that in addition to being fundamental to the game’s design, the 3 Cs can be used as a guideline for game trends. We’ve seen many long-term successful games follow a similar formula of following the proven concepts of the 3Cs as the base for their game’s trend. These games often have a higher chance to succeed in the long term, with room to grow and evolve.

Trend one: camera perspective
Head and shoulders above the rest, nailing the camera perspective is a go-to winning strategy. Take the runner perspective for example as shown below. Each game of these highly recognizable and successful titles has followed the same pattern of a long narrow platform in a clean and minimal environment. The angle of the platform is adjusted so that you get a great sense of orientation and can see where you are currently versus where you are heading. The character and camera are in constant motion making it interesting enough for the player (rather than a default static screen) even though he isn’t in direct control of ‘the motion’, and it promotes a sense of urgency to continue with the game, keeping the player engaged. What’s interesting here is that despite the camera moving forward, the perspective remains the same. This perspective is ideal for the vertical orientation of a phone, making it a natural fit for how a person is used to holding it, helping convey clarity. Though the angle is varied throughout the titles, it always follows the same, clear concept. Of course, each game’s gameplay was good to begin with, since camera perspective alone doesn’t cut it.

Another couple of popular camera trends are one-screen puzzle games like Sandwich and Match 3D and side scrollers like Johnny Trigger and Square Bird.

I recommend for you to take a look at the charts and see how many games fit into different camera perspectives - see what they have in common and how they’ve been adapted for their own game to benefit from the trend.


Trend two: master the controls
Most of the top hyper-casual hits at the moment are using a continuous input i.e. one where the player must be active in the game by keeping their finger on the screen, either through dragging the character/object or by holding and releasing an item. This type of input allows the developer to communicate more complex mechanics than what a single tap enables. It acts like a joystick and generates the option for continuous motion. Also, by forcing the player to keep their finger or thumb on the screen, it increases the physical connection to the game and in turn generates a higher chance of an emotional connection with it.

Trend three: zoning in on a sub-genre 
There are many different genres in hyper-casual gaming, which themselves can be further divided up into sub-genres. For example, the ‘minimal adventure genre can be divided into 3 popular sub-genres:

One button, no free navigation, momentum 
These games are classified by their simplicity. They are one button games - either a single tap or a continuous input - where the character can only move in one predetermined direction. The character is in constant motion making the game less static, and more interesting for the player due to items constantly coming towards their avatar. 

One button, continuous input, free navigation
In this adventure sub-genre, the player also uses one-button to move and explore around, and their finger must always stay on the screen, however they have free control over the motion and pace, and have free navigation to move 360 degrees on the surface of the game.


Competition, timing based, no character navigation:
Another common twist on the no free navigation sub-genre are games where the players are in a contest against the AI or a bot. Popular games like Draw Climber and Wheel Scale are such momentum based competition games. A player competes on a ‘linear’ road which has smooth and clear camera movement. In these designs we don’t see any ‘curves’ or ‘turns’ because using the momentum is enough, and fits the hyper-casual requirements. In this genre, we also see a ‘multiplayer’ layer where a player compares himself while racing with their ‘competitor’ (which is in fact an AI).


Puzzle games also have their own specific trending sub-genres:

Simple sequence, single solution
In this sub-genre there is only one single solution to how a player can solve the puzzle. For example, a player must solve things by taking actions in a particular order and each level has a single sequence of actions that was predetermined by the developer. Games like Rescue Cut and Pull the Pin fall into this category.

Flexible, multiple solutions
In this scenario, the player is given room for exploration. They can get creative in how they solve the puzzle, they can make meaningful choices, and they can control the timing. Games that fall into this sub-genre are Park Master and Sand Balls among others.

There are many trends out there that can be turned into an overnight hit. But creating a hit with long term potential relies on a developer respecting the core foundations of gameplay. Those that have already proven themselves to be stable, offer more room for more evolution and long-term success than short term wins.


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