App Annie’s Worldwide Index for Games February 2015 shows how “super casual” games have continued to dominate the gaming categories of the App Store and the Google Play Store. This came after their 2014 retrospective that credits Flappy Bird with sparking the trend.
But what exactly are super casual games and how have they been so effective in asserting themselves as a new genre in a market notorious for imitation?
1. Short Gameplay Sessions
Super casual games prioritize brevity. If we think of our day-to-day lives as a sequence of blocked-out activities, super casual games are designed to fit in the margins. They are small, reliable divisors for the time between larger tasks.
In his book Design-Rules for Free-to-Play Games, Nicholas Lovell offers a method for evaluating whether or not a game takes full advantage of this. He calls it “The Starbucks Test“, though he credits Natural Motion CEO Torsten Reil for the idea. Reil asked,
“Can you play your game and have a meaningful experience in the time it takes for a barista to make your macchiato?”.
Super casual games take this to the extreme. They deliver fun in gaps even smaller than the time spent waiting for a coffee, filling a niche that even games that pass The Starbucks Test can’t, and earned millions of downloads as a result.
2. Basic Controls
In an interview with Rolling Stone, David Kushner spoke with Flappy Bird creator Dong Nguyen about the game’s minimalist design:
Nguyen wanted to make games for people like himself: busy, harried, always on the move. “I pictured how people play,” he says, as he taps his iPhone and reaches his other hand in the air. “One hand holding the train strap.” He’d make a game for them.
One-touch gameplay has become a staple of the genre, and for good reason. Short sessions allow super casuals to fit in small blocks of time, but single input controls let them fit in to small spaces.
Super casuals also typically don’t require precision inputs. Tapping anywhere on the screen will produce the same feedback. As a result, players learn the mechanics almost instantly and start to develop skills after the very first round.
3. Skill Based
Unlike most top grossing titles, its possible to be good at most super casuals. Achievement relies on the player’s ability to recognize patterns and time their inputs accordingly, allowing them to progress. That said, progress in super casuals is not the same as progress in most top grossing games. Games like Clash of Clans or Candy Crush offer linear progression through content, paced through time and luck.
Super casuals typically don’t involve linear progress. The player competes to beat their own top score and the scores of their friends, never actually “advancing” in the game. Put another way, tracking engagement with super casual games is about how much you play, not how deep you go. The relevance of player skill in super casuals has allowed them to further contrast themselves against the top grossers, and has contributed to the growth of the genre.
4. Ad Supported
As a consequence of prioritizing brevity, minimalism, and skill, super casuals cannot commodify time like the top grossers do. To make up for it, most super casuals are ad supported, monetizing the attention of their players through banner ads, static interstitials and videos, and rewarded video impressions. This strategy has proven to be effective for the genre’s pioneers. In its prime, Flappy Bird made 50k a day while isometric frogger-like Crossy Road made 3m in revenue from Unity ads alone between its release on November 20th, 2014 and January 2015. In-app purchases that affect the game’s visual aspect (but not the mechanics) have also been a popular monetization technique among super casuals, contributing to Crossy Road’s 10m total revenue since launch.
What else makes for a good super casual game? What have been some of your favorites of the last year? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us @FusePowered.