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Hypercasual games, or mobile titles folks can play in a minute or less, grew 72% in the quarter ended March 31 as players turned to mobile games as a salve for the pandemic, according to a report from mobile measurement firm Adjust and game engine maker Unity Technologies.

That is just one of the ways that gaming has benefited from the shutdown of everything except online entertainment. People across the globe are spending more time than ever playing games while sheltering in place, with an estimated 2.7 billion users set to spend $77.2 billion on mobile games in 2020, the report said.

Hypercasual games are lightweight games that offer a lot of replayability. The report analyzed advertising campaign data across hypercasual games, with the average cost of advertising data from Unity.

Hypercasual game sessions grew 72% in March globally. China saw a 300% increase in sessions between December 2019 and March 2020, while South Korea registered a 152% increase. Sessions in Japan and Germany rose by 137% and 69%, respectively. During April and May, hypercasual games remained popular, but the growth rates started tapering off, said Paul Muller, chief technology officer at Adjust, in an interview with GamesBeat.

Above: Costs for installing mobile games are dropping

Image Credit: Adjust/Unity

Installs for hypercasual games grew 103% from December 2019 to the end of March. The highest increase happened in China, which grew 3.5 times in the quarter.

“We can definitely see that the time spent in games was extraordinary compared to many other kinds of apps,” said Muller. “Gaming is definitely the single kind of vertical where you could tell that people are at home, they want to have something to do, and playing something seems like a great way to pass the time. And many of the games have some social component where you can see that there are other people playing too.”

The report’s findings show that hypercasual games saw tremendous growth on mobile in the first quarter of 2020, with app engagement and downloads all jumping to record highs. The report draws on data from the top 1,000 and all apps tracked on the Adjust platform, and hyper casual ad campaigns across Unity’s network between Q4 2019 and Q1 2020.

The strength of hypercasual and mobile games during the pandemic has proven that the smartphone is often the preferred device for a lot of people, even when they are home and they have access to laptops and desktop computers or game consoles, Muller said.

“We can see that people actually use the phone because it has over the years become the primary computing interface,” he said. “It’s the logical one to turn to when you want to pass some time doing something. In 2010, you would use your computer. But in 2020, you use the phone to play something. The pandemic gave us an accelerated view of that.”

On the lower end of growth, U.S. sessions increased by 35%, and rose 34% in the U.K. Because hypercasual users in the U.S. are already heavy gamers — contributing to 15% of the global sessions based on an average from December 2019 to April 2020 — the increase was not as large. Muller said that cultural differences and different user behaviors may have made a difference in the different growth rates in the U.S. compared to China.

While overall costs per install (CPIs, or the cost of advertising a game to get one person to install it) decreased 35% by the end of March, the cost of acquiring hypercasual users in the U.S. is more than double that of Europe and the Middle East. Nevertheless, marketers can expect the highest conversion rates (17%) from the U.S., the gold standard of hypercasual mobile gamers. At the same time, costs in Asia Pacific declined sharply, at around 20 cents.

“Clearly one thing that happened in the pandemic was the cost per install has fallen,” Muller said. “Now we’re seeing a bit of a bounce back in the last two weeks, as costs are recovering to a more pre-pandemic level, but it’s a little bit too early to say where it will actually level out.”

Globally, CPIs are much lower, averaging 17 cents in Q1 2020. This is likely attributed to the impact of much lower CPIs in Latin America, specifically countries such as Brazil and Mexico, where large and eager user bases can’t get enough of these games.

Above: Hypercasual games saw huge growth in Q1 2020.

Image Credit: Adjust/Unity

Hypercasual games combine simple mechanics and minimalistic design, resulting in highly engaged users who are more likely to accept and engage with advertisements. Because of users’ openness to ads, hypercasual games have been able to build a unique business model for mobile gaming, relying on ad monetization for 95% of their revenue. Hypercasual games are taking a significant chunk of the overall advertising for games, Muller said.

Muller said that hypercasual games blend the best ad experience and the most engaging mechanics to appeal to the broadest set of players. As such, they have redefined how to do user acquisition and ad monetization.

Because of the short-lived appeal of each of these games, users are continuously driven to the next app within a company’s portfolio — creating a snowball effect, as users roll and grow the company’s user base.

“One of the things that we see with hypercasual games is that they have a different approach to classic gaming publishers,” Muller said. “It’s not about publishing one game and having a successful user base and nurturing that. Rather, it’s a short-life game. The people stick around significantly less than for a casual game. The goal is not to get someone to play one game for a long time. The goal is to get you to install and like five or six of my games. And so, overall, you will spend roughly the same time across the games and they will actually monetize a little bit better because of the extremely aggressive monetization.”

As the cost of advertising is going back up, game companies may soon have to get used to the idea of spending more on their mobile game marketing campaigns compared to the past few months, Muller said. “It’s definitely time to make sure that you have your strategy in place,” he said.

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