Have you ever been in a public place and taken a peek at a game that someone was playing on their mobile phone? If you have, and noticed them making quick taps and movements for minutes at a time, chances are that they were enjoying a hyper-casual game. “Hyper-casual” is a category of games that refers to lightweight apps with simple gameplay and fast rounds/sequences. They are named this way because they are incredibly enjoyable to people of all ages and tastes (casual gamers), and even those who do not usually play mobile titles.
Why mechanics matter? There is an argument to be made that the simple, dynamic, and rapid mechanics of hyper-casual games are exactly what makes them so popular, and the data is impressive. Over 167 million hyper-casual play sessions take place every year, amounting to millions of regular users. Let’s take a look at the mechanics that make this gaming sector so popular, as well as how you can use them in your next project.
Most of the dynamics and mechanics of hyper-casual titles rely on gestures and movement. Since such titles are typically played on mobile devices, we are talking about motions that target the gadget’s screen along with manipulations of the gadget itself. Some of the most common gestures include:
Contactless gestures in particular are often overlooked. Some apps take advantage of smartphone features beyond the touchscreen, measuring movement in ways that do not involve contact with the screen. For example, the gyroscope sensor built into the overwhelming majority of most modern gadgets can determine when the device is being rotated or shaken, adding new play options based on these indicators.
Although dozens of unique mechanics have made their way into hyper-casual games over the years, only a limited portion of them proved successful. We will be taking a look at the Top 7 that make the cut in the greatest number of applications.
Swerving can be described as a slow turn. As you are controlling a character or object, you have to guide them through slow turns, lest they should fly off the edge of the track that they are moving through. Because there is an inevitable speed pushing your car/character forward and you cannot stop (except to pause the game), you have to make timely and protracted movements that allow it to turn slowly and smoothly. Sometimes, the track in these arenas has boosters that push you forward or increase speed. For example, the Drifty Race application makes the user compete against programmed opponents and get their car to the finish line through drifting and steady turns.
The swerve element motivates users to get to the finish line without crashing. Any obstacles or challenges that they face just make it more rewarding when they are able to complete the course and say that they did it through accurate swerving and attentiveness.
This is a sudden move in a new direction, which is typically up/down or left/right. As the character/object moves toward a twist in the track, the user must make a quick choice to change the direction of movement to one that matches the track. For example, Temple Run is a popular app in the hyper-casual genre that requires quick turns to keep the main hero running.
This element motivates players to stay on their toes every second, and not to take their eyes off the screen. Even a moment of distraction can cause hard-earned progress to fade away in seconds, so users keep their fingers near the screen and watch for turns with captivation. If they succeed, this will let them boast of their quick reaction time.
Rise/fall mechanics are based on continuous movement in one direction. The user must keep the focal point (an object or character) moving up or down and avoiding obstacles. The moment that they stop rising or descending, the round will typically end. For instance, the main protagonist of Doodle Jump must make its way up a series of platforms located above.
The rising/falling element calls on one of our deepest urges – to explore. Thus, as players ascend or descend, they are motivated to see what lies ahead – what new rewards, new artwork, new challenges. With every second of success, they are drawn in further and motivated to keep going for as long as possible.
Stacking relies on building a tower of sorts. Whatever building units are used, the goal is to get as many of them as possible stacked on top of each other in the final result. We can bring up Knight – Stack Jump as an example. This game lets you control a knight as he ascends his way up, hoping to rescue a princess. Movement up is achieved through jumps on moving stacks. Thus, every second, the knight is either waiting for the next stack to approach or jumping up to land on the pile that forms below him.
The motivation for stacking is about visual achievement. It feels great to build a tower higher than your previous one, or a tower taller than your friends. As the tower grows humongous, players are no longer able to keep track of the number of stacks, but are still excited to learn the total number when they reach the end of the round.
Games that incorporate the principle of merging tend to have multiple elements up on the screen and a way to merge them into one. This may happen based on a speedy reaction or based on picking the right type of elements. As an example, you may consider Snake, which was extremely popular on rudimentary cell phones in the past century.
People really enjoy this element because of changing dynamics. At the start of a round, you have great freedom and flexibility to explore the map and grow, but as you get bigger, flexibility starts to become limited and decisions require more thought. Every round, they get a different experience and wonder how things will turn out for them.
With a timing mechanic, all the player has to do is respond at the right time. The action mostly happens without their participation, but the user still needs to make a quick movement at a key moment to keep the round going. This is another case where Knight Stack Jump can be used as an example. While the Knight needs to go up by jumping on stacking platforms, it is also important that the jump is performed at just the right time. If you jump too early, you fall into the abyss. If you jump too late, the new platform will knock you off your feet.
During the first playthrough, the main motivation lies in figuring out the perfect time to make a movement, but as the participant gets more accustomed to the dynamics, they intuitively feel when an action needs to be taken, and the challenge becomes responding in time. Since speed tends to increase over time, they must apply an increasing amount of effort with each minute to keep the round going.
The concept of matching elements is simple and widely used in mobile gaming. Customarily, the user needs to select two elements with the same appearance and features, and do it multiple times until all of the matches have been made. Sometimes, the elements are hidden, and you have to make a guess about where the right matches are. If you make a wrong guess, you can start again, but should remember which elements you already opened and where they were. This is illustrated in games like Magical Pairs, which features cards that should be flipped over one at a time.
Unlike the other elements discussed, matching introduces a memory challenge. Users are encouraged to make few mistakes and try to remember the exact spot of pieces they previously examined. They are excited to jog their brain and memory, as well as to test their intuition. Sometimes, they even use the program regularly to improve their cognitive ability.
This element can be interpreted in one of two ways – either you need to push an object in different directions to get it into a particular position; or you need to push various objects away from you, e.g. over a ledge or out of a circle. This is traditionally accomplished by dragging your finger in a particular direction, though you will also need to make turns along the way. For example, the Push the Blocks app has a character trapped in a room where they must move blocks to their assigned spaces before he can leave.
Pushing heavy things around might not be the most dynamic element, but it can appeal to users for multiple reasons. For example, they may be interested in building a complex and beautiful set of blocks, or they want to solve a puzzle by trying different block positioning combinations, or this is just a way that they get rid of pent up aggression.
Few of us enjoy the process of home cleaning, but this completely changes when you can do it on your phone while relaxing on the couch. The cleaning element puts users in a certain setting that is in a state of disarray. Their goal is to remove some unwanted items or dirt until the room/location is back to its standard pristine state. This can be accomplished by tapping on unwanted elements or “erasing” them with swipes and drags, or dragging them out of the field. For example, the Chores! title involves completing various tasks around the house or around it, such as scrubbing the kitchen or mowing the lawn.
Cleaning elements appeal to the OCD traits in our character. We might not like physical labor, but doing something simple to beautify something makes us feel good. This is the same principle as popping bubble wrap – there is something so satisfying about it that we cannot even explain.
As the name suggests, resizing involves modifying some object’s proportions and shape. Oftentimes, it must be done in order for the object to fit into a space and complete a puzzle, yet sometimes, the resizing must be done quickly to make the object avoid hitting an obstacle. For example, Jelly Shift involves an animated piece of jelly gliding along a track with various obstacles (pins, gates, slides) along it. The player must change the jelly’s shape in time for it to avoid getting stuck or falling off.
This dynamic forces us to apply our analytical and problem-solving skills. As we see an obstacle appear in the difference, we must consider how it can be overcome, and how we can modify our character to get through it. As there is usually a limited timeframe, we become interested in coming up with quick solutions and acting based on patterns that we notice in gameplay.
What they have in common
Looking at all of these mechanics, you will probably notice that most of them demand attentiveness and speed, and they rarely incorporate some complex strategizing. This is what defines hyper-casual games: they require minimal effort and thought coupled with maximum attentiveness and responsiveness.
Beyond the ease of developing such mechanics, multiple advantages can be gained by development companies that implement them.
Hyper-casual games move at a fast pace. Most of the time, it takes up to 10 seconds to launch the app and start playing. Naturally, play rounds can carry on for different intervals, but the dynamic nature of the mechanics makes it incredibly easy to restart if the user fails the round. These pauses between rounds also serve as an ideal opportunity to insert advertisements and make money from the app.
Few users who have ever tried a hyper-casual title will deny that this type of app is very addictive. Given how easy the built-in features make it for users to achieve results, there is a desire to keep trying for a better result each round, with little downtime if they fail. Thus, users become very invested in the program and play it regularly. This dedication does not go unnoticed by app marketplaces and anyone who spends time with the users. Accordingly, the app’s popularity can quickly grow and hit the top of the charts within weeks of release.
When you open an app of this kind, it usually takes you one or two tries to grasp how the movements work and how you can score points. This is quite different from casual and hardcore releases, which are more difficult to get into. Hyper-casual games are appealing to people of all ages and countries, including preschoolers and elderly folks. It doesn’t take any kind of special skill to look at the screen and make simple motions at the right moments.
We did not mention this when listing the most popular features, but they are very often tied to rewards. For example, in a jumping game, jumping at the perfect time (as opposed to a good or acceptable time) can net you additional points or special currency that can be used for cool customizations. With rewards built into mechanics, playing becomes a rewarding experience that makes users feel good about their achievements.
Mechanics are the rules by which your virtual world abides, so they are among the first things that are fleshed out in the development process. It all begins in the very first stage – planning, when the idea behind a project and how it will work are created and approved. Mechanics become tangible in the second stage of development – pre-production. At this point, the first prototypes are created and the basic flow of the game is tested for viability. Finally, the 3rd stage (production) polishes the mechanics and builds upon them to make the full experience.
For example, Unity and Unreal Engine are two of the most popular engines for creating mobile games, and they each have different tools for building mechanics. In most cases, a fair amount of scripting is required to make the models and objects in your application move the way you want and generate the desired mechanics. The more complex the mechanics that you want to use, the more code will be needed. Thus, it is recommended that you have a skilled team of programmers and designers ready to work in tandem to make the mechanics in the game flow smoothly and look nice.
If you have made up your mind to make a hyper-casual game, you might find it challenging, especially if you have not had any similar projects before. Rather than go on a hiring spree or spend months learning the basics of this kind of development, you can consider hiring a development partner. With hundreds of studios actively promoting their services, you should take the proper time to establish the reliability and qualifications of a development partner before you sign any agreements with them.
Game-Ace is a development studio with over 2 decades of experience in making games. We have completed projects of various scopes, from hyper-casual and instant games to big desktop and web titles for large player bases. For example, the aforementioned Knight – Stack Jump is one of our most recent entries in the hyper-casual genre, and it is available for free download on Android and iOS, so you are welcome to try it out.
We have the largest team of Unity-certified developers in Europe, and a large staff of 120+ people ready to jump into multiple projects. If you want to know more about what our clients think about us, you are welcome to check our profile on Clutch, a research agency that analyzes and collects data about thousands of companies around the world. We have a deep love for making fun games and accepting new challenges, so it would be a pleasure for us to discuss your project and how we can help. Just contact us at any time.