Everyone has problems and stresses in their life, which they wish to escape from, even for a brief moment. In today’s day and age, one of the most accessible and popular ways to do so is immersing yourself into the world of casual gaming.
Over the past decade, gaming has become more and more mainstream, as casual games allowed for a much broader demographic to take interest in the previously niche hobby.
Casual games is a genre of games, typically mobile, targeted at a mass audience, with very simple rules and a low barrier of entry, meaning that it does not require the player to have a lot of skill to be able to play the game casually and enjoy it. Moreover, these types of games have very short playing sessions, which allow for quicker and more frequent playing sessions during the day, for example, during commute, at recess, or waiting in line at the grocery store.
First Mainstream Breakthrough
One of the first casual games to truly break into the mainstream and grab everyone’s attention was Flappy Bird. The mobile game was created by the Vietnamese game developer Dong Nguyen, under his company .Gears, and released on May 24, 2013 on iOS, and January 30, 2014 on Android.
The game had a simple concept – players control a small yellow bird, Faby, and try to navigate it in between green pipes. The more pipes the bird manages to get through, the higher the final score of the player controlling it. The game’s popularity spiked in early 2014, when it became the most downloaded free game on the iOS App Store, amassing over 50 million downloads over its lifespan.
The game’s previously mentioned developer has stated that at its peak, Flappy Bird was earning $50.000 a day of sales and ad revenue. In February later that year, Dong Nguyen decided to remove the game from App Stores on all devices. Nguyen explained that he felt guilty about the addictive nature of his game as well as the enormity of its fanbase. Consequently, he felt that the discontinuation of the game was the only option.
Top Casual Gaming Titles
While Flappy Bird probably had the highest peak of any casual game ever, due to its short life span, it is nowhere to be found when looking at lists of the most popular casual games of all time. To spare you the struggle of having to look one of those up yourself, here are the top five most popular casual games of all time (based on the number of downloads in the Google Play Store).
|Game title||Number of downloads||Year of release||Developer|
|Subway Surfers||1B+ Downloads||2012||SYBOGames|
|Candy Crush Saga||1B+Downloads||2012||King|
|Temple Run 2||500M+Downloads||2013||ImangiStudios|
|Hill Climb Racing||500M+Downloads||2012||Fingersoft|
In spite of their simplicity, or maybe thanks to it, these games stood the test of time and outlasted their competitors to become the most popular casual games of all time. Let’s delve deeper into what has made them such a staple in the App Store.
1. Subway Surfers
Subway Surfers is the most popular infinite runner game of all time, amassing well over a billion downloads since its inception. In the game we control a hooded character who is being chased by a police officer after spraying graffiti on the side of a subway train.
Our job is to navigate between various obstacles and run as far as possible before inevitably getting caught. The game is very bright and colorful which effectively attracts a younger audience, however, due to the game’s core simplicity, it is suitable for people of all ages.
2. Candy Crush Saga
Candy Crush Saga is the most popular title of its kind, being the absolute leader among a variety of different puzzle games.
The game requires next to no skill to be enjoyable, as Candy Crush’s core mechanics involve the player swiping rows of candies left-and-right in order to match three or more candies, hence earning points and advancing levels. The game is especially popular among middle-aged and older people, because of its inoffensive gameplay and branding.
3. Temple Run 2
Temple Run 2 is a graphically redesigned and more polished version of its equally popular predecessor, Temple Run (which we’ll talk about later). The Indiana Jones inspired title shares similarities with the previously mentioned Subway Surfers, however, its graphical themes cater more towards older teens and the young adult audience. Despite that fact, Temple Run as a series has a devoted and diverse fanbase.
4. Hill Climb Racing
An outlier among their peers, Hill Climb Racing is the most popular mobile racing game of all time. The game’s magic is in its simplicity, as players have only two pedals to control their car, brake and gas.
What also drew players to Hill Climb Racing, as opposed to other racing games, are creative physics, which provide players with a unique experience that’s impossible to achieve in any other mobile racing title.
5. Temple Run
Temple Run 2’s older brother kicked off the successful franchise, before its second edition took over the majority of its player base. In spite of being less refined than its successor, it still has a place in many people’s hearts and on many people’s phones as the game that first spiked their interest in casual mobile games.
As you may have noticed, all five of the games listed above are over a decade old, but that does not mean that said games, as well as other casual games have become less relevant – quite the opposite.
Development of the Genre
Casual gaming continued to grow in popularity reaching its then peak in 2018, when casual games were the most downloaded genre of titles in the whole year.
The infamous Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent pandemic further increased demand for casual games, as people, who hadn’t played any form of video games before grew interest in the hobby. Since casual games have the lowest barrier of entry for new and aspiring gamers, their stocks rose exponentially, after lockdowns became a common occurrence around the world.
One of the most popular games, which emerged over the past couple of years is Among Us. Funnily enough, the game was a sleeper hit, as it gained massive traction and popularity two years after its initial release, largely as a result of multiple youtubers and twitch streamers playing the game at the dawn of the pandemic.
Among Us fundamentally differs from all the titles previously mentioned in this article, as it is a multiplayer game, meaning that you play with other people online in real time. That may be the aspect of the game which allowed for it to stand out among others in the same genre.
Once the pandemic was in full force, people were looking for a way to connect with their friends and family, and Among Us was in the right place at the right time, as it satisfied all of the consumers’ present needs. Even though the hype around the game has largely died down, it is still one of the go-tos for people looking to have fun with their friends in an online setting.
Future of Casual Gaming
While casual games have enjoyed enormous success over the past decade, creating a popular title of that genre is getting harder and harder for the following reasons:
Gaming as an industry is constantly growing, which makes developing a successful game among a sea of competition harder than ever before. Specifically, the mobile games market is growing at a rapid pace – over 16% each year on average.
Moreover, casual games usually have a low retention rate with the average time being spent playing casual games averaging out at 6,4 minutes each day (the lowest value out of all genres of mobile games), meaning that it’s notoriously difficult to keep new players playing your game and not jump on the next trend. Although, as a casual game consumer, you have nothing to worry about, as competition inherently increases the level of all parties involved.
Almost 95% of casual games’ revenue comes from in-app advertisements, but because of Google making changes to how ads can be displayed, making sufficient income from casual games may no longer be possible without having an in-game transaction model in place, which is difficult to successfully implement in games of that genre.
All in all, casual games are the first stop for new players going on their first gaming journey as well as a piece of nostalgia for veterans to play from time to time and recall the countless hours they have put into those simple titles.
Despite the mobile title pool being more saturated than ever, casual gaming fans can be hopeful that increased competition will force developers to get creative and create more innovative and exciting games, providing users with fun and unique playing experiences.
About the Author
Ahmad Merheb, Art Director, Innovator, and Tutor. I have been in the Digital Art industry for over 15 years, during which I have worked in 3D animation, 3D printing, and the games industry.