Welcome back to another genre report! This time, we’ll be tackling four of them in one: Arcade, Hypercasual, Sports, and Racing. Individually, these genres don’t make up a significant portion of mobile game revenue — they make up a combined 8% of mobile game revenue for 2022. But on the other hand, these genres made up almost half of game downloads (47%) in 2022, making them impossible to ignore. To ensure we keep our subscribers up to date with market movements across the industry, we’ve opted to look at these genres together.
As we’ll be looking at four separate genres, the format of this report will be slightly different from the previous three. We’ll be looking at the downloads, revenue trends, and top regions of each genre individually. And because no single subgenre is so significant as to justify individual attention, we’ll be looking at overall trends and only delving into relevant subgenre data.
To first set the overall context, we’ll look at downloads of these four genres over 2022.
We can see that downloads-wise, 2022 has been solid, with Arcade and Sports in particular showing double-digit growth.
The revenue story is a little mixed, as Sports and Racing saw significant double-digit declines while Arcade had a very strong year. Hypercasual revenue was effectively flat, and the continuing Hybridcasual evolution the genre is undergoing has yet to pay dividends — we’ll explore this more in the genre breakdown. With all that context in mind, let’s get started.
State of Arcade
Arcade games have seen a surge of downloads in 2022, growing by 18.3% year over year (YoY), which in absolute terms is a whopping 896 million downloads compared to 2021.
The downloads trend shows very healthy growth starting from Q2 of 2021, and when we break it down by the different subgenres within Arcade, we can see that all of them have grown YoY. This is partly due to the heavy skew of downloads on Android, which make up 84% of this genre’s downloads. That, combined with the casual and mass market appeal of the games in this genre, means it would have been less impacted by the ATT fallout.
The YoY growth does appear to show a contraction in downloads in Q2 2021, which would correlate nicely with when ATT was released, but this YoY shrinking was in fact caused by a big spike of downloads of Board Games in Q2 of 2020, in particular the game Ludo.
We’ll be covering Ludo and other Board Games later on. But for now, let’s have a look at the downloads on a subgenre level.
The eye-popping stat in the subgenre downloads chart is the 338% growth shown by the Party Royale subgenre. What is a Party Royale you ask? It’s basically Fall Guys clones, the biggest of which is Stumble Guys, which makes up 86% of subgenre downloads and went viral with 175 million downloads in 2022.
Arcade downloads are incredibly fractured, and the top 10 games here only make up 22% of downloads. One culprit there is the definition of an Arcade game is very broad — it ranges from Platformers and Shoot/Beat ‘Em Ups to Board Games and Tower Defense. Arcade games are also usually smaller in scope, compared to titles from the Shooter, RPG, or Puzzle genres. This means the barrier to entry is low, and there are many small studios vying for a nibble of the downloads pie.
One of the most successful Arcade games (in download terms) is Subway Surfers, and its pretty amazing how it was still able to grow by almost 60% despite being more than a decade old. We’ll be taking a look at it a little deeper later on.
The genre was also home to a fairy tale, one where a small studio that managed to not just take a nibble, but also a big chunk of the downloads pie. Kitka Games came from seemingly nowhere and struck gold with its Party Royale hit, Stumble Guys. Its success has ranked it as the third-most downloaded Arcade game in 2022, no mean feat when you see that most games in the Arcade downloads top 10 grew strongly YoY.
Stumbling To Success
Stumble Guys was created by Kitka Games, a small Finnish game developer that moved quickly to capitalize on Fall Guys’ success by releasing Stumble Guys just seven weeks after Fall Guys. (Fun fact: Stumble Guys may have initially been named Fall Buddies, as seen in its Android package name.)
The speed at which the developer released a Fall Guys clone so quickly in October 2020, and the fact that it featured true multiplayer, gave the game good traction as it accumulated 38 million downloads in its first year via organic growth alone. That wasn’t the end of the story, though, as the situation really heated up in the summer of 2022, as the game went viral first in Brazil, Indonesia, and then later the U.S.
What contributed to the game’s viral popularity? It was a combination of a barrage of content from game influencers (spurred on by Kitka’s Content Creator Program), featuring on mobile app stores, the summer season, and the news of Fall Guys shifting to free-to-play around the same time.
The Content Creator Program deserves some explanation, and it was basically Kitka’s method of encouraging Stumble Guys content. Essentially, players and content creators could apply to join the Stumble Guys Creator Program for these benefits:
- Premium currency giveaways
- Create their own tournaments with their branding
- Get a red font in the name, allowing them to stand out in videos
The personalized tournaments in particular, were an important part of the program’s success as the content creator’s brand would be featured in-game (which they could use to boost their view counts), while Kitka benefited from incentivizing influencers to boost the game’s popularity.
Ultimately, the success of Stumble Guys resulted in Scopely acquiring the game (just the game itself, and not the studio) for an undisclosed sum, giving the team a nice payday for their efforts and building up the studio’s war chest for its next game. The question regarding Stumble Guys is now how has it’s performed following the acquisition?
Well, for one thing, the hype-induced downloads spree is now over, though it still managed a respectable 8.6 million downloads in February 2023. The key will be if Scopely is able to keep Stumble Guys relevant and if it will be resilient against new competitors like Eggy Party which saw incredible growth in China at the end of 2022 and is currently in closed beta testing in the U.K. and Netherlands.
The big differentiator that Eggy Party brings to the table is its use of user-generated content (UGC), as players are able to create their own levels and share them. The UGC feature led to players experimenting with all sorts of wacky level designs, with “trap” levels (also called Troll Levels in the spirit of Nintendo’s Super Mario Maker) garnering a lot of attention.
The beauty with UGC for a Party Royale game like Eggy Party is that you have a never-ending source of levels which can often be even more creative than what developers come up with. No doubt Scopely is also keeping a close eye on Eggy Party and may already be making moves for its own UGC feature.
South Asia’s Love Affair With Board Games
In absolute terms, the biggest contributor to Arcade’s 2022 downloads growth were Board Games, which grew by 29% (284 million downloads) YoY, making up 31% of the genre’s download growth. About 55% of those downloads came from games which featured the classic Indian board game Ludo.
Ludo is in fact an anglicized name of the ancient game called Pachisi, in which players roll a dice and move tokens out of their starting square (the colored squares in the image above) and then must move them clockwise around the board to land on their home triangle. The interesting and strategic part of the game is that you can send other players’ tokens back to their starting square by landing on them, or you can create a blockade so other players can’t move their tokens past it by landing one of your token onto another of yours.
Besides Ludo, another big source of downloads growth (making up about 40% of downloads growth) came from two other popular board game types: Carrom and Tic Tac Toe. Carrom is another board game of Indian origin, and you can think of it as a kind of four-player billiards, while Tic Tac Toe is… well the game you think it is.
You may have noticed a trend here of Indian board games featuring heavily in this subgenre, but why? Firstly, these games are old, with Ludo having arrived some time in the 6th century and Carrom in the 18th century. These games have become part and parcel of South Asian culture and childhood tradition. They are also simple to understand yet with strategic depth, unlike the other most popular Indian board game Snakes and Ladders.
The rise of smartphones in South Asia also means that people are able to compete against other human players any time and anywhere. Because these games are turn-based, spotty internet connections are not as essential to the experience compared to real-time action games and shooters. The other component of these games’ surging popularity is the COVID lockdowns of 2020. You can see in the chart below that Ludo downloads surging during India’s nationwide lockdown in the first year of the pandemic.
The final part of the equation is that the vast majority of these games acquire players predominantly on Android. For example, Ludo King (Gametion) and Carrom Pool (Miniclip) are the two most downloaded Board Games in 2022, with 196 million and 105 million downloads respectively. Android makes up more than 96% of all their downloads. According to Liftoff’s Casual Gaming Report for 2022, post-ATT Android CPI rate costs less than half that of iOS, which allows these Android-heavy games to scale up user acquisition (UA).
We can see this in the paid downloads for both Ludo King and Carrom Pool, both of which saw significant boosts last year.
Will the love of these Board Games of Indian origin ever spread beyond the shores of South Asia? It’s already happening, but not in a substantial enough fashion. Ludo has gained some traction in MENA (Egypt was the third biggest downloader of Ludo games), but it’ll be a while yet before games of Ludo and Carrom are played in great numbers in North America and Europe.
Subway Surfers Keeps On Running
On a high level, Platformers only grew by 10%. But due to the sheer size of the genre, that equates to an absolute growth of 196 million YoY. The big story here is Sybo’s Subway Surfers, a game more than 10 years old which still tops the overall game downloads chart for 2022!
In fact, looking at its lifetime downloads, the game’s popularity has never really waned, except for a small dip in downloads between Q3 2020 and Q4 2021, which the game has since shaken off and gone on to continued growth.
What was behind the dip, and why did it recover even more strongly than before? Part of the answer lies in Among Us.
Among Us went viral around the world in the second half of 2020, eating away at downloads of Subway Surfers. As the Among Us hype faded, so did its downloads — and Sybo’s endless runner then recovered.
But what led Subway Surfers to experience even greater growth in 2022? That’s partly because of a surge of downloads in the Chinese version in Q3 of 2022, which was launched back in 2017.
Subway Surfers strangely became the most downloaded app in China for about two weeks in August, but why?
A big reason could be that an update on July 21st 2022 contained a summer championship competition that rewarded a real money cash prize of 10,000 RMB (approximately $1,450 USD). While the summer championships have been an annual occurrence, 2022 included spectator participation, so players could try and predict which contestants would advance through the competition and were rewarded with in-game prizes for guessing correctly.
The other big reason for its 2022 resurgence was a big wave of downloads in the summer of 2022 in Brazil and the U.S.
This downloads wave looks to have been triggered by social media, TikTok in particular. The spark may have been the official Subway Surfers TikTok account, which released an April Fools video (released on April 4th) that became a huge hit for the account, garnering 24.5 million views.
The April Fools video was a real outlier for the account, as prior videos had views ranging from 30,000 to a max of 4 million. Other successful videos during this period was agij0nas’ video (cleverly using the Subway Surfers music from popular TikTok acapella group Maytree) which received 89.1 million views.
Beyond specific videos, Sybo’s game also became central to a TikTok trend in which unrelated voiceover audio played while Subway Surfers gameplay ran in the background. Ultimately, there was a rise of Subway Surfers content which increased the game’s profile and boosted interest in the game, leading to it ranking No. 1 for downloads on both Android and iOS in these countries during this period.
Social media spurring an interest in a game has most recently boosted Playside’s Dumb Ways To Die, which became the No. 1 game in 34 countries earlier this year with help from TikTok. You can find Playside’s article on how it managed to achieve this here. TikTok has become one of the most effective UA channels, and Naavik UA expert Matej Lancaric broke down how to run efficient UA on TikTok in our February 8th Digest, which you can read here.
Besides the games and subgenres we’ve covered above, there were also some notable movements in the Shoot/Beat ‘Em Ups and in the Other Arcade category.
Survivor.io, from Archero developer Habby, took inspiration from Vampire Survivors, which itself took inspiration from Archero, and released a refined take of that game that took it to 47 million downloads in five months. We’ll be taking a closer look at the game in the revenue section below.
The other interesting movement was the big rise in downloads of 2 Player games: the Challenge. This game was released in 2019, but had been steadily increasing downloads and really gained traction starting in 2022. This was particularly true in India and, most impressively, it did so relying on organic traffic.
The game is a compilation of minigames, all featuring local two-player multiplayer in which each person controls an element on one side of the phone. One reason for its popularity is that the short multiplayer minigames go well with catchy videos, as you can see here. The other reason is that, as a local multiplayer game, it lends itself to spreading via word-of-mouth and in-person play, something that became much more available to the world in 2022 as it opened up from Covid lockdowns.
Arcade downloads are highly concentrated on Android, and combined with the games’ mass-market appeal, have seen it weather the ATT storm better than most. All of the subgenres grew downloads, with highlights being Stumble Guy’s rise out of nowhere to recreate the Fall Guys’ experience on mobile, the continuing popularity of Indian board games, and Subway Surfers unprecedented resilience. Are things all rosy for this genre? We’ll need to look at the other side of the coin and examine revenue, which is coming up next!
The Arcade revenue story mirrors the growth shown in downloads, rising by 18.7% YoY.
While that stat is nice, a look at the revenue trends show that growth was actually shrinking from Q1 2021 to Q1 2022, but it suddenly experienced a big rise in revenue. The slowing growth in 2021 is understandable as post-Covid normalization, but what was behind that revenue explosion from Q3 of 2022?
That came from two games: Stumble Guys and Survivor.io, which together provided almost the entire $256 million increase in 2022 Arcade revenue.
Survivor.io’s success has seen it top the Arcade revenue charts despite only being live for the second half of 2022. The other two games worth mentioning here are Stumble Guys, which we’ve already covered, with that incredible growth number and Rush Royale, a Tower Defense game from MY.GAMES of War Robots fame that grew 89% YoY.
Rush Royale Keeps Growing
Tower Defense games have been seeing a sort of renaissance over the past few years. Random Dice added merge mechanics and PvP elements to the traditionally single-player experience, and Rush Royale expanded that formula by adding the Clash Royale-meta (card collection to upgrade units and heroes).
Impressively, it has been growing revenue steadily since its launch in Q4 of 2020 despite the tribulations of ATT in 2021-2022.
The dip in iOS revenue you see towards the end of 2022 was because the game was banned by Apple in September 2022 and reinstated in October 15th. While no official statement was given regarding the reason of the ban, the word on the ground was that it was related to Apple removing all VK applications (My.Games was owned by VK Company) from the App Store. My.Games was then sold to Leta Capital, which then allowed it to be reinstated.
So what’s behind Rush Royale’s secret sauce? Undoubtedly, PvP plays a big role in its success, but it’s not like you can just add PvP to any Tower Defense game and see success as we can see in the revenue chart below of 5 of the top PvP-based Tower Defense games (aligned by launch date).
Where Rush Royale made the correct bet was in essentially re-making Random Dice, which had very good early metrics before declining, and making it more appealing via colorful graphics and character-based units and boosting monetization by applying the Clash Royale card-meta.
The chart below of the same games’ downloads performance shows that this appeal has allowed it to outperform the other games in downloads as well as revenue (except for Random Dice, but based on the games’ trajectory, this is just a matter of time).
Based on the trends, 2023 looks like it’ll be Rush Royale’s best year ever, and it’ll be interesting to see what the team does in order to keep the good times coming. As an aside, keep a look out for a Rush Royale decon coming your way soon!
Habby Knocks One Out Of The Park
It seems Habby can do no wrong (well…except for Kinja Run and PunBall), and its latest game Survivor.io has taken the Arcade world by storm. As mentioned in the Downloads section, this game is a refinement of Vampire Survivors, which now even has a mobile version, but casual in presentation. Since launch, it has claimed $214 million in revenue, eclipsing Habby’s previous hit Archero’s lifetime revenue of $203 million, and it’s been out less than a year!
We’ve done a deconstruction of Survivor.io as well as a look at its TikTok UA strategy, both of which are worth reading. In our deconstruction, we had reservations regarding Survivor.io’s long-term viability, calling out its granular grindy feel and the fact that, like Archero, the player really only needs one hero and one set of gear.
While the game's grind is just baked in at this point and likely won’t be solved, Habby have introduced some mitigation to the “just need one hero” problem. New characters were added in update 1.8.0 (released December 16th, 2022) with a neat feature. At certain levels of upgrades, the stat bonuses apply to every hero, incentivizing collecting and upgrading the entire roster of heroes.
At this point of time, revenue is still trending down so the feature either has been a dud or its effects are yet to be felt.
I’m of the opinion that it’s the latter, as the power of the feature can only really be felt when you have a large roster of heroes which allow players to stack up the stat increases (which becomes a balancing nightmare). Only time will tell, so we’ll be keeping an eye on this game!
Can Runners Ever Monetize Via IAPs?
Looking at the top 10 games for downloads and revenue shows a contrast in the subgenres that show up in each. Runners make up 50% of the top 10 Arcade games by downloads, but don’t show up at all for the top 10 by revenue.
This may be just an inherent weakness of the subgenre, as the very thing which makes them appealing (pick up and play, low skill ceiling) limits the monetization hooks. That’s why most runners make a big chunk of its revenue from ads. The table below shows the revenue splits for the top five Runner games by downloads for 2022.
Overall, unless you’re Subway Surfers, you’re not making much money. There have been attempts to introduce more IAP monetization, even from Sybo itself with Blades of Brim, which introduced monetization hooks like character and gear leveling, pets, and power-ups, but it wasn’t a success.
Are Runners just doomed to eternal IAP purgatory? Perhaps not, as the revenue top 10 shows that there’s at least one Runner (to be fair, it’s a Run and Gun Platformer) that’s made good IAP revenue- Contra: Returns. It took in $53.5 million in 2022, not bad indeed. There is a caveat here as 80% of its revenue came from China, but we may still be able to glean some insights from its success.
So what makes Contra: Returns so different from Blades of Brim? Besides the obvious differences with its mid-core positioning and side-scrolling view, Contra also heavily features multiplayer competition, with completely separate 1v1 and 3v3 arena battle modes. And while Contra hasn’t exactly set the western world alight, there has been a multiplayer platformer that has seen tremendous success- Stumble Guys. Sure, it's a step removed from Subway Surfers as it doesn’t have locked lanes but it shows that the combination of running forwards + multiplayer has merit. We just need for someone to iterate on the idea to show us the next evolution of Runners.
The top five regions comprise around 44% of all downloads, with 20% of that coming from India alone. As we covered above, players in India love Board Games and it makes up half of the downloads coming from that country.
A look at the top 10 games in each region shows how India is pretty much an outlier with how much it likes both Ludo and Carrom. Interestingly, Stumble Guys is present in all top five countries except India. This is likely because Stumble Guys requires a stable internet connection due to its action-based multiplayer gameplay, and as we covered in the Shooter report, India has notoriously spotty internet connections outside of metropolitan areas.
Revenue-wise, the U.S comes up on top, but there are some surprises here with Saudi Arabia clinching second place. Ludo is popular there, but it also has apps like Jawaker and VIP بلوت (VIP Baloot) which feature popular Arabic card and board games like Tarneeb, Trix, and Baloot. Together, the top five countries make up 66% of all Arcade revenue.
A look at the top 10 games by revenue across the top 5 countries shows a pretty strong regional affinity, and no single game is present in all countries (Survivor.io is the closest, as it is only missing from Saudi Arabia’s top 10). A key trend here is that action-based titles aren’t seeing much revenue success, with Subway Surfers, Survivor.io and Stumble Guys being the notable exceptions. This is in contrast with downloads, as action-based games are very popular there.
When you think of Arcade games, you most often will think of something action-based, such as a Runner or Beat/Shoot ‘Em Up. This plays out in the types of games that are downloaded, but these sorts of games are rare in the revenue charts. As seen with the rise of Stumble Guys and Survivor.io, there is a significant appetite for spending on action-oriented games, and the success of those two games will become an inspiration to others. I suspect that we’ll be seeing more action-based titles that can also make bank in the years ahead.
State of Hypercasual
Hypercasual games, with their ad-based revenue model, stood out as one of the genres most susceptible to adverse affects from Apple’s ATT, and a statement from Hypercasual publisher Kwalee mentions “higher CPIs and lower ECPMs becoming the rule rather than the exception.” While the genre still saw YoY downloads growth of 8.4%, the trends are sobering.
We can see that downloads growth has cratered in 2022. In fact, 2022 is the first time that the genre has seen a quarterly reduction in downloads as we can see in the chart below.
What are Hypercasual publishers doing in light of the challenging market? Let’s look at the top 10 publishers to see how they have fared. Together, the top 10 publishers acquired 7.4 billion downloads in 2022, which is just 43% of the Hypercasual downloads market (16.6 billion), showing just how massive it really is.
Here, we can see Voodoo, Lion Studios, and Good Job Games seeing big downloads contractions, while the others have grown. While this aggregated chart seemingly paints a picture of a thriving market, we are yet to see the full consequences of the current market conditions and the actions the publishers are taking in reaction and we predict that the other publishers will likely follow with a decline in downloads. We’ll be tracking this in another six months when we cover this genre again.
Hypercasual Publishers Diversify
One way we can reveal publisher strategy is to compare game releases from 2021 to 2022 (the percent values on top of 2022 numbers represent YoY growth).
Here, we can see that Lion Studios have pretty much washed their hands of Hypercasual, something that has gone on record, but still really interesting to see in the data. Other studios which have lower game releases in 2022 were Voodoo, Supersonic, and SayGames. Both Voodoo and SayGames have been vocal about the death of the old Hypercasual formula and the need to evolve by going Hybridcasual or Casual, and though Supersonic hasn’t been public about it, its action speaks louder than words.
On the flip side of the coin are Azur Interactive Games and OneSoft, who are seemingly leaning into Hypercasual. Perhaps there is some method to the madness here. If these publishers anticipated that there would be less competition in 2022 (and thus lower CPIs), it might have made sense to release more games in a less crowded arena. Or perhaps they’ve found a studio structure and development process that results in positive ROAS despite lower eCPMs. Either way, it's interesting to see them make counter-market moves and we’ll be tracking to see if it was a galaxy-brain moment or a terrible mistake.
What’s Up With Good Job Games?
The Good Job Games contraction is an interesting one, as Good Job Games did not release a single game in 2022. Its last game release was Wonder Blast in December 2021, but that was a Blast Puzzler. Its last Hypercasual release was in November 2021, a game called Sponge Art.
In December 2022, Moon Active acquired Good Job Game’s Puzzle + Decorate game Zen Match alongside the team that built it for a reported $100-$150 million. Putting all the pieces together, what may have happened is that the top brass in Good Job Games saw the writing on the wall for Hypercasual early on, hence its development of Zen Match and Wonder Blast, which are Hybridcasual/Casual leaning.
The sale of Zen Match serves as funding for the evolution of the company to become a full-fledged Casual game studio. As seen in the company’s LinkedIn page, it’s still looking for developers for Wonder Blast as of February 2023 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new Casual game released for Good Job Games sometime this year.
Hypercasual games as we know it are going through an evolution. Many publishers are either heading towards new pastures, or at the very least diversifying their portfolio to include Hybridcasual or Casual titles. What was interesting to see was Azur Interactive Games and OneSoft releasing 50% more Hypercasual titles in 2022, with a quantity over quality strategy.
We believe that the genre will see more contraction of downloads as publishers focus on Hybridcasual, which actually might make Azur Interactive Games and OneSoft’s strategy pay off as there’ll be less competition for UA which will lower CPI. We’ll see how that pans out in the next six months!
Hypercasual games have, up till now, never been about IAPs, and this is reflected in its low revenue numbers compared to downloads. Still, revenue was up a fraction at 0.9% YoY, but to see if this is just a fluctuation or the sign of a trend requires more digging.
The revenue trends above show an interesting dip in revenue from Q4 2021 till Q2 2022. When we break down revenue by Platform, we can see that revenue from iOS has suffered a drastic drop in revenue.
Not only that, iOS RPD also dipped during the same period, and its movement actually mirrors that of the revenue YoY growth chart. This is likely the result of post-ATT degradation of UA targeting, resulting in lower quality players. On the other hand, Android revenue and RPD are trending up.
Post-ATT, we also see that downloads on iOS are steadily declining while Android saw a steady increase in 2021 followed by a slow and steady decrease in 2022 (the chart below is in Logarithmic scale).
Altogether, the Hypercasual market is shifting towards Android for both downloads and revenue, which will work up till 2024 when Google deprecates GAID (Android’s version of IDFA). When that happens, what should a Hypercasual publisher do?
The Hybridcasual Renaissance Isn’t Here…Yet
In response to the challenging market, most publishers have started to diversify away from pure Hypercasual, and Hybridizing their games by introducing engagement and monetization mechanics alongside ad revenue. But for all the talk, there aren’t many successes… yet.
A look at the top 10 games by revenue shows that the majority of the games earned less than $10 million in 2022, a far cry from the “gold standard” Hybridcasual games like Archero (even though its in decline) and Survivor.io, which took in $31.9 million and $167 million in revenue respectively.
The outlier here would be the game in number 1 spot, Battle of Balls (球球大作战), which is essentially Agar.io. If you’re not familiar with Agar.io, its a game where you control a blob to eat food scattered to grow larger. Larger blobs can eat smaller blobs, so it becomes a race to grow big enough to eat each other.
The twist is that the larger you are, the slower you move, so it becomes harder to chase small blobs. There’s a strategic move you can do to split your blob up to gain speed and it becomes a game of balancing risk/reward. See an example of Battle of Balls gameplay here.
It was released in 2015 and became a huge esports phenomenon in China and has lifetime revenue of $130 million (iOS only, so the actual number including Android will be much higher). In comparison, Agar.io on mobile has a lifetime revenue of $15.8 million.
As Battle of Balls is a one-off phenomenon, we should look to other games to give us an idea of what Hybridcasual games from former Hypercasual publishers can look like. A good place to start would be to look at the 2 new entrants in the top 10- Pocket Champs and My Little Universe, as well as Squad Alpha which grew by +275% YoY!
Pocket Champs is a self-titled Multiplayer Idle Racing game where you train and race your Champs. The racing is entirely automated, but there is some strategy in the gear that you equip prior to the race. Race levels have various different obstacles such as pools you need to swim through, walls to climb, gaps to glide across. There are various types of gear that provide a speed boost for a particular type of obstacle (for example flippers speed you up in the water), the twist is that you can only equip one piece of gear in the race.
Thus, the strategy becomes looking at the race level and making a decision on which gear to bring in for the best advantages. In terms of the “hybridization,” Pocket Champs has essentially followed the Clash Royale method. You have the four slots that hold the gacha box that requires time to unlock, the card-based gear upgrades and even the UI layout is reminiscent of Clash Royale.
My Little Universe
My Little Universe is a Simulation game (you may remember a reference to My Little Universe in our RPG genre report, as it forms the basis for SayGames’ Dreamdale) where the player starts off on a small island and begins exploring the world and it includes resource gathering, mining, crafting, building, and even some gardening. Eventually, you’ll build a portal to a different world (with a different theme and resources) and the process starts again.
Of course, as a Hybridcasual game, each of those systems are highly simplified (you just stand next to trees to begin chopping them down, for example). Unlike Pocket Champs, My Little Universe is still highly ad-monetized. There are many hooks for rewarded ads (typically resource taps, i.e - watch an ad and get X wood). Its premium currency is “Universe Bucks”, which is used as an alternative to ad watching for those resource taps (for example spend one Universe Buck to get the resource, instead of watching the ad).
Squad Alpha can be thought of as an evolution of Archero. It features the same one-handed controls (a virtual joystick for movement, stop to shoot), but adds some innovation by having 4 customizable gear slots which you take into a level, allowing you to switch tactics on the fly, as well as larger levels which take into account elevation and cover.
Like Archero, there are different characters you can unlock, and a large variety of weapons and equipment to collect and level up. It’s also much less ad-monetized than its sister game My Little Universe, and beyond a few rewarded ad hooks (for example opening gacha boxes), you’ll forget you’re even playing a game from a Hypercasual publisher.
In terms of performance, all three titles fall quite a ways short of Survivor.io and Archero. A good metric to see if a game has successfully “hybridized” would be RPD, and we can see that while both Pocket Champs and My Little Universe have improved this quite significantly over “pure” Hypercasual titles (which are usually sub $0.01), they are still quite far from the benchmarks set by Habby’s titles.
Squad Alpha on the other hand, with its RPD of $1.60 looks promising, but it has the lowest downloads and active users, which indicates that it isn’t able to attract or retain many players, but those that do stay, spend. I think its biggest problem is its similarity to Archero, as there have since been an absolute deluge of games that have copied the formula, crowding the market. The improvements SayGames made were nice little twists, but ultimately not enough to make it stand out enough from players who are tired of the same thing.
The top five regions for Hypercasual downloads make up 41% of all downloads, and this is led by India which, by itself, contributes 14.5% of genre downloads. It’s not surprising that T2/T3 countries make up most of the top 5, as Hypercasual games acquire heavily from them due to high population of smartphone users, low CPI and the fact that they are mobile-first.
Looking at the top 10 games for each region, there aren’t any obvious trends except for India not liking any music-based games. This is probably just because the music in games like Magic Tiles 3 and Tiles Hop don’t cater to Indian tastes, which may be a lost opportunity.
Revenue-wise, the top five countries make up 61% of the market, with the U.S leading the way and contributing 41.6% of genre revenue. The presence of China in the top countries by revenue contrasts with its absence in the downloads chart. This is likely due to the absence of Android downloads from China on data.ai. Android makes up 86% of Hypercasual downloads, so its highly likely that China would be a big country for Hypercasual downloads if downloads on Android were accounted for.
An interesting note here is also that the games that are doing well in China are almost all by Chinese developers. This is because UA in China is a different ball game, and this article by Chinese publisher Yodo1 explains the difference.
What many Hypercasual publishers are finding is that Hybridcasual is a lot harder than it seems. On paper, the combination of simple gameplay mechanics that appeals to the mass market and casual monetization mechanics seem like a win-win. The reality is that monetizing players via IAPs requires a different skill set, and what prompts a player to spend cold-hard cash is different from what stimulates them to watch and tolerate hundreds of ads.
Still, Habby has shown that it not only is possible, but it's possible to repeat the success. The formula is there, it just needs the right execution — which is easier said than done.
State of Sports
Downloads of sports games have been rising significantly, with 2022 seeing 20.6% growth YoY. Is this due to a single, very successful game or is it a trend across the genre?
Soccer Games Downloads Rise In A World Cup Year
To figure out the reason for the downloads boom, we can look at the top 20 games by year-over-year growth, which were responsible for 82% of the 351 million increase in downloads we see in 2022.
The first clue is FIFA Soccer growing by more than 60 million downloads, a growth of 135% YoY. The second clue is that Soccer games made up 65% of the top 20 games by downloads growth (chart below).
Soccer games were even more dominant when assessing the top 20 games by absolute downloads, making up 70% of the games on that list. In contrast, Soccer games only made up 55% of the top 20 downloaded games in 2021.
So it turns out that, yes it was because of a game, but more in the sports sense of the word. 2022 was a World Cup year, and it is the most watched sporting event in the world. FIFA estimates that 5 billion people engaged with the 2022 Qatar World Cup across various platforms and devices, and the final between France and Argentina was watched by 1.5 billion people across the globe.
Fans of the sport, stirred by watching their favorite teams and players compete on the greatest stage, began downloading Soccer games in droves. We can see in the chart below how correlated the downloads growth was to the World Cup.
We can also see how, in the top 10 games by downloads chart for 2022 below, that soccer games were represented by six out of the 10 games.
FIFA Soccer’s Success & Future
As seen in the downloads chart above, FIFA Soccer grew by 135.2% YoY, the biggest by any game. It comes down to one reason: brand familiarity. The FIFA Soccer franchise by EA began more than 30 years ago with the release of FIFA International Soccer on PC and console (the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo!) in 1994. It is the biggest sports game series of all time, even getting a Guinness World Record (the stats in the record are from 2018, but FIFA has sold 326 million units as of 2021 according to this article).
So what happens when you can no longer call your game FIFA? EA severed ties with FIFA and the 2023 edition of the PC/Console title will be called EA Sports FC instead. While it isn’t clear if the mobile version will need to make the same name change, I don’t believe that the name change will be that detrimental to the game regardless of platform. As an avid FIFA player myself, the EA Sports brand has as much cachet as the FIFA logo.
Though it is called FIFA, whenever you boot the game up, you hear “EA Sports. It’s in the game,” and its been drilled into the subconscious of millions of players. What these players will care about is that EA Sports FC has real footballers, real teams, and real leagues, and that’s what EA has guaranteed.
In fact, a very similar situation occurred when Championship Manager, a popular football manager sim created by Sports Interactive lost its name when its publisher, Eidos, decided to move on from the original developer and set up a new studio called Beautiful Game Studios to make Championship Manager moving forward. Sports Interactive kept the guts of the game (engine, code, assets…etc) and went on to rebrand its title Football Manager. Since then, Championship Manager faded into obscurity while Football Manager became the premier football management sim.
Miniclip’s Evergreen 8 Ball Pool
Despite the Fifa World Cup, the most downloaded Sports title in 2022 was 8 Ball Pool by Miniclip. In fact, since 2014, 8 Ball Pool has held the number one spot in Sports downloads every single year. The game began life as a web game on Miniclip.com back in 2010, transitioned to mobile as a premium title in 2011, then made its ultimate and final move to mobile F2P in 2013 which now has over 1 billion downloads. And that’s not the most impressive thing; what’s really impressive is that it shows no signs of slowing down, but has been able to maintain its downloads over almost 10 years.
One of the reasons for its popularity is sticking to the more casual-friendly 8-Ball format, where you just have to hit either stripes or solids. In contrast, the other popular pool format, 9-Ball, requires players to hit balls in ascending order of the pool ball’s number. As 8 Ball Pool is a multiplayer game, having the simpler ruleset makes it more accessible for casual players.
The other reason is that it has not encountered many pool game competitors. When it entered the market, the leader was Pool billiards Pro which it quickly outpaced. Since then, it has enjoyed the top spot as the pool game on mobile, with very few challengers. Unlike soccer or basketball where there is nuance in physics, animation, graphics, and controls which allow different games to stand out, pool is a difficult game to innovate on, as it is essentially hitting balls with sticks. Any developer wanting to create a competing pool game will have to think extra hard on why they would bother creating a pool game when there is already one that does everything so well already?
The only serious challenge for the downloads crown has come from Pooking, which introduced some novelty in the control mechanism. Unlike the pull-and-drag controls that 8 Ball Pool popularized, Pooking uses dials on either side of the screen for aiming and shooting. This gives the player better fine control of positioning and shot power (see an example of gameplay here). Also, unlike 8 Ball Pool, Pooking is single player only.
So what can a developer do if they still want to do a pool game? One way would be to take the essence of pool (hitting balls with sticks), but changing everything else. One game that has used that formula in another sport and been extremely successful is Rocket League. It kept the heart of the game of soccer (scoring goals), but added a completely different way to play. The mobile version, Rocket League Sideswipe, simplifies this even more by making it all happen in 2D. Another example is Head Ball 2, which simplifies a game of soccer into Pong but with wacky characters and skills.
Miniclip itself has done something similar with its game Soccer Stars, which revises a game of soccer to a pool/carrom/air hockey hybrid.
Spurred on by the World Cup, 2022 was the year of soccer, and downloads of soccer games rose in response to the global interest in the game. Pool games, led by Miniclip’s 8 Ball Pool, temporarily surrendered its position as the most popular sport. Did the overall rise in soccer game downloads mean a rise in revenue as well? We’ll be looking at this in the next section.
Unlike the upbeat soccer-fuelled download numbers, revenue has gone the other way, shrinking in 2022 by 11.7% YoY. Why hasn’t the increase in downloads for soccer games resulted in a rise in revenue?
A Tale Of Two Sports
First, in terms of revenue, soccer games are the biggest sport. The chart above shows the top 200 games by revenue in the genre (which contributed $1.7 billion or 85% of genre revenue). We can see that Soccer takes up 41% of revenue, followed by Baseball and Golf with 17% and 12% respectively.
This is also reflected when looking at the top 10 games by revenue for 2022, as 40% of them are also soccer-related (FIFA Soccer, eFootball PES 2021, FIFA Online 4 M, Top Eleven). The stumbling block to revenue growth here is that besides 3 soccer games, the rest have all lost revenue in 2022.
To figure out the reason for the genre’s decline in revenue in 2022, we can look at the chart of the top 10 games by revenue loss in 2022 (which account for more than 100% of the -$260M change in revenue YoY).
Of the top 10 losers, 4 of them are baseball games (Professional Baseball Spirits A, MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2021, Jikkyou Pawafuru Puroyakyu, MaguMagu 2021), which make up 50% of Sport’s -$260M revenue loss. Baseball games have an outsized contribution to revenue loss compared to the other sports, as it is the only sport (besides soccer with 2) with more than one representative in this chart.
In contrast, when looking at the top 10 games by revenue growth, soccer games made up 50% of the games in that chart (FIFA Soccer, FIFA Online 4 M, PES Card Collection, Top Eleven, 컴투스프로야구V22), and there was only one baseball game- MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2022.
Soccer games featuring heavily in terms of revenue growth isn’t a surprise, as we’ve established that there was renewed interest in the sport due to the World Cup. But why has revenue dropped for baseball games?
The biggest reason is due to a contraction from the covid-induced boom, as we can see below of the revenue trend of the top 25 baseball games by 2022 revenue.
The other reason is that some sequels to previously successful games have not been able to reach the same heights as their predecessors (yet). For example EA’s MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2022’s $18M in revenue wasn’t able to offset the $31M revenue loss of its elder sibling (which got deactivated in September 2022 after EA’s acquisition of GLU in 2021).
The final reason is that there’s a single baseball game that dominates the sport, and its fortunes can have a big effect on the revenue trends.
The Biggest Sports Game Is Probably Not The One You’re Thinking Of
As mentioned previously, 4 baseball games were responsible for 50% of the genre’s revenue contraction in 2022. Of those games, the biggest is Professional Baseball Spirits A (PBSA), which also happens to be the game that tops the Sports revenue charts.
The game is a high fidelity simulation of baseball, with official players and teams from the Japanese baseball league - Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). As expected, it is Japan-only, and has a very impressive 2022 RPD of $118. It is also actually the 4th biggest game by revenue in Japan, only behind behemoths like Monster Strike, Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and Fate/Grand Order.
Why is it so huge there? One reason is that baseball is the most popular sport in Japan, with 45% of the population calling it their favorite sport (in contrast, only 25% of people chose soccer).
The other reason is that Konami has a long history of making Baseball games, beginning with its Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyu (Power Pros) series on the Super Famicom (SNES outside of Japan) back in 1994.
The Power Pro games were more casual offerings, and in 2004, Konami (the publisher of Power Pros), spun off a simulation-focused game called Professional Baseball Spirits. What we see in the top 10 chart above are the mobile versions of those games, and both have been mega successful, earning lifetime revenue of $1.28 billion (PBSA) and $823 million (Jikkyou Pawafuru Puroyakyu @ Power Pros) respectively.
The game didn’t really start out as an immediate success, and in fact, its sister game Power Pros was initially the more successful product.
Over time, PBSA grew and eventually overtook Power Pros (in 2019), but it really got going during the pandemic period of 2020-2021. The reason why PBSA has the revenue advantage is likely the official licensing of players and teams from the NPB. As we know from EA’s very successful Ultimate Team model, being able to build a custom team by picking and choosing the best real-life players from different teams is very compelling (and monetizable) and this feature is replicated in PBSA.
Like many other games that saw a covid-boost, 2022 was a corrective year and its revenue fell by 18% YoY. There may be an upturn ahead of it though, as Japan recently won the World Baseball Classic which may cause a resurgence of interest in the sport. While the star of the show was undoubtedly once-in-a-generation pitcher/hitter Shohei Ohtani (who plays in the MLB), many other stars of NPB teams contributed to Japan's success. We’ll be tracking the game to see if the euphoria of winning the WBC leads to increased engagement and spending in PBSA.
League of Legends Esports Manager
You might have noticed a Chinese game in the top revenue winners chart with a long name. That game is 英雄联盟电竞经理 or League of Legends Esports Manager. It’s a management sim where players can build up an esports team consisting of real League of Legend pros and even includes a simulation of LOL (see gameplay video here). While it isn’t the first esports management sim, it's one of the first to include real life professionals (being developed by Tencent, owners of Riot Games, surely greased the wheels there).
It was an immediate success, accumulating $30.8 million in revenue in its first 3 months, but has since dwindled.
This could indicate an issue with product deficiencies, but it could also be a problem of roster depth. While using a real game and real pros has the advantage of bringing in fans of both, League of Legends doesn’t have the depth of players that traditional sports has. Without many players to desire, once you’ve collected your “dream team”, there’s nothing left to do.
Given its huge performance decline, it’ll be interesting to see what Tencent does with the game and what it can do to resurrect it.
Sport revenue essentially comes down to 3 sports- soccer, baseball, and golf- which make up 70% of genre revenue. Of this, soccer dominates, taking up 40% of all genre revenue. This isn’t surprising as it is the most popular sport in the world. Baseball taking up second place is more of a surprise, and that comes down to its popularity in Japan, with the two biggest baseball games being Japan-only. We may see baseball surge again in 2023, if the excitement from Japan’s win in the World Baseball Classic translates into increased spending in those games.
The top 5 regions for Sports downloads make up about 40% of genre downloads. In terms of regional affinity, we can clearly see India and Pakistan’s love for cricket.
What’s also interesting is that basketball isn’t really popular outside of the U.S, and that there seems to be a global affinity for pool games, as 8 Ball Pool is present in all the countries here and Pooking is just missing from the U.S chart.
Revenue is quite concentrated, and the top 5 countries contribute to 71% of genre revenue.
Looking at the games that perform well in each region, we can see the strong regional affinities at play. The top 2 games in Japan are baseball, with soccer games making up 50% of the top 10. As a testament to the dominance of PBSA, its 2022 revenue of $285M is larger than the rest of the top 10 combined ($184M). What’s also interesting in Japan is how Konami has basically cornered the sports market there. The publisher has 6 games in the top 10, making $419M in 2022 revenue which is 80% of Sports revenue Japan!
Another interesting pattern here is that the Asian countries show a much narrower range of sports that they are into. Japan, China, and South Korea have between 3-4 different types of sports within the top 10. In contrast, the U.S. and U.K., show much more diverse tastes with 6 different kinds of sports games featuring in the top 10.
The Sports genre hasn’t seen many exciting moves over the past year, with the most interesting bit being the entrance of League of Legends Esports Manager. This is an inherent problem with the genre as it's hard to innovate on a sports game regardless of whether it’s a Simulation or Arcade game. Those that stood out have done so by taking the essence of a sport and placing it in a completely new context (Rocket League, Head Ball 2).
The other avenue of success is to choose a new sport that has been underserved, and that’s what Wildlife did in 2019 with Tennis Clash and what Playdemic did in 2016 with Golf Clash. The risk here is the regional affinities for certain sports, and choosing the wrong sport to develop could mean death on delivery. The best chance of success here would be to select a sport that’s popular, yet under represented. A candidate for this could be MMA which, according to this Forbes article, is the third-most popular sport behind soccer and basketball. There have been some entrants, such as EA’s UFC Mobile series, but none have achieved real success.
Finally, a method to enter the market could be to clone an existing game, but make targeted changes that “solves” problems the original doesn’t. In our Golf Clash vs Golf Rival decon, we cover how Golf Rival was able to take meaningful share away from Golf Clash despite the original’s first mover advantage. One big change it made was removing the entry fee/wagering mechanic and allowing players to play as much as they want, giving players who are frustrated or blocked from playing by Golf Clash’s entry fee an alternative outlet for getting some virtual golf time.
State of Racing
Racing game downloads grew by 7.4% YoY, the smallest compared to the other genres in this report (Sports is No. 1 at 20.6%, Arcade next with 18.3%, then Hypercasual at 8.4%). One thing that’s important to note regarding racing game downloads is that the games that are being downloaded the most are mostly ad-monetized, as we can see below of the top 10 games for both downloads and revenue.
Notice that six games here have an RPD less than $0.01, a typical sign of ad-based monetization. The other aspect of this is that Android makes up a whopping 92% of genre downloads, but only 30% of revenue, and there’s a clear divide between the games that are being downloaded en masse versus the games that are monetizing via IAPs.
While the genre showed good downloads growth over the past two years, there was a strange dip in YoY growth in Q2 2021, and that was caused by 10 games.
The reason for the dip wasn’t down to performance issues in Q2 2021, rather, these games saw a downloads spike in Q2 2020, as we can see below.
The spike came from a combination of new games being released (KartRider Rush+), big UA pushes (Car Stunts 3D, Crazy Car Traffic Racing Game), and Mario Kart Tour getting a big spike of Android downloads during the game time.
Besides that dip though, genre downloads have showcased consistent growth. For 2022, there were five games that were big contributors to downloads, accounting for 77% of the YoY growth.
The biggest mover here, GT Car Stunt Master 3D was a new release which got a big launch push. The other games were existing titles that got a big downloads bump in 2022. Traffic Rider’s boost can be explained by a UA campaign that increased its baseline downloads, as seen below.
However, the other 3 games didn’t have big UA campaigns and the downloads were seemingly mostly organic, and mostly from the same countries- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Brazil.
While there aren’t any obvious causes of the downloads boost, it looks to be caused by a variety of factors. For Hill Climb Race 3D 4x4’s case, it seems to be ASO (App Store Optimization) related, as ranking of the search term “hill climb” in India (where most of the downloads spike originated from), went from 36th to 6th. This is important because Hill Climb Racing is the most downloaded and popular racing game in India.
In Crazy Car Stunt and GT Mega Ramp Stunt Bike Games’ case, they may have been a beneficiary of their proximity to the gameplay of Race Master by SayGames, which received a big UA push in India (again, where most of their downloads spike came from). So players who enjoyed the gameplay of Race Master may have searched the store for other similar options.
Looking at the top 10 downloaded games, Traffic Rider and Hill Climb Racing are clear outliers, with both of them having more than twice the downloads of the rest, making them worthy of deeper investigation.
Traffic Rider & Hill Climb Racing, Two Organic Download Monsters
Traffic Rider and Hill Climb Racing are the two most downloaded racing games of all time, with Hill Climb Racing accumulating 951 million lifetime downloads and Traffic Rider with 528 million (to be fair, Hill Climb Racing came out four years earlier).
If you’re not familiar with the titles, Hill Climb Racing is a physics-driven Arcade Racing game where you’re tasked with traversing hilly terrain without overturning your vehicle. Traffic Rider is a realistic motorcycle racer where you’re driving along a road and need to dodge traffic, just like arcade racers of old.
Looks-wise, these games are polar opposites, but both clearly have mass appeal. They are also doing very well downloads-wise, despite Hill Climb Racing being more than a decade old and Traffic Rider coming to its 7th year. More impressively, both have achieved these download numbers without much paid user acquisition.
What’s behind their success?
In Hill Climb Racing’s case, it's a combination of a few factors. First, it stood out against other games with its colorful cartoony style when it launched in 2012. Most of the other games at the time featured more realistic graphics. You can see here in the chart of the top 10 games for 2011 how even its icon stands out against the other games.
Second, the gameplay is a great example of “easy to learn, difficult to master.” While there are only two controls, accelerate and brake, there are lots of nuances to the timing and application of those controls to complete a level (see gameplay video here).
Finally, there’s also an element of first mover advantage. Hill Climb Racing entered the market when the racing game market was small (there were only 19M racing game downloads in 2011, the year before HCR was released), and managed to cement its place among the top. We can see this first mover advantage in action when even its sequel, Hill Climb Racing 2, which featured multiplayer and a higher fidelity art style (though still cartoony), failed to beat its predecessor.
Traffic Rider came out in 2016, and managed to stand out by being a motorbike racing game in first person view, when the majority of motorbike games were clones of the Trials series from RedLynx. Also, despite its realistic looks, it was far from a simulation. In Traffic Rider, you race on a street that is perfectly straight and you only need to focus on dodging traffic and not worry about taking corners, the most difficult part of racing. This makes Traffic Rider what you would call a Simcade, a game that has an Arcade heart, with simple and forgiving controls, but wears the high fidelity presentation of a simulation game.
The core racing gameplay in Traffic Rider is captivating, as the first person view and lack of corners really gives you a sense of speed. It also has a very compelling “Near Miss” mechanic which rewards you with extra time to complete a level when you drive near other vehicles while above 100 KPH (62 MPH) and a great example of a risk-vs-reward mechanic. In a nutshell, Traffic Rider has managed to perfect the “just-one-more-run” feel that the best Arcade games have. See an example of gameplay here.
What can other games learn from these two games? First, it’s important to find a way to stand out from the crowd. It often doesn’t take very much, such as Hill Climb Racing’s art style to Traffic Rider’s camera perspective, but it needs to be meaningfully different. Second, controls and feel are the lifeblood of a racing game. Both games exhibit this in different ways, but both feel extremely satisfying. Finally, to reach a mass market, you need simplified controls and physics that allow players to quickly learn the ropes, but leave enough room for them to progress in skill.
Racing game downloads have grown steadily these past two years, with the two biggest games Hill Climb Racing and Traffic Rider growing from strength to strength. The genre is heavily skewed towards Android as well as ad-based monetization. We can see a clear divide between the games that are popular downloads and the games that are making revenue, which is what we’ll be investigating next.
Racing’s stable downloads growth has not resulted in the same trend for revenue, and in 2022 was down by 18.7% YoY. As mentioned above, this discrepancy is explained by downloads being driven by mainly ad-monetized games. With that said, let’s look into the top 10 games (which make up 68% of revenue market share) to find out why revenue has shrunk in 2022.
As seen in the chart above, almost all games saw a revenue contraction in 2022, and the biggest contributors (73% of the $102 million decline in 2022) were the five games below.
The metrics here are all damning, and all these games have lost downloads, users, and revenue in 2022 (No Limit Drag Racing 2 was only released in May of 2021, so its increase in active users here is misleading).
The reason for their 2022 decline depends on each game. In CSR Racing 2’s case, it got a nice pandemic boost to revenue in 2020 but has been on a steady decline since. Need for Speed No Limits made a massive UA push on Android in early 2021 which gave it a small bump, but its poor RPD of $0.61 (which also signals for LTV), means that revenue dropped as UA was turned off.
The final three games, Mario Kart Tour, KartRider Rush+, and No Limit Drag Racing 2 had great launches (Mario Kart Tour in 2019, KartRider Rush+ in 2020, and No Limit Drag Racing 2 in 2021), but all were unable to maintain their revenue trajectory and began declining very soon after launch.
The Biggest Mobile Racing Game Of All Time: QQ Speed
The one outlier in the top 10 chart was Tencent’s QQ飞车 (QQ Speed), which grew by 11.3% YoY, and that’s not even including third-party Android revenue from China. On investigation, the major source of growth was actually because QQ Speed had a woeful Q4 2021.
The reason for the bad Q4 in 2021 were a couple of lackluster updates in August and October 2021 that failed to entice spend, resulting in no revenue spikes during that period.
If you’re not familiar with QQ Speed, the game is inspired by Mario Kart, and was released on PC by Tencent way back in 2008. It became a huge hit and in May 2011, it became the 5th online game in China to exceed 2 million concurrent users. The mobile version was released in 2017, and it has since dominated the revenue charts, with a lifetime revenue of $962 million (CSR Racing 2 is in second with $486 million).
Why has it been so successful? Besides the obvious reasons such as regional tolerance for pay to win mechanics, QQ Speed also has another difference to most other racing games. It doesn’t take itself too seriously.
While in the west, we like our racing games to be all about the racing, QQ Speed includes features that may seem more suitable for an MMO, such as an intimacy feature that lets players get married and pets (QQ Speed does have a casual hang out area where players can socialize out of a race).
The lack of shackles to “racing authenticity” has freed the game’s live ops from the typical new car content treadmill that western racing games are locked into, but have allowed Tencent to introduce all sorts of unconventional features and content. Case in point, the October 2022 update included a PVE Card Battler mode that had nothing to do with racing at all (see an example of gameplay here)!
So, should western devs follow suit with this strategy? The answer isn’t clear cut, as there is a big difference between what a western Racing audience will accept compared to that of a Chinese audience. Yet, I think there’s some things we can learn from it.
For one, we should broaden our player personas when identifying our target audience. For example, we may make the assumption that a player of CSR2 will surely only like realistic racing games. In fact, in 2022, a fair number of players who played CSR 2 also played several non-realistic racing games such as Pixel Car Racer, Mario Kart Tour, and the Hill Climb Racing series, and thus the audience may actually be quite accepting of cartoony graphics and gameplay.
We’ve seen this in action in Call of Duty, when Call of Duty: World at War introduced the Zombies mode, which has made an appearance in many of Activision Blizzard’s releases since. Staying with Call of Duty, the cosmetics in Call of Duty Mobile are also another form of breaking the authenticity barrier, as though the game has a very gritty and realistic look, the character skins have included more fun and colorful skins (particularly in the later years).
Besides broadening our assumptions of what players want out of a game, another thing we can learn from QQ Speed is its focus on social elements. In what other racing game can you attend a wedding between players? Allowing non-racing player to player interaction can give rise to more interesting social connections, and thus cause players to be more engaged.
We’ve also seen this with Eggy Party, a new Party Royale from NetEase which went viral in China at the end of 2022. Part of the reason is the social hub, where players can interact with each other out of the levels, and it has resulted in a viral trend in China where people dance together in the social hub and even recreate those dances in real life.
Through a combination of post-covid normalization, product weakness, and also aging games (CSR2, Need for Speed No Limits, and Asphalt 9 are five-plus years old), the genre saw a pretty big revenue contraction of 18.7%. The malaise hasn’t been concentrated either, as most games in the top 10 saw declines.
The only exception to this was QQ Speed, which grew by 11.3%. Being a China-only game means that we can’t make a direct comparison to its western-based competitors. What we can do is learn from its unique selling points- strong social elements and live ops that are unshackled from “racing authenticity”.
The top five regions account for about 48% of genre downloads, with the biggest contributor being India which contributes to 27% of genre downloads.
In terms of the games, we can see that both Hill Climb Racing and Traffic Rider have cross-region appeal, and features in the top downloads in all the countries. An interesting outlier here is Mario Kart Tour which only appears in the U.S. list, and in top spot no less. It shows the popularity of Mario, and specifically Mario Kart in the USA (incidentally, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is also the top-selling Switch game with 52 million units sold worldwide).
Revenue-wise, the top five countries make up 71% of the market, led by China and followed closely by the USA (though China’s revenue numbers do not include Android so will be much higher in reality).
An interesting observation here is an almost complete absence of F1 (except in Germany), even though it is the most popular motorsport in the world. It has also grown in popularity in the U.S., where NASCAR usually reigns supreme, due to the huge interest driven by the Netflix show Drive To Survive. Why hasn’t an F1 game reached commercial success? Looking at EA’s F1 game, it highlights realism and authenticity.
Perhaps what F1 games (and racing games in general) should be doing instead is to learn from the success of Drive To Survive, which played down the races, but amped up the drama between teams and drivers. Again, this brings us back to those social elements we mentioned earlier.
2022 has been a year of two halves for racing games. On one hand, downloads are stronger than ever, with two games — Hill Climb Racing and Traffic Rider — showing no signs of slowing down. On the other hand, games that are generating revenue via monetization have been hit hard. This is partly because many of these games are old, like CSR 2 and Need for Speed No Limits, and we haven’t seen a new release in a while.
What do we have to look forward to in 2023? There’s the exciting development of Tencent’s Need for Speed game, which has gotten quite a lot of attention after videos of beta gameplay were leaked. Based on this article on GamingonPhone, it may be an online open-world game, which adds support to our thesis that racing games need to be more social. If it does come out in 2023, it’ll be competing with another open-world racing game, CarX Street, which is still under an open beta but has already gotten 9M downloads and earned about $4 million in revenue (and has three million MAU). Let the battle for the racing crown begin!