Android Developers: Stop Making Casual Games

By Jana Fung and Max Isenberg

Though Casual games have an easier time reaching the top charts, they stay there for much shorter periods of time and reach a smaller audience than Arcade & Action games.

After looking at the Google Play Top Charts over a 6 month period, we found that while 35% of Casual games in the Top 100 reach the Top 25, only 2 Casual games that started the year in the Top 25 were still there six months later.

With the first half of 2013 now over, we decided to take a deeper look at the journey a free game undergoes to enter the top charts in the Play Store and stay there. We especially focused on the Casual games category, as popular games such as King.com’s Candy Crush Saga have come to dominate the overall Top Game rankings.

We analyzed the following six subcategories: Sports Games, Brain & Puzzle, Casual, Cards & Casino, Arcade & Action, and Racing. We tracked the charts for the first half of the year, ending July 16th, 2013. Our findings:

The First Two Weeks are the Most Important for Reaching the Top Charts

Figure 1: Percent of Top 100 Casual games that reach the Top 10 based on number of days between the first entry into the Top 100 and the first entry into the Top 10 Casual games charts

83% of Casual games in the Top 10 took less than 2 weeks to get there. As a developer, it’s important to strongly market your game in the first 14 days after its release because after that point, it becomes much harder to push a game to the Top 10. This is despite the fact that Casual is the easiest category to reach the top rankings.

Casual Games Have a Higher Chance of Reaching the Top Rankings

Figure 2: Percent of games in Top 100 that reach Top 25

To explore the difficulty of reaching the top in various categories, we studied the likelihood that Top 100 games to break into the Top 25 over the same 6 month period. More Casual games get a chance to break into the top charts, with 35% of the Top 100 making it to the Top 25 within 6 months. This pattern holds for the Top 10 Casual games.

Figure 3: Percent of games in Top 100 that reach Top 10

In total, 80 unique Casual games that ranked in the Top 100 over these 6 months reached the Top 10. Reaching a top ranking is not the only determining factor for how many downloads a game gets; it also has to stay there.

Casual Games Are Less Likely to Have Long Term Dominance in the Top Charts 

Figure 4: Number of Top 100 games initially in the Top 100 at the beginning of the observation period that remained in the chart for the entire duration of the study

We looked at the set of 100 games at the top of each chart for each game Category on the first day of our observation in January. We then counted how many of those 100 were still in the Top 100 on the last day of the observation in July. Of the Top 100 Casual games in January 2013, only 24 remained 6 months later, lowest among all categories. We did a similar review with the Top 25.

Figure 5: Number of Top 25 games initially in the Top 25 at the beginning of the observation period that remained in the chart for the entire duration of the study

Only 2 Casual games within the Top 25 at the beginning of the year charted in the Top 25 every day during this 6 month period: Ludia Inc.’s Family Feud & Friends and King.com’s Candy Crush Saga. This turnover within the Casual games category suggests that many different games cycle through the top charts. And while games may experience higher visibility on the Top charts, Casual games lack the ability to hang on to their rankings compared to other games, like the 12 out of 25 Cards & Casino games that protected their rank status for 6 months.

Casual Games Have Shorter Stays in the Top Charts

Figure 6: Number of days the average charting game spends in Top 25

We next looked to see how long these games stayed in the Top 25 charts compared to other gaming categories. Casual games are only averaging a 21 day stay in the Top 25, compared to an average of 28 or more days in other gaming categories. We also looked at the average length of stay in the Top 10.

Figure 7: Number of days the average charting game spends in Top 10

Here, Casual games average only 12 days, half the time spent compared to Racing games that hang on to a Top 10 rank for 24 days. Not only is the Casual game category a difficult one to establish lasting and persistent titles, but also the average games cannot translate their initial popularity into even month long stays on the top.

A Lower Percentage of Casual Games Last for Very Long on the Top Charts

Figure 8: Percent of games that enter the Top 10 that stay for at least 2 weeks

The figure above displays the percentage of games that reach the Top 10 that last for longer than 2 weeks. As Casual games break into the Top 10 rankings, their time spent is short. Only 20 games out of the 80 games that reached the Top 10 stayed in the top charts for 14 days or more. The Casual games category demonstrates a tremendous a difficulty of staying on the charts for extended periods of time. In contrast, only 36 games entered the Top 10 for Arcade & Action, but 16 of those games (or 44%) lasted for longer than 2 weeks.

These facts, paired with the 19% of Casual games reaching the Top 10, suggest user boredom and low loyalty explains the fast-moving adjustments in rankings. Games cannot easily establish lasting presences in the category before the next wave of Casual games comes in and displaces the previous one.

Arcade & Action is the Most Popular Android Gaming Category

 Category Total # of Apps in Category # of Top 100 Games Games with 1M+ Downloads % Top Games with 1M+ Downloads Minimum Downloads Sum
Sports Games 4916 279 110 39.43% 407951010
Brain & Puzzle 34373 407 171 42.01% 683275000
Casual 22280 436 224 51.38% 727625000
Cards & Casino 6640 265 82 30.94% 262815500
Arcade & Action 21984 405 267 65.93% 1611096000
Racing 3490 343 130 37.90% 515236010

Figure 9

To evaluate the success potential for these categories, we considered three major criteria: ease of entry into the top charts, turnover in the top charts, and the reach of the category.

For ease of entry, Casual does very well, with 19% of Top 100 games eventually reaching the Top 10, comparing favorably to Arcade & Action’s low 9%. Thus, Casual games have a better shot to hit the top charts than games in other categories.

However, reaching the top easily comes at the cost of briefer stays on the charts for Casual games. Once in the Top 10, Arcade & Action games reap the rewards of the Top charts for a longer period than Casual games, averaging a 20 day stay in the Top 10 as opposed to an average of only 12 days for Casual Top 10 charters.

Not only do Arcade & Action games experience a lower turnover rate than Casual games, they also have a much larger reach. In the above table, ‘% Top Games with 1M+ Downloads’ is the ratio of the second over the first column, which gives the percentage of Top 100 games that had at least 1 million downloads. Additionally, ’Minimum Downloads Sum’ is the sum of all games’ downloads that ranked in the Top 100. The Google Play Store gives download counts in ranges, so this metric sums the lower bound of all the ranges of games in each category, so the number is the minimum number of downloads for games in that category.

Though growing in popularity, Casual isn’t a threat to Arcade & Action’s existing popularity as the most played game category. Arcade & Action takes the cake among consumers, having the most games with > 1 Million downloads and over 2X the downloads than Casual games, despite there being roughly the same number of Top 100 apps in each category.

Thus, while reaching the top is harder for Arcade & Action games than Casual, its significantly lower turnover and its larger audience make it the better target for developers. While a few Casual games have recently gained notoriety, top Casual games generally get fewer downloads than similarly ranked Arcade & Action games. The Casual top charts are the most saturated, making it difficult to stick and accrue downloads that make your games more valuable; instead, focus on Arcade & Action games that more easily hold their value by lasting on the top charts and gaining many downloads.

Next time, we will uncover exactly how much momentum it takes to reach the top charts and the surprising apps that were the biggest winners and losers of the 2013 Google Play charts.


  • Luc

    So what is a “casual game” anyway, according to you? In my experience 99% of the games on the Play store are casual games, including the sports, arcade, casino, puzzle and racing games. For me the opposite of a casual game would be a game of skill.

  • JS

    “For me the opposite of a casual game would be a game of skill.”

    I don’t think it has to be. It could be an interactive story, too (like old point-and-click or even text adventures).

    Or it could be a sandbox game (Minecraft?). Or a turn-based strategy game.

    All these games have depth, so they are not casual in the sense of “I am playing for 5 minutes and I already know everything I have to do in the game”. They can be deeply explored, yet they don’t necessarily need a lot of skill or have steep learning curve.