Casual Cash-rewarding Games Experienced Severe Decline Globally, Especially in Chinese Market

Casual cash-rewarding games that have some simple management and puzzle gameplay are rapidly losing traction after their wild success in the past few years. These types of games exploit the mobile advertisement mechanics by forcing players to sit through ads in return for a cash reward, instead of filling out surveys or spinning lottery wheels as in the traditional cash-rewarding games. Theoretically, this is a profitable business idea as long as the cash reward for players is less than the gross revenue generated by ads.

According to the 2021 statistics released by OpenMediation on the genre, Daily Active Users (DAU) for cash-rewarding games in 2021 Q1-Q2 was down by 32% globally compared to 2020 Q3-Q4. Casual cash-rewarding games suffered the strongest decline by 67%. In terms of geography, the United States, China, and India’s casual cash-rewarding games market share shrank severely, in which the Chinese iOS market for the genre declined by 78%.  

Casual cash-rewarding games gained Chinese media attention in 2019 when the idle game “Sunshine Pig Farm” (阳光养猪场) reached 10 million DAU.  These games attract players to participate by promising them cash rewards if they finish certain in-game tasks. The tasks are usually easy to do but players have to spend a long time watching in-game advertisements. Such business model has a very thin profit margin per player, and its revenue relies heavily on player activity and screen-time. Sometimes the mechanics can feel somewhat predatory, with games also asking players to give their personal data in order to be paid out. Yet still, casual cash-rewarding games enjoyed quite some success among the lower-income demographic.

However, the charms of these games diminished fairly quickly.  Players would soon find out that the cash reward actually has a soft cap by design. For most games, once the reward reaches 90 RMB (about 14 USD), the game no longer generates much cashback. This leads most players to quit the game at that point.

Players also grew tired of the repetitive game mechanics, especially tile-matching. One case to refer to is “Love to Demolish” (爱上消消消). The game was released in Feb 2020, after 4 months of launch; its Monthly Active Users reached 16 million, but already it is in a state of decline, no longer able to attract new players at a meaningful rate.

The final crucial factor for the market decline is due to China’s strong regulation of games. In 2020, cash-rewarding games were mentioned by state-run media multiple times in negative tones, reminding the general public of the potential risks behind these unregulated games. After the new mandate restricting underage access to games, cash-rewarding games will likely also suffer. It is worth noticing that ByteDance recently laid-off employees of their Ohayoo department, the casual game studio behind ByteDance. Many believe this could be a sign of potential heavier restrictions on in-app advertisements, causing casual games to no longer profit.

However, in OpenMediation’s report, there are a few silver linings for the cash-rewarding games. They have seen international growth in task-based cash-rewarding games. Titles such as “Earn Cash Reward: Make Money Playing Games & Music” are popular in the United States, Brazil, and Southeast Asia markets. Perhaps improvements in novelty gameplay and overseas distribution will be the key strategies for Chinese developers.

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