Hardly anyone writes or talks about the genre of mobile games called "color-by-numbers" (coloring, paint by number). Even so, games in this genre collectively generate about 30 million installs per month. What is happening in this niche and is it worth entering? We discussed this with Beresnev Games, ZiMAD, and Belka Games.

1. What is currently happening in the genre? It seems that over the last five years, not much has changed. The top 10 games in the genre have reached a plateau of 16-18 million monthly downloads, and they have stayed there.

Oleg Beresnev — Owner and CPO of Beresnev Games

The genre has indeed stabilized. The attraction of an audience to the genre has reached its peak, and in my opinion, the audience size has exhausted its potential for growth.

Anastasiya Pavlyuchenko — Lead Marketing Manager at ZiMAD

Installations within the genre are not growing. One could say the genre is stagnating. In the past few years, among classic color-by-number and pixel coloring games, the leaders of the genre have not changed, and new games appear less frequently and fail to break into the top unless they bring something new to the genre. There is a copying of common approaches to creatives, landing graphics, and mimicking genre leaders.

Besides classic coloring, there are also coloring games with meta decoration and those with dramatic narratives. However, their audience is much smaller than that of classic ones.

Among classic colorings, there are applications that distinguish themselves from competitors through different positioning.

For example, Vita Color for Seniors is presented as a puzzle for the elderly, adapted for people with vision problems, with all UI elements enlarged.

Another example is Zen Color, positioned as a relaxation coloring book. Its creatives specifically emphasize this, using meditative images in marketing campaigns. This approach yields results. Despite being released in 2021, its audience has grown. Since early 2024, in the US, the number of installations for Zen Color has surpassed those for Happy Color.

Downloads of leading games in the genre in the USA

2. How competitive is the niche? And what is happening with traffic costs within it?

Oleg Beresnev — Owner and CPO of Beresnev Games

The competition is quite intense, especially hard to compete with coloring games that have large volumes of an established audience. Some players in the market have long since secured their position in this genre and possess considerable resources for scaling and promoting.

For new games, creating a competitive position in this segment is a very challenging task. Due to strong competition in attracting gameplay creatives, traffic costs can be quite high. It's crucial to have a traffic payback strategy, excellent long-term retention metrics, and a smart balance of IAP/ad monetization.

Anastasiya Pavlyuchenko — Lead Marketing Manager at ZiMAD

Competition is strong, but when it comes to advertising, we can't say that one game takes all the traffic. Both genre leaders and newer products appear in the top creatives. Traffic costs are rising, similar to other genres. Based on data from open sources, CPI in the USA for Android starts at $1.2. On small volumes, installations can be obtained at this cost, but with scaling, the price significantly increases.

3. During the peak years of the genre's popularity (2018-2019), top projects made money through IAPs. Now, according to analytics services, it seems the situation has changed. How are such applications monetized?

Oleg Beresnev — Owner and CPO of Beresnev Games

Ad monetization plays a primary role. Combined with good long-term retention, games pay off through ads. IAP monetization is based on customization, exclusive offers, a variety of game experiences, but not on losses, which significantly complicates the monetization and game design of projects where the core mechanic is coloring.

Anastasiya Pavlyuchenko — Lead Marketing Manager at ZiMAD

Yes, it's true that until 2020, some projects made money from IAPs, often pixel coloring books. Then new competitors started to appear in large numbers, and the market gradually shifted predominantly to an ad monetization model.

Purchases and subscriptions certainly remain part of the income, but in modern coloring books, most of the content is either entirely free or available for in-game currency.

For some time, a coloring game with a decor meta (where there is more space for IAP monetization) was at the top in terms of IAP revenue, but for the past two years, the project's revenue has been on par with classic coloring games. Currently, projects with subscription options are at the top in terms of IAP revenue.

Revenue of top games in the USA

Pavel Sudakov — Head of R&D at Belka Games

During the peak years of popularity, IAP earnings were episodic. Large projects had exactly one IAP: disabling ads. They earned something from this, but it was negligible. Advertising is the driver of monetization in coloring games.

4. It seems like a simple genre, but is it really? How much can developing a competitive game in the genre cost?

Oleg Beresnev — Owner and CPO of Beresnev Games

Developing a competitive project where coloring is the main mechanic will not be cheap, even though it might seem that way at first glance. Additional monthly expenses for producing pictures, offers, events need to be considered. Since long-term retention is crucial in projects of this genre, you will need a lot of content and a well-thought-out game flow for at least 360 game days.

Additionally, if you add a meta element like decor to a coloring game, it can increase costs by 1.5 to 2 times.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenko — Lead Marketing Manager at ZiMAD

In terms of app architecture, coloring games are simple and relatively inexpensive to develop. This leads to high competition in the market. To maintain any position, the product must be technically optimized perfectly. Many teams fail at this point and lag significantly behind the leaders. To make substantial earnings, you need very experienced specialists in traffic acquisition, monetization, and ASO, otherwise, the acquisition budget won't match up. The number of companies with such specialists can be counted on one hand. So, "it's easy, but it's hard".

Pavel Sudakov — Head of R&D at Belka Games

We once thought the same. Since then, we have not returned to the coloring genre.

Coloring by numbers has its details (pardon the pun). The images must be meticulously crafted and meet certain conditions for coloring.

Market leaders supply dozens of pages of such content daily. As of 2019, our team had 10 artists, and we also collaborated with outsourced studios. Even under these circumstances, we couldn't meet the user demand for new content.

Artists in this genre have specific expertise — if they fail, it will be difficult to switch them to other studio projects.

Note: Yes, back then, there was no AI. But I don't think it will significantly reduce costs. The main snag in its use was and remains the details.

5. What sets market leaders apart from numerous imitators in the genre?

Oleg Beresnev — Owner and CPO of Beresnev Games

Very good long-term retention plus a large player base accumulated since the early days of the genre.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenko — Lead Marketing Manager at ZiMAD

The unchanging leader in the genre, Happy Color, stands out from competitors (and attracts a new audience) through the use of content from major IPs (like Disney and Marvel), collaborations, unique content tied to global events, and charity. The game also has a large community with various activities related to in-app content regularly conducted.

To summarize, the recipe for a good project is a large amount of free and diverse content (different art styles, unique images, work with creators, promotion through storytelling, etc.), convenient UI, and the absence of aggressive advertising.

It's also worth noting that coloring games as a genre developed very dynamically in terms of content (animated pictures, glitter pictures, segmented pictures, etc.), leading to the most significant variety of content categories and classifications. This is primarily a content-driven game, and you can stand out by offering something new to the user, whether it's a game mode, picture style, or player motivation.

Pavel Sudakov — Head of R&D at Belka Games

For us, we concluded that what sets market leaders apart is first and foremost the ability to acquire traffic very well and cheaply. Secondly, they have a vast (huge) amount of content. We might be wrong in our conclusions, but personally, we won't return to this niche without meeting these two points. The products themselves don't contain any unique know-how. Most likely, it isn't needed there.

And the main question: Is it worth entering the niche now?

Oleg Beresnev — Owner and CPO of Beresnev Games

Do not proceed without the following components:

  • Having experience in similar games, necessary to understand the weaknesses of this genre in user monetization;
  • Well-established and optimized processes for creating a large number of pictures;
  • An understanding of how you will reduce the cost of attracting an audience to your coloring game, as attracting through gameplay creatives is maxed out by current genre giants.

Anastasiya Pavlyuchenko — Lead Marketing Manager at ZiMAD

If you understand how to stand out from other coloring games profitably, how to promote the game at a low cost, and how to make it technically high-quality.

The mechanics are definitely not "dying" and won't disappear in the coming years; they have their large audience, and the retention metrics (stickiness, DAU, RR) for the genre are stable. However, like all genres, it seems that coloring games are heading towards hybridization.

Currently, in the top installations in adjacent genres are hyper-casual projects related to coloring (Color Match, Drawing Carnival, Color Page ASMR). It might be worth looking at such projects and adding a bit of "fun" to classic coloring games through mini-mechanics.

Pavel Sudakov — Head of R&D at Belka Games

In my opinion, both now and then, there have been and still are more interesting niches. I would not recommend it.