Game on: Mobile gaming explodes after sector poised to surpass $120bn during pandemic

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    An avatar is displayed in an arranged photograph of the Honour of Kings mobile game, developed by Tencent Holdings Ltd., in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. The mobile smash, where professional doppelgangers get paid to help newbies climb both social and gaming ladders, is expected to generate as much as $3 billion in revenue this year.

    There has been phenomenal growth in gaming on computers, among all ages, as a series of lockdowns killed out-of-home entertainment.

    Georgina Crouth

    First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

    For the first time, mobile gaming has been more lucrative than home and handheld consoles, such as PlayStation, Atari and Nintendo Wii, or PCs.

    Trusted mobile and analytics platform App Annie’s latest 2021 Mobile Gaming Teardown Report, which provides an in-depth insight into the mobile gaming industry, reveals how the pandemic fuelled an enormous spike in demand for gaming, by all ages – and there is no sign of a slowdown.

    A billion-dollar industry

    In March 2020, weekly downloads first surpassed the one billion mark and the numbers have remained steady. That’s a 25% increase on 2019’s numbers, with an escalating worth in the first half of 2021 of $1.7-billion (40% growth in revenue from pre-pandemic levels).

    Gamers spent five billion hours of playtime a week (a 35% increase on 2019 numbers), which cost about $9 per device a month (a 45% increase over two years).

    Contrast that with the numbers from 2014, when mobile gaming first exploded and total revenues hit $27.4-billion. By the end of 2021, the mobile gaming market is expected to reach $120-billion (about R1,782-trillion) – more than three times the value of consoles, at $38.7-billion.

    More games than ever before are generating millions of dollars a month. The report said consumers migrated more of their digital games consumption on to mobile this year, with more than 810 games surpassing $1-million in consumer spend each month, on average, in the first half of the year (H1), with seven games surpassing the $100-million mark. This was up 25% from 2019, when consumers spent more than $1-million on 650 games. Only two surpassed $100-million in monthly spend.

    Covid-19 is the reason for the massive surge in demand for gaming. Lockdowns were instituted the world over and other entertainment evaporated, driving consumers to invest in home entertainment.

    The report’s insights are from App Annie’s Game IQ tool, an app that offers market-level views of the game universe, including industry insights, mobile gaming market trends, best practices, case studies on the top-performing games and top charts spanning 20 markets.

    Smart and mobile

    Across the world, mobile game adoption is surging, especially in emerging markets, driven by smartphone adoption by the expanding middle class.

    Gaming is now more accessible than ever, thanks to advances in technical capabilities and the increased connectivity of mobile devices. With console and mobile experiences merging, mobile devices are now capable of offering console-like graphics and game-play experiences along with cross-platform competitive and social gaming features.

    A third of those gaming on handheld devices said they do so for the story and narrative. Better connectivity, screen size and hardware have also enabled consumers to enjoy premium gaming experiences on the go.

    India is the world’s biggest game market by downloads; the next closest gaming nations are the US, Brazil, Indonesia and Russia, which the report notes present a “ripe opportunity for local and foreign mobile game publishers and investors. They are poised for stellar growth in the coming years.”

    South Africa does not feature in the world’s top 20 gaming markets.  

    American consumers spend the most on games in the app store, whereas the Asia-Pacific area is the world’s biggest region for consumer spend in mobile games, accounting for more than 45% of market share. Growth in that region’s market share has levelled out, though, with the US, Germany and the UK catching up. Saudi Arabia and Turkey saw phenomenal growth in consumer spend on mobile games in 2020 (about 60% and 35% respectively) compared to 2019.

    All ages

    The percentage of gamers aged 55 to 64 grew by 32% in two years.

    In most markets, games “lean towards” Generation Z (born between the mid-to late 1990s and the early 2010s), the report notes, with Roblox and Among Us! the clear favourites among younger demographics around the world, whereas “Match 3 Games” such as Candy Crush and Homescapes perform better among Millennials and Gen X/Baby Boomers.

    Gender gaps also appeared on a regional basis. Mobile game usage in the US is strongly female (64% of users are female). The only other big regions that have more male than female gamers on mobile are Japan (56% male) and South Korea (53% male).

    In Western markets, most mobile gamers are women. Among Us! and Roblox are also played by more women than men. Pokémon GO is popular globally but tends to skew towards a male audience.

    China is steadily gaining global gaming market share, surpassing US consumer spend in some markets in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa for the first time.

    Case study

    Interestingly, the report notes in a case study that the Roblox player consumption model has helped lead to wild growth during the 2020 Covid-fuelled mobile game boom and has driven players to spend more money on Roblox than on any other mobile game during 2021.

    Roblox isn’t exactly a game, the report says: it’s a platform where players can engage with (and buy) a huge catalogue of games made by third-party creators. These games range from tiny hyper-casual style challenges (where players can drive a hot-dog car into a chomping mouth) to vast open worlds.

    “This is all made possible by a global community of millions of developers who leverage Roblox’s PC/Mac-based creator tools. It’s technically free-to-play, but the games include in-app purchases for useful items like a magical weapon or power-up.”

    Roblox is now a multiplatform blockbuster that recently executed a $45-billion initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. The revenue model has helped propel Roblox to the top mobile game revenue spot in the US and UK for five consecutive quarters since Q2 2020, and number one worldwide in 2021.

    “Roblox’s boost from pandemic lockdown is not a simple matter of ‘all boats float with the rising tide’. The game excelled because it offered exactly what the market needed: friendships.” DM168

    This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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