COVID-19 Pandemic and the popularity of mobile games

Over the past year, the mobile gaming market has surprised everyone with its results. Not only those who create the business, but also those who make it thrive...

Over the past year, the mobile gaming market has surprised everyone with its results. Not only those who create the business, but also those who make it thrive. While many companies went into crisis and debt, or even bankruptcy, mobile games generated such a huge amount of revenue that they exceeded developers' expectations and led to many interesting insights from analysts. To put this in perspective, we'd have to take a virtual trip through the year 2020 - from March of that year, when the first suspicions about where the pandemic would take games as a medium and its users began to emerge, to today, when we know that the world has been turned on its head and the global downturn has allowed gamedevs to succeed globally.

Forecasts of analytical giants - what translated into reality?

One of the most popular services, gathering and analyzing statistics on the gaming market - Newzoo, predicted in March 2020 that the mobile gaming industry will change a tremendous amount. In compiling Newzoo's predictions from that time, it should be said that among the main predictions were: increased game time and money spent on games; delayed launch times for Sony and Microsoft's next-gen consoles due to supply chain delays; possible geographic expansion due to cancellations of promotional campaigns (especially in emerging markets where a lot of time and money is spent on launching games); and possible damage to independent developers due to cancellations of industry conferences and events where they could present their achievements and products.

Some of the predictions turned out to be true, but it has to be said that the gaming industry has undergone something of a revolution. A report produced by IDC (International Data Corporation) and LoopMe, titled What Mobile Gaming's 'New Normal' Should Look Like After the COVID-19 Pandemic, found that 6% of mobile gamers did not play any mobile games at all prior to the pandemic. According to data from the report, the pandemic contributed to an increase in the number of users by as much as 12% in 2020 over 2019, to about 2.25 billion calculated last year. The report was dissected based on a survey of 3,850 cell phone users across multiple countries. According to the report, 63% of respondents asserted increased time spent on gaming, but interestingly such increases were signaled to a greater extent in the countries hardest hit by COVID-19, with an estimated 75% of the net increase in mobile gaming activity remaining after the so-called new normal is established over the next two years.

New types of gamers and a revolution in stereotypes

Every one of us is probably familiar with the classic stereotype created from the very beginnings of video games, depicting the gamer as a socially withdrawn, young (usually) male. Such an image, repeatedly reinforced by other media such as film or books, and especially television, has long since disintegrated, and what's more, with the advent of the pandemic, has gone into absolute oblivion. COVID-19 allowed us to take a look inside the gaming market and see how big a revolution has taken place before our eyes. We found out how many people are gamers - even those who don't identify themselves as such - and how valuable a pastime it is to actively play or indirectly participate in gaming under conditions of forced confinement. Pandemic has provided a broader view and analysis of the gamer, and has illuminated the need for stress reduction through gaming. Over the past months and years, game developers have learned how important it is to spend free time with families by playing games together. New audiences are grandparents who want to play games with their grandchildren or parents with more than three children and married couples, as well as independently - people in the 55-64 age range. So the audience for games is definitely more diverse than is commonly acknowledged, and what's more, it is still undergoing many transformations.

Milestones and forecasts for the future

The Gaming Playbook, a report created by GWI and also - Udonis blog, presents very fresh data and forecasts for the future of mobile games (and not only). Their materials not only clearly present the current situation on the market, but also show the latest trends worth discussing.

As it turns out, the biggest changes that can be noted, predict not so much the issues of who plays what games (although also), but what are the genres and types of games that the recipients most often want to play. From the aforementioned sources we may also find out, among other things, what are the three most frequently appearing topics in the described field, what is the advertising market appearing in the area of games, on which devices people most willingly play, what goals do contemporary players have when choosing a game, what problems do they encounter when contacting it, which types of games enjoy unusual popularity or which are undergoing a real renaissance, as well as we may learn about the specificity and characteristics of micropayments made inside applications.

But let's go back to the question: what do gamers look for in entertainment? According to the GWI report, the most frequent themes in the area of playability focus on immersion, competition and the desire to explore created worlds. And according to Samuel Franklin, founder of Games Finder, the growth in mobile game traffic is remarkable. We have seen an unprecedented increase in traffic to our video game recommendation lists, and overall traffic to the site has essentially doubled month over month, clearly showing the demand for games. Specifically on mobile, we saw an 857% increase in traffic to pages related to mobile arcade games, a 590% increase in traffic to pages related to puzzle games and various puzzle variations, and a 368% increase in traffic to pages related to social games. Meanwhile, inactive mobile games saw no increase in traffic during this period, suggesting that consumers definitely need interactive, challenging or social games as they practice social distance themselves through pandemic conditions. I predict that this demand trend will continue for the foreseeable future, but in doing so we expect to see a lot of volatility in the top lists for individual app stores as people are constantly looking for new titles.

The most popular genres and game types during a pandemic

The genres that can be considered the top genres during the pandemic are as follows according to their percentage increases:

  • simulation +24%
  • puzzle/platform +15%
  • strategy +15%
  • battles +14%
  • action/adventure +13%
  • shooters +13%

As for the devices most used for gaming, they will be, in order:

  • 76% smartphone
  • 46% laptop
  • 38% PC
  • 37% various types of consoles
  • 22% tablet
  • 8% VR
  • 5% mobile devices, whereby:
  • 81% smartphone + tablet

Referring to the above breakdown, we can draw conclusions about the strictly global smartphone market, which, being related to the mobile games market, shows forecasts of significant growth in sales of mobile devices and shows what the quantitative estimates of users are. According to Newzoo's calculations, there will be 4.3 billion active users by 2023.

Additionally - a strong growth branch of the mobile games market, has become the area of advertisements implemented in games and micropayments occurring directly in them. Covid-19 contributed to the increase in the number of transactions and also shifted the average amount spent by players on improvements in the game area. The GWI report shows that when it comes to microtransactions done from the device level, they are making a lot of profit. Over the past year, speaking EXCLUSIVELY about mobile gamers - managed to get payment increases in 3 areas:

  • +16% game expansions
  • +26% in-game currency for add-ons
  • +21% season passes

In addition to the clear increases in in-app micropayments, the platforms for trading items and game upgrades also gained more popularity. DMarket founder Vlad Panchenko reported that the turnover of transactions made on DMarket increased by as much as 70% just between February and March 2020 compared to the previous December alone.

In a summary of the available data collected by Sensor Tower in the form of a quarterly report titled Sensor Tower's Q1 2020 Data Digest: Exploring COVID-19's Impact on the Global App Ecosystem, it was already known in April 2020 that games brought nearly 50% increase in interest, with more than half of that growth being generated by Chinese residents.

Will mobile games displace consoles?

After analyzing many reports, but most of all observing the situation in the world, any conclusions about the future of mobile games are in fact hypotheses, which have a good chance of becoming reality. Record spending on mobile games during Q1 2021 alone indicates that users spent $32 billion globally on in-app purchases. With results like these, it's safe to aspire to prognosticate for more than just the immediate future, as the clear trend and tendencies of users confirm the changes taking place in the mobile growth space.

According to the aforementioned Vlad Panchenko, forced isolation is changing people's perceptions to such an extent that we can expect to see the emergence of large-scale in-game businesses such as dating agencies and new virtual bars, clubs and festivals in the near future (which is actually already having a real impact on reality, as online festivals are doing well, while large-scale ventures are still to come).

What do you think?

Will the isolation enforced so far and the possibly forthcoming next one this autumn accelerate the gradual abandonment of the real world in favour of a world where one can live virtually?

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