We all talk about all the great ways we can use our smartphones and how cool they are (such as for business, travel, health, shopping etc.), but we have to be honest to ourselves and admit that we mostly use them for playing games. Or else, there would not be 9 games in the Top Grossing apps App Store chart (and 8 in Top Free as well as 7 in Top Paid applications charts). But, as any gamer would tell you playing on your phone is nothing like enjoying Pro Evolution Soccer on your favourite console. However, with smartphone adoption rates soaring we see that the whole gaming ecosystem is changing. Let’s see some interesting numbers first.
- “60% of traditional games are men, while 53% of social mobile gamers are women” (Flurry)
The change is evident here. The demographics have changed a lot in the last years and so did the image of an average gamer. It’s not the unshaved man sitting in front of his computer or console all day, but a person who is always on the go, interacting with her/his friends. The fact that mobile Internet is more available and significantly faster gave way to the rise of the mobile social gaming. Mobile social gamers are younger than average traditional gamers and now games are played more by women (in their late twenties or thirties) than men. It is also important to note that around the same percentage of men and women play games in the age groups 13-17 and 18-25, but when you look at the charts for ages 26-34 and especially 36-44 you could see that percentages for women are significantly higher).
- “49% of smartphone gamers, said they had upgraded a free trial game to the full (paid) version in the past year; a third (34%) of smartphone gamers, said they had paid for additional content for an originally free game in the past year” (Popcap)
In the old days, you went to a store, bought a game (paid full price) and went home to play. You could try it in-store on the console, but that was it. Now, the games are much cheaper and, more importantly, users are used to getting them for free. So developers usually give a limited version for free to get people interested to buy the full version. This brought a change in the marketing strategies as well – developers don’t have to make sure only to get people interested in the game, but to fulfil this promise so that they choose to buy the full version. It’s the Freemium movement at its best.
- “84% of all mobile phone gamers play games at least once a week; 92% of smartphone owners who play mobile games say they play at least once a week, and 45% say they play daily (compared to 35% of all mobile phone gamers). In the 2009 survey, only 13% of mobile phone gamers said they played daily, and 40% said they played weekly or more often” (Popcap)
This is a simple confirmation that mobile gaming trend is there and that is likely to continue. New models of smartphones are introduced on daily basis and they bring more memory, faster processors, better display and graphics as well as the new ways to control the games (ex. accelerometer). So, now people have finally started enjoying the experience (previously marred by the small screen and lousy graphics) and they do it more frequently and for longer periods. We can back this up with the estimate made by eMarketer that mobile gaming revenue will go from $627 million in 2009 to 1.5 billion in 2014.
To sum up, these numbers tell us that people are using their mobile phones as gaming devices much more often than they did before. They are casual gamers, used to pay little (or nothing) for the game and if they like it they are ready to pay more for full versions and/or additional in-app content. It also tells us that gaming is much more social in nature than it used to be which brought about a change in demographics.
And there are several more changes that mobile brought to gaming:
- Small developers can compete once again
You don’t need to have a giant studio, state-of-the-art animation software and hardware to make a killer game. All you need is a great idea, visually pleasing characters and to know how to use social media to make your game go viral. Basically, you can make a new big name in the gaming industry from scratch – look just how Rovio did it in less than two years.
- No new virtual worlds, please – just keep it short and simple
People want games which can be played while waiting for the bus, or during a coffee break. Make it intuitive enough and keep play controls to the bare minimum of complexity and the game will stand a chance. People don’t want to learn how to play the game anymore, but just to take their phone out and “kill” a couple of minutes.
- Games try to move to real-life
When you play a console game you create a virtual world in which you are a soldier on the field, basketball player, emperor or Formula 1 driver. On the other side, mobile gaming tries to turn your life into a game by using location-based services, augmented reality features, connecting you with your friends through social networks, etc.
- It’s all about groups now
A couple of weeks ago, there was a great article on GigaOM about how in order to be successful mobile apps have to make a switch from individual user to a group as their targets. This applies to games, too. If you want a game app to really be a success you have to make every possible effort to include player’s friends into the game-play or you will stay “the best-kept secret of the App Store” which no developer wants, right?
Finally, we can say that people still prefer to play console games and enjoy the full gaming experience, but that casual mobile gaming is having a big boom. Both types will continue to have their user-bases increasing and perhaps some of the attempts to move the two worlds together (such as Xperia Play or, more likely – tablets) might even be successful in the near future. We’ll see… Now “the games must go on”.
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