The latest report from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) states that roughly one-third of all Americans of age 13 and older play mobile games on some sort of portable device, be it a smartphone or a tablet. The research also finds that this has not negatively impacted the amount of gaming on other platforms, such as consoles or PCs. This would suggest mobile is only an addition, rather than replacement, for traditional gaming habits. This makes sense given what mobile is theoretically supposed to be about – catching a few quick rounds of Bejeweled or perhaps solving a word puzzle or two on the lengthy bus commute home.
The number seems both big and small. One one hand, one-third of Americans translates to roughly 100 million people, a huge market for game developers and publishers to aim for. The prevalence of smartphones and marketing tools, such as social media, further make it easier to reach these audiences. On the other hand, Engadget reported back in February that two-thirds of Americans owned a smartphone of some sort, so only half of them dabble in video games. This means that there is another 100 million people who could be converted to the virtual entertainment with proper advertising or game types.
However, mobile gaming consuming one-third of all kids and adults is more than just the byproduct of smartphones prevalence in America. Many new game models have been developed over the years, taking advantage of the on-the-goal, always-on nature of the devices and the little boring pauses in everyday life.
Classic puzzle titles such as Bejeweled, Threes or Angry Birds are broken into short rounds which could be played in five or ten minutes. Standing in line at the post office, commuting by public transit, or even waiting at a restaurant for a friend who is late all created little pockets of time these games filled up. Their simplicity and colorful graphics also meant a lower barrier to entry, attracting new demographics who have never tried video games before. Hence, the stereotype of mothers getting addicted to Candy Crush was born.
For more involved gamers, titles such as Clash of the Clans or Minecraft provided a bit more strategy and depth. These games took advantage of the smartphone 3G networks, creating persistent environments and connecting players from all across the world. Unlike traditional massively-multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft and Destiny, these titles once again provide the little bit of online mayhem and social interactions on-the-go, without needing to sacrifice half of the evening just to enjoy the pastime.
While the above mobile games leveraged the strengths of the platform to create engaging new play-styles, some soared in popularity for a variety of other reasons. The recent Kim Kardashian game, which has been projected to bring in as much as $85 million in revenue, used the likeness of a famous celebrity to bring more fans into the gaming world. On the other hand, Flappy Bird, which was netting its Vietnamese developer as much as $50,000 a day, had no real marketing hook except for its utterly unforgiving difficulty. Viral word-of-mouth sharing and, perhaps, the sheer vocal frustration of the players pushed it into the top-seller category.
Mobile games have come a long way since the early days of pixelated Tetris and Snake clones played with the awkward number pad. The prevalence of smart phones providing greater processing power, improved touch screens, as well as always-on Internet helped create new niches and models for developers to exploit. Quick to play bite-sized rounds, persistent social worlds requiring consistent check-ins, as well as the various monetization strategies helped attract new audiences. With so many options to distract oneself from the occasional long lines and delays, it is no surprise that mobile games are now played by one-third of all kids and adults in America.
By Jakub Kasztalski