Thanks to an increase in cross-platform titles and improvements to mobile hardware and mobile internet infrastructure, including the rollout of 5G networks, mobile gaming was the global gaming market’s largest segment in 2019, growing +10.2% year-on-year (source: Newzoo). And while that growth is slowing in mature markets, such as North America, Western Europe and Japan, players in emerging markets like Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East and North Africa are increasingly clicking on gaming apps.
The mobile gaming industry represents 45% of the global games market (source: Newzoo). But how has such a relatively new industry become so widely popular, and so quickly? Many would say the answer is simple: we are spending more and more time on our smartphones, and therefore we are increasingly likely to dedicate time spent swiping and scrolling to mobile gaming.
Think of Angry Birds, which launched in 2009. What started out as an attention-grabbing, sling-shot game that people downloaded onto their first touchscreen phone has today reached billions of players and even been turned into a film franchise. And as smartphones have grown more sophisticated, mobile versions of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and multiplayer online battle arena game Vainglory are rapidly proving that devices are able to deliver the kind of high-end gaming entertainment we’ve come to expect from PCs and consoles.
So, what does the future hold? Smartphones might be making video games accessible to a huge global audience and blockbuster releases are causing a buzz, but controversies around in-app purchases can’t be ignored.
Want to know more about the gaming marketing industry in 2020? Make sure to read our new report ‘Gaming Marketing 2020: Trends to Stay Ahead of the Game’.
A brand-building opportunity
More gamers means more potential customers, and so mobile gaming and in-app environments will be an increasingly attractive arena for brands and advertisers looking to reach just about any demographic.
And while audiences have become used to deploying ad blockers when using the internet, they appear to be more tolerant of adverts that grant access to free mobile games – one survey found 72% of respondents actually like playing and interacting with ads in exchange for in-app currency or premium content (source: Tapjoy). These so-called ‘rewarded videos’ are proving to be popular for two reasons: they communicate a marketing message and maintain a positive user experience by not interrupting the action in the same way that native ads, banners and other in-game formats can.
Social joins the game
The sense of reward that comes with playable and interactive ads is something social media platforms can’t really rival. A survey by US-based mobile advertising company Tapjoy asked users how they felt when playing mobile games compared to scrolling through social media:
Games : Social
59% : 44% relaxed
37% : 28% engaged
11% : 17% stressed
Rather than passively consuming content, whether that’s looking at an Instagram feed or watching television, gaming gives people a focus. And you only have to look at the online friendships forged on Twitch to see how multiplayer games like Fortnite have created a community. In this way, the live streaming platform serves as a social network for fans who gather to play, watch people compete and share strategies. In February 2019, millions of gamers virtually attended DJ Marshmello’s online concert.
Mobile-first companies are rushing to keep up. Facebook has introduced a gaming tab for streaming content, Snapchat has launched its own gaming platform and Google recently launched its cloud gaming offer Stadia – creating potential streams of advertising revenue and creating new opportunities for marketers in the process.
And just as social offers shoppable features, so does gaming. In 2019, in collaboration with Adidas and Dick’s Sporting Goods, Snapchat launched Baseball’s Next Level in which gamers are able to purchase the Adidas 8-bit products worn by the athletes on-screen, including the Icon V Cleats. And it’s not just Snapchat putting the play into purchasing. At the end of 2019, it was reported that TikTok was introducing playable ads that would allow customers in East Asia to get a taste of the game or app they were about to purchase.
Other brands getting to grips with the sector include Unilever, which recently released its Magnum-branded Pleasure Hunt gaming franchise to mobile devices. Vehicle manufacturer Ford continues to back its Fordzilla esports team and Coca-Cola’s mobile gaming initiatives are a masterclass in boosting brand awareness. As an early adopter, its first all-digital campaign saw the launch of The AHH Effect in 2013, which involved a series of online games aimed at teenagers. And, as product placement gains traction across gaming, TV and film, the soft drink now appears in Nordcurrent’s hit food game Cooking Fever.
Related Read: Gaming Marketing: The Social Media Game Plan
Tackling negative headlines
Many advertisers view mobile gaming as a very brand-safe channel. Because the content is controlled by the app developer, advertisers know their ads are only visible in environments they are happy for their brands to be connected with, meaning there’s less risk of being associated with any negatively perceived user-generated content.
However, mobile gaming isn’t immune to controversy. Headlines highlight an increase in mobile game addiction and chart the contention surrounding the money spent on purchases within ‘free’ games. Going forward, the industry will need to reassure existing and potential gamers that it has their best interests at heart and respond to any best practice framework or legislative changes that might be introduced. In the UK, at the end of 2019, a House of Commons committee advised loot boxes should be regulated like gambling, and children barred from purchasing them (a topic we explore further in this blog post). While in China, the industry is recovering from the 2018 licensing freeze on monetising mobile games. As app developers look for more ways to make money from their gaming content in a fiercely competitive market, it seems they will have to consider ways of securing sources of revenue that don’t dig into gamers’ pockets.
Related Read: Paying to Play: New Monetisation Models in Gaming
Gaming is no longer a niche hobby: every smartphone is a console, which means that everyone – wherever they are – can be a gamer. So as the number of gamers skyrockets, and the typical gamer demographic diversifies, brands will have a greater opportunity to reach existing and new customers through mobile gaming. To find out more about mobile gamers, and the gaming marketing industry in 2020, you can read our latest report here.