As we get ready to bid a fond farewell to 2014, it’s time to prepare for what lies ahead in 2015. Prophecy is a chancy business at best – and as Cassandra found out, it can be especially frustrating when you’re correct in your visions but nobody listens. Still, the [a]listdaily is ready to take a risk and make some educated guesses about what will be the major trends in mobile gaming for 2015.
What follows are some of the important trends that are sweeping the fast-growing mobile gaming market.
Strong Growth of Mobile Gaming Continues
This predictions not much of a stretch. The analysts who study the gaming market may disagree about the precise numbers, but there’s one common thing they all agree on: Mobile gaming is growing strongly. Mobile gaming has already become the largest segment of the gaming industry, and with an annual growth rate for next year predicted to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 20% that will be even more true at the end of 2015.
What’s propelling this growth Several factors, but the most important one is continued strong sales of smartphones and tablets. While Apple’s iPad sale may have leveled off this year, the company still sells more iPads in one quarter than the total number of PlayStation 4 consoles sold in a year. Android tablets are gaining share, and with more power and lower prices, the latest generation of Android tablets will be used more and more for game playing. Smartphones continue to get more powerful and more popular around the world. While the Western markets are becoming more of a replacement market for smartphones rather than new users, there is still substantial growth in countries like India and China. This year saw the sales of 1.2 billion smartphones worldwide, and that’s an amazing number of game-playing devices.
The revenue possible from the top mobile games continues to grow. Supercell is predicted to generate $1.8 billion in revenue this year, the majority of that from Clash of Clans – making that game comparable to the leading game moneymakers on any platform. We’ll likely be seeing mobile games that make $5 million a day or more in 2015.
Console and PC Games Come to Mobile
That means more than just a mobile game based on the same brand as a successful console or PC game – we’ll be seeing the same gameplay as the console or PC version on a mobile platform. Yes, we’ve seen most major new console titles accompanied by mobile games that act to extend the gammeplay experience, or even give you a separate experience from the console game. FIFA Ultimate Team, for example, has been a huge success for Electronic Arts, and certainly helps sell more copies of the conole and PC versions of FIFA as well as generating substantial revenue in its own right.
What we’ll see more of in 2015 are mobile games that are nearly pure ports of PC or console games. One of the first ones this year is Skylanders: Trap Team, which has taken the unprecedented step of including a Bluetooth console-like controller with the basic set for tablets – at the exact same price as the console version of the base set. “Brilliant,” said analyst Michael Pachter about this move by Activision. This effectively makes a family’s tablet into a console as far as the Skylander’s player is concerned, and not incidentally freeing up the TV for other uses.
That’s not the only move to take PC and console games more directly to tablets. Blizzard has had remarkable success with Hearthstone, its digital card game, which plays exactly the same way on a tablet as it does on a PC. That, in turn, is helping hardcore gamers see tablets as a useful, inexpensive portable gaming device – especially when compared to a laptop. Wargaming has also done a very creditable job of taking World of Tanks to tablets with World of Tanks Blitz, bringing the essence of the PC gameplay to the tablet environment. Expect to see more console and PC titles heading to mobile in 2015, bringing the same gameplay along.
Core Gaming on Mobile Grows
Up until now casual games have dominated mobile game revenues, but this is beginning to change. We’re already seeing deeper strategy and RPG games appearing in the Top Ten lists, like Clash of Clans, Game of War: Fire Age, and Puzzle & Dragons. Publishers realize that while a purely casual game like Candy Crush Saga can reach an amazingly large audience, it tends to do so without much monetization. Deeper games tend to bring higher monetization rates as players get more engaged for a longer period of time.
Even Apple is noticing this, featuring the unabashedly hardcore MOBA Vainglory in its latest iPhone ads. Publishers are going to be bringing other genres to mobile devices, and generally deeper gameplay, in the hopes of keeping players engaged longer and spending more. The real trick will be to attract the broadest possible audience into a game that has the depth of the best core games. We’ll see some attempts by major publishers to do just that in 2015.
The Return of Premium
Mobile games were initially sold for prices ranging upwards of $10 or more in some cases, but as the market became more crowded we saw prices driven downwards. Many games had a free Light version that served to entice you into buying the Premium version that cos a few dollars. When in-app purchases were enabled, the free-to-play games started to take off, and now dominate mobile gaming.
But that’s not the only way to make money on mobile games, nor even the best one for types of games. Many indie developers have done much beter with paid games, such as Monument Valley. Certain game types, such as strongly story-based games, don’t make sense as a free-to-play game, but are perfectly suited to a small up-front fee.
In 2015 we’ll see more games with an up-front cost, and more experimentation by publishers with variations on monetization schemes. Free-to-play games are great moneymakers when they work properly, but it seems odd to leave 95 percent or more of your audience paying nothing whatsoever to play your game. Advertising, subscriptions, sponsorships and other methods of monetization will get more chances in 2015 to see if there’s more than one path into a gamer’s wallet.
Finally, this trend is an important one in the ever more competitive mobile game market. There are more than enough me-too games out there, and it’s very hard to connect with an audience and keep it engaged when there are so many other games to play. The biggest players can do all right without being too creative, because they already have a huge audience or a huge warchest – they can coast along on those advantages for a while without the need to be too creative. But publishers and developers, especially smaller ones, are realizing that creativity is an inexpensive way to be successful, though risky.
Creativity in game design is where it starts, but for real success you need creativity in marketing, monetization, community, and every aspect of the business. This is a golden age for games, but the gold is going to go to the most creative developers and publishers in the long run as the global compatitions heats up. Why is a tiny developer like Supercell generating more revenue from a handful of mobile games than massive Electronic Arts with hundreds of mobile games Perhaps there’s some luck in there, but there’s certainly a lot of creativity.
Look for the interesting, unusual, and creative ideas in game design, marketing, and other parts of the mobile game business to see more success in 2015. That’s where you’ll find the new entries in the top-grossing game lists.