Mobile has been the fastest growing area of gaming for the past few years, and it doesn’t look like 2018 will be an exception. But with the mobile market becoming increasingly saturated, developers and publishers will need to innovate in order to stand out, and that could mean taking advantage of the latest technological offerings.
Last fall, Apple and Google individually announced support for augmented reality (AR), and at the same time, extremely high-end mobile devices such as the iPhone X and Razer Phone were introduced to the market. Combined, these technologies open the potential for more powerful gaming experiences in the coming year.
Although it’s impossible to tell for certain what the main driver for mobile growth will be in 2018, SuperData senior data analyst Alec Nezin told AListDaily that the main driver for game growth will come from porting popular PC games to mobile devices. He explains that the trend is already in full effect in Asia with the success of games such as Honor of Kings (aka Arena of Valor), a League of Legends clone. Furthermore, the Asian market has popular massively multiplayer online (MMO) games such as Fantasy Westward Journey, Lineage and others. Additionally, there are first-person shooters like Crossfire and battle royale games such as Rules of Survival inspired by Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds.
Meanwhile, Newzoo’s head of mobile Jelle Kooistra believes the industry will mainly benefit from an increase in smartphone users, particularly in emerging markets including the Middle East, Latin America, South East Asia and China. He predicts that the market will see 300 million additional smartphone users in the coming year, reaching a total base of 2.9 billion.
As consumers in the West grow more accustomed to paying for services and games, which Kooistra says is still considered taboo in many countries, the overall effect will be greater demand for quality mobile games. This will lead developers to innovate with new genres, interesting gameplay experiences and crossovers with franchises from pop culture.
Lawrence Koh, general manager at Nexon M, agrees that innovation will be key, stating, “If I think about what has been driving step function growth of the mobile game space over the last few years, my belief is that it’s the new, unique and innovative games that are able to create a new category of gameplay.”
Koh cited Clash Royale—which became one of the highest grossing games of 2017—as an example, as well as Pokémon GO, which helped ignite excitement for augmented reality and geolocation tracking games.
Although fans might be excited for upcoming augmented reality games such as Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, made by Pokémon GO developer Niantic, opinions are divided on whether AR will be a major trend in 2018.
“[AR] has yet to truly take off on mobile in a meaningful way,” said Nezin. “The AR market is most definitely expanding, but not yet at a pace that it will drive mobile market revenue significantly. Top games in this category still pale in comparison to other categories, and they have yet to fully monetize.”
But having a Harry Potter-themed mobile AR game releasing in 2018 along with Apple’s entry into the space with the iPhone X and ARKit development tools has the others more optimistic about the near future of the technology.
“I believe we will start seeing not only an increasing number of AR gaming apps but AR gaming apps becoming commercially successful,” said Koh.
“We’re excited by how AR has captured the imagination of gamers around the world,” said Kim. “It’s still early days for AR, but we believe long-term AR and other next-gen platforms like chat have the potential to reshape the accessibility and social nature of mobile gaming.”
Kooistra added that he hopes to see the first mobile AR success stories in 2018, but is even more curious to see how the technology will impact platforms outside of gaming.
“Snapchat’s filters are only a small preview of what is possible with today’s technologies, and I can’t wait to see what developers will bring to the table next,” Kooistra said.
Augmented reality was backed by the introduction of some extremely high-end mobile devices, particularly the iPhone X and Razer Phone, to drive more powerful gaming experiences. But whether or not these premium phones will make a lasting impact on the mobile market remains to be seen.
Both Kim and Koh see the introduction of the iPhone X as a major event that may have lasting impacts on the mobile industry.
“Any type of hardware that brings with it new excitement about apps will have an impact on the mobile gaming market,” Kim explained. “Anything that increases device time is generally good for the mobile gaming business. With new devices like the iPhone X, people are spending more time on their phones, and the technology on these devices helps to underscore the quality of some mobile games on the market.”
Koh said that high-end specifications will help developers make mobile games look and play better, narrowing the gap between mobile titles and console/PC games, which speaks to Nezin’s earlier point.
Kooistra is less convinced. He said high-end mobile devices—such as the iPhone X, Samsung Galaxy Note and Razer Phone—are powerful gaming platforms, but they appeal to relatively small audience.
“Users with these devices will be more inclined to try out the latest and greatest apps, but in the end, they will only reach a small subset of consumers—most of which will be upgrading from a different high-end device,” he said. “Because most mobile games want to reach as many potential players as possible, developers tend to find a sweet spot for good graphics and compatibility with devices that are at least two-to-three years old.”
Nezin agreed, saying free-to-play mobile games will always depend on having huge user numbers.
“Game makers will invest in making games look as good as possible on the latest hardware (e.g., Vainglory supports high frame rates on devices like the Razer Phone),” Nezin said. “However, we’re not about to see many games focus on high-end devices at the expense of the vast majority of mobile gamers.”