Mobile gaming has seen more than its fair share of shake-ups and growth this year, possibly leading to an even bigger year in 2017. From the phenomenal success of Pokémon GO to Apple’s new policies regarding subscription models, some major changes are coming ahead. However, the problem with discovery and engagement in an ever-growing sea of apps, where many users delete new apps after about a week, remains a persistent issue.
Storm8, maker of Dream City: Metropolis, has over 50 million monthly active users across its worldwide network and is always on the lookout for gaming trends. These include what times of the year players are most engaged and how adding a sense of competition to casual games can bring them to the next level.
Terence Fung, Storm8’s chief strategy officer, recently spoke with [a]listdaily to talk about what’s ahead in 2017 for mobile gaming.
How will Apple’s subscription models impact mobile gaming next year?
Since Apple announced a way to facilitate subscription revenue for game developers last summer, a number of developers have already introduced a subscription component (Seriously’s Best Fiends Forever, Ubisoft’s Just Dance, Smule apps, etc.). Subscriptions benefit developers from a revenue standpoint given a higher revenue share with the app stores, potential promotion of customer loyalty and revenue predictability. For 2017, I expect developers to launch games with fresh game mechanics and/or episodic content that’s highly valued by consumers and are much better tailored for subscriptions. By the end of 2017, there will be a new top 50 grossing game that garners more than 50 percent of its revenue from subscriptions.
Do you think mobile game subscriptions will grow to become the norm in 2017?
We should expect most games in 2017 to be built as free-to-download, with in-app purchase remaining the dominant business model. That being said, mobile game subscriptions will free a set of developers to innovate on the content and services that are best suited for that business model (e.g., episodic content, enhanced communications, VIP services, etc.). This will gain traction in 2017 and continue to grow moving forward.
How important will eSports and livestreaming be to the growth and promotion of mobile games in the coming year?
ESports will have a huge presence in 2017. The eSports market is already projected to break $1 billion in revenue in 2017, and television networks like ESPN and Turner Broadcasting have begun to invest heavily in broadcasting competitive video games like League of Legends and Counter-Strike. Popular mobile games like Vainglory and Clash Royale are already hosting successful tournaments with millions tuning in to their live online broadcasts, and the Amazon Appstore recently held a tournament (Amazon Champions of Fire) for casual mobile gamers on Twitch. Even so, we are still in the very early days, given the market fragmentation with game publishers, league owners, broadcasters and influencers all jockeying for longer term market strength.
Mobile game livestreaming is also still in its early days. While gaining popularity, only a handful of leading games today have the elements that are best suited for livestreaming: synchronous PvP (Clash Royale), fast paced multi-player (Critical Ops) and/or a scaled, vibrant community (Minecraft Pocket Edition). But with thousands of games pushing forward on innovation mixed with heavy investments from the likes of Apple and Google, as well as nimble, emerging companies like Mobcrush, expect to see mobile game livestreaming skyrocket in 2017.
How will mobile games overcome the issue of discovery in the app stores? What will mobile games need in order to stand out in the coming year?
The most obvious way mobile games are attempting to stand out and achieve better app store discoverability is by leveraging already recognized brands. In the top grossing charts, there’s no shortage of recognizable brands including Pokémon, Marvel, Star Wars and The Walking Dead.
For 2017, we’ll increasingly see strong IP from the PC/console world launched on mobile. We already saw Nintendo and DeNA partner for Super Mario Run, and Square Enix is working with Machine Zone on a Final Fantasy XV mobile game. I expect at least five mobile games based on PC/console brands to crack the top 30 grossing list before the end of 2017.
Mobile developers will also continue pushing on various marketing channels to attract new audiences, ranging from television to social media channels. Sustained campaigns will be challenging for traditional marketing, so we’ll likely see developers concentrating ad buys in certain channels and at specific times during the year to maximize yields.
Ultimately, for games to truly stand out and sustain, the bottom line is the game must be fresh and fun in the eyes of the consumer. The challenge for developers will be to deliver that experience in a manner that’s truly appropriate for a mobile audience—i.e. easily understandable in the first few minutes, yet holding much deeper gameplay; playable in multiple sessions per day with the potential for much longer session lengths; and a monetization model that doesn’t make players feel guilty or upset for opening their wallets.
What do you think will be the long-lasting impact, if there is any, of the success of Pokémon GO on the mobile game space?
Pokémon GO broke the mold of the perceived “typical mobile gamer behavior” of players solely immersed in their phone screen. The nature of its gameplay inherently encourages real-world social interaction, with folks exploring their neighborhoods, discovering new places and meeting new people.
From an industry standpoint, the game shows how a blockbuster IP that’s beloved across all demographics, and married with innovative social gameplay, can shake up the largely static top 10 app charts.
Will the success be easily replicable? Probably not, given that this IP just worked really well with this particular gameplay. I’m still holding on to hope that at least a Harry Potter version of the game will eventually come to market, but perhaps that’s better suited as a 2018 prediction.
With the recent launch of Google Daydream, do you think we’ll see a major shift toward developing mobile VR games and experiences in 2017?
Mobile VR game development will no doubt become more mainstream as mobile hardware and data speed continues to advance, but 2017 will still be a year of experimentation for mobile VR games and experiences. With only several hundred thousand Daydream units expected to be sold over the holidays and players’ limited daily engagement with accessible solutions like Google Cardboard (which has shipped five million units as of early this year), most mobile developers will continue to be focused on the nearly four billion smartphone subscribers that are likely more inclined to download a free-to-play mobile game than engage in a more immersive VR experience. All that being said, having both mobile game and VR content being developed in Unity will make content crossing-over much easier.
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