According to a new report from NewZoo, global mobile revenues have grown 23% year-over-year to reach an annual total of $30 billion.
Even though next year’s revenues are expected to exceed $35 billion, the top grossing charts have remained relatively unchanged.
Mobile gaming’s leaders have managed to ride this wave of growth by adapting to seven key market trends, summarized below, that will continue to shape the mobile market’s rapid growth into 2016 and beyond.
I encountered my fair share of skeptics when I predicted multiple ways of promoting your game that would soon eclipse traditional marketing, including the strength of a powerful brand.
Those predictions have since become a reality as user acquisition costs continue to rise. Not everyone can compete with Supercell and King when it comes to buying users, and brand recognition has stepped in to fill the void left by paid user acquisition.
I’ll reiterate my point by saying that it's time to think about how to reduce the cost of promoting your game.
The best way is with a strong and recognizable brand. Brands certainly proved their value in 2015. Famous franchises like Marvel: Contest of Champions and Mortal Kombat X have capitalized off of marketing tactics that prioritize recognition and market positioning.
Fifa, Need for Speed, Angry Birds 2 and Cut the Rope: Magic have all enjoyed the same success. The best example of this to date has been Fallout Shelter, but I'll discuss that detail.
In 2016, you can expect an even greater focus on brand recognition.
In terms of promotional market maturity, games will start to resemble movies. Movies don’t rely on web traffic to reach a required level of advertising exposure in order to sell tickets; they aim for much bigger and broader advertising strategies.
Similarly, games will pursue large-scale advertising, mainstream public relations, brand partnerships and more.
My hope is that in 2016, games will reach their own "Marketing 2.0" and allow players to expect more fun than irritation from advertisers.
A good game is its own advertisement.
Yes, a good brand can attract audiences, but it's not enough. If your game design isn't fun, the audience won't stay for a long, and they likely won't recommend the game to their friends.
In the classic model of buying traffic, quality wasn't so important - you could clone a game with a proven monetization model that caught up to players quickly and forced them to pay. Maybe these players didn't stay long, and they didn't tell their friends, but it didn't matter as long as they provided a return on the acquisition investment.
Now, those days are gone.
Mobile devices are only getting more powerful, which means advanced graphics and higher budgets. Some of the highest profile titles are setting the bar with triple-A caliber 3D assets.
As players come to expect a certain level of quality, high-end graphics will become table-stakes for success in 2016.
New user churn is at an all-time high, but a fun, polished game is half the marketing work done for you. It's not always easy, but remember that fact during pre-production and playtesting.
Instead of "milking the whales," 2016 will favor monetization strategies that collect a little money from a large number of players and permit freeloaders enough engagement to enjoy themselves without having to spend money.
In our experience, rewarded and non-rewarded ad impressions can easily account for 30-40% of total revenues.
If a game can successfully attract an audience through word of mouth and brand recognition, publishers can employ less aggressive monetization strategies that would otherwise drive out non-paying players.
On the contrary, the developer is at an advantage if they can attract and retain more people, even if they don't pay. These players offer value in the form of additional word-of-mouth acquisition and ad impressions.
We've found in-game collectables to be an effective monetization strategy that doesn't risk negatively impacting non-paying players.
Games like Hearthstone and Fallout Shelter have employed these same designs to great effect, capitalizing off of perceived scarcity to engage and retain hardcore fans without alienating casual players.
2015 proved that the most effective way to improve overall monetization is through multiplayer game design.
Design trends in 2016 will continue to prove that players are inherently social, and that competition is a powerful part of social interaction.
When players are competing against each other and not just the computer, it raises the stakes, makes the game more enjoyable, and further incentivizes purchases. PvP, in-game chat, and clan systems will all be far more common as the required technologies become more accessible.
Blizzard has already run one of the most interesting mobile multiplayer experiments in one of Hearthstone's weekly Tavern Brawls, in which players played cooperatively against a boss NPC.
We can expect to see more player behaviours on-par with MMORPGs, in which large groups gather for raids and competitive PvE gameplay.
The maturation of multiplayer, along with the growing popularity of streaming services has brought mobile into the already crowded eSports arena.
Skillz, which specializes in mobile eSports, announced that it now pays more than $500,000 in prize money each week.
Market leaders like Supercell and Blizzard hold sanctioned tournaments and events, and viewership stats continue to climb for competitive mobile titles like Super Evil Megacorp's Vainglory, whose monthly Twitch have exceeded one million.
In 2016, expect more mobile titles to rank among the most viewed games online, and expect those titles to be designed from the ground up for an optimized spectator experience.
2015 also proved that established game franchises had a lot to gain by translating their IP into different platforms and altering the designs to fit different play styles.
The most striking example of the year was Fallout Shelter, which was released on August 13th in advance of Fallout 4.
Thanks to the combined power of the Fallout brand and the surprise announcement at E3, the game quickly reached the top of the charts.
Carrying the brand recognition that it did, however, Fallout Shelter wasn't able to soft launch and as a result, didn't launch optimized for long-term retention. It quickly dropped out of the charts as a result.
Satellite games that capitalize off of brand power represent a unique set of challenges and opportunities that few publishers have had a chance to master. Expect 2016 to hold exciting new developments for the makers of satellite games.
Of the $5 billion in mobile market growth that occurred in 2015, $2 billion came from China, officially dethroning the US as the largest mobile gaming revenue market worldwide.
In 2016, China's growth will continue.
Included in this growth will be the return of Google Play, which has been blocked from Chinese Android users for the past five years.
Established Chinese marketplaces will likely remain the incumbents, but Android developers and publishers will inarguably benefit from the new market segment of previously inaccessible Chinese devices.
Nekki in 2016
Here at Nekki, we plan to take full advantage of 2016's market trends.
We've got three projects scheduled for launch, including Vector 2, Shadow Fight 3, and a new mobile version of 11x11.
All of these projects represent the next step in the development of our successful game franchises.
We continue to make quality our highest priority, with Shadow Fight 3 aiming to exceed the established mobile triple-A standard. Expect cooperative multiplayer gameplay for Shadow Fight 3 and boss raids in Shadow Fight 2.
We're also looking forward to new and exciting experiments in soft monetization strategies, streaming services, and engaging with the growing eSports community.
Furthermore, in an effort to bring our games to more players worldwide, we recently announced our partnership with Tencent for the launch of Shadow Fight 2 on China's largest mobile platform, MyApp, as well as a port to China's largest messenger, WeChat.
VR remains a ways off, though we're extremely excited to see what the early adopters will come up with. Tools like Samsung Gear VR have already made it very affordable, and though we don't have any projects in development right now, we'll be on the lookout for a team of talented VR developers once the market has matured.
We're looking forward to an exciting new year, and we'd like to wish everyone all the best for 2016!