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Aaron Astle's top stories of 2023: Monster Hunter Now's $100m success, the future of livestreaming, and pesky App Store fees

From giant games to monetisation models… PocketGamer.biz news editor Aaron Astle picks his favourite stories from throughout 2023
Aaron Astle's top stories of 2023: Monster Hunter Now's $100m success, the future of livestreaming, and pesky App Store fees
  • It seems that for every brave new move and bold intention we report on up front there's always that little extra backstory and perspective that the team just can't help but share…
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Regular readers of our weekly Week In Views round-ups will be familiar with the team's candid takes on the week’s events. It seems that for every brave new move and bold intention we report on up front there's always that little extra backstory and perspective that the team just can't help but share…

We asked the PG.biz team to each pick their favourite stories of the year and shed a little light on what's really going on. Here's PG.biz news editor Aaron Astle’s take on the year's events.

Monster Hunter Now is a roaring success, making $100 million in under three months

Monster Hunter Now has proven to be one of the breakout games of late 2023, as if we needed any further evidence that IPs about Japanese monsters pair incredibly well with AR walking games. Niantic and Capcom decided to reaffirm this anyway, releasing Now in September and reaching a mighty milestone in under three months. The Niantic and Capcom collab has drawn in $100 million already.

Now is safely Niantic’s second-biggest game at this point, and though it still has a long way to go if it wants to catch up to Pokémon Go, the silver medal isn’t so bad when competing against the world’s highest-grossing media franchise.

Monster Hunter Now’s success is largely attributable to the series’ Japanese fanbase, who are also quite willing to go out and exercise while playing games. Between the effective implementation of Niantic’s tech and a loyal adaptation of Monster Hunter’s main series formula, it isn’t all too surprising to see Now soar.

Even so, it wasn’t always obvious that the game would be a hit; it’s fair to say that with the exception of Pokémon Go, Niantic’s mobile games haven’t always been monstrously successful - more often modest sprouts like Pikmin Bloom. So when Monster Hunter Now was revealed, I was curious to see what heights it might reach.

And since its impressive pre-launch registration numbers, Now has risen from strength to strength with too many accomplishments to name here. It’s been in the news cycle most weeks since release and is clearly having an impact, and the promise of new monsters and frequent "major" updates gives a lot of incentive to keep hunters hunting.

Personally, I’d like to see Astalos make it in next year, or at the very least a Tigrex…

Too big for your rules? miHoYo tried to dodge Apple App Store fees twice in one month

A microcosm of broadening developer discontentment, miHoYo’s double-attempt to dodge Apple’s App Store fees was one of the most intriguing stories to me this year. The Chinese developer has grown into a gaming titan in only a few years with two incredibly successful games in Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail, each raking in millions upon millions, month after month.

But with the major app stores claiming a 30% cut on in-app spending, for miHoYo that means giving some of those millions away. And, like any right-thinking corporate entity, it turns out miHoYo’s not a fan of that.

Despite a strong relationship with Apple from the outside and a featurette within the iPhone 15 reveal, miHoYo has reportedly attempted two strategies to avoid Apple’s fees this August. The company offered sales outside of the game in direct contravention of Apple's rules, but was caught out in both instances.

In the modern mobile gaming landscape, it’s easy to wonder why Apple should deserve to take such a large chunk of game revenues when the App Store provider isn’t involved in the game-making process; Epic’s Tim Sweeney has highlighted this too (he’s not a fan of Apple’s fees, if you didn’t know), noting that Apple is one of the highest earners off mobile game revenues worldwide without actually making mobile games.

At the same time, Apple is largely responsible for mobile gaming being where it is today - with the App Store having simplified the process of getting games into players' hands.

It’s a complex, nuanced issue that I won’t claim to have an answer to. But it’s certainly a fascinating enough subject, and an important one, to acknowledge as the year wraps up.

Nintendo pulls out the stops for Fire Emblem Heroes' billion-dollar future

I would be remiss not to mention my most-played mobile game in some form or another among my favourite stories, so…here’s the mention.

It’s been an interesting year for Fire Emblem Heroes, both as a player and as someone who writes about it. The year started out with strong signs of Nintendo’s mobile mantra being put into practice - leveraging mobile games to boost Switch sales - as Heroes introduced five characters from Switch title Fire Emblem Engage before Engage launched.

This served as an introduction to the main cast of characters and aimed to entice mobile players to buy the new main series game, and the cross-platform promotions only increased from there. Special in-game rewards were made available for linking Heroes and Engage accounts, and then the latter’s DLC featured an original Heroes villain to the main series for the first time.

But strangely, through the second half of 2023 the cross-promotional content dried up dramatically, with hardly any Engage references to entice Nintendo’s mobile audience.

Instead, Heroes is now focusing on its annual new story campaign and celebrating almost seven years since launch; it’s Nintendo’s longest-running mobile game to still be adding new content, with Book 8 introducing the new protagonist Ratatoskr in the setting of the World Tree Yggdrasil, well-known to any Norse enthusiast.

2023 has seen Heroes introduce a plethora of new characters from across the franchise’s 33-year history, a new game mode, a new story and more. It’s good to see Nintendo continuing to care about its billion-dollar mobile game after all this time.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Noice: Is this the future of livestreaming?

I got to take an early look at Noice this autumn, the new livestreaming platform with a special niche: "playing the stream". During the preview, I got a good sense of what Noice has to offer and how it will aim to keep audiences engaged going forward.

The platform is in a closed beta now with only a handful of games supported with card-game overlays, but I’m interested to see how high this fledgling platform will fly in 2024. Giving viewers something to keep their hands busy and minds active while they watch a stream is certainly a novel concept, and as I (and likely many others) often pop a stream on while doing other things - gaming, cooking, boiling the kettle - I do wonder if a game for the audience would manage to hold onto more of my attention.

And for all we know, this time next year no one will be talking about Twitch anymore and Noice will be the only place to be… Hyperbole aside, the games industry is known for its rapid shifts in what’s hot and what’s not. So, really, who knows?

Mobile games using a subscription model almost triple in a year

The allure of having fans subscribe to a gaming product has captured the hearts of a many a mobile developer this year, with the hopes of finding loyal fans who will pay again and again to keep enjoying their games.

In fact, the total number of mobile games featuring a subscription model to monetise players has almost tripled in 2023, from 11% of games last year up to 29% today. That means nearly one in three mobile games now offers a subscription model, and consumer spending in subscription apps has risen accordingly.

Better still for the devs, it seems like players are getting more accustomed to paying subscriptions instead of just making one-off purchases, as spending on user acquisition for subscriptions has gone down this year - yet more people are buying in anyway.

Perhaps the concept of subscribing to games is becoming increasingly normalised with the likes of Apple Arcade and Netflix Games having continued to collate a noteworthy batch of titles this year, from an exclusive James Bond game to a 3D Sonic adventure to a Vikings: Valhalla mobile adaptation.

Or perhaps mobile gamers just really love spending money. (Okay, it might not be this one.)

Whatever the case, the near tripling of mobile games using a subscription model is a massive spike, and is a growth rate that we almost certainly won’t see repeated in 2024; if it were to triple again, nearly every mobile game on the market would have a subscription model…

So, while the number may well continue to grow in 2024, in years to come I think we’ll look back at 2023 as the big one for the rise of subscription services. The one where they raced ahead at Sonic speed.