People still have their misgivings about the scene, but the quality of mobile games continues to rise, and with that, some serious money has been made.
A few mobile games have even got to make over $1 billion – some of them on an annual basis.
So we’ve decided to put together an ongoing list of games officially confirmed, or reported, to have crossed into the $1 billion bracket in lifetime revenues.
This list isn’t meant to diminish the quality of games that haven’t hit such a milestone. But rather it celebrates the success of titles that show mobile gaming is as big as any other creative entertainment sector.
It also shines a light on the types of games that have become the biggest revenue generators of their generation, and where they did it.
Developer: Epic Games Based: Cary, USA Released: March 15th 2018 Genre: Battle Royale Where it found success: Worldwide
Epic's battle royale sensation Fortnite is in a unique position in the industry - it’s a cross-platform title available on PC, consoles and mobile, offering the exact same experience.
It’s an impressive technological feat by the team and the company’s Unreal Engine, helping to spur on a new cross-platform gaming trend that actually works. You can check out our interview with Epic Games’ Arjan Brussee about how the team made this all possible in Fortnite.
Not just a game but a cultural phenomenon, in 2018 Epic’s free-to-play battle royale sensation Fortnite made $2.4 billion across platforms, according to SuperData.
That made it by far the world’s top-earning game, above Nexon’s Dungeon Fighter Online ($1.5bn), Riot Games’ League of Legends ($1.4bn) and Niantic’s Pokemon Go ($1.3bn).
When it comes to tracking mobile sales, things are slightly more complex as while the title is available on the App Store - where it’s a regular top grosser - Epic has sidestepped the Google Play store on Android in favour of its own launcher.
For some perspective, it reportedly took Supercell’s Clash Royale 389 days and Tencent’s Honor of Kings 405 days to reach the milestone.
It's not just the sales that make Fortnite one of the most high-profile games around, its cultural impact has been significant, bringing with it glory and controversy, with Epic sued on numerous occasions for its use of certain dance emotes.
That number makes it the all-time biggest concert in the world. The current Guinness World Record holder for a live-event is Rod Stewart, who performed back in 1993 to 3.5 million people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Fortnite offers a glimpse of what's possible for games as a destination, rather than simply just their core, functional gameplay. And as it reportedly closes in on 250 million players, Epic may have more special events like this up its sleeve in future.
Epic Games took home Game of the Year for Fortnite at the Pocket Gamer Mobile Games Awards 2019 in association with Game Insight. It also bagged the accolade for Best Developer on the night.
In January 2018, it was claimed that Lineage M had rocketed past $1.2 billion revenue in its first year, substantially increasing sales from NCSoft’s mobile business along with it.
Lineage M hasn’t been able to maintain that success, but then that was always unlikely. It remains a hugely profitable title for NCSoft and is part of a franchise that will no doubt continue to contribute significantly to the publisher’s bottom line in the years ahead.
Lineage 2 Revolution
Developer: Netmarble Based: Seoul, South Korea Released: December 2016 Genre: MMORPG Where it found success: South Korea
Lineage is one of the top gaming IPs in South Korea, achieving great success on PC.
But when one of the country’s key publishers Netmarble picked up the rights to develop Lineage 2 Revolution for mobile from NCSoft, it’s unlikely it could have anticipated just how popular that game would be.
By 11 months, Lineage 2 Revolution brought home $924 million. At GDC 2019, Netmarble confirmed during Epic’s State of Unreal keynote that the title had reached the $1 billion milestone in its first year.
The game’s success played a key part on Netmarble’s IPO, success it would have been able to leverage to increase its share value.
Thanks to a string of in-game and real-world live events and astute live operations, Pokemon Go has steadily been on the rise again since its launch peak. Sensor Tower claims the game made $205 million during the first quarter of 2019, up 40 per cent year-on-year.
Particularly given its revenue stream doesn’t just include in-app purchases, but also lucrative sponsored locations and paid-for real-world events.
Developer: Supercell Based: Helsinki, Finland Released: March 2nd, 2016 Genre: MOBA / CCG Where it found success: Worldwide
Supercell isn’t messing around when it comes to developing the biggest games around.
It also condensed the essence of the hugely popular MOBA genre from PC and deftly brought it to mobile platforms. Its style has been copied by a number of other studios, but so far largely unsuccessfully.
Not just that, Supercell has really led the way in real-time PvP on mobile, a trend that’s set to stay.
It’s more proof, if you needed it, that Supercell is one of the best developers in the world when it comes to creating exciting, fun games that are innovative and can last.
Much like Clash of Clans, you can expect to see Clash Royale at the top of the charts for years to come, particularly if it successfully breaks into the eSports scene (yet another area Supercell is taking the lead in on mobile).
Fantasy Westward Journey
Developer: Netease Based: Guangzhou, China Released: 2015 Genre: MMORPG Where it found success: China
NetEase is the second biggest mobile games publisher in China, just behind industry heavyweight Tencent.
And the game that’s leading NetEase’s multi-billion dollar charge? Fantasy Westward Journey.
The MMORPG has had hundreds of millions of players and has become one of the most popular IPs in China. It has regularly charted in second place on the China App Store, just behind mega-hit Honor of Kings.
As of 2019 the game continues to be a top earner for NetEase on mobile.
Honor of Kings
Developer: Tencent Based: Shenzhen, China Released: November 26th, 2015 Genre: MOBA Where it found success: China
MOBA Honor of Kings may just be the biggest game in the world.
Taking cues from another massive hit for PC, Riot Games-developed League of Legends (which Tencent also owns), it’s attracted more than 200 million players and reportedly had a peak of had around 70 million daily active users.
These kind of numbers boggle the mind, particularly when much of its success comes solely from Tencent’s home country of China.
The game has become so popular that the Chinese government has even intervened to hit back at the title, calling it ‘poison’.
Not many games prompt the ire of the government that effectively force the developer to implement gameplay restriction for young players. Tencent has limited gameplay to one hour a day for children under 12. Those aged 12 to 18 will be restricted to two hours a day.
On top of this, children under 12 will not be able to play the game after 9pm in China.
While most of its success emanates from China, the game has been released across the world under a plethora of different names as Tencent doubles down on localised versions of the title.
It’s known as Arena of Valor in the West (previously Strike of Kings) and Penta Storm in South Korea. It’s also been known as Realm of Valor and King of Glory.
Developer: Delightworks (published by Aniplex, a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment Japan) Based: Tokyo, Japan (Delightworks) Released: July 30th 2015 (Japan) Genre: RPG Where it found success: Japan
Fate/Grand Order is one of mobile gaming’s most peculiar smash hits. Not because the game doesn’t fit in with the Asia market’s thirst for RPGs, but because it sits in Sony’s Music division.
Developed by Delightworks, the title is published by Aniplex, a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment Japan. When that division posts a big profit - much of that money comes from Fate/Grand Order’s billions.
This offer coincided with a plotline in the Dragon Ball Z TV series and was hyped up for months prior in the game and across social channels.
Players reacted positively, heading into the game for the chance to get the characters for themselves. It’s a strategy that our Mobile Mavens were particularly glowing about (a special shout out to MobileFreeToPlay consultant Adam Telfer for his analysis).
Despite being three years old (it was released in June 2014), Summoners War appears to be increasingly more popular with each passing month.
Com2us aims to capitalise on its success by developing a new MMO based on the IP and publishing the title as an eSport. To that end, the developer is running a Summoners War World Arena Championship through the second half of 2017.
Not content with just the gaming space though, there are plans afoot for cartoons, a movie and merchandise all based around the IP.
Its easy to see the game itself making another $1 billion, and with other projects in the works, Summoners War is very much about to become a multi-billion dollar franchise.
Developer: Supercell Based: Helsinki, Finland Released: March 26th 2014 Genre: Strategy Where it found success: Worldwide
While it clearly has a large and very engaged audience to break through the $1 billion barrier, Boom Beach is one of Supercell’s lesser-known hits.
Perhaps not as big as its siblings Clash of Clans, Clash Royale and Hay Day, Boom Beach would be a flagship title for any other mobile games studio. But as you’ll see from this list of $1 billion mobile games, Supercell is different. All four of its first releases have reached the milestone, a feat it’ll hope to achieve again with its fifth title Brawl Stars.
It’s fallen outside of the top 100 grossing spots in markets such as the UK and US in 2019 - but Supercell is still hard at work on the profitable game, with high expectations around its big Warships update.
Developer: Mixi Based: Tokyo, Japan Released: August 8th, 2013 Genre: Physics strategy / Puzzle / RPG Where it found success: Japan
Mixi’s managed to grow the franchise to create merchandising around the brand, as well as release an anime based on the IP. It’s also running eSports tournaments and lotteries for the game.
The IP has shown remarkable resilience and longevity and, even if Monster Strike fades over time, the franchise looks like it might just live on for a long time yet. Perhaps in another billion-dollar mobile game?
Game of War: Fire Age
Developer: MZ Based: Palo Alto, USA Released: July 25th, 2013 Genre: 4X Strategy Where it found success: Worldwide
MZ cuts a somewhat controversial figure in the games industry. It’s at times brutal monetisation practices and complex game design aren’t for everyone, as it focuses on the spenders in its titles and building close-knit communities.
It all kicked off with Game of War: Fire Age in July 2013, which has laid down the foundations in game design, technology and marketing techniques for its latter titles Mobile Strike (also on this list) and Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire (perhaps a $1 billion contender in the future).
You may have come across Game of War in the past from any game that used advertising, including playable ads – though that’s something MZ has pulled back from when it comes to this title.
You may also recognise those infamous Kate Upton ads on TV. MZ has certainly never been shy about ploughing many millions of dollars into its user acquisition campaigns and attaching a well-known face to the marketing.
It’s all helped spur Game of War on to well over $1 billion in lifetime revenues - it's been the number one top grossing game in 111 countries, according to App Annie.
And while Game of War may be reaching the end of its life, it's still generating revenue for MZ.
Disney Tsum Tsum
Developer: Line Corporation Based: Tokyo, Japan Released: 2013 Genre: Puzzle Where it found success: Japan
Disney Tsum Tsum’s performance has been remarkable since its 2013 release.
It’s rarely slipped out of the top 10 grossing charts in Japan, though it’s perhaps not been as big a title elsewhere in the world.
Back in September 2016, it was reported that an average of 18 billion games in Candy Crush Saga were being played every month. It’s easily surpassed one trillion game plays since it was launched on Facebook in 2012.
Developer: Supercell Based: Helsinki, Finland Game released: August 2nd, 2012 Genre: Strategy Where it found success: Worldwide
There’s only one Supercell. And it should come as no surprise that the Finnish developer is on the list of mobile’s biggest revenue generators.
Clash of Clans was released five years ago on August 2nd 2012 and to this day it remains one of the highest grossing games period, not just on mobile. It’s thought to be raking in $1 billion a year, making it a multi-billion-dollar game.
Supercell hasn’t simply rested on its laurels with the game – despite having a comparatively (to other developers) tiny team working on the title.
Developer: Supercell Based: Helsinki, Finland Released: June 21st 2012 Genre: Simulation Where it found success: Worldwide
When a lot of people think of Supercell, they think of it as the Clash of Clans studio. But the game that started it all was in fact Hay Day (unless you count Gunshine, of course).
Mobile farming game Hay Day was first launched in 2012 on iOS, before coming to Android over a year later. It launched around a month and a half before Clash of Clans did, and while the latter has had explosive growth, Hay Day itself is no slouch and has bagged over $1 billion.
It showed just how popular mobile games can be and has its blend of match-three, RPG mechanics, collectibles and gacha monetisation have been hugely influential on that Japanese mobile games market.
What’s even more impressive (depending on how you look at it), is most of this revenue came from just Japan, where the title has been most successful by far.
By July 2017 the game has achieved 46 million downloads in Japan alone. For some perspective, in 2016 Japan’s total population was said to stand at around 127 million.
Revenues from Puzzle & Dragons have been on the decline in recent times, but years after launch it’s still no slouch. In fact, lifetime earnings from the game are estimated to have exceeded some $7 billion.
Developer: EA Based: USA / Canada Genre: Sports Where it found success: USA / worldwide