Mobile Mavens on the biggest games industry trends of 2023: "This has been the single hardest year in games I think I have seen in my career"

The big names in the industry tell us what they thought the biggest stories of the year were

Mobile Mavens on the biggest games industry trends of 2023: "This has been the single hardest year in games I think I have seen in my career"

Once again it's that time of year where we all start feeling reflective and look back on the year just gone.

So to that end, we thought we'd ask our Mobile Mavens - a collection of games industry experts - a few questions about the year gone by, and what lies ahead in 2024.

Here we ask:

What were the biggest games industry trends of 2023?

You can read part two of this article here.

John Wright Vice President, Mobile Publishing Kwalee

I would probably say the biggest, or the one that I’ve personally been exposed to the most, would be the evolution of hypercasual to hybridcasual games. I recently spoke about this in quite some depth on the Pocket Gamer podcast, but for me, it again shows the ingenuity of our industry.

In 2021, hypercasual was booming. We saw more variety of studio names at the top of the charts and the absolute number of games being put to market was at an all-time high. In 2022, things started to tail off, but 2023 was really when we saw the most change.

Because of rising costs (CAC/CPI), hypercasual developers were unable to make games profitable, and thus, we didn’t see the same volume of games going to market.

The key players in the market started to realise this and began to focus on improving the games, making them more complex, with actual meta and deeper monetisation. The result was hybridcasual, and we’ve seen at least the bigger studios and publishers adopt this strategy successfully. Case and point would be SayGames with My Perfect Hotel - that game is a revenue generating monster!

Simon Hade Co-founder Space Ape Games

Unfortunately, the biggest trend was games companies having to retrench in response to a tougher economic climate.

Launching a new original IP became almost impossible - our Chrome Valley Customs game was one of only a small number of original IPs to make a splash.

The result has been in mobile a consolidation around long established genres, massive brands, and a dramatic escalation in team size and production investment needed to compete. This trend will continue through 2024 with the spoils going to those who are prepared to make big bets to grow existing IPs.

Martine Spaans Owner Tamalaki

Martine Spaans runs publishing label Tamalaki.com; a boutique publisher with a hands-on approach, specialised in Hidden Object, Match-3 and Simulation games.

Tamalaki joined forces with partner-company FGL.com, which focuses on idle/clicker gamer, card and board games, and silly puzzles.

A counter-trend is that many mobile games have removed their loot box mechanism or at least stopped highlighting it.

I think this is a good trend because, through my other line of work (general manager at the Dutch Games Association), I see that national governments and the EU are keeping a constant eye on loot boxes concerning consumer protection.

If fewer games heavily use loot boxes as a monetisation method, there is less need for enforced regulation.

Brett Nowak CEO Liquid and Grit

The biggest games industry trends of 2023 included:

  • Web Stores: The rise of web stores as a means for increasing profit margins.
  • Generative AI: This technology assisted in creating intricate game designs, narratives, and assets.
  • Impact of IDFA: The changes in Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) policies negatively affected the gaming industry's ability to target users effectively.
  • Celebrity IP: Utilising celebrity intellectual properties in games gained traction, with games featuring or endorsed by famous personalities gaining popularity and driving player engagement.
  • New UA Sources: Platforms like TikTok emerged as significant user acquisition sources for games. These platforms offered new ways to reach and engage with potential players, especially younger audiences.
Adam Smart Director of Product - Gaming AppsFlyer

Privacy emerged as a dominant trend in the gaming industry throughout 2023. Companies across the sector navigated the new landscape defined by Apple's SKAN, while also looking ahead to the potential implications of Google's privacy sandbox.

Adapting to these changes became a focal point for industry players striving to maintain transparency and compliance.

Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

This has been the single hardest year in games I think I have seen in my career. The impact on acquisition costs following privacy changes, player fatigue over bad actors and an economic downslide right after coming after the lockdown (when many sought solace in games) has hit super hard. Then add more global instability.

In terms of game trends, I’m glad I no longer seem to have to explain the importance of hybrid monetisation when we consult on game design.

However, there is a growing frustration with how some ad platforms are breaking the player UX by forcing playable modes after trailers, increasing the length they prevent players from closing the ad, and moving about the location of where the X is to close the ad at all.

Tom Hammond Co-founder & CEO UserWise

I've never really been a fan of performance marketing. Honestly, it feels like a zero-sum game to me - Google/Facebook, over time, can continue to learn just how far they can squeeze profit out of our margins by raising CPIs. And in the meantime, they can re-sell that good user to all of our competitors because that's how they make their money.

This has been exasperated with the privacy IDFA-related stuff. Then, money has become way more expensive, and VCs have performed poorly, which has made LPs hesitant to invest more, so a lot of them have put the brakes on investing. It's just been a very tough year.

Christopher Kassulke CEO HandyGames

The biggest trend is disruption. We saw a fantastic year for gamers, with tonnes of big releases which wrote history. It is sad to see that so many people lost their jobs this year, and I am sure we will see more in the future.

I made two huge LinkedIn posts about why the market is doing it and about the chances I see in the current times. Not everything is bad, and it provides possibilities you will not have had in the last five years.

Christian Moss Co-founder and head of Gaming R&D ZEBEDEE

A major one is many mobile game developers getting burned by falling ad revenues. With recent privacy restrictions and ad networks cutting developers off, many more mobile developers are trying to shift their revenue models away from advertising and more towards subscriptions and in-app purchases.

Jonas Martins Director Video Gaming & Media Worldline

The games industry witnessed a number of noteworthy trends in 2023. Cross-platform gaming saw a remarkable increase, with some of the world's most popular titles now fully accepting cross-platform online play.

This was accompanied by the expansion of web games incorporating cryptocurrencies and/or blockchain technology. An example of this includes CCP Games being bullish on blockchain technology, joining major game makers like Ubisoft and Square Enix, in announcing their work on a triple-A web3 title set in the Eve Online universe.

For me, it was great to see more major game developers, such as those behind Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, World of Warcraft, and Baldur's Gate 3, starting to integrate gamers' feedback more actively into their game development processes, bringing fans closer than before.