As we come to the end of 2013, it's time to look back at the events that dominated the last 12 months in mobile gaming.
We've asked the industry's great and good to give their take on the last year, as well as predicting the trends that will come to pass in 2014.
Patrick Walker is a senior analyst at EEDAR, a market research firm focused on the video game industry. Early this year, EEDAR launched a study which found some interesting trends in player satisfaction in regards to IAP spending.
Pocket Gamer: What do you think was the most significant event for the mobile games industry in 2013?
Patrick Walker: Two events in 2013 stand out to me as especially symbolic - one event that demonstrated how far mobile gaming has progressed and one event that showed that despite that progression, how much control still rests with the platform holders.
The Supercell purchase by SoftBank announced to the world what those paying attention to the mobile gaming space already knew - the top mobile publishers belong in the same conversation as the traditional gaming heavyweights, like Electronic Arts and Activision.
The purchase of 51 percent of Supercell for $1.5 billion was significant not just because of the size of the deal but also because of the relative strength of the parties involved. While other deals in the social gaming and mobile space have had an air of desperation as companies struggle to maintain their user counts, this purchase felt like a strategic move made from a position of strength.
However, despite the growing revenues, the mobile game industry is still firmly in the grasp of a limited number of platform holders. This was brought firmly into focus when Apple removed AppGratis from the App Store in April 2013, two months after the company raised $13.5 million in funding.
On one hand, this showed that Apple is invested in maintaining control of its ecosystem, actively taking steps to curb much maligned rank bursting tactics. But it also put into perspective how many companies are tied to the whims of the Cupertino giant.
As Zynga learned firsthand, completely tying your success to a platform you don't control can be dangerous.
What was the most significant event for your company?
The dominance of the F2P business model in the app stores was an obvious 2013 trend. But 2013 seemed to be the year when even the most hardcore defenders of the premium business models accepted that F2P was the way to attain breakout success in mobile in the current ecosystem.
For EEDAR, this meant many talented studios are trying to implement F2P mechanics with very little experience in the business model. This led to a lot of opportunity and subsequent growth in our product line that evaluates and optimizes F2P game mechanics.
What was your favorite mobile game of the year?
I am a big fan of NaturalMotion because the company continues to innovate even after the large scale success of CSR Racing. While it wasn't my favorite game of the year, Clumsy Ninja was a fun, innovative experience.
My personal favorite game of the year was Badland. I love the smooth mechanics, clever puzzles, stylish art design, and eerie audio. I'm glad to see the title is showing up in a lot of Best App of the Year lists, including winning Apple's iPad Game of the Year.
The F2P goliaths dominated the headlines and the conference talks, but many of the best achievements in artistic, innovative, creative, and fun game design in 2013 came from premium games.
What trends do you foresee for 2014?
Here are some things I expect to see in 2014:
- 2014 will be the year of innovative social features and sharing. The success of mobile has been driven by shorter, more accessible experiences and giving people more ways to connect with each other. Every deconstruction about Clash of Clans talks about the importance of clans and sharing troops. Every deconstruction about Candy Crush Saga talks about the importance of gifting and the progress map. However, this is only the beginning of all the ways players can share and connect with each other. 2014 will see an innovation in both competitive and cooperative social features, such as video sharing integrated into gameplay, deeper cooperation, and asynchronous multiplayer standard across most genres.
- However, the mobile gaming market isn't ready for synchronous multiplayer to become mainstream yet. This is still too much of a core experience that is a much higher quality experience on a PC or console. In general, 2014 will not be the year that the traditional core experiences on console take off on mobile.
- Further growth in the tablet market share held by Android will continue to drive Android's growing importance as a publishing platform. In 2013, Android became a relevant platform that had to be considered as a launch option. In 2014, Android will become a critical platform to a title's success.
- The largest change in the user acquisition space will be the consolidation of ad providers through mergers and company failures into a smaller batch of more critical players. While it won't match Facebook's success, Twitter will add another source of high quality, targeted installs. Unfortunately, this will do little to change the high cost of user acquisition, but it will increase overall ad network quality as companies improve and compete and underperforming networks fail. Brand marketing (TV advertising) will increase by the major players, but will still be a notable exception to the standard performance marketing campaign.
- And finally, Candy Crush Saga will still be in the Top 3 grossing apps by the middle of the year, but Clash of Clans will have slipped out of the top 5. The upcoming Supercell title, Boom Beach will cannibalize enough of Clash of Clans' users and revenue to knock the giant off its perch.
What's your New Year's resolution and what resolution would you enforce on the industry?
My New Year's resolution is to finally quit playing Candy Crush Saga, but like so many other New Year's resolutions, I'm sure I will break it within a week.
For the industry- it's time for true innovation that leverages all the cool ways people can connect with each other on their devices. As someone who sees a lot of design documents across developers, I can proactively tell you your original idea for a City Builder probably isn't that original.