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Undoing the duopoly in mobile game distribution

GameBake's Michael Hudson makes the case
Undoing the duopoly in mobile game distribution
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Michael Hudson is CEO and co-founder of GameBake.

Mobile gaming is on a persistent upswing. The proof is all around us. There are hardly any phones these days without at least one game sitting on their homescreens.

And while it may have been downplayed at first, success stories like Candy Crush, Pokémon Go, and Call of Duty Mobile prove that the mobile games industry is in top form.

Why else would it be forecast to generate over $90 billion this year?

The problem stated

Regardless, countless mobile publishers and developers still view the space as uneven.

With the significant power gap between the industry's major and minor players, distribution has been found to be the foremost problem with the state of the market.

As it is, mobile games are overwhelmingly concentrated on the Play Store and App Store - 1.38+ million games to be exact. With only two stores serving the majority of 2.5 billion mobile gamers globally, it isn’t hard to see that a duopoly is in effect.

While its consumer spending is soaring like never before, the restricted distribution of mobile games is one of the industry’s biggest issues.

“The restricted distribution of mobile games is one of the industry’s biggest issues.”

As it stands, Google Play and the Apple App Store have a firm grip on the distribution of gaming apps.

Where are the alternatives?

This may come as a surprise since there’s no shortage of alternative distribution platforms. Stores like Huawei’s AppGallery, Samsung’s Galaxy Store, and OneStore command millions of downloads daily.

And looking towards more specific markets, we can see stores like Tencent’s My App store attaining astronomical numbers in somewhat unfamiliar markets like China.

With dozens of viable platforms at developers’ fingertips, you'd think Google and Apple would have a hard time running the show.

Except this has been precisely the case.

When it comes to the distribution of games, the problem most mobile developers face is the lack of uniformity across the stores.

With the requirements for store integration varying from one platform to another, it’s quite easy for resources to be squandered.

For example, a Google Play mobile game candidate would need to have Google Play Services integrated before it can be hosted on the store. Huawei’s AppGallery acts in a similar way, except that it requires integration with Huawei Services.

One build per app store

Because of this disparity from store to store, a studio looking to launch on Huawei AppGallery, Samsung Galaxy Store, and Google Play stores would have to develop three separate integrations of the same game - one for each store.

This is every developer’s nightmare.

“Publishers and developers often opt to focus on the ecosystems they’re most familiar with - namely iOS and Google Play.”

Nine times out of ten, developing and maintaining multiple versions of a game turns out to be a time-intensive and costly endeavour. And because your typical studio comes with finite budgets, time, and talent, publishers and developers often opt to focus on the ecosystems they’re most familiar with - namely iOS and Google Play.

As a result, the competition in these stores is fierce.

While some games might command gamers' attention for a short time, many won't. In 2016, Sensor Tower reported that, of 631,091 games available on the App Store, 19% hadn't received updates in one or more years - making mobile games the leading category of abandoned iOS apps.]

Of course, there are other reasons why developers innocently choose the App Store and Google Play over others.

For one thing, their service integrations are relatively simple and well-documented. Their ecosystems also enable scalable marketing and monetisation. These are great reasons to build a strong presence on these two platforms, but they are only a part of the global mobile gaming market, which pays much greater dividends.

The paths less travelled

To many developers, North America and Europe represent the most financially viable markets - the crown jewels of mobile gaming.

And while that may have been true in the past, it isn’t anymore. In 2020, the Asia-Pacific region generated $84.3 billion in gaming market revenue - a feat that accounted for half of the global value that year. China alone accounts for approximately 40 percent of global mobile app spend, with Japan and South Korea following closely behind at $19 billion and $2 billion respectively.

In terms of ad campaigns, mobile gaming generated $40+ billion in APAC, twice the amount raised by North America. These figures go up and up, but they all proclaim one irrefutable truth.

Developers can’t milk the global market for all it’s worth. Not with this current system.

So, how can game developers circumvent this duopoly on mobile game distribution while fully exploiting the ripe monetisation opportunities to be had? The answer is quite simple, really.

Think about your distribution strategy from the start.

Far too many rely on coincidence or the quality of their work to push their game into the spotlight, whereas the games that do become mainstream don't wait around for luck. They make theirs.

Planning for global success

Figuring out which markets are compatible with your games from the onset of development will be instrumental to your distribution and marketing strategies.

Doing so can also help you decide which publishers you should target. This makes sense because a game targeted towards Russia, for example, will fare better when entrusted to a local publisher that understands the intricacies of their local market.

Once a sound blueprint has been drawn up, the next step would be to identify the best ways to access these markets. Including the Apple App Store and Google Play in your strategy is 100 percent advisable, but they shouldn’t form the entirety of it.

“Widen your range to include alternative and far less competitive opportunities that may be hiding in plain sight.”

Instead, widen your range to include alternative and far less competitive opportunities that may be hiding in plain sight. These “alternative” stores might not be as big or well known, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential to make your game cause a ripple in international markets.

Developers should also learn to go beyond the low-hanging fruit. Outside of North America and Europe, there are foreign markets that mobile game devs must go after.

Regions like China, which has the world's largest concentration of smartphone users at 1.1 billion, and Southeast Asia, where 82 percent of the urban population are gamers, and 80 percent of whom play on mobile are too significant to ignore.

Google's banishment from the millions of Huawei devices that flood these areas shouldn't be a hindrance. If anything, the dozens of alternative platforms there should present an opportunity.

Similarly, the issue of cost can now be considered a problem of the past. While integrating with several stores used to be a strain on the pocket, platforms that allow studios to integrate a single SDK for multiple mobile stores now exist, further broadening developers’ options.

All in all, Apple and Google have certainly been instrumental in the growth of mobile games, but the time has come for game studios to grow beyond them.

With a lot of research and a well-tailored distribution plan, mobile game developers will find that the autonomous revenue streams and untapped viable markets they seek lie just outside their comfort zone.

To find out more about GameBake's solution, check out the website