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Mobile Mavens' highlights and lowlights of 2023: "Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat"

The big names in the industry tell us how a challenging year in the industry went for them and their business.
Mobile Mavens' highlights and lowlights of 2023:

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.

For many in the sector, it's been a tough year, coming off the back of a down market in 2022 and a series of redundancies and closures throughout 2023. So we took the opportunity to ask:

What were the highlights and lowlights for you and your business in 2023?

You can read part one of this article here.

John Wright

John Wright

Vice President, Mobile Publishing at Kwalee

Lowlights are very simple; it would be the economic issues that we are all going through right now and the general struggle of studios, resulting in the worst amount of layoffs I've ever seen in my career in our industry.

Small to medium businesses are the ones that are suffering most, and I’ve seen friends who built strong businesses, successfully solo-launching games during the highs, now shutting their doors forever.

Highlights, I would say, are the sheer grit and determination of our industry in the wake of such turbulent times; the people who work in gaming happily surprise me every day with their ingenuity.

If I were going to pick two other things out, one would be the reappearance of IP-based games strategy in the wake of Monopoly Go. A lot of people are looking into this now, and I'm a massive fan of this in general.

The other would be the adoption of AI; this year was the year where studios really started using it for a multitude of reasons: marketing creative, game art, level design and I only see this growing in 2024.

Simon Hade

Simon Hade

Co-founder at Space Ape Games

We started 2023 at the lowest low we’ve had since starting out in 2012. We’d just killed a big game that we’d bet the farm on and quickly switched our focus from top line growth to profitability (like most of the industry had to in 2022). This meant a radical change in priorities, and a lot of stress and confusion - definitely a low point at the start of the year. But out of that crucible came two games: Chrome Valley Customs and Country Star.

The idea of Chrome Valley sounded crazy at the time: Without any experience in the puzzle genre, we would enter the bloodiest of red oceans, with a team of a few dozen people and an 18 month dev cycle. Country Star didn’t sound much more probable: build a version of our hit music game (Beatstar) but for an audience we’d never met in a genre we knew nothing about, and go from conception to global launch in under a year. They were calculated bets, but were a little crazy.

Successfully launching both these games within six weeks of each other, becoming profitable and getting to a $100m run rate - snatching victory from the jaws of defeat all within the space of a year - was certainly a highlight.

But the bigger highlight was how the team rallied in the face of these challenges. It was the toughest year in our history, and many people put aside the projects they were passionate about, or joined the company for, to focus on what needed to be done. It was a real test of our culture, transparency and perseverance and we came out stronger for it.

Martine Spaans

Martine Spaans

Owner at Tamalaki

I think our lowlight was not one specific moment but the constant challenges in user acquisition. Not just the overall cost, but also the challenges that Apple and Google keep throwing at us to keep up with new rules and policies.

It’s important for privacy regulations, of course, but some of our best-performing games are over five years old. These titles still perform well, but updating legacy code could be a lot harder than anticipated.

A highlight was that we released a few of our F2P titles on Steam. Surprisingly enough, the Steam audience has opened up enough to create an interesting space for these casual titles.

Revenue is still lower than on mobile because the audience is smaller, and we can’t show ads there, but it is encouraging enough to keep growing our PC presence.

Brett Nowak

Brett Nowak

CEO at Liquid and Grit

This year was marked by some challenges, notably the widespread layoffs across the games industry, largely influenced by IDFA changes and global impacts.

However, a significant highlight was the remarkable support and solidarity demonstrated within the gaming community during these tough times. I'm truly grateful to be a part of such a supportive industry, surrounded by incredible individuals worldwide.

Adam Smart

Adam Smart

Director of Product - Gaming at AppsFlyer

2023 has been a very dynamic year for AppsFlyer; the company launched AppsFlyer for games and made significant strides through strategic acquisitions, particularly in the realm of mobile gaming. The recent announcements have generated tremendous excitement within the company, showcasing the vast potential these acquisitions bring.

A personal highlight for me was the foray into the PC and console space; being a gaming geek, I see a huge interest among studios I’ve talked to recently that are focussing on platforms outside of iOS and Android.

However, the challenges of 2023 were not overlooked. The gaming community faced hardships amid economic uncertainties and the lingering effects of the global pandemic. The year witnessed a regrettable increase in redundancies and studio closures. We hope that 2024 will mark a return to normalcy for the gaming industry.

Oscar Clark

Oscar Clark

Chief Strategy Officer at Fundamentally Games

I think for me, one of the highlights of the year started right with PGC London when Alex Shea of Voodoo took the extraordinary step to say that “Hypercasual is dead”.

Okay that was something we may have thought was the case already, but it epitomises what I love about hosting sessions at the event. At the start of the year, we get some of the most influential folks sharing their knowledge and experience with each other. It's one of the things that I love about this industry.

For Lowlights, I think my opinion of a certain 'run-time' decision is fairly well known; see my last article.

I’m also super excited about the possibility of AI to bring new amazing tools, allowing even more people to realise their ideas in games. But this also brings concerns about copyright and changes to the skill sets expected in the industry.

I’m not convinced we are about to face Skynet, but we don’t want to sleepwalk into a ‘social media-like’ dystopia.

Tom Hammond

Tom Hammond

Co-founder & CEO at UserWise

For UserWise we had a few things:

As CPIs and UA have become more competitive, the need to grow LTV has increased. The best way to do that is through segmented live ops and optimisation done through a platform like UW. Thus, we've had a lot of need/interest in our platform, especially from hypercasual > hybridcasual folks.

Also, we launched our Services unit as we found that many studios lacked the skills or time to implement UW and optimise older/stagnant games in their portfolio. Effectively, we come in, build a whole team to take over the game (devs, artists, etc.), implement UW, that focuses on scaling and growing these often older titles while the studios themselves can work on more exciting new projects.

We've had so much interest over this last year as many titles realise the value in these older games and that if they don't do anything with them, they'll just slowly decay over time.

As for lowlights, I think the biggest lowlight comes from our sister company, TheoremReach (my first startup but under the same holding corp), which does reward surveys.

There ended up being a lot of fraud problems that came to light in the market research space as folks didn't fix the things many of us were yelling at them to fix. This led to quite a bit of decline in the space as a whole - one of the market leaders who was the most open to fraud, Cint, was hit the worst.

They watched their market cap plummet from $2.2b to ~$150m and lost many of their clients due to a lack of trust. We were one of their biggest partners and felt their decline as well.

Kim Carlson

Kim Carlson

CRO & COO

The highlight for Mobivity was validating that mobile game developers that partner with national brands creates a win/win for both parties.

Game developers have a greenfield of new acquisition opportunities through branded media channels. Rewarding new players with real-world incentives (quick-serve food items or fuel discounts) also drove tremendous traffic and transactions for our brand partners and developer demand for brand inventory supply was higher than we even anticipated.

Christopher Kassulke

Christopher Kassulke

CEO at HandyGames

My highlights – I am still living! I have a wonderful but crazy big family, I enjoy good food, good drinks and have a warm home.

In business, I am still living and rocking as well… What else counts? I do what I love to do: games! It is an honour to put smiles on the faces of humans with the titles we develop and publish.

Christian Moss

Christian Moss

Co-founder and head of Gaming R&D at ZBD

It was a tough year for the games industry and the wider economy, which made it a lot harder for ZBD to meet our internal targets.

Thanks to everyone putting in a mammoth effort, we still managed to grow and eventually hit our goals, with the year culminating in the release of a ZBD integration into triple-A FPS Splitgate.