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Develop 2008: M:Metrics talks mobile games

More vital statistics than you can shake a stick at

Develop 2008: M:Metrics talks mobile games
M:Metrics's Alistair Hill kicked off the afternoon at Develop Mobile 2008, giving a bunch of stats on the state of the mobile market, including games.

He started with some basic facts. There are 47.5 million mobile users in the UK, of whom 28.4 per cent are classed as 'mobile media users' - defined as anyone who browses, downloads or uses an application. That's 13.5 million Brits.

"It's getting towards tipping point," says Hill, citing 30 per cent as a commonly accepted definition of a tipping point, where something becomes "ingrained in our society".

His first graph showed that playing a game is the largest behaviour of mobile media - around 30 per cent of mobile users do it in most countries. That's play mobile games, rather than purchase, mind.

Their median age is just over 31, and slightly more women than men are doing it - not the stereotypical mobile gamer, although M:Metrics has been saying this for a while now, so the message should be getting through to publishers and operators.

So, to games. Hill outlined the "massive, massive opportunity" of all those people playing games, but only 7.4 per cent of European mobile game players are mobile game purchasers.

Hill came back to the gender thing. "This is now a female market we are operating in," he said, pointing out that 25-34 year-old women are the largest group of mobile games buyers.

What's more, game players also do lots of other things with their phones. 75.5 per cent take photos with their phone, 46.6 per cent send picture messages, 40.8 per cent shoot video, and so on. Mobile gamers are early adopters in terms of using the other features of their phone, in other words.

Hill then looked into some device trends, for Develop's developer-focused audience.

The US has just overtaken the EU when it comes to penetration of 3G, apparently - 27.7 per cent of US mobile users are on 3G phones, compared to 27.4 per cent of Europeans.

Meanwhile, 15.5 per cent of US mobile users have some form of data plan (limited or unlimited) compared to just 5 per cent of Europeans. In other words, if you're still clinging onto the notion that the US is behind us Europeans, you need to knock it on the head - they're accelerating away!

76.4 per cent of European mobile users are on MIDP 2 handsets now, but Hill pointed out that 27 per cent of Europeans have Flash Lite capable handsets (compared to 15.5 per cent in the US). It's mainly Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones, said Hill.

So what are the top game playing phones in Europe? Nokia's N70 is the most popular - apparently it has a long life with people passing it on. Samsung phones are very low down in the list too - Nokia and Sony Ericsson are much to the fore.

Of course, the comparable US slide isn't Nokia-heavy. But this was interesting - 36 per cent of iPhone users in the US had played a browser-based game, compared to 1.5 per cent of overall mobile users. Hill said this was a good omen for the App Store.

Also, RAZR handsets are still hugely popular in the US. Okay, maybe we're ahead of them in our handset tastes, if not our mobile media usage...

Digging down, Hill said that 30.9 per cent of handsets in Europe account for 80 per cent of gamers - adding fuel to the developer gripes about having to support dozens of phones that don't generate many downloads.

Hill ponted out next that mobile gamers tend to have fairly high-end handsets, and suggested that there's thus scope to use technologies like touchscreen, GPS, cameras and Flash Lite. "Nearly 40 per cent of people playing games have Flash Lite in their handset," he explained.

Now to genres. In the US, the most popular genres are arcade puzzle, casino, card and retro arcade, while in Europe it's arcade puzzle, strategy, quiz and word or number games. At the bottom of both charts lurk first person shooters, action adventures and racing games.

Hill next showed a slide that's become a staple for M:Metrics's presentations, tracking supply (how many games in each genre are available) and demand (how many people actually buy games in those genres).

I say it's a staple slide, but it seems the message isn't getting across. There are still shedloads more action games out there than there is demand for them. Yet there are still less arcade puzzle, card, casino and quiz games than there is demand.

Next came a slide on demographics, and two groupings of people playing games. There's a big group of games - strategy, board, quiz, card and retro arcade - which are older and appealing to women. Then there's a group of younger and more male gamers who go for casino, sports, action and so on.

Hill then highlighted one significant change in the market: this time last year, about 70 per cent of people who were purchasing games were under the age of 35. But there's been a 10 per cent shift since then - 60 per cent of game purchasers are now under 35.

Why? More older people are buying games, but also fewer younger people are. Hill claimed that a lot of people are downloading full versions of games for free - "We're not saying that all of these are pirated, but people are getting them for free. A lot might be ad-funded."

He also said there's a relationship between how many smartphones are in a country, and how many people are downloading full games for free.

"People know how to plug their mobile into their computer, and they know how to go to Google and type in 'free mobile games'," said Hill. Very interesting - developers are generally excited about smartphones, so this is the flipside.

So who's downloading free games? "The majority of these people are more male, and under the age of 35," said Hill. "These people have been brought up with the internet. They're familiar with using mobile phones, and they know how to get stuff for free. The music industry has been decimated by these things, because they didn't know how to react to it."

That's a powerful message: does the mobile games industry need to get to grips with people downloading games for free? "They have to think about different ways of embracing this," says Hill. "This trend will probably go on, unless people start putting DRM software in mobile games to stifle this sort of thing."

Hill talked about the potential for ad-funded gaming, and said that people who use mobile media are more tempted to buy products they see advertised than, for example, magazine readers, filmgoers and TV viewers.

Also, mobile media users are more likely to be the kind of 'cash rich, time poor' consumers that advertisers are gagging to target.

So, how are games being sold? Hill had an interesting slide explaining which games get premium deck placement on Spanish operators - in May of this year, 24 per cent of these premium slots were for action games, despite those making up just 4.3 of game purchasers.

"There's a vast missed opportunity here," said Hill, citing the example of quizzes as nearly the reverse. Hill said the operators need to understand the way the market is going, and adapt.

Another slide: mobile games companies have been among the most enthusiastic mobile advertisers - in the UK in April 2008, there were 47 different mobile games products found in M:Metrics's sample of mobile banner ads - and 15 companies.

That's more than other fields by quite some distance - mobile games publishers are spending a lot of money advertising their games on mobile sites, in short.

Another slide covered how people are purchasing games - in the UK, 61.6 per cent are still finding it on their phone (i.e. operator portals), but apparently buying games from links within games is on the up - the 'Buy More Games' idea.

But it's the piracy thoughts that'll stay with me - does mobile have a problem with piracy that nobody's acknowledging?
Contributing Editor

Stuart is a freelance journalist and blogger who's been getting paid to write stuff since 1998. In that time, he's focused on topics ranging from Sega's Dreamcast console to robots. That's what you call versatility. (Or a short attention span.)

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