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The Top 50 Mobile Game Makers of 2021

The movers, the shakers, and all those funky moneymakers
The Top 50 Mobile Game Makers of 2021

What a year it's been.

That's a statement that could cut any number of ways but even restricting ourselves to the world of mobile games, the past 12 months have been the most significant of the past decade.

And we want to celebrate the accomplishments that have been made here, with our Top 50 Mobile Game Makers of 2021.

If nothing else, mobile gaming has never been more lucrative, innovative or competitive; something that's been reflected in the sharp increases in terms of downloads and revenues many mobile game companies have experienced.

Not just Covid

Of course, a key element of this has been Covid-19, which continues to change global behaviour, for better or worse encouraging more screen time.

But this has also been coupled with other underlying trends. Merger and acquisition activity was already on the rise before Covid-19 caused governments to ease fiscal policy and release a flood of cheap money into the global economy.

In turn, that's caused enormous gaming consolidation, both in terms of companies building up their internal resources in synergistic ways, while others have pursued asset roll ups purely for the sake of getting bigger and hence accessing more funds to continue their M&As.

Who's watching?

Less well understood, long term concerns about digital privacy have also crystallised into platform restrictions, notably Apple's new tracking policies, which themselves have resulted in consolidation in the adtech business.

Some of the largest mobile game companies are now adtech companies who are buying mobile games so they can use their huge data analysis abilities to serve better ads and/or cross-promote their audiences to higher APRU experiences.

Finally, we're seeing the impact of future technologies ranging from AR and blockchain to location-awareness etc - that are finally going mainstream.

Maybe one day we'll even know what a metaverse actually is.

As ever then, mobile gaming continues to lead the way.

#50: Game Insight

Game Insight

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Game Insight »

HQ: Lithuania
Key Games: Guns of Boom, Mystery Manor, Paradise Island
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

Founded back in 2009, Game Insight's longevity demonstrates the power of free-to-play as a basic framework that can retain and monetise millions of players for decades.

The company's success was built on the back on simulation games such as its Paradise Island and Airport Cities franchises. Next came hidden object games like Mystery Manor, while the company's recent focus has been on Guns of Boom.

Riding the explosion in regularly updated PVP shooter games that have something of the metaverse about them - Guns of Boom had 25 content updates to-date and runs regular seasons - it's now accumulated over 60 million downloads.

#49: Annapurna Interactive

Annapurna Interactive

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Annapurna Interactive »

Key Games: Gorogoa, Sayonara Wild Hearts, The Pathless
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

Although predominantly a console and PC game publisher, the quality of Annapurna Interactive's mobile output over the past years continues to make it a firm favourite among a certain class of aficionados.

Indeed, much of the company's status has arisen from its participation in Apple's premium game subscription service Apple Arcade.

Annapurna's latest Apple Arcade release certainly plays into that narrative with Giant Squid's The Pathless providing some of service's signature artwork.

It has also just released 2018's console indie hit What Remains on Edith Fitch on iOS, although not through Apple Arcade. In that context, it will be fascinating to see what direction the company takes when the first fruits of its announced internal development studio are eventually released.

#48: Kwalee


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Kwalee »

Key Games: Draw It, Bake It, Looper, Rocket Sky
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

Established by UK games veteran David Darling (he of Codemasters fame) in 2011, it wasn't until the rise of hypercasual mobile gaming that UK outfit Kwalee found its metier. But since its first hit - Tens! in 2017 - the company has continued to raise the bar, both in terms of its games and business operations.

With a headcount well into triple figures, its games have received over 600 million downloads across iPhone and Android, and it now has fast-growing offices in Beijing, China and Bangalore, India. In the case of the latter, it's committed to investing $30 million to built up the studio and its Indian audience over the next five years.

Further expansion has come with releases on PC and console; an ambition that kicked off with a version of Tens! for Switch, and a move into publishing other developers' hypercasual titles.

#47: Wildlife Studios

Wildlife Studios

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Wildlife Studios »

HQ: Brazil
Key Games: Tennis Clash, Zooba
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

Founded by two brothers (Victor and Arthur Lazarte) as Top Free Games in 2011, 2019 was the year that the rebranded Wildlife Studios really burst onto the global market, not least in terms of visibility when it raised $60 million from bluechip Silicon Valley VCs to fulfil its global expansion plans.

This momentum continued in 2020 as the company raised another $120 million at a $3 billion valuation. It was also quick to deploy that capital, partnering with three new mobile game studios in the US, founded by veterans of EA, Zynga, Rockstar and Seismic Games.

Wildlife now boasts over 800 staff across five offices, with the 60 games it's released to-date accumulating over 2 billion downloads.

Its challenge in future years will be combining such speedy operations with its new focus on the sort of deeper triple-A experiences that sustain for years and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

#46: Metacore


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Metacore »

HQ: Finland
Key Games: Merge Mansion
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

Riding the excitement of Apple Watch's launch, Metacore Games was founded in 2015 as Everywear Games by Remedy, Digital Chocolate, and Rovio veterans.

Its debut release Runeblade certainly set a high quality bar for wearable content but the market didn't develop as expected so by 2018 the company was looking for new opportunities.

Rebranded as Metacore Games and backed by $35 million in investment from Supercell, it hit the ground running with Merge Mansion, a merge-puzzler game with a strong focus on the long term meta experience and narrative.

Indeed, this has allowed Metacore to doubledown with innovative and amusing social media campaigns highlighting the relationship between game protagonist Maddie and her somewhat odd grandma.

The combination of the game design and this advertising is reflected in the news that Merge Mansion has generated $40 million from 11 million downloads; something that has seen Supercell dig deeper into its bank account, lending Metacore $180 million to aggressively expand its marketing strategy and scale the game into a global hit.

#45: Dream Games

Dream Games

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HQ: Turkey
Key Games: Royal Match
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

Something of an industry secret until Zynga acquired Gram Games in 2018, the Turkish mobile game sector has been on a tear ever since and that acceleration has guided the trajectory of Dream Games.

Formed in 2019 by veterans of Peak Games - a company Zynga acquired for $1.8 billion - Dream Games immediately leveraged their experience of developing and operating successful match games to develop Royal Match.

Launched in March 2021, it's a decorative match puzzler which blends best practises from the likes of Toon Blast and Homescapes and has already attracted more than six million MAUs.

It's also been described as having "once-in-a-decade retention metrics" by ex-King COO Stephane Kurgan, who led a $155 million investment into Dream Games at a $1 billion valuation in his new job as partner of Index Ventures.

Indeed, during its short lifespan, Dream Games has already raised over $210 million to give Royal Match and future launches the best chance of replicating the success of Toon Blast and Toy Blast, the two titles that made Peak Games so attractive for Zynga in the first place.

#44: Square Enix

Square Enix

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HQ: Japan
Key Games: Dragon Quest Walk, Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider, Nier
Sales: $1.7 billion (all games, FY2020)
M&A: None

Thanks to its enormous backlog of content and its status as a giant in the key Japanese gaming market, Square Enix continues to be a prolific developer and publisher of mobile content. And what's particularly significant is how this hinterland allows it to be successful both in the premium and F2P sectors.

Equally, Square Enix's ability to mix what to outsiders appear to be endless mobile remakes of legacy titles (of course true fans disagree) with more innovative fare remains impressive. Indeed, the dichotomy of increasingly long titles and seemingly random capitalisations (at least in the west) is proof that the company's ability to confuse the mass market is often synonymous with peak excitement for actual payers of its content.

Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia, War of the Visions: Final Fantasy Brave Exvius or Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe anyone?

But there is also innovation as demonstrated by location-based game Dragon Quest Walk, which is currently only released in Japan but has been very successful, even during Covid-19 thanks to design tweaks that allow it to work well indoors.

And Tomb Raider Reloaded is bubbling away in soft launch too. 

#43: Embracer Group

Embracer Group

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Embracer Group »

HQ: Sweden
Key Games: Kingdoms of Heckfire, ASMR Slicing, Killer Sudoku
Sales: $1 billion (all games, FY2020)
M&A: Yes!

Over the couple of years, it's been almost impossible to keep track of the game studios Embracer Group has acquired. Riding the wave of cheap money available to it following its floatation on the Nasdaq Nordic stock exchange in 2017, Embracer has become a highly distributed company worth $11 billion in terms of its market capitalisation and consisting of around 80 independent studios across 45 countries. It currently has over 180 games in development.

Mobile gaming is a relatively new sector for a company that's made headlines by buying the likes of Gearbox, Saber Interactive, 3D Realms and Aspyr Media though.

Mainly organised through German publisher Deca Games, Embracer now owns mobile developers ranging from mid-core focused outfits such as A Thinking Ape and IUGO in Canada to Israeli hypercasual publisher CrazyLabs and Belarussian casual developer Easybrain.

Between them, Embracer's mobile games attract 33 million DAUs and 286 million MAUs.

#42: Jagex


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Key Games: RuneScape, Old School RuneScape
Sales: $140 million (all games, 2019)
M&A: None

A stalwart of the UK game development scene, Jagex is roaring back after some tricky years in terms of its business focus, products and ownership.

Acquired by US investment outfit The Carlyle Group in early 2021, Jagex is doubling down on what it knows and does best. The current version of its original release - now called Old School RuneScape, which went fully cross-platform with its mobile launch in 2018 - has broken usage records. It registered over 160,000 concurrent players in late 2020.

As for the newer version - now just called RuneScape - it also went cross-platform with its mobile release in June 2021 attracting 1.8 million pre-registrations.

But that's just the foundation for the revitalised company, which is aggressively hiring as it looks to develop new games and is also building up its own publishing activities through Jagex Partners.

#41: Mixi


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Mixi »

HQ: Japan
Key Games: Monster Strike, Kotodaman
Sales: $920 million (mobile games, FY2020)
M&A: None

Despite the company's international retreat in 2017, Mixi's RPG Monster Strike continues to perform in its core Japanese market.

Released back in 2013, it was one of the first mobile games to break $1 billion in revenue, and eight years on, it's on track to be one of the first to break $10 billion in revenue. That says much about the game's underlying design as well as the expertise developer Xflag has built over the years in terms of live ops; with limited edition events and cross-over branding driving both retention and monetisation.

Other business activities play into this including annual community event Xflag Park, which attracted 340,000 online attendees in July. Monster Strike the movie is also in production.

However, it can't be denied that Monster Strike has been in slow decline both in terms of audience and revenues over the past few years. And while Mixi, which as well as games is a popular social media platform in Japan, has also released RPGs such as Kotodaman, nothing has gotten close to matching the success of its monster hit.

#40: IGG


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HQ: Singapore
Key Games: Lords Mobile, Dress Up! Time Princess
Sales: $700 million (FY2020)
M&A: None

Taking the opportunity provided by the global Covid-19 lockdowns, IGG aggressively expanded marketing for its hit game Lords Mobile, gaining 100 million new users. And this and the introduction of a battle pass system resulted in record monthly revenues of over $64 million.

Launched in 2016, the strategy game now boasts estimated lifetime figures of over $2 billion in revenue and 370 million registrations. It currently attracts 13.7 million MAUs, while across all of its games, which include titles such as Dress Up! Time Princess, IGG now has around 39 million MAUs.

Highlighting an increasing if unreported trend, IGG has also been active in terms of re-investing some of its profits in various VC funds, as well as signing strategic partnerships with outsourcing and IP companies that will drive future growth.

#39: Sony Music Entertainment

Sony Music Entertainment

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HQ: Japan
Key Games: Fate/Grand Order
Sales: N/A
M&A: None

It's a quirk of history that Sonic Music Japan subsidiary Aniplex published one of the most lucrative mobile games ever.

Set up to focus on anime series, merchandising and game soundtracks, Aniplex partnered up with developer Delightworks to work on a turn-based tactical RPG based on the Fate/Stay Night IP.

Released in 2015, Fate/Grand Order quickly became a staple of the Japanese top grossing charts and has remained there ever since. Indeed, it was estimated to be the top grossing mobile game globally in 2018, and has generated at least $1 billion annually since 2017, with a life-time total well over $5 billion.

Of course, this success has resulted in many other spinoffs, including an arcade game published by Sega, a PlayStation VR game, and multiple anime and manga releases. There's even been two stage plays and there aren't many mobile games that can boast that level of artistic endeavour.

#38: Moon Active

Moon Active

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HQ: Israel
Key Games: Coin Master
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: Melsoft

Launched in 2015, Coin Master is one of those rare mobile games that brings together some well understood features - PVP battles, collectables, randomness, accessibility - and out of them manages to synthesize a brand new experience.

That's the reason it's consistently been a top grossing game in key markets such as the US, UK and Germany; also one that saw its revenues grow considerably in 2020.

The result is a game that's now generated over $2 billion in lifetime revenue. This success hasn't come without criticism though. Coin Master's casino-inspiration has raised concerns, especially in regards to younger players.

How this plays out remains to be seen, as does the way in which Moon Active will build on its unicorn status to launch new games.

Its acquisition of Belarus developer Melsoft, which is best known for games such as Toy Defense, My Cafe and Family Island, suggests it's not slowing down anytime soon.

#37: Playtika


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HQ: Israel
Key Games: June's Journey, Best Fiends, Slotomania, WSOP
Sales: $2.4 billion (all revenues, FY2020)
M&A: None

Although at heart a social casino company, much of Playtika's resources in recent years have been deployed building up its non-casino activities.

The acquisition of developers such as Wooga, Seriously, Jelly Button and Supertreat and the formation of a new studio in London resulted in its casual games generating more than $1 billion for the first time in 2020. The category is also growing, up 16 percent during the past three months.

This strategy will no doubt be accelerated by Playtika's IPO in the US at the start of 2021, which sees the company with $1.7 billion to drive further M&A activity.

The promise of new games from its new studios is also being fulfilled with Wooga's match-3 narrative release Switchcraft being prepared for a global release in Q4 2021.

#36: Voodoo


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HQ: France
Key Games: Helix Jump,, Crowd City, Draw Climber
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: Bidshake, OHM Games, Fabrika

One of the instigators of the entire hypercasual phenomenon back in 2017, French outfit Voodoo has continued to operate at the requisite pace. Its library of titles accumulated over five billion downloads in May 2021.

Of course, the scale of the sector is such that over the years Voodoo has morphed from a developer of hypercasual into a hyper-publisher. While competition for app store downloads
remains as sharp as ever, the real cutting edge is competition among publishers for access to the best and most innovative developers.

Key to this is building strong networks, something Voodoo has done with its regular competitions, which now offer up to $1 million in prize money, and strategic partnerships both with developers such as Electric Manta and Storms and platforms like Snap Games.

#35: Lilith Games

Lilith Games

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HQ: China
Key Games: AFK Arena, Rise of Kingdoms, Warpath
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

One of China's veteran mobile game studios, and a domestic powerhouse in terms of revenues, Lilith Games' most impressive characteristic is its ability to make its games successful on a global basis.

This is particularly the case for 4X strategy game Rise of Kingdoms and idle RPG AFK Arena, both of which have generated more than $1 billion in lifetime revenues.

And the company's now combining its expertise in these two genres with new title, alternate WWII-themed strategy game Warpath, which launched in 2021. It's already a top 50 top grossing game in countries such as Germany and the UK, and a top 100 top grossing game in the US.

Lilith is also exploring new genres with battle royale shooter Farlight 84, which is a mobile-PC cross-platform experience that's currently in beta testing.

#34: SYBO Games

SYBO Games

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HQ: Denmark
Key Games: Subway Surfer
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

Unsurprisingly, given its status as the most downloaded game ever at more than three billion installs, the train just keeps rumbling on for Sybo Games.

Of course, this isn't to say that the Danish developer hasn't made and even released other games. Endless running RPG Blades of Brim came out in 2015 and is still being updated, but there's no getting away from the fact that it makes more sense to give fans more of what they want when it comes to a global phenomenon like Subway Surfers and that's what Sybo is doing.

From animated series, to merchandising through its Subsurf range, iMessage sticks and multiple IP in-game hook-ups, Subway Surfers is now a staple of the global market for activities such as skating, street-art and surfing especially in the kids and young teen age categories.

#33: Com2uS


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HQ: South Korea
Key Games: Summoners War series, MLB 9 Innings 21
Sales: $440 million (FY2020)
M&A: Out of the Park, AllM

Officially called Gamevil Com2uS group following their merger in 2013, the South Korean conglomerate continues to be active, both in terms of releasing new games as well as M&A.

In the past 12 months, it's acquired a majority stake in fellow Korean developer AllM, which is best known for its Kritika PC and mobile games. It also bought German developer Out of the Park to bolster its sports titles. Gamevil has been releasing baseball games - notably its MLB 9 Innings series - for decades.

Its key title remains Summoners War: Sky Arena, which broke $2 billion in lifetime revenues in 2020. And the Summoners War universe got its first major expansion with the release of real-time strategy game Summoners War: Lost Centuria in May.

It's a more core experience with strong Alliance meta features and gameplay designed to better suit the needs of competitive esports. It launched well, generating over $4 million in its ten days, although its run rate has dropped somewhat since.

As for future releases, the anticipation remains fixed on Com2uS' collaboration with Skybound and the promise of a The Walking Dead title, although no further information has been forthcoming since the original announcement in January 2020.

#32: IronSource


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HQ: Israel
Key Games: Join Clash, Sort It 3D, Bridge Race
Sales: $135 million (all business, Q2 FY21)
M&A: Soomla, Luna Labs

Demonstrating how much the mobile games business has changed, even in the past 12 months, Israeli adtech outfit IronSource has become a fully-fledged player in the gaming space.

It's taken its expertise in areas such as advertising, monetisation and analytics and repackaged them all in the form of a hypercasual publisher under its Supersonic Studios division.

Announced in February, Supersonic hit the ground running, releasing hit titles such as Join Clash and Bridge Race, two of the most downloaded games in 2021.

And what's significant about this approach is that as IronSource has rolled out better self-serve creation and deployment tools, such as those acquired when it bought Soomla and Luna Labs, so it allows hypercasual developers to make better games faster. This then feedbacks into the success of Supersonic's future release pipeline.

Of course, the $2.2 billion cash pile IronSource's successful IPO created will just accelerate this process in the coming months.

#31: Rovio


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HQ: Finland
Key Games: Angry Birds 2, Angry Birds Dream Blast, Small Town Murders
Sales: $321 million (FY2020)
M&A: Ruby Games

Angry Birds games still account for the bulk of Rovio's revenues but the Finnish developer remains committed to trying out new experiences and creating new IP.

In the context, the relative success of match-3 narrative Small Town Murders since its June 2020 release is a welcome sign for future growth. Certainly Rovio was happy enough with its performance to soft launch the similarly-structured Supernatural City in April.

Indeed, Rovio has actually been very active in terms of developing (and killing projects) over the past year. Angry Birds Legends, Angry Birds Tennis, Phoenix Rangers and Hardhead Squad have all been canned during soft launch, but midcore strategy Darkfire Heroes did emerge onto app stores in June.

There's also the promise of new games based on the Moomins after Rovio gained the exclusive rights with a six-year licence to make games using Tove Jansson's iconic creatures.

It's also good to see new CEO Alex Pelletier-Normand has reset the company's management team, as well as looking to expand into new areas, as demonstrated by Rovio's recent acquisition of Turkish hypercasual developer Ruby Games.

#30: Take-Two Interactive

Take-Two Interactive

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Key Games: WWE Supercard, NBA 2K, Top Eleven 2021, Dragon City Mobile
Sales: $3.1 billion (all games, FY20)
M&A: Nordeus, Playdots

Despite having spent over $1 billion buying various mobile game companies over the past six years, it's still not clear what Take-Two's overall mobile strategy is.

What is clear, however, is the acquisition of Top Eleven developer Nordeus for up to $378 million is Take-Two's biggest deal yet. It's also one, combined with $192 million dropped on Playdots, that gives the company a strong pipeline of games, both live and in development.

Indeed, the addition of Nordeus certainly adds to Take-Two prowess in the sports games, while four years after its acquisition Social Point remains a solid performer in terms of titles such as Dragon City Mobile and Monster Legends.

But the more significant question remains, can Take-Two combine the various expertises it has accumulated to create an entity that is worth more than the sum of their individual parts?

And a similar but different question is when will Take-Two bring its (and Rockstar's) triple-A console IPs to mobile in a serious manner.

#29: Netmarble


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HQ: South Korea
Key Games: Marvel Contest of Champions, The Seven Deadly Sins, Marvel Future Revolution, Ni no Kuni: Cross Worlds
Sales: $2.3 billion (FY2020)
M&A: SpinX Games, Kung Fu Factory

Interesting times at Netmarble as the South Korean giant transitions from previously successful stalwarts such as Lineage II: Revolution to new releases notably Marvel Future Revolution, which has just been launched globally.

Of course, Netmarble has plenty of experience in the Marvel universe as Marvel Contest of Champions remains one of its most successful games ever. Marvel Future Fight hasn't reached the same heights but is still ticking over nicely.

As for its other top titles, these include RPG such as The Seven Deadly Sins: Grand Cross and Ni no Kuni: Cross Worlds, which has performed very well despite only being released in five Asian countries to-date. Certainly it will be fascinating to see if this mobile take on a popular console RPG can match anything like that level of success outside of Japan and Korea when it gains a global release later in 2021.

Other titles pencilled in for future global launch include Seven Knights II and K-pop rhythm action game BTS Dream: TinyTan House.

Netmarbke is also boosting its output with M&A, notably buying Chinese social casino developer SpinX Games for $2.2 billion, and also taking a majority stake in US studio Kung Fu Factory, which has just released NBA Ball Stars.

#28: Lockwood Publishing

Lockwood Publishing

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Key Games: Avakin Life
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

Originally a key content developer for PlayStation Home, Lockwood is a great example of a small team taking their experience and branching out to create something new and distinctive on mobile.

Released in 2013, Avakin Life is a female-focused 3D avatar world in which players chat, dress up, decorate their spaces and meet up in special events within a vibrant social community.

Unsurprisingly, growth was particularly strong during 2020 as Covid-19 lockdowns reduced real-life interactions. Avakin Life passed 200 million registered accounts, also hitting 1.4 million DAUs in June 2020. This trajectory has also been boosted as Avakin Life continues to double down on interacting with influencers and the creator economy.

And this is something the company's $25 million Series A funding round from investors ranging from Tencent to game entrepreneurs such as David Helgason (Unity founder) and Hilmar Pétursson (CPP Games) will only boost.

#27: Stillfront Group

Stillfront Group

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HQ: Sweden
Key Games: BitLife, Empire Four Kingdoms, Hollywood Story, War Commander
Sales: $463 million (all games, FY2020)
M&A: Yes!

Although not quite operating at the scale of Embracer, Stillfront is playing a similar game. Able to access cheap money through its floatation on the Nasdaq Nordic stock exchange, Stillfront has acquired multiple game studios over the years (19 at last count) with the strategy of letting them operate independently, while sharing expertise and capital as and when required.

Kickstarted by the reverse acquisition of Goodgames in 2017, over the years Stillfront added key mobile studios including Simutronics, Kixeye, Storm8, Imperia Online and Candywriter.

And that pace only accelerated in 2020 and 2021, thanks to deals to buy Croatian mobile game developer Nanobits, TCG company Everguild, US casual developer Super Free Games, Indian mobile game company Moonfrog and French studio GodziLab.

Certainly this is a less showy collection of companies than some of its rivals, and one assumption is that despite buying less well-known businesses, Stillfront has bought better.

Of course that supposition will only be proven in the coming years. But with around $350 million of cash on hand, Stillfront will have plenty more opportunities to prove its mettle in future months.

#26: AppLovin


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Key Games: Final Fantasy XV, Matchington Mansions, Wordscapes, Project Makeover
Sales: $361 million (mobile games, Q2 FY2021)
M&A: Adjust, West Game, Cash Tornado Slots, Island King

Another example of the synergies between adtech and mobile game developers that have arisen, AppLovin and its various subsidiaries - Lion Studios, MZ, Firecraft etc - have surprising scale.

Its mobile game portfolio consists of over 200 mobile games with around 40 million DAUs. Combined with AppLovin's massive adtech business, which handles 6.5 trillion events daily, and this is a business with the data and the cash to make highly strategic decisions.

This is particularly true when it comes to AppLovin's acquisition policy, which is less about buying game companies, and more about identifying key titles it can boost with its platform.

Examples in 2021 include Forever9 Games' Island King and Holdem or Foldem titles, as well as Lexiang's West Game and Zeroo Gravity's Cash Tornado Slots.

The fact that very few people have heard of these games just goes to underline AppLovin's advantages. And the fact AppLovin was prepared to pay out $430 million to gain access to these titles demonstrates its confidence in its ability to grow these games even faster.

Of course, the biggest news for AppLovin in 2021 was its IPO, which raised $2 billion. It also acquired German attribution and analytics company Adjust for $1 billion in February, and it still has $1.1 billion in cash for further deals.

#25: Miniclip


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Key Games: 8 Ball Pool, Ultimate Golf, Mini Football
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: Supersonic Software, Gamebasics

Majority-owned by Tencent since 2015, UK casual gaming specialist Miniclip has levered the power of its giant owner with an increasingly active M&A strategy of its own.

Starting out with investments into some studios, it's since acquired developers such as Ilyon Games, Eight Pixels Square, Gamebasics and most recently long time UK indie Supersonic Software.

Much of this focus has been around developers with expertise in sports in general and soccer in particular. Gamebasics runs Online Soccer Manager, while a recent investment was into Green Horse Games, which is best known for Football Rivals. Mini Football - Soccer Game and Football Strike are two of Miniclip's successful games, although 8 Ball Pool and Ultimate Golf remain its key performers.

#24: ByteDance


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ByteDance »

HQ: China
Key Games: Mobile Legends: Bang Bang
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: Moonton, C4games, Mokun

Best known for TikTok (Douyin in China), over the past years ByteDance has invested plenty of cash and management time into building a fully-fledged gaming business - called Nuverse - that spans publishing and internal development.

Of course, one element of this strategy is company acquisition and ByteDance made headlines with its deal - rumoured to be worth $4 billion - to buy Mobile Legends: Bang Bang developer Moonton.

Other deals included C4games and Mokun, while it's also invested in a number of other companies including Shadowgun developer Madfinger. ByteDance's internal studio Ohayoo has also been very active publishing over 150 mainly hypercasual games, generating around 500 million downloads in the process.

Of course, the challenge with hypercasual titles is to transform downloads into revenue; something that typically happens by cross-marketing to more complex, higher ARPU experiences.

At least that's something ByteDance should know all about thanks to its infamous TikTok recommendation algorithms.

#23: Krafton


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HQ: South Korea
Key Games: Battlegrounds Mobile India, PUBG: New State
Sales: $1.4 billion (all games, FY2020)
M&A: Dreamotion

Created to provide a corporate setting to protect and sustain the success of PUBG, Krafton is an interesting mix of studios.

Of course, the jewel is PUBG Studios (previously Bluehole), which oversees the battle royale game. It's been very busy in recent months, as it gears up for the global release of PUBG: New State, the sequel to PUBG Mobile, which is due for release in October and which has already generated a record 20 million pre-registrations.

The original PUBG Mobile was developed by Tencent's LightSpeed & Quantum Studio. Tencent is one of the largest shareholders in Krafton with a 14% stake.

Krafton has also taken the lead for Battleground Mobile India, a country-specific release following the banning of PUBG Mobile due to political tensions between India and China. Released in July, Battleground Mobile India has already attracted over 30 million players, with a launch peak of 2.4 concurrent users.

Aside from PUBG Studios, Krafton's mobile presence is boosted by RisingWings, which operates casual sports games such as Golf King: World Tour and is launching strategy game Castle Craft, and recent acquisition Dreamotion, which operates mobile games such as Ronin; The Last Samurai.

Krafton also raised headlines with its recent IPO, which raised around $3 billion on listing, although there had been much discussion about how the company's shares were priced. This led to a first day fall in value although this has since reversed.

#22: Riot Games

Riot Games

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Key Games: League of Legends: Wild Rift, Teamfight Tactics, Valorant Mobile
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

For many years, Riot Games was a one-game-company focused exclusively on PC MOBA League of Legends. That's changed in recent years, with the release of PC shooter Valorant, plus a raft of mobile games based within the League of Legends universe.

What was surprising about this strategy was Riot decided to go so broad in terms of its releases. Teamfight Tactics is an autochess game, while Legends of Runeterra is a card battler and League of Legends: Esport Manager is a management title.

Less surprising is that Riot's most successful mobile game is League of Legends: Wild Rift, which brings the original MOBA experience to mobile. It's estimated to have generated over $60 million in lifetime revenue, compared to $28 million for Teamfight Tactics and $16 million for Legends of Runeterra.

Of course, the bigger news in 2021 has been the announcement that Valorant will be released on mobile although few other details have yet been released.

As an aside, Riot has also invested in several mobile game startups including Double Loop Games and South African publishing platform Carry1st.

#21: FunPlus


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HQ: China/Switzerland
Key Games: State of Survival, Guns of Glory, King of Avalon
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

Starting out as a casual game developer a decade ago, the big pivot for FunPlus occurred in 2014 when it sold out games such as Family Farm and started focusing on more hardcore genres, notably 4X strategy. Releases such as Guns of Glory and King of Avalon still do good business and remain on track to break the $1 billion lifetime revenue mark.

However, FunPlus' business has really been boosted by the release of zombie strategy title State of Survival, which has been ripping up the top grossing charts since its release in August 2019. Tie-in events such as the recent deal with AMC to bring characters from The Walking Dead into the game have accelerated that trajectory.

And this is something FunPlus is looking to build on, particularly as it's been aggressively hiring a world-class management team based out of Switzerland. New faces include Kabam and Zynga veteran Chris Petrovic, ex-Netease COO Michael Tong, and Facebook Gaming director Bob Slinn.

#20: Sky Mavis

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HQ: Vietnam
Key Games: Axie Infinity
Sales: Not applicable
M&A: None

Probably the least known company in this year's list, Sky Mavis' game Axie Infinity is probably now also one of the most discussed. A game requiring the use of NFTs - digital assets secured by a blockchain - and in which in-game activity is rewarded using a cryptocurrency, Axie Infinity is the game everyone is studying to understand if this new play-to-earn dynamic really is the future.

The main reason for this turn of events is the sudden success of the game, both in terms of user activity and financial value.

From mere thousands of DAUs at the start of 2021, Axie Infinity broke the 1 million DAU mark in August and now has over 1 million DAUs just on Android. Even more significantly, Axie Infinity isn't available through app stores but is currently distributed via APK and Apple's Testflight. You can also play it on PC and Mac.

But it's the financial numbers that really shock. Its most expensive class of NFTs sell for over $100,000 apiece and there's been $1.6 billion-worth of total NFT trading to-date.

Meanwhile the game's main cryptocurrency has a $4 billion market cap and its community-led treasury has accumulated $560 million in fees and transaction margins, all within a couple of months.

Equally significant is that thousands of people from low-wage countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and India are playing the game to generate some or all of their salary.



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HQ: South Korea
Key Games: Lineage (series), Blade & Soul, Aion
Sales: $1.5 billion (mobile games, FY2020)
M&A: None

As has been the case since it was released way back in 1998, NCSoft remains the company dominated by Lineage. Recent mobile versions Lineage M and Lineage 2 M are still performing strongly; they're NCSoft's top performing titles - each has generated over $1 billion in revenue - helping NCSoft to boost its mobile revenue in 2020 by 72 percent.

But the big news has been the announcement of Lineage W, which is the first game in series designed for global audiences - the W stands for Worldwide - through a single build that supports cross-platform play for mobile, PC and console.

However it is worth pointing out that NCSoft does have plenty of other IP and it's interesting to see that it's slowly attempting to make them all cross-platform. The latest to get the treatment is fantasy martial arts title Blade & Soul 2, which has just gone live globally.

Also rumoured for a 2022 release is Aoin 2, which would follow on from Aion: League of War, a mobile spin-off of the classic MMORPG, which was launched and canned in short notice during 2019.

#18: Modern Times Group (MTG)

Modern Times Group (MTG)

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Modern Times Group (MTG) »

HQ: Sweden
Key Games: Bloons TD 6, Top Drives, F1 Clash, Word Trip
Sales: $514 million (mobile games, FY2020)
M&A: Hutch, Ninja Kiwi, PlaySimple

What a busy year for MTG (aka Modern Times Group). Originally a Swedish media outfit with a side interest in esports, it got into the games business proper in 2016 buying 35% of German developer Innogames. But that was just the start.

Another acquisitive company making full use of its ability to raise money thanks to its listing on the Nasdaq Nordic exchange, MTG has since gone on to spend a further $1 billion dollars.

Notable deals over the past year include UK motorsport developer Hutch Games for up to $325 million and Bloons developer Ninja Kiwi for up to $200 million. Its latest deal was Indian word game studio PlaySimple for $360 million, albeit with an additional potential $150 million earnout.

The result is a company, which should post around $550 million in mobile game revenue in 2021 and no doubt also be signing more details.

#17: Tilting Point

Tilting Point

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Tilting Point »

Key Games: Star Trek Timelines, Nova Empire, SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off, Narcos
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

Labelling its activity as "progressive publishing", US outfit Tilting Point has accelerated its business significantly over the past 12 months.

In part this has been fueled by the company's first big investment, which raised $235 million. But even before this capital event, Tilting Point has been increasingly active signing partnerships and acquiring games to build out its portfolio.

Examples include the $40 million it invested to boost the operations of JoyCity's Gunship Battle: Total Warfare, and $60 million invested into Loop Games' Match 3D. Such investments are triggered as Tilting Point comes across titles it believes it can scale through honed UA campaigns and other expertise such as app store optimisation.

It's also just acquired the publishing rights to WhaleApp's hidden object game Hidden Hotel: Miami Mystery, with the goal of fully acquiring the game in 12 months time.

That would see the title joining Tilting Point's extensive internal library which includes TerraGenesis and SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off.

#16: Epic Games

Epic Games

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Key Games: Fortnite
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: Tonic Games

How to judge the worth of Epic Games in the mobile ecosystem?

On one level, few companies have generated more headlines than Epic thanks to its ongoing lawsuit with Apple over alleged monopolistic practises in the App Store.

On the other hand, due to that lawsuit, does Epic even count as a mobile game maker these days? Fortnite isn't available on the App Store or Google Play Store (although you can still access it via Epic's own store and Samsung's Galaxy Store).

The answer to this Schrodinger-esque question may not even be provided by the conclusion of the court case. CEO Tim Sweeney has never lacked ambition and now thanks to a recent $1 billion funding round, Epic doesn't lack for resources either.

Their combined vision for the metaverse (whatever that actually turns out to be) will much more likely be the framing for Epic's long term success or failure.

#15: Jam City

Jam City

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Key Games: Cookie Jam, Disney Emoji Blitz, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery
Sales: $890 million (predicted FY2022)
M&A: None

The travails of high finance were highlighted by Jam City's recent attempt to float on the New York Stock Exchange via a SPAC merger.

As well as facilitating the listing, the move was also designed to allow Jam City to acquire Canadian developer Ludia.

Jam City and Ludia still want to make that deal happen but the original SPAC merger is off, leaving a $175 million hole that needs to be plugged.

However this predicament is sorted out, Jam City can still boast a strong portfolio of titles ranging from its own IP games such as match-3 classics Cookie Jam and Panda Pop to licensing such as DisneyEmoji Blitz and Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery.

The addition of Ludia would be complementary too. It's also experienced in working with licensed IP. Its top games are Jurassic World Alive and Jurassic World: The Game.

#14: Playrix


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HQ: Ireland/Russia
Key Games: Homescapes, Gardenscapes, Fishdom
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

Given the incredible success of match-builders Homescape and Gardenscapes, it's remarkable that Playrix isn't better known, even with the games industry.

Founded by the Bukhman brothers in northwest Russia, it was early to F2P mobile, releasing Township in 2013, and quickly demonstrated its ability to make and market compelling products. Fishdom followed in 2015, with Homescapes and Gardenscapes released in subsequent years.

All of these games are still live and successful although Homescapes and Gardenscapes operate on a different level, having generated multiple billions of dollars between them.

Indeed, it was recently estimated that Gardenscapes had surpassed $3 billion in lifetime revenue, making it one of the most profitable mobile games ever.

As for what's next, Playrix has been soft launching more titles in the Scapes' franchise and also experimenting with new genres such as RPG Puzzle Breakers.

Hidden object title Manor Matters launched globally in 2020 and has been performing well since, although it's yet to reach the levels of Playrix's first releases.

#13: Activision Blizzard

Activision Blizzard

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Activision Blizzard »

Key Games: Call of Duty: Mobile, Crash Bandicoot: On the Run!, Candy Crush Saga
Sales: $8.1 billion (all games, FY2020)
M&A: None

Although Activision Blizzard's mobile business isn't just about King these days, the Candy Crush Saga company continues to be the most impressive of Activision Blizzard's three divisions. Recent financials have been all time highs.

Partly this is down to the general uplift from Covid-19 but Candy Crush Saga, in particular, continues to crush it. It remains the top grossing mobile game in the US. This has been reinforced by King's careful introduction of in-game advertising, which has now generated $300 million in revenues, as is still growing fast.

King also released the much anticipated Crash Bandicoot: On the Run!, which was well regarded, although hasn't troubled the top grossing charts.

Aside from King, Call of Duty: Mobile is another mobile hit game that refuses to stop growing. It's predicted to hit $1 billion in lifetime revenues during 2021, in part boasted by the game's launch in China with partner (and Activision Blizzard shareholder) Tencent.

And there's plenty more to come. Blizzard's Diablo Immortal has been pushed back in 2022 but as well as confirming more mobile Call of Duty games, Activision has also announced it's staffing up with a brand new triple-A mobile game studio currently being put together in Santa Monica.

#12: Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts

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Electronic Arts »

Key Games: Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, The Sims, SimCity BuildIt, Need for Speed: No Limits
Sales: $718 million (mobile games, FY2020)
M&A: Glu Mobile, Playdemic

Despite being able to lay claim to being there at the start of mobile gaming (back in 2005), the suspicion has always been that EA didn't really get mobile gaming, or at least it hasn't consistently got it over the past decade.

But that was then and as the acquisition of Glu Mobile for $2.1 billion and Playdemic for $1.4 billion make clear, EA certainly now takes mobile very seriously.

These two deals see EA adding strong sport franchises such as Golf Clash and MLB Tap Sports Baseball as well as decorative and fashion titles Design Home and Covet Fashion. Financially, this should boost its annual sales by up to $700 million.

These games will combine well with EA Mobile stables such as FIFA Soccer, Madden NFL and NBA Live, as well as the future promise of high profile titles ranging from Apex Legends Mobile (currently in soft launch) to an all-new Battlefield Mobile due in 2022.

#11: Tencent


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Tencent »

HQ: China
Key Games: Honor of Kings, Game for Peace, Call of Duty: Mobile
Sales: $6.3 billion (mobile games, Q2 FY2021)
M&A: Sumo Group

It's difficult to know where to start with Tencent, which as well as being China's largest internet and social network company, is also the world's largest games company.

And this status isn't just because it owns all or part of so many key game makers ranging from Riot Games and Supercell to Epic, Activision Blizzard, Miniclip, Remedy, Paradox, Ubisoft, Sumo, Krafton, Funcom, Garena etc.

It also developed and operates some of the most lucrative mobile games, notably Honor of Kings, PUBG Mobile (called Game for Peace in China) and Call of Duty: Mobile, accounting for around 50% of all Chinese game revenue.

And yet, despite this and its growing revenue - mobile games were up 13% in the most recent quarter - the outlook for Tencent looks rather bleak, at least in the short term.

The reason is the increasingly restrictive nature of the Chinese government in general to culture and gaming, and particularly in terms of gaming for players aged under 18.

Over the past 12 months, various rules have come into place, limiting who can spend money in mobile games and who can play and for how long. Tencent has attempted to keep ahead of the rules, but the dynamic nature of government invention has made this a tricky situation.

As it stands, the latest ruling is that under 18 year olds can only play online games for up to three hours a week; one hour a day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

In response, Tencent has revealed it generates less than 3% of its revenues from non-adults but that hasn't stopped investors tanking its share price 35% from its February peak.

Interesting times, indeed. 

#10: NetEase


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NetEase »

HQ: China
Key Games: Knives Out, Identity V, Fantasy Westward Journey, The Lord of The Rings: Rise to War
Sales: $8.2 billion (mobile games, FY2020)
M&A: None

In many ways the yang to Tencent's ying - the companies account for the majority of Chinese gaming revenue - NetEase has been building a very strong pipeline of mobile games.

Of course, its classic Chinese PC-to-mobile conversions such as Fantasy Westward Journey continue to do great business; it's generated multiple billions over the years.

NetEase also demonstrated its operational chops launching multiple battle royale titles while Tencent was still working on the official PUBG Mobile game. One of NetEase's thus inspired games Knives Out remains a massive hit in Japan.

But it's working with western IP that has been a key focus more recently. Harry Potter: Magic Awakened is (currently at least) a China-only title that combines the Wizarding World with a core trading card experience.

Also launching in September, but this time globally, is the much anticipated The Lord of The Rings: Rise to War. Further out on the timeline is Diablo Immortal, which has been delayed into 2022. NetEase has been licensing Blizzard's games in China for years.

To complete the IP picture, NetEase also operates the Chinese version of Minecraft and Minecraft: Pocket Edition in China, and soft launched casual multiplayer game Tom & Jerry: Chase back in March.

Add into the mix the forthcoming high-end experiences such as survival shooter Lost Light and Frostpunk: Rise of the City amongst dozens of other titles in development, and you have a company that is firing on all cylinders, both domestically and globally.

#9: Roblox


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Key Games: Roblox
Sales: $923 million (FY2020)
M&A: Guilded, Bash Video

One of the many game companies that took advantage of positive market conditions to IPO in 2021, Roblox has the expanding business to match the ambition of its investors' enthusiasm.

In part thanks to Covid-19 restrictions, it's seen a strong uptick in engagement with activity up to 43 million DAUs across PC and mobile. The vast majority of Roblox users are now accessing the service via mobile devices.

Similarly, there have been two very obvious increases in quarterly revenue: up 98% in Q2 2020 and then a further 28% in Q4 2020. Significantly these changes were particularly due growth in the over 13 age group - which is now the majority audience for Roblox - as well as expansion outside the North American and European markets.

This, in turn, demonstrates Roblox's drive to become the ecosystem for creators.

Effectively it's providing a platform for user-generated content, both from professional developers and those just experimenting with the available tools. For, crucially the creators of such content have the opportunity to monetise their activity. Roblox has paid out $449 million to its creators over the past 12 months.

Of course, this sort of freedom comes with its own problems in terms of moderating and dealing with unsavoury content; itself a wider social question in terms of what actually constitutes unsavoury content. No doubt that's an area that will get a lot more attention both internally and externally over the coming years.

In a more positive vein, in-game events such as the launch party for rapper KSI have been very successful. Roblox has signed deals for more of the same with Sony Music and BMG, while Netflix created a Stranger Things world for fans of the quirky show, and even Gucci is getting in on the action.

And, yes, let's mention the metaverse too. Even if no-one's exactly sure what one is, Roblox is probably about as close to it as we currently get.

#8: Zynga


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Key Games: High Heels, Words With Friends 2, Merge Dragons, CSR Racing 2, Toon Blast
Sales: $2 billion (FY2020)
M&A: Chartboost, Uncosoft, Echtra Games, StarLark

What Zynga does today, everyone else does tomorrow. That's one conclusion to derive from the US mobile publisher's activity over recent years.

It was one of the first companies to kickstart the M&A boom, snapping up some of the best developers at what would now be considered bargain basement prices. In particular, it was early to realise the value offered by Turkish mobile developers, acquiring Gram Games, Peak Games and Rollic in short measure.

With Rollic, it was also one of the first traditional game companies to get into hypercasual, something that's been rewarded with the success of Rollic's High Heels and Hair Challenge in 2021.

As for new trends, Zynga's been right-on-cue in terms of adtech consolidation, buying Chartboost to improve and scale its own inhouse technology.

Another focus has been cross-platform gaming. Zynga will be launching its first mobile-console game Star Wars: Hunters in 2022. New acquisition Echtra Games has plenty of experience in this area.

And this is all external to the company's existing products, which continue to perform extremely well. Veteran titles such as Zynga Poker and Words With Friends are still hitting all-time highs, while relatively newcomers such as Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells are also gaining market traction. Zynga's most recent quarterly revenue was up 59%

Next up comes the much anticipated release of FarmVille 3 later in 2021, which has been in soft launch for 18 months.

#7: Bandai Namco

Bandai Namco

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HQ: Japan
Key Games: Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle, Dragon Ball Legends, One Piece Treasure Cruise
Sales: $3 billion (all games, FY2020)
M&A: None

One of the many storied Japanese game companies, Bandai Namco boasts plenty of well known global IPs ranging from Pac-Man, Tekken and Soul Calibur to Gundam and Dark Souls. But when it comes to successful mobile games, it's been core Japanese anime properties that have really done the business.

Key among them is Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle, which was released in 2015 but is still going very strong. Indeed, it's just broken the $3 billion dollar mark in terms of lifetime revenue; a testament to Bandai Namco's ability to run live operations and in-game events.

It's also worth noting that unlike similar titles such as Mixi's Monster Strike and GungHo's Puzzle & Dragons, Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle doesn't just appeal to the domestic Japanese audience. It has also strong fanbases in the US, Brazil and especially in France where it's a consistent top 5 top grossing game.

While Dokkan Battle is Bandai Namco's top mobile game, it has plenty of other success stories too, including Dragon Ball Legends, The Idolmaster series, and multiple games in the One Piece manga universe.

One Piece is the best-selling manga series ever with 500 million copies published. One of Bandai Namco's secret weapons is its own licensing rights to the Shonen Jump weekly magazine.

And perhaps this is both the strength and weakness of Bandai Namco's mobile games business. It's always going to be very strong in Japan but can it leverage the international performance of Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle more generally?

One example of how it's attempting to do this is the relaunch of its Digimon brand. Working with Tencent, Digimon: New Century is currently in soft launch. Another is the establishment of a new development studio in Barcelona to create new IP to better address western tastes.

#6: Supercell


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HQ: Finland
Key Games: Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, Boom Beach, Brawl Stars
Sales: $1.5 billion (FY2020)
M&A: None

Whatever happened to Supercell?

For years, it carefully nurtured its games. Many prototypes were secretly created and dropped internally even before a few, select titles entered a brutal soft launch that saw the majority culled for failing to meet Supercell's high requirements.

Not any more. Supercell currently has one game - Everdale - in beta testing, one game - Clash Quest - in soft launch, and two others - Clash Mini and Clash Heroes - in public development.

It's hard to discern what's changed. Certainly the mobile game space has changed radically in recent years, and Supercell with its focus on gameplay and polish over some of the more gritty aspects of performance marketing just doesn't have the same advantages over the competition as it once had.

Another vital factor is manpower. Supercell's entire headcount of 350 is smaller than some entire mobile game development teams. No other company operates games of the scale or financial success of Clash of Clans and Brawl Stars with such a tiny number of staff.

In that context, something has to change and it looks to be a greater openness into the development process.

Significantly this provides the ability for Supercell community to get their hands on games earlier and help shape the final outcome. This looks to be something that will be particularly important for co-operative builder Everdale, which is a very different sort of game compared to Supercell's previous releases and not just due to the lack of violence.

Supercell is also taking this sort of thinking outside of the company. It's working with UK developer Space Ape on franchise expansion Boom Beach: Frontlines, and it's invested $180 million into the success of Metacore's Merge Mansions.

#5: Scopely


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Key Games: Marvel Strike Force, Yahtzee with Buddies, Star Trek Fleet Command
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: Genjoy

Often when companies close a Series E funding round it means they're in trouble and looking for cash to pivot.

That's far from the case with Scopely. It's just raised $340 million from a series of investors desperate to buy into a fast-growing company, which is now valued at $3.3 billion.

In turn, Scopely is not sitting on its cash pile. It's already invested a total of $50 million into Omnidrone, Pixel Toys and Tag Games, which are working on midcore and strategy games it will publish.

More generally, however, one of the striking things about Scopely is its ability to find success across multiple genres, typically by leveraging external IP.

It started out casual with games such as Dice With Buddies before gaining its first big hit with Yahtzee with Buddies. It now also operates Scrabble GO and Wheel of Fortune: Free Play.

On the other side of balance are mobile games such as The Walking Dead: Road to Survival and Star Trek Fleet Command, which enable higher levels of monetisation per user.

But the most significant moment for Scopely’s current level of success was its ability to acquire Marvel Strike Force. The title has excelled in the hands of Scopely, making it into the top mobile RPG in the US.

#4: CyberAgent


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HQ: Japan
Key Games: Uma Musume Pretty Derby
Sales: $1.6 billion (all games, FY2020)
M&A: None

A large media grouping covering everything from advertising to streaming, CyberAgent has many game subsidiaries but it's Cygames that continues to generate the hits.

It developed Rage of Bahamut, one of the big successes for DeNA's Mobage platform, as well as the likes of Granblue Fantasy and Princess Connect! Re:Dive; all well-known titles in Japan. It also hooked up with Nintendo to make Dragalia Lost.

Even in that context of consistent performance over the years, the amazing success of Uma Musume Pretty Derby is unexpected.

As ever, to the uninitiated the game's theme can only be described as very Japanese. Based on a manga series, it's set in a world in which famous Japanese race horses are reborn as 'horse girls' (Uma Musume).

Players have to collect and train their horses and there's the usual twisting plot and character interactions that arise from an academy setting. Broadly speaking it's a mixture of RPG and school narrative.

And it's been the hit mobile game of 2021. Released in February, after a prolonged and troubled development cycle, Uma Musume Pretty Derby has generated so much revenue in Japan, it's ranked as the number three top grossing game globally in April, and looks likely to make over $500 million this year.

Of course, whether it will remain one of those classic Japan-only mobile games that makes billions but is just too weird to appeal to international audiences remains to be seen. Certainly it would be fascinating to see CyberAgent and Cygames attempting to release it more widely.

#3: Hoyoverse


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Hoyoverse »

HQ: China
Key Games: Genshin Impact
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: None

While console-quality gaming on mobile isn't anything new, Genshin Impact has taken the concept to new heights.

Released for mobile, PC and PlayStation in September 2020 (with a Switch version in the works), MiHoYo's open world adventure has wowed audiences both in China and internationally, and quickly become a global top grossing game.

The mobile version alone was estimated to have broken $1 billion in lifetime revenue within six months of launch.

Indeed, it could be argued Genshin Impact is the perfect combination of a large scale, high fidelity console gaming experience with mobile gaming monetisation. The game is F2P with gacha mechanics for gaining new characters, weapons and other items.

Famously, this level of polish didn't occur accidentally. The game started development in 2017, costing over $100 million. Sometimes forgotten, however, MiHoYo had been building up its development chops in previous years.

Some elements of Genshin Impact, including the attention spent on localisation and graphical quality, can be seen in previous releases Guns Girl Z and Honkai Impact 3rd.

MiHoYo has also been strongly committed to live ops in all its games, especially Genshin Impact, now spending a rumoured $200 million on updates.

In all sorts of ways, then, mobile gaming just grew up.

#2: Garena


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HQ: Singapore
Key Games: Free Fire, Free Fire MAX
Sales: $1 billion (FY2020)
M&A: None

The gaming division of Singapore internet giant Sea, Garena has a long history of supporting online gaming and esports in countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

And it was this local knowledge and the ability to develop a battle royale game that would support the myriad of low-level Android devices popular in the region that lay the foundation for the massive success of Free Fire.

It was the most downloaded game in 2019 and 2020, with over one billion lifetime downloads in total. Only Subway Surfers and Candy Crush Saga have been downloaded more times. It's also estimated to have generated over $3 billion in lifetime revenue since its launch in 2017, most of this arising through the Google Play Store.

Significantly, though, it's no longer viewed as just a lite version of PUBG. It has a strong audience in countries such as the US - in total it now boasts an incredible 100 million DAUs - and it's this that's encouraged Garena to release Fire Free MAX.

An enhanced version of the game with better graphics and exclusive features, it supports the original version so players can sync accounts and all versions of the game play on the same servers.

Also worth watching is how Garena looks to leverage the Free Fire MAX audience into new experiences which will be outside of the core shooter gameplay. After all, Fortnite isn't currently available as a mobile game, which provides it with a huge opportunity for further expansion.

Aside from the games themselves, the scale of Fire Free has seen it become a strong marketing platform for brands as varied as Christiano Ronaldo and McLaren.

And when Covid-19 restrictions allow, Garena will recommence all its real life esports activity around the game. It's currently reduced to online competitions although the most recent of these offered a sizable $2 million prize pool.

#1: Niantic


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Niantic »

Key Games: Pokemon Go
Sales: Not disclosed
M&A: Scaniverse, Mayhem

What do you do when governments suddenly start banning the activity that's foundational to your product and business?

That was the very real question Niantic had to deal with in the start of 2020 when Covid-19 restrictions meant that large numbers of the audience for its real-world AR game Pokemon Go were suddenly restricted to their houses.

Even more troubling was that Niantic's existential reason for existing is to build games and product that get people moving and exploring the real world.

Nevertheless, it quickly modified Pokemon Go so people could play without leaving their houses, and gain access to more in-game items through shorter journeys. The result was a massive increase in usage and revenue that saw Pokemon Go have its then second best month ever during July 2020.

And this rate has continued, taking Pokemon Go to over $6 billion in lifetime revenues.

But Niantic isn't just about Pokemon Go. Through its Lightship tech platform, it's working with dozens of developers to launch games and products that know where they are in the world.

High profile titles announced include Transformers: Heavy Metal, which is being co-developed by Very Very Spaceship together with IP holder Hasbro.

Niantic is also working with Nintendo for a Pikmin game, and with Catan for Catan: World Explorers. These games are currently in various stages of soft launch testing.

Of course, not all such games are likely to succeed. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite just hasn't captured the imagination in the way Pokemon Go has, but for developers such as Niantic, failure is just an inherent part of innovation. After all this is a company that is now releasing teaser images of its own AR hardware.

For fundamentally, Niantic sees the whole world as a stage for gaming, and is building for that world. And what could be more ambitious than that?