One in every three people plays games, even if they don’t necessarily consider themselves a gamer. And while Triple A releases on consoles or the long-established PC gaming scene might be what come to mind when we think of gamers, mobile gaming is on the ascendence.

According to the latest Smartphone Gaming Report from industry body Newzoo, the number of smartphone users globally hit 3.5 billion in 2020, with China accounting for more than a quarter of this figure.

More importantly for brands looking to reach that audience, global mobile game revenues grew to $77.2bn (YOY growth of 13.3%) last year, with over half of users on iOS. That means there’s an enormous amount of potential for advertising growth on mobile platforms – provided brands can redefine who they consider to be a ‘gamer’.

Mobile gaming is more prevalent among women than men (though narrowly in some territories), while 60% of women gamers play daily compared to 47% of male users.

Jonathan Stringfield is vice-president of global business marketing, measurement and insights at Activision Blizzard Media. The videogame giant recently completed its acqusition of King, the developer which brought Candy Crush to your iPhone screen.

He says: “If we’re only thinking through the lens of ’gamer’, we are already potentially missing out on half the individuals in the gaming ecosystem. The potential for marketers to work with, understand and reach audiences through various touchpoints is much more diversified.”

That opportunity is accelerated further by the fact that mobile audiences – habituated by in-app monetization – are more inclined to accept ads in games than console or PC players. Mark Reynolds is a project co-ordinator at Brixton Finishing School and the former head of industry initiatives at IAB UK. He says: “Rewarded video is also another interesting area that gaming apps tend to favor. A big positive for in-app advertising is that you’re dealing with a highly engaged audience that have actively chosen to download and use the app.”

As a result, mobile gaming is set to grow further still as the adtech that underpins it becomes more sophisticated, and the total number of mobile gamers accelerates across the globe. In fact, as Facebook Gaming’s EMEA head of marketing, Tim Lion, says, besides already being a significant portion of the global gamer community, “these new gamers are considerably younger and prefer more core and mid-core genres, and have higher propensity to spend in-game”.

Gaming is gaming is gaming

As smartphones become more ubiquitous, there is an incentive for games developers to create parity across mobile and consoles in terms of releases. Huge competitive games including Fortnite and PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), and even console hits like Fall Guys, have been or will be released on mobile devices.

This cross-platform release strategy has been aided by the fact many console titles have since adopted the ‘minibuy’ or microtransaction-based model of free-to-play games that were once confined to mobile, ensuring audiences have much the same experience on mobile as on consoles.

Mobile games giant Zynga’s president of publishing Bernard Kim tells us: “One of the fastest growing categories is hyper-casual – simple games with mass market appeal. It is an area where we’re very strong. Our hyper-casual studio, Rollic, has been attracting new audiences to Zynga’s network by creating universal games that are relevant in culture and on leading social platforms, including TikTok.

“In addition, we are seeing positive early results with Rollic’s hyper-casual games in growing markets including Asia, where our content is connecting with audiences across the region. Additionally, we see tremendous opportunities in cross-platform play games that can be enjoyed across mobile, PCs and consoles, and we are actively working on cross-platform play titles.”

Mobile challenges

One of the issues facing mobile gaming, however, is that the ecosystem is dependent on hardware manufacturer and software OS, and any changes to those can impact the ability to generate revenue. As the ongoing feud over commission on in-app payments between Apple and Fortnite developer Epic Games demonstrates, the ecosystem can be destabilized.

Speaking about the recent changes to in-app tracking, Kim argues that Zynga’s acquisitions will allow it to weather such issues as mobile users’ attitudes to privacy change. “We expect in-app tracking changes, similar to changes made by Apple and California’s recent privacy rules, to continue to be enhanced and evolve in the coming years.”

That’s especially vital as the proportion of ad spend on mobile games is set to increase further over the next few years. According to UKIE’s UK Consumer Games Market Evaluation report for last year, mobile gaming revenue rose 21.3% to £1.5bn for this country alone.

While some of that might be attributed to the pandemic – which benefited the entire gaming industry – research from Facebook Gaming demonstrates that many of those new behaviors formed during the pandemic are set to stick around after lockdowns end. As Lion says: “It’s likely too that these new gamers will evolve into a more sustained and dedicated group of players.”

Mobile gaming is a boom industry. Challenges around control over payments and privacy, and a sluggish recognition from many advertisers about who counts as a ‘gamer’ do nothing to dull the allure of mobile as both gaming platform and channel for in-app advertising.

With the advent of cloud-based gaming just round the corner, the distinction between mobile and console gaming is set to dissolve – while the opportunities to reach a gaming audience wherever they choose to spend their time are still growing.

For more in-depth coverage on the present and future of mobile marketing, dial in to The Drum’s Mobile hub.



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