This month saw the long-awaited return of the Game Developers Conference as an in-person event, with thousands of games industry professionals descending onto San Francisco’s Moscone Center, as well as attending the show virtually.
The event hosted hundreds of sessions offering insights into the hottest new trends, game design tips, and deep dives into new and existing technologies. Sensor Tower was in attendance at the show, and we’ve rounded up a few key insights and trends for the mobile games space, from Battle Pass analysis and merge game advice, to the use of IP and blockchain technology.
During the conference, Omdia Principal Analyst George Jijiashvili hosted a session entitled ‘Subscriptions: Challenges and Opportunities’, delving into the proliferation of the monetization model across industries, including increasingly in the games sector.
Utilizing Sensor Tower data, combining our Store Intelligence platform and Game Intelligence and Game Taxonomy features, along with new monetization descriptors, Jijiashvili analyzed the top 100 revenue generating titles that utilize a subscription, Jijiashvili found that 67 of them were mid-core, while a comparatively low figure of 19 titles were from the casual space. The RPG genre was the most prominent genre harnessing subscriptions, with 31 titles in the top 100 grossers adopting the feature. Strategy, meanwhile, ranked No. 2 with 25 games, while Puzzle and Casino ranked joint No. 3 at seven.
While mid-core has so far seen the most common and successful implementations of the subscription model, Jijiashvili believes this kind of monetization can also be utilized by more casual titles. He noted how even hypercasual games are integrating subscriptions as part of their monetization strategy, in some cases combining them with ad removal options. For more on this topic, Sensor Tower’s recent State of Mobile Game Monetization 2022 Report also delves into the successful use of Season Passes in casual titles such as Gardenscapes from Playrix.
One of the standout sessions at the Free-To-Play Summit, Double Coconut CEO David Fox presented a talk on ‘Don’t Pass On Battle Pass: Best Practices for F2P Design’. Noting that “everyone else is doing it”, Fox showcased a slide from the aforementioned Sensor Tower Mobile Game Monetization 2022 Report that revealed half of the world’s top 10 grossing titles in 2021 harnessed a Season Pass.
Using the example of Clash of Clans’ Gold Pass, Fox stated that, according to Supercell’s own data, revenue per paying user saw a significant boost following its implementation in April 2019. This increase didn’t just come from existing spenders, but Supercell was also able to draw players into paying after years of not monetizing.
“Unlike a lot of other revenue driven features, it also lasted,” he said. “It wasn't just a one-time revenue bump, it was a continual revenue bump, so the lifetime customer value also increased tremendously when they released the Battle Pass.”
Fox explained that to create a successful Battle Pass system, developers need to blend together a few elements, which he likened to the golden ratio for cocktail making. You need two tracks of rewards, such as free and premium, elements of progression, and lastly a good value proposition. Examples of an effective implementation of the Battle Pass, Fox said, include the aforementioned Clash of Clans, Gardenscapes, Genshin Impact from miHoYo, and Brawl Stars and Clash Royale from Supercell.
The opening keynote at GDC’s Free-To-Play Summit was the session entitled ‘The Year in Free-To-Play Mobile Games: 2022 Edition’, presented by conference regulars Steve Meretzky and Dave Rohrl. While a range of topics were covered, one particularly interesting discussion was around the use of IP in mobile, with a focus on EA and Respawn Entertainment’s Apex Legends.
Following the battle royale game’s success on PC, the title has since been soft-launched on mobile in select countries, and Rohrl noted that this was but one dot in a long line of similar titles making their way to the platform.
“Increasingly, if you have a top ranked, triple-A IP, especially in the battle royale, shooter or MOBA genres, it seems to be becoming obligatory to make a mobile version of your game,” he said, noting successes of titles like Fortnite from Epic Games and Genshin Impact. “And not just some brand extension like Lara Croft GO, but something that faithfully mirrors gameplay and gives your players one more way to interact with the game they love.”
Rohrl noted that he believes the use of console and PC IP is much more prominent in developing countries like Brazil and India, citing the appearance of more licensed top grossing mobile titles in these markets when compared to regions such as the United States. He put this down to three factors: a mobile-first gaming mindset in developing countries, lower median ages that are more interested in action-oriented and competitive titles, and the lack of a generation of players raised on console games.
“First of all, the wave of mobile adaptations of triple-A franchises keeps growing. As more big franchises emerge on PC and console, more logs are thrown on the fire,” said Rohrl. “It's not that hard a phenomenon to miss if you're only tracking the charts in the U.S., Europe, and to a lesser extent in Japan. This really is a phenomenon in the developing world, in large part because of their demographics and how their access to gaming hardware has played out in the past.
“It is worth noting, that in the developing world, revenues per player are lower but the populations are very, very large and growing. As a result of that continued growth, and the success of these triple-A games in the developing world, this trend is likely to accelerate and not reverse.”
Lion Studios Director of Product Amy Choi offered some insights into the publisher’s approach to the merge games space in her talk entitled ‘Capturing the Merge Games Market at Hyper Speed’. The company has experience in both hypercasual and casual titles, and leveraged some of its learnings from the former to quickly release titles in the ‘board merge’ gaming space, such as Merge Villa and Merge Life. Choi said that Merge Villa has accumulated more than 15 million downloads to date, while Merge Life has picked up more than 5 million installs – figures reflected in Sensor Tower’s own estimates.
One of the key takeaways during the sessions was how important data is for casual development, particularly as developers introduce more complex features and start monitoring player journeys over longer periods of time, unlike what is typically seen in hypercasual. She highlighted the useful insights the company had gained when correlating IAP transactions with in-game user activity, and being able to provide a custom experience to each player by utilizing data and segmentation.
“At Lion, one of the first changes we made when we decided to start casual development was to build out a more robust analytics team,” said Choi. “We went from making funnels on Facebook analytics to running complex correlation analyses and LTV predictions. We onboarded new services and tools and really saw data as the first step in making bigger and better games.”
Blockchain gaming had a notable presence during this year’s GDC. But while blockchain technology and associated NFTs have yet to take off in the mobile games space, specifically, there have been some standout performers. These include Thetan Arena from WolfFun, which has accumulated 11 million installs to date, and MIR4 from Wemade, which has generated approximately $106 million from in-app purchases globally across the App Store and Google Play since its global launch in August 2021, according to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence estimates. The chart below shows the top mobile games from 2021 that use NFT / Crypto mechanics.
Wemade VP and Wemix CEO Shane Kim discussed the success of MIR4 and its blockchain platform, Wemix, during his talk entitled ‘Blockchain Gaming Centered Around MIR4 and Wemix’. Kim said that, across platforms, MIR4 now has more than 2 million daily active users, and is bullish about what its success to date means for blockchain in games.
“Games are no longer just entertainment and will increasingly take the form of economic activities,” he said. “These characteristics are also the assets of the metaverse, which is a hot trend recently. When games will officially be recognised for having true characteristics and value as an economic activity, the games industry will, once again, experience massive growth.”