2018 is the 10-year anniversary for the iOS and Android app stores. So fundamental was smartphones’ impact on gaming (and life in general) that it’s hard to remember a time before. Research firm Newzoo predicts the mobile game market could hit a staggering $57.9b this year. So, looking this mature market, what can we expect in 2018? While few expect genuinely disruptive change in mobile this year, underestimating the volatility and trendiness in any sector of videogames is ill-advised. Anything can happen! So, here is what we think could be interesting in mobile games in 2018:
Headset-less AR will show the path forward in a way that HMD-driven VR won’t. Sure, Pokémon Go has already proven that games can incorporate real-world elements to massive success, and it seems to be a safe bet that Niantic’s new Harry Potter AR game will do well. But so much more is to come, and Apple specifically is showing a lot of attention to AR development for their devices. They’ve made a calculation that is different than Samsung or Google, in that it’s not about using headsets and glasses to create a feeling of immersion, it’s simply about a feeling of a connection to the world around you. We think there could be more breakout AR hits this year on mobile that aren’t branded behemoths. The downloads will come – let’s just hope the games monetize.
“Casual competitive” games, not esports, will drive monetization. We all know Clash Royale has absolutely dominated the last couple years but it turns out this was the beginning of a much larger trend: games where people compete but it’s not all that competitive. For example, if you compete at Vainglory, you pretty much know you are jumping into a viper’s nest of talented players that will destroy you. Being able to compete requires a patient focus on learning. However, there is this new zone where you want to compete and progress, but there isn’t a feeling of high stakes. It’s just pure fun, win or lose, with a sprinkling of luck to make you feel better about your odds. This is best exemplified with Fortnite on PC and console – when you lose, often the fun is looking at how that sniper offed you… then you drop right back for a new game, hoping for chest with a gold SCAR. Considering Netease’s mobile battle royale game Rules of Survival is doing well, a game with more than a few (ahem) rough edges, just wait until the quality mobile battle royale games arrive. PUBG is already playable on mobile in China, watch out!
“Discoverability” will get even worse. Now that the app stores have changed how they feature games, things move much more quickly. A daily feature is a big deal, and that rarely drives enough installs to build a foundation of players. Even when weekly features were still the holy grail, the effectiveness was already starting to decline. The reality is that most peoples’ phones are jammed with games and apps, and gamers tend to spend a lot of time on the few games they love, so there isn’t necessarily a burning desire for “the new”. The dark arts of user acquisition have come under more and more scrutiny as costs have skyrocketed and questions arise about the quality of installs.
Signs of life for premium games. This might be more wishful thinking that prognosticating, but perhaps premium games can monetize in a way that isn’t an upfront payment. The explosion of amazing games on Steam scream out for quality ports to tablets, but so few make the jump (seems the gold rush is on Switch… for the moment). But the mass market is on iPad and Android tablets, so why aren’t more Steam hits being released here? “Anything above $1.99 on mobile is a death wish” is a common answer, but what if you could have access to a bunch of premium games as part of a subscription service? We’re confident someone will take a real crack at this, and developers will be more likely to put resources towards mobile ports.