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Amid Covid-19, 2020 to be blockbuster year for mobile gaming and app downloads

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2020 is set to be a blockbuster year for mobile gaming and record levels of app downloads and consumer spend as smartphones have become a primary source of connection and entertainment, industry experts said.

While mobile gaming first overtook both home game consoles and PC/Mac gaming for consumer spend in 2014, Amir Ghodrati, Director for Markets Insights at App Annie, said that mobile gaming’s lead has widened dramatically since then.

Lewis Ward, Research Director for Gaming and VR/AR at International Data Corporation, said that Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the launch of new consoles - Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 - should spur further gaming growth in 2020 and beyond.

“As a result of Covid-19, we have seen continued growth in mobile gaming compared to other industries,” Ghodrati said.

Mobile gaming set to extend its lead

(Image credit: App Annie and IDC)

Mobile is now the primary driver of growth for digital games consumption, increasingly becoming the world's preferred form of gaming. Mobile gaming leads the market by a long shot among home console, PC/Mac and handheld consoles. Mobile game spending is set to extend its lead to more than 2.8 times over desktop gaming and 3.1 times more than home game consoles.

Games generate more revenue than downloads

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Games represented nearly 70% of total worldwide consumer spend for combined iOS App Store and Google Play in the first quarter of this year but accounted for roughly 40% of downloads.

In-app subscriptions have helped drive consumer spend share growth in non-gaming categories.

Games made up a larger share of Google Play’s consumer spending share than on iOS; in terms of amount spent on games, however, consumers spent nearly 50% more on iOS than Google Play worldwide in the first quarter.

Regions driving the spending

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North America and Rest of World gained the most of game spending for iOS App Store and Google Play combined, mostly due to growth in US and Russia; Asia-Pacific’s share ticked down in the first quarter, partially due to a tighter new game approval process in China.

Despite the freeze on new game releases in China for much of 2019, Asia-Pacific still modestly outperformed in PC/Mac spending growth.

Nintendo Switch’s remarkably strong performance in all regions in the past year, including in the Rest of World, helped offset decelerating demand for PS4 and XB1 games.

Nintendo released its last AAA game for its 3DS handheld console family in the first quarter (and launched Switch Lite in the third quarter of last year); waning 3DS platform interest, especially in Japan, led to other regions picking up ground in the past year.

Games with live multiplayer modes gain

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In mobile gaming, live PvP (player-versus-player) multiplayer games solidified their presence in the top 5 grossing games on both iOS and Google Play.

As people continue to practice social distancing and global regions are urged to stay home amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, mobile gaming provided a channel for not only entertainment but for social connection.

While most of the top-grossing multiplayer games are tuned for a core audience, from battle royale games (Game for Peace) and strategy battle games (Rise of Kingdoms) to MMORPGs (Lineage 2M), games utilising hybrid casino and core mechanics (Coin Master)have seen a surge in consumer spending —indicating the appetite for connection and social experiences exists across the gaming spectrum.

While most top-grossing Switch Lite games supported online modes, only two offered deep multiplayer experiences.

Four of the top five selling titles on Nintendo Switch Lite in the first quarter of this year supported multiplayer modes.

First-party titles dominated the top-sellers list while Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate heavily focus on live PvP.

The other two top-sellers with multiplayer, Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Pokemon Sword/Pokemon Shield, have quite limited PvP features; these two primarily offer a single-player experience.

Nintendo’s support for the 3DS/2DS family should wind down in late 2020 or in the first quarter of next year; Switch Lite is Nintendo’s clear 3DS/2DS successor.

Mobile game downloads break records 

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During Covid-19, weekly mobile game downloads spiked as high as 1.2b, a new world record.

The impact occurred in phases, as new outbreaks emerge, governments and business respond with new containment measures.

During this time, users are on average downloading 30% more mobile games per week in April 2020 than in January 2020, with March also reaching the highest peak increase at 35%.

As consumers are spending more time at home and finding new ways to connect with others, multiplayer gaming apps will continue to see acceleration due to the accessibility of mobile —allowing for a game console-type experience to be in the pocket of every smartphone owner at a scale never before seen.

Simulation and board games surge

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Looking at which subgenres of gaming on Google Play are in highest demand while consumers are stuck indoors, the gaming subgenres that saw the greatest growth in download market share points during this time were simulation, trivia, board, casual and adventure.

Growth in time spent in games within board and simulation categories were also among the greatest quarter-over-quarter, but action games accounted for the most time spent among game genres during the quarter by at least a factor of 8 and saw the greatest growth quarter-over-quarter.

Standout games within these sub-genres were Woodturning (simulation), Ludo King (board) and Gardenscapes - New Acres (casual), which were among the most downloaded games during this period. In terms of time spent, PUBG Mobile (action) topped the usage chart.

Valve’s Steam app usage spikes

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From September -December 2019, there was an average of 16.7m peak daily Steam users and almost 5M concurrent users. In March and April, the average jumped to 22.5M and nearly 7M concurrent users, respectively.

That works out to a 35% increase in daily Steam users and a 41% jump in the average number of concurrent users in the app.

This increase in Steam usage is consistent with Covid-19 quarantines and shelter-in-place orders and is similar to the January-March uplift in mobile game downloads.

Non-gaming categories gain traction  

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With many businesses in affected areas adopting work from home policies, we see workers turning to mobile apps to communicate, collaborate and teleconference to continue working without interruption. School closures have also translated to surges in downloads of Education apps.

With public recreational facilities closing down, people are looking for alternative ways to keep fit and stay entertained —health and fitness and entertainment apps have also seen a corresponding uptick.