Games on phones and tablets are leveling up, despite their sordid past and AAA publishers see big opportunity for big change.
The history of mobile gaming isn’t a pretty one. The iconic trailblazers such as Flappy Bird are quickly eclipsed by the myriad of games that pack their experiences with ads or water it down with excessive monetization. Who could forget the travesty of Dungeon Keeper Mobile, an on-the-go re-imagining of the cult classic PC game series? In an interview with the BBC, Peter Molyneux, the creator of the original PC games, back in 2014 said of the game “I felt myself turning round saying, ‘What? This is ridiculous. I just want to make a dungeon. I don’t want to schedule it on my alarm clock for six days to come back for a block to be chipped.’”
While there are plenty of games that echo this today, some even arriving on consoles, there is a growing shift into this market from developers looking to make a mobile experience closer to that seen in AAA games. Genshin Impact by MiHoYo famously won over the hearts of of players everywhere with its beautiful design and large open world raking in over $400 million in revenue in its first two months alone. CoD Mobile is also a smash hit, capturing the feel of the franchise on the go and raking in 100 million downloads in its first week. With PUBG being banned in India and Fortnite removed from app stores, the outlook only looks better for Activision. The mobile game boom doesn’t end here, though.
Nexon ended 2020 with record-shattering earnings both year-round and in the fourth quarter. Maplestory, the most famous Nexon title that launched back in 2003, saw an incredible growth of 98% in Korea. With their mobile game revenue accounting for 41% of that, it’s no surprise that they are seeking to continue to expand into the market. Likewise, Konami reported growth in their gaming sector, citing their mobile games as the deciding factor.
Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links is cited as one of their biggest contributors. Combined with a dedicated community and a recognizable brand name, the game has been a powerhouse in the mobile market since its launch in 2016. This isn’t without good reason, as the game is a simplified version of the physical trading card game that doesn’t sacrifice depth and is cross-platform with Steam, iOS and Android. While the gacha-style booster packs exist and are a way of acquiring cards, the rewards are plentiful and give you more than enough for what you need.
These can all be taken as signs of a maturing industry. While the monetization models of the past still haunt the mobile games of the present, they have become increasingly more friendly to the core gaming audience. A focus on gameplay and refined multiplayer experiences over flashy effects and spiffy character designs is apparent and paying off. This boom has resonated with EA in particular, whose recent earnings call indicates a huge push into the space.
CEO Andrew Wilson said in the call that they had “six new soccer mobile experiences in development today for different regions and genres.” Another big announcement was “in partnership with KLab, we are developing a groundbreaking new mobile experience, inspired by the Japanese market, which we believe will have global appeal.” With FIFA being popular worldwide and a “new mobile experience” in the works, EA’s plan couldn’t be more apparent.
These are exciting announcements and can be seen as a good direction for the platform. Making phones and tablets reminiscent of the handheld gaming of yesteryear, at least on the surface, seems like a great idea to nab new audiences and expose existing ones to broader ideas. Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links and Genshin Impact are both cross-platform, further blurring the lines between mobile gaming and other platforms opens up more possibilities to connect with friends in any setting. With big investments and new experiences around the corner from a myriad of developers, the coming years of mobile gaming is sure to impress and further bridge gaps in the gaming community.