Tag Archives: Mobile Gaming

SuperData and the Free and Mobile Future

SuperData Research put out their 2018 Year in Review report last week. (It is erroneously titled as 2019 as of my writing this.)  You can’t just look at it on their web site.  Instead, it is available in .pdf format and, while it is free, you do have to go through all the motions of “buying” it, save for providing a credit card.  They did the same thing last year.  The effort isn’t huge if you want to see some data.

One of the things they want you to know right away in the report is that they were acquired by Nielsen back in September.  So there is that, though I am not sure that has meant any changes in the short term.

Last year’s report was interesting for a few reasons, but what topped my list was the fact that World of Warcraft was missing from the report entirely.  Logic seemed to dictate that games that made their year in review charts, yet were consistently below WoW in revenue… and I speak specifically of World of Tanks… seemed to at least bring into question either the validity of the annual summary or the monthly charts… though there is no reason that both cannot be suspect.

So I was keen to see the report for 2018 to see if there was a repeat performance on that front.  And there is… sort of.

The problem is that SuperData chose a different way to slice and dice the game market, dividing the market into free to play and premium across all platforms.  That isn’t necessarily bad, but it does leave out any sort of “apples to apples” comparison with 2017. Still, numbers are number and lists are lists and I have long expressed a love of both, so here they are.

SuperData 2018 Year in Review – Free to Play digital revenue

The footnotes indicate that this chart was made with preliminary data for December and that Honour of Kings is known as Arena of Valor in the west.

The first thing to note, and the report goes into detail on this, is how much Fortnite dominated.  That number is across all platforms, but is huge all the same.  It is no wonder that Epic Games felt they could step up and challenge Steam.  They have a big enough world-wide audience, and no doubt enough money in the bank, to make it a pretty viable alternative.

The second is how much of that list is made up of mobile titles.  Pokemon Go is not all that far behind League of Legends, perennial list topper on the PC end of the monthly charts.  And while LoL has been down this year, I keep hearing people say that Pokemon Go was just a fad that peaked back in 2016.  That doesn’t seem to be the case. (Though, if you go look at various reported revenue numbers for Pokemon Go, they seem to be all over the map, so while it is doing well, I don’t know if it is doing as well as this chart indicates.)

Then there is the premium game chart.

SuperData 2018 Year in Review – Premium digital revenue

The footnotes again note that this includes preliminary data from December and that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds revenue does not include anything from mobile versions of the game.  This chart is limited to PC and consoles.

Probably the first thing that pops up when comparing the premium chart versus the free to play is that, save for PUBG, nothing on the premium chart made enough money to make it onto the free chart were they combined.

And then there is the question of where World of Warcraft lays in this mix.  It appeared on the PC charts from January through October (though it fell off in November) and topped League of Legends back when Battle for Azeroth shipped, but it doesn’t make the cut for premium.  But somehow Overwatch, which barely made the charts over the course of 2018, did.

Unlike in 2017, I cannot even use World of Tanks, which WoW scored ahead of for ten months running, as a signpost, since WoT didn’t make the cut either.

Of course, if I were to subscribe to SuperData’s Arcade report, I would likely have access to data that would clear this up.  However, that costs money, much more that I would like to spend, so I am left looking for clues in the incomplete data.

I think there is a hint in another slide.  SuperData breaks out the overall digital market, which raked in an estimated $109.7 billion dollars in 2018, into various groups.

  • Mobile – $61.3 billion (56%)
  • F2P PC – $17 billion (15%)
  • Premium console – $10.7 billion (10%)
  • Social – $7.3 billion (7%)
  • Premium PC – $7.2 billion (7%)
  • Pay to Play PC – $4.2 billion (4%)
  • F2P console – $2 billion (2%)

Mobile runs away with the market here, with 56% of the take.  But it is an all digital environment too.  Nobody is going to GameStop or Target or Amazon for a mobile game in a box.  And almost 70% of that came from Asia.  Of the remainder, the North America spends nearly double the amount that Europe does on mobile games.

According to SuperData, F2P makes up $87.7 billion of the market and, again, Asia consumes most of that, with more than 60% spent there.  Europe spends more than the NA on F2P PC games, but about half as much when it comes to F2P console titles.

As one might expect, premium on PC and consoles is strongest in the west.  Europe and NA spend about the same total, but Europe is split about even between PC and console while in NA about three quarters of premium dollars are spent on console titles.

And hanging about along the way is “Social,” which I assume is some subset of F2P, and “Pay to Play” which sounds a lot like the subscription model, which I think is where they stuck World of Warcraft.  It is in an awkward position now when it comes to categories as the game itself has no up front costs… you can download the client and start playing up to level 20 without a subscription and up to level 110 with one… so isn’t really a premium game, which implies buying a box.  But it also isn’t really F2P… though even if they threw it into the F2P bucket, I doubt it earned enough in 2018 to make that chart.  WoW earning a billion dollars in a year stopped being a thing quite a while back.

The “Pay to Play” category probably also includes things like the Xbox and PlayStation subscription models as well, which probably make up the lion’s share of that category.  So don’t get your hopes up on MMORPGs.  WoW, and maybe FFXIV, are probably the only two games in the genre big enough to even register on that front.

And so it goes.

I read the comments over at Massively OP where every time a mobile MMO comes up the crowd holds their nose like somebody passed gas and cash shops and lock boxes are viewed with opprobrium.  I read those sorts of things and I agree, because I am in that crowd.  But the joke is on us.  Mobile is big enough to dwarf our favored genre and free to play makes up such a big market segment that you can barely see the little corner of pay to play where our favorite games live.

So if you want to know what Blizzard will be showing mobile games at BlizzCon again this year, why even Daybreak is in that strange NantG Mobile deal, there it is.  Mobile is where the money is and free is anything but.

Then there is Fortnite, which made about double what WoW ever made at its peak.

The SuperData’s report has more to offer, including projections for the future of digital, looks into streaming, and some numbers about VR.  If you are interested you can sign up to download it from their site.

Quote of the Day – The Problem is You Not Buying My Stuff

You see, we have a problem in the mobile gaming sector, thanks to you. You would rather buy a pumpkin spice latte a few times a week and enjoy it for a few minutes than buy a game that you can play as long as you would like. In order for creative games to be made, there needs to be a major culture shift. We need to be willing to spend a few dollars on a quality app, rather than for a few extra lives or other in-game purchases.

Aksel Junkilla, The mobile games market is an absolute mess, thanks to you

There is an almost physical sense of irony in reading a post in which the author complains about the entitlement of his audience and yet fails to notice his own sense thereof.  If we want good mobile games, we need to pay for them… starting with his game.

We’ve been down this path before here.  And as amusing as I find The Oatmeal on occasion, if you find you are borrowing an argument from a four year old web comic, maybe you should take a deeper look at your idea.

The comedic exaggeration of the concept

The comedic exaggeration of the concept

However, that is not his sole target.  The author, once he is done taking his potential customers to task turns on his fellow developers, calling on them to unite against the socio-economic menace that is Free to Play.  Only when that has been defeated will people be willing to pay what his game is actually worth.  He then points at the wondrous joy consumers used to feel parting with $40 for a Pokemon game and so on and so forth.

What a load of shit.

I actually expected him to go full Marx and declare that work has inherent value.  But he didn’t quite go that far.

And he certainly didn’t go after his real problem, which is low barrier to entry.  Nintendo can charge $40 for a Pokemon game because they invested in creating an ecosystem where not only do you have to pay that much for Pokemon, but you also have to spend $150 on hardware to play it as well.  To get in the App Store you just need to development kit, meet some basic criteria, and be ready to give Apple their cut.

I love when people… and developers especially… bitch and moan about Apple creating a walled garden with the App Store, and then go back to playing games on pretty much any console ever.

And a particularly sweet dumpling in this rich soup of irony is that this walled garden has pretty much failed to weed out crap.  It is, rather, a complete mess, with page after page of half-assed knock-offs and derivative shit.  And even when you aren’t mired knee-deep in crap, there are often still many options.

The other night my wife wanted a video poker app as a warm up for EVE Vegas.  Go to the App Store and search on video poker and tell me how many results you get, and how many nearly identical apps you find in the results.  And most of them were free.  So yeah, we didn’t buy a $4.99 app because it was not different in any discernible way (at least before purchase) from a number of free options.  So now my wife has a perfectly serviceable video poke app on her iPhone that looks just like the real thing in Vegas.  She only gets a limited amount of money to start with, and has to buy more if she runs out… that is the in-game purchase option… but she hasn’t run out yet.

There are things that certainly need to be fixed with the mobile market… problems that have been around since the App Store showed up, if the author had done his market research… but the fixing customers should be nothing more than afterthought on any list you can create if you want to live in the real world.

Complaining about customers isn’t a path to success.  As in any market with low barriers to entry, you have to stand out from the crowd, distinguish yourself from the pack, make some effort to prove to potential customers that you’re worth the price.  Plenty of mobile games out there have made money, and not just the free to play ones.  If yours wasn’t one… well, you can blame whoever you like and declare life isn’t fair while you’re at it.  But that won’t change reality.

(Hat tip to: What If…)

Addendum: Tim Cushing at TechDirt takes on this story and tears it apart.