Reading 08: The History of... Mobile Games

The rise of mobile gaming has largely been fueled by the growth in casual gaming and social gaming. Do you view this as a positive or negative phenonemon, especially considering that mobile gaming is now surpassing the traditional PC and console markets in terms of revenue? Moreover, how do you feel about the associated business models (ie. free-to-play and micro-transactions) that come with mobile gaming and casual gaming? Is this a democratization of gaming or a debasing of this form of entertainment?

According to Statista, mobile games brought in $40.6 BILLION in 2017, a 14% increase from 2016 and more than double the revenue from 2013. Perhaps even more significant is the fact that in 2016, mobile gaming revenue surpassed PC and console revenue combined.

I’ve spent less than $50 on mobile games over the past 8 years, and I’ve never purchased something via microtransaction. I, and many others, would balk at the idea of paying $50 for a mobile game.

Clash Royale came out in 2016, and I’ve been playing it on and off since then. The game is free, there’s no ads, none of the characters or arenas or any of the gameplay mechanics are locked behind a paywall. Yet somehow, it brings in $100,000 in daily revenue. It’s one of the highest grossing apps ever. A vast majority of its revenue comes from a minority of players that spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the game. These players subsidize the rest of us and essentially allow us to play a quality game for free.

I played a few rounds of Clash Royale for this reading, with screenshots below.

Game 1

Game 2

Victory

For a game that I’ve spent nothing on, it’s an incredible value. I enjoy the strategy involved in each of the matches, but sometimes find the days of grinding battles to upgrade cards to be frustrating. Overall though, I don’t know if I have any right to complain. Am I even a customer?

Ultimately, this raises the question of which model results in better gameplay. The mobile gaming model allows for entertainment at an in cheap price point, but at the expense of game mechanics focused on extracting more money as you play. The traditional console model of pay once for a game seems to be dying as a direct result of mobile gaming’s success. Over the last few years, more and more console/PC games have adopted the DLC and microtransaction model.

This is really bad for the future of gaming.

Previously, developers were incentivized to create the best game possible so that people would buy their game. People made a one time monetary commitment, then got to enjoy all of the content of the game. Now though, developers are incentivized to make their games as addicting as possible. They create games with loot boxes, paywalled content, and competitive advantages in exchange for cash. I’m afraid this will result in a downward spiral as games decrease in quality and focusing on maximizing their revenue at the expense of their gameplay.