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Mobile Game Development Trends for 2016

January 19, 2016 Written by Andrei Klubnikin, Senior Content Manager

In 2016, global mobile gaming revenue will reach $ 17.86 billion. With almost 60% of US population playing video and mobile games, the future of the industry has never looked so bright. However, the market is bound to change. The average age of a gamer is 31. Mobile apps (including games) enter classrooms. Experts note the growing demand for AR solutions. What mobile game trends will dominate the industry this year?

7 factors shaping mobile game marketing and development

  • China is trending. With 173.4 million gamers (86.7% of which prefer smartphones and tablets), China remains one of the world’s largest business destinations for game developers. In 2014, the country held the third place with $ 5.2 billion in App Store revenues (right behind US and Japan). Nevertheless, its market is largely segmented. Software distribution in China requires partnership with at least 10 app stores or a huge publisher like Kebam. 2016 is going to be a lucky year for Android developers. According to Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, the company re-launches Google Play in the country, which will certainly attract more Western developers to the market;
  • Increasing adoption of smartphones and tablets. By 2017, smartphone annual sales will reach 1.57 billion units worldwide. Gartner also predicts a profound 19% growth for the mobile game market. This year, games for smartphones and tablets will gross over $ 23 billion (27.8% of the world’s mobile soft sales). The figures are largely driven by new big screen gaming solutions like Android and Apple TV which turn smartphones into small consoles. Notable game vendors (like SNK, whose Metal Slug Defense application generated over 26 million downloads worldwide) have already announced plans to further expand their mobile presence on the market;
  • Evolution of mobile app ecosystem. Mobile app developers and marketers join their efforts to adopt forward-thinking app monetization strategies (like “bundle deals” and affiliate marketing), introduce rewarded native advertising and improve OS fragmentation standards. Regular updates have also become an important part of software distribution. Social networks and messaging services are considered alternative gaming platforms. In 2013, Kakao Talk (the South Korean #1 messenger) earned $ 203 million through in-app games. The same strategy was later employed by Tencent (the driving force behind the Chinese WeChat app), Viber and Facebook;
  • Freemium is on the rise. In 2016, free apps for iOS and Android will be downloaded over 211 billion times (which estimates at 94% of all smartphone and tablet applications). Free software generates 90% of Google Play and App Store revenues. Successful vendors like Supercell and King earn millions through upgrades, in-app purchases and advertising. In 2014, Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga grossed over $ 1.8 billion and $ 1.5 billion, respectively (and have been making over $ 1 million per day ever since). The number of developers who implement the freemium strategy is expected to grow;
  • Indie invasion. Two years ago 81% of top grossing games on Google Play and App Store were created by only 50 companies. With the introduction of new mobile game fundraising and development tools (Unity and Unreal Engine, Kickstarter initiatives and multiple ad networks), the situation is bound to change. Since most gaming tycoons make money on popular game franchises, it will be easier for independent vendors to enter the game market with a new engaging application. In short, a great idea is what really matters now;
  • Growing Cost Per Install (CPI). Customer acquisition for some high-grossing games has already surpassed $ 20, and the competition keeps getting tough. Vendors will have to revise their marketing strategies, optimize development cost and come up with truly unique gaming solutions.

Mobile Game Development Trends for 2016 Stats

Top 5 game dev trends

  • Augmented Reality games. By 2018, there will be 200 million AR users worldwide. Virtual Reality solutions like the Oculus Rift display are gradually changing the video games’ industry. Augmented Reality, on the contrary, is perfect for smaller screens (tablets and smartphones). Most AR apps are still at an early stage of development; the first truly customized augmented game will hit app stores in 2016. The freemium Pokémon GO application (with in-app purchases) will allow users across the globe to find, catch and purchase the cute monsters. The app will run on smartphones, tablets and Pokémon GO Plus bracelets. In order to develop a comprehensive AR solution for smartphones and wearables, the Pokémon Company partnered with Niantic and Nintendo. The vendors have yet to address several development issues, including accurate GPS-enabled content placement and Pokémon trading system security. Still, AR can be one of the most prominent gaming trends for the near future;
  • Cloud game development. Both small companies and corporations like IBM have shown considerable interest in cloud development. The Weebly.co team, for example, wants to launch a cloud-based game development suite. The suite incorporates game engines for visualization and physics, as well as social media and competitive play elements. Weebly’s major goal is to simplify the mobile game design and development process, so that vendors could release HTML5-written games as they are and cut dev expenses;
  • Open-source dev. We’d like to further elaborate on the idea mentioned in the previous paragraph. The introduction of cloud-based development services and global adoption of the freemium model will result in the growing number of simple, stripped-down mobile games. Small vendors no longer need to purchase expensive SDKs to create applications. Instead, they can employ ready-to-use platforms and focus on innovation. The so-called “transparent” approach towards mobile development may be one of the biggest game trends. The clever strategy is implemented by Vlambeer, a well-known developer from the Netherlands, who launched a streaming service to showcase the entire development process in real time and generate user feedback;
  • Wearables. In 2018, wearables are expected to sell 135 million units worldwide. Despite the diversity of wearable devices, smart watches and wristbands will account for 87% of all the shipments. A few programs, including Ladder Rush for Android Wear and Color Dodge for Apple Watch, can already be found in app stores. The evolution of wearable devices (namely, the massive adoption of 3D touch and voice control technology) will bring more developers to the market;
  • New approach towards updates. Updates can’t be treated as simple bug fixing anymore. If we compare the 2013 version of Clash of Clans to the latest one, we’ll barely recognize the application. Major vendors adopt the “game-as-a-service” model to increase engagement and build a better user experience. IT experts also predict the growing demand for feeder apps – simple, yet addictive programs designed to promote a brand’s top grossing games.

Mobile is king. By 2017, mobile apps’ share in the worldwide gaming revenue will reach 17%. Yet, the introduction of new devices and high-tech solutions leads to fierce competition among custom application developers. In order to stay afloat, IT companies will revise their current game promotion and dev strategies. All in all, 2016 is going to be an exciting year for both vendors and gamers. Are you ready?

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