Mobile Gaming’s Future: Not Mobile Games

Mobile Gaming’s Future: Not Mobile Games

I’ve seen the future of mobile gaming and I’m sorry to say that it has nothing to do with mobile games. Oh sure, while mobile video games will always have a place in the mobile gaming world, they will not be the primary revenue driver. Not by a long shot. In fact, in the not-too-distant future the primary revenue drivers in mobile gaming will actually be console, online, and PC games. Not console, online and PC games repurposed and redeveloped for mobile devices, but actual console, online and PC games played on Xbox systems and Alienware laptops. Before the incredulous among you begin to write nasty comments, let me give you the play-by-play on how the time is fast approaching when mobile games take a backseat in the mobile gaming industry.

Step One: Single player games will quickly disappear and all new games on all platforms will be one or more of the following:

  • Multiplayer or massively multiplayer. Even competing for high scores, trash talking via chat and forums, or adding small social interaction features turns a game into a multiplayer affair.  If the game sells a million units, then it’s a massively multiplayer experience.
  • Persistent or semi-persistent. Like the phenoms that are social network games, more and more console and PC games are going to offer up persistency as part of the experience.  Basically, when you stop playing, the game world you’re playing in keeps right on rolling along.  To a degree, it’s already happening now in multiplayer, achievement-based gaming – when you stop playing, others don’t.  So when you meet up again in a multiplayer session, they’ve continued to level up while you haven’t.
  • Require a long-term commitment of time and investment of money. Multiple releases, patches, downloadable content, and more will be status quo for all games that want to make “hit” status.  “Franchise” is the name of the game and requiring users to commit to constantly interact with the franchise – even though not directly playing the game – is necessary to keep that property on every gamer’s radar.
  • Free-to-play MMOGs on PC and Console. It’ll happen, soon.  Social network games will evolve and grow up to become real games.  Hardcore single-player action games that want larger audiences and incremental revenue will change and adapt, offering more social features.  The first freemium, big-budget MMOG for console and PC will be huge and, when it is, the world will follow.
  • Truly cross-platform. The time is quickly approaching when I can raid with my dwarf, put a beat down on the hapless Raiders, and manage a farm and crime family from my Xbox, PS3, PC, and Android.  Hell, maybe even via Netflix through my DVR.

In other words, gaming is quickly evolving to the point where all games will be some form of massively multiplayer online experience.   It’s all about increasing user engagement which, in turn, increases revenue.

Step Two: There will be a marked increase in the development of the connected mobile companion app. At the moment, app stores are populated with a small variety of mobile games and apps that mimic, supplement or, in most cases, simply repurpose some features and content of games – primarily online games – on mobile devices.  There are several for World of WarcraftLeague of Legends from Riot Games has a few as well. These ‘companion apps’ are almost always fan-developed and comprised primarily of scraped website data and contain publicly available content in the form of high scores, maps, loot tables, and whatnot, providing users with sometimes excellent, but most often questionable, value.  None, however, actually give users access to their own game accounts nor actually connect them into the live game which must occur for even the most basic of valuable features, such as chat, to be available.

But things are slowly changing.  Blizzard’s World of Warcraft iPhone app, which was originally a non-connected information-only affair, was expanded to include Auction House, which allows WoW players to log in and access all of AH features from their iPhone (other smartphone users are outta luck.) ArenaNet announced the development of their Guild Wars 2 mobile app which promises to deliver a great many in-game features from chat and email to character profile, armory, and maps. Last year, my company, AFK Interactive, worked closely with Icarus Studios to produce and launch the Fallen Earth mobile companion app across iOS, Android and Blackberry devices.  The Fallen Earth mobile app gives users direct access to their own in-game account and lets them chat, send email with attachments, buy and sell on the auction house, and even craft items right from their mobile device just as if they’re actually in the game.  Well, that’s because they are actually in the game when they log into the Fallen Earth mobile app.

There are a few other examples, particularly non-gaming (Facebook mobile for starters) that make a tremendous case for the development of the connected mobile companion app as a way to provide access to many features of an online, PC or even console game to players from their mobile device.

Step Three: Every game goes mobile. Steps One and Two will quickly bring about a time when all console, online and PC games will have a mobile component. Especially if they’re multiplayer, persistent in any way, or offer up an experience for user engagement outside of actual game play.  It will be expected.  Our lifestyles simply demand it.

The January 2011 issue of PC Gamer contained a review of AFK’s Fallen Earth app.  In it, the review stated, “No matter where you are, you should be able to admire, tweak and gloat over all the shiny loot you’ve amassed in your favorite MMO. PC Gamer believes this is a fundamental human right. MMOs including World of Warcraft and Aion have taken up the call with apps that let you take your game with you- but Fallen Earth’s is the best of the lot so far.”

Folks, this is the future of mobile gaming.  With all due respect to Angry Birds and such, those games will soon go back to being what we always expected them to be – time filling casual entertainment meant to be played 3 minutes at a time, 5 times per day.  They’ll compete for the same consumer eyeballs as the pit bulls and ‘nad shots from kids’ birthday parties on YouTube.  These $1.99 time wasters are no match for the hundreds of MMOs, online games and soon-to-be-connected console games that have built-in fan bases collectively numbering in the hundreds of millions.   Here’s a very conservative estimate of mobile revenue for one of those games based upon known mobile ownership data and our own gathered usage metrics from current products:

  • Assume Bob’s MMOG has 1 million users.
  • Assume 75% of those users spend money = 750,000.
  • Say 80% of those users have a device that can download a free version of the Bob’s MMOG companion app.  Out of that number, assume 75% actually do.  This amounts to 450,000 downloads of the free Bob’s MMOG mobile companion app or 45% of all active users.
  • Of the free users, let’s assume 50% decide to subscribe to the ‘premium’ mobile app features which include real-time access to the item store, maps, armory, crafting, and a whole lot more features that can be accessed with valuable tasks completed without actually being on the PC.
  • This subscription is $1.99/mo and provides an enormous benefit to users.
  • This equals 225,000 users paying $2/mo = over $450,000 per month in incremental revenue to Bob.  That’s $5 million (minus app store fees) per year.

Bottom line, a mobile companion app for Bob’s MMOG, in the fairly conservative scenario could net Bob another $4m or so per year while costing him less than 10% of that amount to build and maintain the product.  That’s a great margin.  Plus, Bob doesn’t have to advertise the way mobile games do since he’s already in touch with his current user base through world chat, news items, etc within the MMOG world itself and email.  No stressing about whether or not the Bob’s MMOG app is in the Top Download or Highest Grossing lists.  Also, as Bob’s mobile user-base grows due to his continued marketing of the app to his installed base, that 75% subscriber number could easily grow to be 80% or even 90% of his users downloading the free app with 60% or 70% paying for the premium features.  This, now, starts to become significant revenue, particularly when you take into account it’s basically icing on the cake with very low cost and huge margin.

So for the next year or so, mobile games rule the mobile gaming world.  And, inevitably, smartphones with the on-board horsepower of a PS3 and fold-out 30-inch screens will someday rule the world and then, well, you’ll see mega-blockbusters like Call of Duty: Angry Birds or Grand Theft Auto: Bejeweled’s Revenge or whatnot.  That’s when true mobile gaming will rule the world of mobile games.  But very soon, and until that day comes, those products that provide let you chat with all your online game friends, look in on your characters, prepare them for battle that night or make trades for your team that Sunday, buy virtual weapons and armor, download levels remotely to your PC or console, maybe do some long-distance cross-server traveling or make a little money crafting and working the auction house, all from your mobile phone, will be the killer mobile apps.

About Doug Dyer
Doug Dyer has been in interactive entertainment for 20+ years with time logged in the PC, console, online and mobile spaces as a consultant, founder and employee. He currently heads Oasys Mobile and recent start-up AFK Interactive, a platform developer connecting MMOs and mobile phones.


  1. The future you paint sounds like hell.

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