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Present Perfect, Future Uncertain: What’s in Store for Mobile Gaming?

Tap, Swipe, Turn. That’s all is needed to control most smartphone games out there. There are no labyrinthine combinations of keys involved and neither does it demand a high skill level to succeed. And yet, it’s a multi-billion dollar empire.

Last year, we witnessed how a bunch of companies reinvigorated the market with their viral titles and attained millions of users. And while the industry’s revenue grew substantially, I feel that not all is well in the world of mobile gaming – there are factors undermining its future.

Super Mario Run, Pokemon Go: a Triumph of Nostalgia, not Innovation

To put matters in perspective, recall the most trending games of 2016. There were primarily only two – Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run. Both of these exceeded expectations in days, reaching tens of millions of downloads. And they also accentuated what’s actually hurting mobile gaming market. Both of these apps majorly gained momentum due to their nostalgic characters and themes – Pokemons and Mario. If I were to tell you that a third-party developer has released a free AR game in which you have to collect fictional creatures by running around the city, would you have downloaded and actually played it? The answer is likely to be no. Have you ever played Ingress or even heard of it? That’s the original game on which Pokemon Go is based.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I think Pokemon Go is a brilliant game and has opened several new doors for smartphone gaming but the core reason for its success is definitely something worth pondering. Similarly, Super Mario Run essentially brings one of the most loved console games to phones and successfully managed to attract 90 million players despite being a single platform affair. But according to a report by Newzoo, the game made USD 30 million since its launch meaning that about 3 percent of the people that downloaded it actually paid for the full version. That 3 percent is huge for someone who was managed to lure in 90 million users in two weeks, but what about a game that is not as huge as Super Mario Run?

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No Place for Newcomers

That’s one of the biggest challenges that mobile gaming is facing currently. Only a handful of developers are able to stay afloat. Others either have to launch multiple games in a quarter or get overshadowed by the oligarchy comprising chartbusters such as Clash of Clans or even Teen Patti, which have been generating and sustaining enormous revenues for years through in-app purchases. It is almost impossible to break in as a newcomer unless you are someone like Nintendo. Furthermore, various OEMs have announced their plans for bringing console games to mobiles which are great but here too, smaller startups and developers will suffer.

Another significant hurdle the industry will need to overcome is the presence of fake copycats available in app stores. Paid titles usually are accompanied by hundreds of free duplicate games, and none of the leading operating systems have taken aggressive steps to crack down on them. Android especially has a relatively serious problem of piracy. And given that it powers almost 80 percent of the world’s smartphones, companies do tend to hold back their rollouts or make an Internet connection compulsory to play games in some cases.

Mobile gaming is definitely getting more popular. And has seen a fair amount of innovation in the past year. However, people are still reluctant to pay up front for games and big companies have tended to forget other essential factors while making money and that will eventually hurt the industry. 2017 will be a massive year for this sector as advanced technologies like augmented reality continue to go mainstream and virtual reality becomes a lot more utilitarian. It will be interesting to see how these pans out with a greater number of games and compatible handsets.


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