Market research firm newzoo in its latest report on the gaming industry titled “Betting on Billions: Unlocking the Power of Mobile Gamers” has stated that nearly 2.4 billion smartphone users are going to play mobile games this year. Which makes you think, what are the most popular mobile game genres?
We’ve all heard of Candy Crush, Angry Birds, etc. and the more recent Arena of Valor MOBA which is hugely popular in China. If you’re interested in following the developments of the gaming industry, mobile gaming should be on your radar because it constitutes half of all gaming revenue.
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So, what are the top 5 most popular mobile game genres? In no particular order- MOBAs, Battle Royale, MMORPG, digital card games, and puzzle games. We compiled this list based on how many people downloaded games from a particular genre, and how much they spend on each genre.
There are a few more honorary mentions such as racing, FPS, RPG, sports, etc. but none of those come close to beating out our top 5 genres in terms of player base or revenue generation. And yes, we know that certain battle royale games on mobile are “technically” first-person shooters.
But there are key differences between the battle royale genre and FPS genre, even if they use common mechanics. Worry not, we will explain what makes each genre unique, and list a few important characteristics for all 5 of our top mobile game genres to help you better identify new releases and market trends.
Currently, newzoo market research claims that gaming apps are the 3rd most popular type of app, behind social media and shopping apps. Smartphone users between the age of 18 to 20 play a ton of games on their phones, as is evident from the massive popularity of PUBG Mobile and Fortnite Battle Royale.
Gaming apps are tied with music distribution apps when you look at it on the basis of total download figures, but the gender split for music apps is 50/50 whereas game downloads are more popular among females- 51 percent vs 49 percent of males. PUBG mobile, Clash of Clans, Minecraft, Clash Royale, Fortnite, Pokémon Go, Candy Crush, and Arena of Valor are some of the most popular mobile games right now. China holds the largest mobile gaming market, with a large focus on what we call “hyper-casual” and MMORPG games.
Hyper Casual games are designed to require minimal user input, with simplified game mechanics and most of them support a free to play business model. They focus on simple but clear visuals, a cartoonish art style, and extremely rudimentary progression systems.
One key difference between hyper-casual games and casual games is the amount of in-app purchases. While casual games rely on in-app purchases for around three-quarters of their revenue, hyper-casual games use videos, interstitial ads, banners, etc. to make money. Terrarium, Hole.io, Dodgeball Duel are some great examples of hyper-casual games.
Also known as Multiplayer Battle Arenas, these games are like a mix of RTS and action games. They give you control over one character known as the “champion” or “hero”, and you get to choose from a large roster of such champions, each with their own unique skillsets. You can have mages, warriors, knights, mechs, etc. in a MOBA, and there is usually a pick/ ban system where you can ban the counters to your champion, so the enemy doesn’t pick them.
On PC, League of Legends and DOTA 2 are the largest MOBA games. DOTA 2 is famous for having the largest prize pools in all of esports, and the International 2018 hit over 25 million in prize money. Mobile MOBAs are a bit different, they cannot provide you with the same depth of mechanics and strategy as their PC counterparts due to the limitations of a mobile device in terms of processing power, display size, input options, etc.
Arena of Valor, Vainglory, and Mobile Legends are the 3 top MOBAs on phones and tablets. All 3 of these are in one way or other, copies of the extremely successful PC MOBA League of Legends which itself was inspired by the mod Defense of the Ancients for Blizzard’s Warcraft III: Frozen Throne.
Teams of 3 or 5 fighters each are pitted against each other in a battle for resources, objectives, and map control. You will need quick fingers and a cunning mind to win in MOBAs, along with lots of patience. The entire MOBA genre can be traced back to Aeon of Strife, which was a StarCraft: Brood War map.
While these were the hottest thing back from 2012 to 2016, the rise of Battle Royale has taken away some of the glory from MOBAs and they are not as popular as they used to be, at least among the casual or mainstream audience. Nevertheless, MOBAs are still going strong to this day and lead the esports scene, both on PC and mobile.
Most MOBA developers don’t make publicly state player counts, but we know that back in 2017 Arena of Valor had 200 million unique players and would hit daily averages of 80 million which made it the most popular game in the world. This monster was created by Chinese tech giant Tencent, who owns majority shares in various gaming companies including RIOT, the creator of League.
Just recently PUBG mobile, which is yet another Tencent creation, hit 400 million players with daily averages of 50 million. This data was obtained from The Esports Observer and is a great indicator of just how massive Battle Royale has become.
It is undoubtedly, THE most popular game genre when you take into consideration the fact that almost all top played games across PC, console, and mobile are battle royales. This genre gained mass popularity back in 2017 when Player Unknowns Battlegrounds launched on PC. Essentially, you are pitted against 99 other players in a giant map with resources such as weapons, armor, ammo, etc. scattered in random locations which you must collect in order to fend off your enemies.
The goal of the game is to be the last one standing, and it is partially inspired by the Japanese dystopian horror film Battle Royale released in 2000. In the movie, people are selected and sent to a deserted island with food, maps, weapons, etc. and must kill each other to be the last one standing.
In concept, this sounds pretty simple, but the gigantic maps and variety of weapon configurations make battle royale games significantly different compared to traditional FPS games such as Call of Duty or Battlefield.
You have a gigantic open playground with infinite tactical possibilities and must manage resources efficiently in order to be the king of the hill. Fortnite added its own twist to the formula with a unique art style, clear visuals, and a building system that allows you to create barriers, towers, defenses, etc. on the fly in the middle of a firefight.
All the big streamers on Twitch these days are streaming one battle royale game or the other, which is a huge reason for the massive influx of new players, main kids between the age of 8 to 14. Apex Legends from EA is the newest kid on the block, and it is going to be ported for mobile soon. All battle royale games are free to play, and make their money through in-game cosmetics, much like MOBAs.
One of the oldest game genres, which made its way into South Park through the now infamous season 10 episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft”. You know you’ve made it to the big leagues when South Park features you, that is how Red Dead Redemption 2 gained mainstream popularity.
On a more serious note, an MMORPG or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (that’s a mouthful) is essentially an online role-playing game in which you level up characters and gain new powers while advancing yourself through combat with both NPCs and real players.
Over time, MMORPGs have evolved and the definition itself has changed with new game releases and refreshes of the genre. Probably the most popular MMORPG is World of Warcraft, created by Blizzard. People sink in thousands of hours trying to get the best weapons, leveling up their characters to the max, and advancing through the plot.
MMORPGs have vast worlds that are divided into multiple zones, much like the world in any mythical universe such as Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. You have dungeons, dragons, knights, demons, gods, and the term “Massive” implies that at any given point in time there are literally thousands of players logged into the game world, pursuing their individual quests (gathering loot, killing bosses, etc.). MOBAs have 5 players on either team, a Battle Royale has up to 100 players, but MMORPGs are in a totally different class of their own.
MMORPGs on the mobile don’t have as broad of scope as their PC counterparts and this is once again due to hardware limitations. Besides, an MMORPG is an opposite of what characteristics you want in a mobile game. Mobile games are supposed to be easy to get started with, fun to play, with clear visuals.
That is why mobile MMORPGs are dumbed down versions of their PC counterparts, because mobile gamers don’t want to spend hours and months learning abilities, item synergies, etc. Despite that, some mobile MMORPGs such as Arcane Legends, Dungeon Hunter 5, and Adventure Quest 3D are extremely popular.
Digital Collectible Card Games
Also known as TCGs or trading card games, the most popular mobile game from this genre is Hearthstone which boasts nearly 100 million players in total across multiple platforms- PC, Android, and iOS. This player count was taken in November 2018, by Statista. It is currently unclear if the digital card genre is dying on mobile, but it is definitely in the top 5 most popular genres despite not growing as rapidly as Battle Royale games.
If you’ve watched Yu-Gi-Oh! as a kid, you probably know what we’re talking about. Digital card games pit you against opponents, and it is your deck vs theirs. Cards are divided into tiers, and you will be able to either earn higher tier cards through gameplay or you can spend real-life money to unlock new decks.
Shadowverse, Eternal, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls: Legends, and HEX: Shards of Fate are the most popular CCGs on mobile right now. The main draw of a CCG is how little time each game takes, as opposed to a MOBA match which can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes on average.
Digital card games involve a fun gameplay loop where you essentially select a card and the rest of the work is done by the game, it also involves a lot of RNG (luck-based mechanics) and that is what keeps drawing players back to the game. Just like with mobile battle royale games, you can pop into a match in the middle of the train ride to office on the card game of your choice and it barely takes 10 minutes.
Easy in, easy out, that is the nature of collectible card games. And on top of that, these card games are free to play. You pay for premium decks and quicker unlocks, but that is an option that you can choose not to take and simply grind your way to the top till you get a master tier deck.
Valve learned the hard way that you don’t release a paid card game when they launched Artifact for PC. A mobile version of that game was planned for release earlier this year, but look at this chart at the current player counts, it is not hard to figure out why we haven’t heard from Valve regarding the mobile port ever since.
More than half of all smartphone users play some type of puzzle game, especially female gamers on mobile devices. Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Tetris, etc. are extremely popular among casual audiences, and even among smartphone users who don’t identify as gamers. People from all age groups enjoy puzzle games, all the way from kids to senior citizens.
Puzzle games focus on easy to understand, yet hard to master mechanics and require you to use logic and fast thinking in order to beat the game. They are very easy on your fingers, so unlike shooters and racing games, all you need to do in puzzle games is tap or swipe every now and then.
According to the market research tool DataMagic, Western audiences prefer Hyper casual, action/ arcade, and puzzle games. Asian gamers, on the other hand, love their party battlers and RTS/ MMORPG games.
As a subgenre of casual games, puzzle games are taking the majority revenue in the mobile gaming market, while growth has been steady. Some of the most popular puzzle games on mobile are Two Dots, Brain it On! hocus, etc.
It is clear that 2019 will be an exciting year for mobile gaming, and if you were following this year’s E3 you would have noticed that a lot of the AAA publishers have plans regarding new mobile game releases that are based on their existing PC franchises. Diablo Immortal from Activision Blizzard got a lot of backlash from fans during its announcement last year, but you can bet there is a huge market out there for an action RPG mobile game from Blizzard.
The Chinese are going to love it, and it will make Blizzard tons of money. Ubisoft announced Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad, featuring popular characters from major Tom Clancy titles such as Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell. Big game companies and investors are taking mobile gaming much more seriously than ever before, as is evident from the increasing quality of graphics that are now approaching console levels of detail. The hyper-casual genre is speculated to have reached a saturation point but will not die down anytime soon because of its nature- easy to play, with short session lengths and quick rewards.
Game streaming services such as Google Stadia will allow you to play PC games on your mobile phone, for a monthly subscription fee. This means your gaming experience will no longer be restricted by the type of hardware you use, which will surely bring millions of new gamers to the world of mobile gaming.
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