The world of mobile gaming has plenty to think about heading into 2022. This autumn, wappier’s VP of Business Development, Ted Verani, moderated a panel all about the future of the mobile gaming industry. Hosted by GamesForum Online, the panel conversation ranges from growing trends to future evolutions for developers, publishers, and gamers alike.
Verani was joined by panelists Natasha Bates, Director of Game Design at Big Fish, Casey Dickinson, GM and Studio Head at Tilting Point’s FTX studio, and Patrick McGrath the Head of Berlin Studio for Ten Square. These highlights from the conversation show how experts view the state of the industry today and where they predict it might be headed tomorrow.
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The Pandemic Changed Gaming For Good
It’s no surprise that pandemic lockdowns sent mobile gaming rates around the world skyrocketing. In addition to more people playing mobile games today than eighteen months ago, gamers across the board are engaged with more games and more game genres. Patrick McGrath of Ten Square pointed out that means the industry hasn’t just grown, it has matured: People who didn’t classify themselves as gamers now have multiple games downloaded on their devices at the same time.
In terms of monetization, that growth and maturity mean that most games are now pursuing a wider player base. Monetizing broadly across multiple players and games instead of being dependent on a select few “whale” users is certainly a boon for game studios. Natasha Bates of Big Fish mentioned that most of her company’s players are now long-term players, instead of sitting predominantly at the top of the funnel. The challenges of monetization are different for Day-7 users and Day-180 users, so Bates said that Big Fish is currently focusing on that elder player base of users who came to their game during the pandemic and then stuck around.
In response, Casey Dickinson of Tilting Point mentioned that the need to satisfy elder players requires a focus on content, rather than user acquisition. Keeping game content fresh, relevant, and entertaining is what keeps the Day-180 player coming back for more, whereas earlier in the player journey the focus is on demonstrating value so they will stay. Dickinson discussed how the content problem is a good thing, because it sets up developers to actively add value for users, which in turn also helps with user acquisition at the top of the funnel; “new users will become your elder players if you’re onboarding right,” he said.
Monetization Strategies Must Evolve Post-IDFA
Dickinson called the simultaneous lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the end of IDFA “a one-two punch” for a lot of games. Gaming hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels from the massive spike it experienced when lockdowns began, but it has slowed. Meanwhile, the timeline for predictive analytics was moved up when Apple effectively eliminated IDFA. Because reliance on in-app advertising as a monetization strategy is increasingly risky post-IDFA, McGrath predicted those games will pivot to introduce or expand their IAP offerings.
One 2022 monetization trend that the panelists all seemed to agree on is the hybrid approach, combining the quality of core gameplay with monetization methods from casual games. There is hope that hybrid strategies will help make the free-to-play model more sustainable in the long term. With subscription models, for example, game companies can shift to engagement KPIs, prioritizing the player experience and investing in design elements that will delight players for longer periods of time.
“We’re building games to entertain people for the long term, rather than building systems with which to separate people from their money,” said Dickinson. That’s one of the reasons premium games show less promise, according to the panelists. Companies building their own platforms lead to fractured user bases and increase friction for players, instead of prioritizing the player experience above all. Combining core and casual elements in hybrid games, on the other hand, allows for better, deeper, and more diverse gameplay experiences.
Blockchain Games Show Pre-Primetime Promise
Toward the end of the panel, moderator Ted Verani, wappier’s VP of Business Development, posed a simple question: “Is blockchain the next big thing in gaming?” McGrath said yes, pointing to the massive benefits that blockchain technology presents for the gaming industry. At the same time, the barriers to entry for blockchain gaming are still incredibly high. For players who have never interacted with cryptocurrency before, the many preliminary steps (before you ever get to play the game) create a lot of friction. McGrath said he expects those software problems will be solved quickly, paving the way for more gamers to appreciate the revolution of owning the digital assets they acquire and use within a game environment.
Bates and Dickinson, on the other hand, were more skeptical. Dickinson said he doesn’t believe a decentralized ledger is required to facilitate an economy around virtual items, and Bates said she sees the discourse around asset ownership as a fallacy. According to Bates, gamers aren’t playing to own things, they are comfortable investing in their own entertainment. Games are supposed to be fun, and whether consumers find entertainment value in mobile games or by going to the movies, they understand that experience requires an investment. “Playing in order to create something of value… that’s just work,” said Dickinson.
One major refrain during the NFT and blockchain gaming discussion is that it’s still early days. The killer app that will take blockchain gaming into the mainstream hasn’t been created yet, and it’s unlikely that ten years ago any gaming executive could have predicted the boom in free-to-play games. The major players that will usher in the future of blockchain games may not even be on the scene yet. One perspective that Verani, Bates, Dickinson, and McGrath shared is an optimistic and excited curiosity about how mobile games are constantly evolving and where the industry will go next.
Thanks to Natasha Bates, Casey Dickinson, and Patrick McGrath for sharing their perspective on this interesting and informative panel! If you missed the panel or want to get the full story straight from the experts, watch the full discussion on our videos page.