The major growth sector for gaming in the last few years has undeniably been that of the casual/mobile game. But with the industry maturing and the public’s awareness of questionable mobile gaming practices increasing, is this year that mobile will fail?
Casual is crushing it
Despite the phenomenal performance that console gaming has been showing these last few months, with great sales numbers for both hardware and software, the fact is that mobile gaming is the biggest slice of the video game revenue pie. In South Africa alone mobile gaming made R858 million in revenue in 2013 and is expected to boost that to R1.5 billion by 2018, according to a PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ report.
The number are even more encouraging when viewed globally. Newzoo, a market research firm with a focus on the video game industry, raised their 2014 global revenue forecast from $21.7 billion to $25 billion, which is a 43% increase over mobile game revenues recorded for 2013. We can all agree that $25 billion is nothing to sneeze. It’s not wonder then, that companies that traditional game publishing houses, like EA and Ubisoft, have made investments in mobile.
However, while revenues appear to be going up, actual growth in the market, while not decreasing, is certainly slowly down. And alarmingly so. Mobile analytics group Flurry stated in their latest report that mobile game usage growth continued its upward climb in 2014, but the pace was halved when compared to the year before. 2014's mobile game usage grew 30% from 2013’s figures, whereas growth from 2012 to 2013 was 66%. That is a significant drop in pace and could be an early sign of the market slowing down. Or crashing.
The question then, is why? The possibility exists that it could just be the market reaching its saturation point. I’m more inclined to agree with Thorsten Rauser of independent app developer The Binary Family’s take on the matter: That the free-to-play model is killing mobile gaming.
The ship is sinking
Speaking at the Casual Connect Europe conference had somewhat somber outlook for where mobile gaming is headed.
"If we look at our industry today, there's reason to believe that we are fucked," he said. "The thing is, our industry has become bad; society's view of our industry has become bad. We try to get as much money out of the player as possible. That's what the job of the [casual] game designer has become. That's how people see us.
"If we look at casual games in 2015, what's out there is mostly crap. It's three or four game principles. We use different characters, we use different sounds, we use different setups, but it's all the same thing. What we're doing is selling games to children. I think it's so disgusting. We sell them $100 packages of fake currency and make their parents pay because we can easily manipulate them.
"This is the thinking of the gambling industry, and if you look at the people that have come into the show over the last few years, a lot of those people have backgrounds in the gambling industry. And yes, this is how we make our money these days."
Rouser makes a very salient point. There is currently a severe lack of creativity in evidence in the mobile gaming space. Essentially, there just three games available on mobile, Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Every other game is a variant of those and with the only real difference between them being a mild alteration in the aesthetic. And it’s all in pursuit of the free-to-play dollar. The nonsensical nature of that sentence isn’t lost on me.
The free-to-play model is making money; it is making ridiculous amounts amount, but at the cost of creativity and, more importantly, at the cost of the audience's patience. The free-to-play audience, or rather the parents of that audience, are quickly learning that this is a system of high stakes, but very little reward. A lot like gambling, which Rouser alluded to earlier.
What publishers and developers need to realise, is that all this money they are making is coming from a very small percentage of the people that are actually playing their games. Those people are not going to stick around forever to be nickel-and-dimed. They are getting smarter and they are starting to walk away.
And the people already alienated by this toxic model, the people for who are the cause of the 30% slowdown in growth, they could well have represent a revenue stream that isn’t coming back, because they are tired of dealing with the industry’s terrible business practices.
As Rouser concluded, “The free-to-play ship is sinking. It will not disappear, but it's imploding."
Source: Pocket Gamer Biz, Fortune, Games Industry Biz
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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd