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Last update: May 2021

5 mins to read - 2021/05/24

Mobile Game Behavior Trends in 2021 and How Notifications Affect Them

As we have explored in previous blog posts, 2020 was a watershed year for the mobile game industry. With people stuck indoors for much of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first quarter of 2020 saw an unprecedented spike in mobile game downloads. What was even more interesting was that people were downloading mobile games who had never done so before. This hike in mobile users has held strong even through 2021, with many of these new players continuing to engage with their games in the long-terms. However, the trends in mobile game behaviors look to be heading in their own direction for 2021. Here’s what we’ve seen so far, and where it will likely head.

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Mobile Game Behaviors in the First Half of 2021

In their recent report, “Games Marketing Insights for 2021,” Facebook Gaming states:

“In a world that’s becoming increasingly platform agnostic, gaming companies must meet the players where they are.”

Mobile games have proved adept at doing that. Among respondents studied in the US, UK, Germany, and South Korea, even long-time players have reported changes in their habits. They clocked more gameplay on the whole, and longer individual sessions.

mobile gaming trends 2021
Image Source: Image Source: https://www.facebook.com/fbgaminghome/marketers/gaming-marketing-insights-2021

These new mobile gamers that broke into the US, UK, and German market in the past tend to be younger than existing players. (In South Korea, however, they tend to be older, and to prefer casual games.) New players are also more likely to engage with social and multiplayer features than OG mobile gamers are. They are also spending more money via in-app purchases. Overall, mobile purchases have seen a huge boost as most device users are less keen on entering brick-and-mortar stores in our current climate.

New Players’ Demographics, Behaviors, and Motivations

The UK in particular has seen a huge surge in new players, who picked up mobile gaming since July 2020 and have been regularly playing ever since. They have seen 8.6 million new gamers – a 50% mobile gaming audience growth. These newcomers are often people who are already playing video games on other consoles, although in South Korea 42% of existing mobile gamers have some other gaming console, as opposed to 34% of new gamers. Interesting all new players are logging more gaming hours than their more seasoned counterparts.

mobile games trends insights 2021
Image Source: https://www.facebook.com/fbgaminghome/marketers/gaming-marketing-insights-2021

While players across the board were spending most of their gaming time playing solo, new players were also playing with friends and family more frequently than existing players. In all 4 different countries studied, both new and existing players cited “relieving stress” and “passing time” as the #1 reason they played mobile games. (Not surprising, given the past year we’ve had!) Other top motivators included “feeling accomplished,” “being dazzled by something unique,” “immersing myself in a world,” and “defeating others in competition.”

Spending Behaviors for Mobile Games in 2021

Overall, new players are spending money more frequently on mobile games – and more per month – than veteran gamers. This might be because newcomers aren’t accustomed to F2P monetization tactics, and thus don’t have the mental block towards them that other gamers have built up. Interestingly, spending habits differ more between different categories of game than between old versus new cohorts.

Across the 4 countries researched, the top motivations for spending money in-game are to “make the game exciting again,” to overpass time blocks or skip over a difficult part, to not have to see ads, to complete a game item or collection, or to personalize your in-game character or account.

When asked about their preferences for how an app should be monetized, all players preferred ads. However, this trend was especially strong in existing players in the US, UK, and Germany. New players tended to be more open to alternative forms of monetization, such as IAPs. In the US, 19% of new players would prefer to just purchase the game upfront and have no ads, while 20% of German new players opted for a battle pass.

Where Do Push Notifications Come In?

What all the motivations for playing have in common is that they are driven by emotions. Gamers play mobile games to drive away negative emotions such as stress or boredom. Or, to gain positive emotions such as accomplishment, dazzlement, or victory. When done correctly, push notifications can act like extensions of your game’s UX to reinforce those positive feelings that users associate with playing your game.

For example, for the player who wants to feel like they’ve accomplished something, remind them via push notification of the progress they’ve made so far. And perhaps inform them of an upcoming milestone so they stay motivated. For the player who likes to vanquish opponents, send them a deep link to a leaderboard, where they can see top scores of their rivals. Use rich media, such as images or video content, to show players a teaser scene from your game – or even a demo of gameplay! (In April, an iOS engineer showed a sample of a push notification where the user can play a round of Flappy Bird.)

Push Notifications for Monetization

Apple’s change to IDFA means targeted advertising will become less lucrative, and mobile marketers will have to adapt. As we saw above, most players are willing to spend money on IAPs in their mobile games, and push notifications are the most effective drivers of these. By keeping track of your users’ interests, previous purchases, and gaming style, you can then send them suggestions for items to purchase to improve their gaming experience.

For example, if your player keeps running into time barriers, you can offer them an “unlimited gameplay” token, in exchange for a certain amount of in-game currency. If they’re getting stuck on a difficult level, send them an offer for a tool, weapon, or level-up they need to overcome that pain point. And if they’re a stubbon player who hasn’t made any purchases yet, offer them a discount code via push notification. Remember, the earlier a player make a purchase, the more often they are likely to continue making purchases throughout their lifecycle.

Remember, push notifications’ primary purpose is to inform. So they are the perfect way of conveying information of any feature of your game players cna sink money into for an improved gaming experience: cosmetics or other personalized touches, battle pass subscriptions, VIP tiers with bonus content, and more. And if you combine them with in-game ads, push notifications are the ideal way to get players back into your app. That way, they’re clocking more gaming time, viewing more ads, and earning you more revenue.

For more advice on using push notifications to increase your revenues and your return on push, get in touch with one of our experts!

To read more about how to use OpenBack to boost player retention and maximize revenues, download our Case Study: Dreamworks How To Train Your Dragon App, School of Dragons

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