Last update: May 2021

5 mins to read - 2020/06/19

The Future of Mobile Gaming: An App Annie Webinar Recap

On June 16th, Sam Yang from App Annie interviewed Josh Yguado, the president and co-founder of mobile games developer Jam City. Jam City, an award-winning company whose gaming apps have seen more than 1 billion downloads, focuses on puzzle, strategy, and casino games. A few of its most recognizable games on the market include Harry Potter Hogwarts Mystery, Disney Frozen Adventure, Cookie Jam, and Panda Pop. Over the course of the webinar, Yguado shared his key insights on the current state of mobile games, and where he predicts the industry is headed.

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Changing Climate and the Future of Mobile Gaming

Yang and Yguado kicked things off by giving their thoughts on the zeitgeist of mobile games as it stands. Yguado in particular pointed out the changes he’d seen in the industry in recent years. A generation ago, the games industry was primarily targeted at teenage boys. Gamers played long sessions and used gaming consoles. In this newest generation of games, games are portable, and can be played on the go. Mobile devices have made gaming accessible and instantaneous. In light of this shift in understanding of games, he states:

“Gaming is ubiquitous like watching TV or a film, another form of entertainment.”

Crucially, he also observed that gaming is now equal access, with as many women playing games as men – and adults as well as children. This opens up a whole new realm of complexity levels, scope, and narratives that gaming developers can explore. Technical capacity of games has also expanded. Strategy and core games from his own childhood have comparable levels of complexity as the standard mobile game. This means an enormous amount of scope for casual games with deep storylines and thousands of levels, puzzles, perspectives, and challenges. All in all, it’s a very exciting time for games designers.

Read more about the revolution in public opinion surrounding games in our recap of the GamesBeat Summit Digital Conference.

What Does It Take to Create a Successful Mobile Game?

When it comes to mobile games, it is very much a passion project for Jam City. As Yguado put it, they’re primary motivation is to create the games they have always wanted to play, but which don’t exist yet. As such, he described a successful mobile game being the sum of IP (intellectual property), genre, and last of all monetization. IP in this case would be all creative or technical components of the game: code, design, artwork, music, narrative, etc.

In Jam City’s case, they focus on casual games, which can be highly immersive, with engaging storylines and characters whose motivations the players can really get behind. For example, with the RPG Harry Potter Hogwarts Mystery, the narrative and the player’s decision-making are intertwined. In order to advance the storyline, the player needs to explore the app, interact with its different features, and make decisions that affect their narrative.

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What Does the Future Hold for Mobile Gaming Monetization Strategies?

Most of Jam City’s apps, with their focus on narrative and long-term user retention, fit the genre of casual games. According to Yguado, they are more focused on creating high-quality gaming experiences. All Jam City games are free to play (F2P), with primary monetizing strategies being in-app purchases (IAP) and some advertising revenue. For example, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery requires players to purchase additional energy boosts if they want continuous, uninterrupted gameplay. And there is a wide variety of cosmetic features to purchase for your wizard avatar.

However, in 2018 they significantly lowered the cost of IAPs, in accordance with user feedback. Their advertising revenue is currently reward-based, allowing users to watch ads in exchange for some in-game incentive. They also engage in some cross-promotion of their apps.

When asked about the potential for using other forms of advertising, such as banner ads and interstitials, Yguado stated that they tend to interrupt the UX of the game. These monetization tactics tend to be the go-to strategy for hyper-casual games, that are designed for fast, short micro-bursts of gameplay. However, Jam City’s goals lie more in the realm of long-term user retention:

“We’re in it for the long run, not to make a quick buck.”

The Evolving Role of Mobile Games

So what does the future hold for mobile gaming?

Like many other movers and shakers of the industry, Yguado has called attention to the role the COVID-19 pandemic played in highlighting the key role games play in our lives. In a time when people felt afraid and isolated, mobile games provided some much needed entertainment, distraction, and social connection. Yguado interpreted the large spike in mobile games installations as people looking for escapism. However, he states that this trend in mobile games overtaking other forms of recreation – such as TV, films, and music – was already in the making. The pandemic just “accelerated something that was already happening.”

In the next 2-3 years, he predicts that games will continue to gain traction as a medium. With the rise in gameification in all aspects of life (e.g. the “like” button in Facebook), there will be a boost of respect for the artistry of games, in addition to their entertainment value. Games will become something people across the board – not just the stereotypical “gamer” – will be excited to talk to friends about.

And once they have the broad fan base appeal nailed down, they will be able to design more niche games. Games will develop to become deeper and richer in narrative. They will appeal to a smaller audience segment and take more risks. Yguado predicts there will be an “Oscars of games.” And mobile games will be the driver of this trend.

All in all, it’s a very exciting time to be in the mobile games industry. It’s a dynamic space, with a lot of innovative new talent shaking things up, and we’re excited to see where this leads.

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