From arcade to new decade: how did gaming apps evolve to what they are today?

March 04, 2020

Tags: 2020, Publishers

Nicolas McConnell
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Gaming: it’s top of mind for the mobile publishing world. In fact, according to App Annie’s 2020 annual state of mobile report, mobile gaming is the world’s most popular form of gaming. In 2019, mobile games saw 25% more spend than all other gaming combined. 

With that in mind, it’s safe to say that the mobile gaming industry is tough to ignore and isn’t slowing down anytime soon. According to MoPub data, gaming average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU) was at least 2.5 times higher than any other vertical in November 2019. This signifies that the gaming user is becoming more valuable to both advertisers and publishers. In fact, according to our data, in November 2019, for every dollar a brand DSP spent on MoPub’s exchange, about 74 cents went to a gaming publisher — a 19% increase year over year. 

For mobile app publishers and gaming developers looking to better understand how to monetize games, an important first step is to get familiar with how gaming has evolved, which audiences are playing mobile games today, and how the gaming ecosystem ultimately reflects gamers. In MoPub’s Gaming 101 series, our aim is to arm mobile gaming publishers with the tools and knowledge they need to better understand the mobile gaming community, audience types, genres, key terminology, and ultimately, how to monetize. In this article, we’ll uncover insights on the mobile gaming community and its origins. 

An evolution of games:

To understand how far games have come, let’s first examine where they started. 

  • Arcades:

The arcade is the progenitor of many of today’s mobile gaming styles (we’ve come a long way from physical coins to in-app purchases). While the '80s and '90s heyday of local arcades is in the past, the spirit of many arcade-style games still lives on today, embodied in titles from mobile app publishers such as Voodoo, Good Job Games, or Say Games. These games employ simple — but addictive — skill-based mechanics that make them both nostalgic and popular. In fact, according to App Annie, games within casual genres, led by Arcade and Puzzle, were the most downloaded games globally in 2019. 

  • PC/Console games:

Gaming at home started to become a reality with the popularization of consoles and PCs. These platforms set the groundwork for what would eventually become some of mobile gaming’s biggest genres: midcore strategy titles, role-playing games (RPGs), runners/platformers, and puzzle games. According to Techcrunch, “in addition to gaming consoles becoming popular in commercial centers and chain restaurants in the U.S., the early 1970s also saw the advent of personal computers and mass-produced gaming consoles become a reality. Technological advancements, such as Intel’s invention of the world’s first microprocessor, led to the creation of games such as Gunfight in 1975.” Despite advancements during this time, the barriers to entry as well as a stigma remained. These barriers resulted in "gatekeeping", wherein a player is shut out from enjoying a game for a number of reasons. For example, the challenge of wrangling a complex control scheme, the cost of buying hardware and software, and even the perception of gaming as a "guys' club" all kept a larger audience from enjoying games as a medium.  

  • Portable/handheld games

Next in the timeline are portable gaming devices, which made it easier for gamers to play on-the-go. A notable example of portable gaming is the Nintendo Game Boy, which was released in 1989 (1990 in Europe) and was immediately a huge success. As notes, “the Game Boy brought portable video gaming to the mass market before the term "portable" was even a thing.” Portable games were easy to use and decently affordable for their time. This milestone is important to the work of mobile publishers today as portable games helped normalize the concept of playing games on the go to a generation of gamers, paving the way for today’s gaming community. 

  • Mobile app games

That brings us to the modern day, where mobile games are ever-present. Today, mobile app games are more accessible than ever, and mobile has made it possible for nearly every consumer to have a gaming console at their fingertips. Besides making games more accessible, mobile has introduced a new cultural phenomenon wherein anyone with a mobile device can be a gamer, and the notion has really taken off. Techcrunch notes that “since smartphones and app stores hit the market in 2007, gaming has undergone yet another rapid evolution that has changed not only the way people play games, but also brought gaming into the mainstream pop culture in a way never before seen.” In 2020, the market is poised for continued growth. App Annie points out that mobile gaming is on track to surpass $100B across all mobile app stores this year, which makes this a ripe opportunity for mobile app publishers. 

The takeaways: access to gaming is widespread, and that essentially anyone with a mobile device can be a gamer. What exactly does the mobile gaming audience look like? (Sneak peek: it’s broader than you think it is.) Who’s playing mobile games in 2020? The key to understanding your app monetization strategy lies in knowing your audience. Stay tuned for more insights on the mobile gaming community in the next blog post in our Gaming 101 series! MoPub also offers a wide range of educational resources for mobile app publishers. Questions about monetizing your game? Reach out to the MoPub team today.

About the author: Nic McConnell, Publisher Solutions Manager

Nic is a Publisher Solutions Manager for MoPub. With a career spanning ad tech and market research as well as time with PlayStation, Square-Enix and more, Nic applies his expertise and his enthusiasm for gaming to help the industry's leading mobile game studios successfully monetize the games people love playing. When he's not at work, Nic is at home teaching his two baby daughters how to play Bust a Move on his prized Neo Geo cabinet.

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