The Mobile Transformation of the Game Industry

The new generation of games has come out and the new consoles are coming onto the scene. The new generation of games has increased graphical fidelity and player spending. The new wave of player spending has been accelerated by the wave of mobile game style tactics implemented in newer “Triple A” titles. Clash of Clans started the mobile envy of “Triple A” developers in the distant past and the trend has not stopped since. The mobilization of the “Triple A” gaming industry is a worrying trend that will most likely continue in the future.

The mobile tactics employed by major game development companies and publishers have matured into a set of common strategies. The first main strategy employed in the mobile tactics push is the creation of multiple currencies to obfuscate the amount of money players have spent. A common example is buying a proxy currency (for example “war bucks”) to then purchase in game funds to buy skins in a digital shop. The second main strategy used to mobilize modern games is the extensive use of random rewards. Random rewards or “loot box” style rewards became mainstream with Overwatch and loot boxes have dominated the industry with the climax of controversy around them being the launch of “Star Wars Battlefront 2”. These loot box rewards can simulate gambling and hook players into spending chains by making spending occur in smaller increments.

A third strategy to mobilize modern games is to use season passes which make players spend an extra fee every in-game season to unlock extra rewards. In order to unlock all content players are incentivized to spend the extra fee which effectively raises the “true cost” of the game past the sticker price. A final mobile strategy that is employed is the use of social pressure via other players cosmetics or unlocks to push buying decisions. A player could be matched with other users that have bought skins or other things which could make someone feel bad for not having those skins or decorations which would make them more likely to spend money on in game shops.

The issue that these mobile strategies create is that the “true cost” of modern “triple A” games significantly increases beyond the $60 dollar or $70 dollars sticker price. Games can extract hundreds of dollars more from players while also charging an upfront price. Mobile games can somewhat justify this behavior because many of them charge no upfront cost; However, “Triple A” games charge an upfront price which sets the expectation that you are supposedly purchasing a complete game.  

Revenue from the hidden microtransaction costs has easily eclipsed any reasonable game sales numbers by millions of dollars. Market dominant mobile games can make millions of dollars every day with significantly less development compared to large game projects. These mobile projects effectively act as minimum effort money printers which would make any video game executive salivate. The mobile market has already seen monolithic games such as “Call of Duty” and “League of Legends” make separate versions of the game fully adapted for mobile.

The future of the gaming industry looks more and more like microtransaction filled low barrier experiences rather than blockbuster titles. The focus on mobile is especially big in developing markets such as India and Brazil where phones have insane reach compared to traditional platforms. The “Call of Duty Mobiles” of the world are the new “Triple A” releases for game publishers because they directly target developing markets for increased growth. Mobile games in developing markets have become more profitable than large game projects in 1st world markets by a large margin. Recurrent user spending is now the preferred model of extracting money from users.

Overall, the game industry is now more interested in mobile games than ever before and the interest in mobile game tactics will only increase.


42 thoughts on “The Mobile Transformation of the Game Industry

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