There are 3 billion monthly active devices across the world, a vast global audience more eager for gaming content than ever before.
“You have these global companies minting new billion-dollar businesses all the time,” said Greg Hartrell, product director, Android and Google Play, at Google for Games during his panel at GamesBeat Summit 2022. “I admire developers like Garena in Singapore, Moonton, Com2uS, who have embraced the size of the ecosystem, the scale of it, and are being thoughtful about how they enter into a market globally, from their content to their pricing to the way that [they] reach the entire world of addressable devices.”
Hartrell and Dean Takahashi, lead writer at GamesBeat, spoke about the global mobile game market, what developers need to do to be successful, and more, during their panel.
Why the global market opportunity has grown
Three big changes in the mobile gaming world, in genres, devices, and ads, have made the opportunities for developers even richer. Firstly, in an ecosystem this size, there’s no such thing as an average user, which is a far cry from the traditional gaming audience, from which all gamer bro clichés were born.
“At Xbox it was implied that we were making games for 18-35-year-old males who wanted to either punch each other in the face or shoot each other in the face,” Hartwell said. “And what mobile really did is it blow open the idea that you’d get all these different genres.”
With the explosion of mobile devices, developers now have a whole new platform to offer up their game — and new audiences to engage, especially in geos where smartphone penetration has new gamers coming online in bigger numbers than ever. Tools like the Android game development kit make optimizing more efficient than ever.
Finally, developers have been able to become more sophisticated in the way they can actually weave ads into the gameplay, with formats like rewarded ads, which users welcome when they feel they’re getting value in exchange for their eyeballs.
“That’s showing the numbers for those developers and they’re becoming more successful,” Hartrell said. “They’re able to grow their audience in a helpful way and monetize even further.”
How game launches have changed
When you launch in mobile, retaining users and acquiring them can become very expensive. Successful developers have found several ways to solve this problem in their road to launch.
The first, Hartrell explained, is being aggressive about white-labeling their prototypes: They create a skunkworks or labs account where they can anonymously test prototypes at scale, and they ask the right questions: When we get this prototype in front of real users, do they find it joyous? Do the metrics show they’re engaging? And then they’ll kill anything that doesn’t look like it will have legs.
Dark launching is also very important, or finding and launching in adjacent markets that look like the markets you want to grow in. A classic example would be launching in Canada if you’re targeting the United States, or launching in Indonesia if you’re interested in southeast Asia.
Then there’s making sure you get the engagement right, even before you think about monetizing. You need to make sure the users love what you’re giving them, and that you can iterate on that, before you can think about the monetization strategy for users like yours.
And finally, preregistration is more important than ever, for mobile game developers — the digital version of asking your local GameStop to put you down for a copy of the next up-and-coming release. For mobile, preregistration creates a hype cycle leading up to a launch.
“You build that nucleus that’s available day one, and you get critical mass along all your other go-to-market activities, just on the back of people loving the behind-the-scenes content, the road to that launch, that hype cycle that you can tap into,” Hartrell said.
How to approach community building and live ops
With always-connected devices that are never far from a user’s hand, and because retaining your users is so much more important today, developers have the opportunity to grow a thriving community around their games. Instead of launching and on to the next, developers need to think about each of their games as a live service from day zero, as part of the design.
Hartrell points to how new studio Trailmix brought “Love and Pies,” their story-driven match-three game to market. To keep their enthusiastic audience coming back for more, they’ve mapped out weekly, monthly, quarterly, and seasonal events, in parallel with the game updates. They recognize that they need, effectively, a production team, that makes sure content keeps coming, and the community knows that it’s appreciated, and that there’s someone behind the scenes that loves the game as much as the audience does.
“If you’re thinking about mobile, thinking about growing in today’s ecosystem, it’s really your secret weapon for being successful in the long run,” Hartrell says.
The importance of cross-platform publishing
Google for Game’s user research found that, especially in mature markets, upwards of around 60% to 70% of mobile users want to play those games on other screens as well. And with Chrome OS now the second-most used operating system in the world, the Android games that have been emulated on Chromebooks have driven game engagement 50% year over year.
“That’s changed the equation, where if you are a mobile developer reaching Android and other mobile devices, how do you tap into a set of users who come home at night and maybe want to sit in front of a larger screen?” Hartrell explained. “Maybe they want to sit in front of a laptop and multitask. Maybe I’m on the go or on my couch and I want to play with a mobile device. There’s an ROI problem there. You have to invest in adding new platforms.”
The company launched Google Play Games for PC in January, which allows developers, with very little engineering effort, to reach a desktop and laptop audience. Users can choose between the modality of different screens, and take advantage of the Play Library and Play Points. Mobile developers don’t have to spin up another platform team in order to port games over to the PC, and it takes less than a handful of weeks.
It’s important to consider building cross-platform experiences beyond phones just because of how large the gamer ecosystem is, and because there’s no such thing as an average user. Cross-platform becomes especially important when you enter mature markets.
“If you’re designing a new game, you want to think about how you get on to, at a minimum, tablets and laptops, if not desktops,” Hartrell said. “If you think about it in advance, even if you don’t intend to immediately launch on larger screens, it at least gives you the optionality later.”
Players also want seamless change of mode. Google research in Korea found that players of idle games and MMORPGs are always on — using their mobile at school or work, then keeping their games constantly going beside them on tablets or PCs or laptops at home, and constantly engaging with their community.
“I encourage you, if you’re not looking at those regions of the world — APAC, southeast Asia — there’s a phenomenal amount of innovation going on there and different types of gameplay behavior that I don’t think we’ve ever seen in western markets,” he said. “Thinking cross-platform is a big opportunity.”
To watch the whole conversation, watch the on-demand video here. And to learn more about Google Play Games for PC, go to developers.android.com, where you’ll find tool sets, case studies, and more.