A post on the Yahoo! developer Tumblr has analysed the time spent on mobile devices (in the US). Their takeaway is that people are spending more time with their mobile devices, which is hardly a surprise, and they are prioritising apps rather than browsing the web. Another, a bit more interesting, observation is that the amount of time spent on games is decreasing from the year before, from 52 minutes down to 33 minutes per day. This is in stark contrast to the time spent in social and entertainment apps (the likes of Facebook and YouTube respectively), which have both increased.
They go on to speculate as to why this happens:
- There aren't any good hits coming out.
- Users prefer to watch gamers play than play themselves (oh you darned kids with your twitching streams).
- The surge of pay-to-win games are causing gamers to prefer paying for shorter and more intense gaming sessions rather than "grinding their way through them."
That last point is a very interesting one, especially if taken together with the AppShopper list of the top grossing games on the iOS App Store. As of September 2015, the list is completely dominated by freemium games and sitting comfortably on the top are the biggest names in free-to-play right now, Game of War, Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga. There are a handful of paid games on the list, with the highest one being Minecraft: Pocket Edition, although it resides on the 38th place and is gradually moving downwards.
The list is very telling of the trends within mobile gaming. In-app purchasing is now the main way to make money in the App Store which explains why developers are seeing it as the only monetisation strategy to pursue. This lends some credence to the third theory from the Yahoo! developers seeing as there is a ton of free-to-play games and they are seemingly making all the money. However, despite this boom in free games the stats say that people aren't playing more, but are spending less of their time gaming. This is somewhat strange, as an argument for free-to-play games is that they remove any risk in trying new games, allowing you to play without having to pay anything. So we have a slew of freeminum games available with the press of a button, but why are people playing less?
Perhaps they're just bored. Perhaps we are no longer enamoured with our mobile devices and the novelty of having a phone which can (competently) play games has faded. Or maybe the surge of free-to-play games have saturated the market to the point where people are no longer interested, and their view of games has been soured by inexperienced developers shovelling out terrible free-to-play time sinks in a desperate bid to get at the fabled whales everyone's talking about.
This cycle seems familiar, with a gold mine sprouting seemingly out of thin air and the vultures swooping down to fight over whatever they can get. I don't want to claim that this is another video game crash, but I think that the attitudes of a lot of developers/publishers is more damaging than anything else. The concept that anyone can make money on the App Store with a half-assed game idea and some free-to-play trappings is unhealthy in the long run and maybe now, years after this trend started picking up speed, we're finally seeing people get sick of the bullshit and just watching game streams on YouTube instead of gaming on their phones.
It's all speculation, of course. I don't want to come down on the side of "microtransactions is the cancer that is killing gaming", but it's an interesting trend to observe considering the complete shift the mobile gaming market has made, essentially pushing itself towards free-to-play games with no room for anything else. Gaming on mobiles isn't exactly the right place for engaging, long-form experiences, so games have to compensate by being short, intense and trying to squeeze some money out of you before you get off the bus/toilet and get on with your life.
What do you guys think? Am I reading too much into this throwaway market analysis or is the beginning of a post-apocalyptic mobile market where freemium games fight each other over the last remaining whales?