Gaming is a huge industry – it’s predicted to be worth $82 billion by 2017. Compare that to the music industry ($16.6 billion in 2011) or the film industry (still ahead, with a projection of global profits of $139 billion for 2017.) For such a young industry, it is enormously successful and moving extremely quickly. So, obviously people who work in the industry spend a lot of time trying to guess what direction it is going to grow in. Although people still tend to think of gamers being lost in the lonely glow of a PC screen or shackled to an XBox or PlayStation, the biggest growth areas are the mobile platforms – IOS, Android and so on.
How big is this market? There are 300 million tablets in the world and 1 billion smartphones, so there is a huge potential audience for these games. (In comparison, there are about 78 million XBox 360s globally.) And it is growing unbelievably quickly – the tablet market, for example, has grown by 60% in the last year.
The year’s most popular game (this changes very quickly, though!) on mobile is, unsurprisingly, Candy Crush. It’s very popular indeed, with about 7.7 million active users per day. It also makes a heck of a lot of money – round about $850,000 per day. (yes, per DAY.) That works out at about 11 cents per user, but the company who make it, King, point out that 70% of users never pay anything for the game. The game uses a ‘freemium’ model – that is, it is free to play but you pay for ‘extras’ – extra lives or abilities. (These purchases – small amounts, typically 99 cents a time, are called ‘microtransactions.’) As the game goes on and becomes harder, obviously, it becomes more likely that people will buy extras. So, if you’re one of the people who’ve been paying for these extras, thanks from the rest of us.
It’s also important to realise that these games are often very popular with a female audience. It’s estimated that 60% of mobile gamers are female. They also tend to be younger than the more traditional, console-owning audience.
Our particular interest, of course, is how these games are marketed. Firstly, the game needs to be suitable for mobile play. Small puzzle games like Candy Crush or Angry Birds- easy to get started with, designed to be played in short bursts, and offering a series of short but increasingly difficult challenges which has the effect of getting people ‘hooked’ – lend themselves well to the way people play games on their phones or tablets. It’s more unusual for audiences to play for long periods on mobile devices so, although strategy or big open-world games do also appear on mobile devices, most of the really big grossers tend to be those designed to be played in a mobile-friendly fashion. (They are referred to as ‘casual games.’)
Creating synergy with existing institutions is also important. For Candy Crush and Farmville (made by King’s big rivals, Zynga) that meant working with Facebook. People could play either within Facebook or from the game’s own app. Riccardo Zacconi, CEO of King, pointed out that ‘People who play Candy Crush Saga on both the web and on the mobile app show nearly twice the level of engagement compared to users who play on just one platform.’ Progress was shared across both platforms to make switching between the two as seamless as possible – a winning combination for both King and Facebook. Linking the game to Facebook accounts meant that scores were being published on timelines which, of course, means Facebook friends are more likely to play the game also. Integrating these social dimensions was what really drove the game’s success. Likewise, Angry Birds is playable in an app or online, or it is available on XBox or PS3. Making the game available across multiple platforms (and, in the case of Angry Birds, developing whole lines of traditional toys, merchandise and even an upcoming movie) spreads awareness of the game and obviously makes people more likely to try it.
Other methods of marketing include using social media to create an imagined community (Candy Crush’s Facebook page has close to 50 million likes. That’s a lot.) Angry Birds used animation and advertising on YouTube to drive their audience growth (one example here with 14 million views.) The people at whom these games are marketed (younger females, predominantly) are also the largest section of the target audience for much social media; the ‘average’ Facebook user, apparently, is a 25 year old woman, living in a city, with a college degree and a family income of more than $75000 per year. That young, aspirational, upper-demographic audience is extremely attractive to marketers, obviously; many mobile games are targeted directly at them.