The top games on mobile in 2015 are the same games that were at the top of the charts in 2012 — and that incessant domination of just a handful of apps is starting to take its toll on the audience.
Gamers spent less time playing on mobile in 2015 than they did in 2014, according to Yahoo’s analytics firm, Flurry. Gaming made up 32 percent of the total time people spent on their mobile devices lat year, but that number plummeted to only 15 percent through this year. That’s a 37 percent decline from 52 minutes each day to just 33 minutes. You can find a lot of culprits for this evaporation of time spent on games, but Flurry blames new technology and the very nature of mobile games.
“Gaming is a hit-driven industry, and there hasn’t been a major new hit the past six to nine months,” Yahoo senior vice president of publish products Simon Khalaf wrote in a blog post. “The major titles like Supercell’s Clash of Clans, King’s Candy Crush, and Machine Zone’s Game of War continue to dominate the top-grossing charts and haven’t made room for a major new entrant.”
I’ve pointed this out numerous times in the past, but gaming on smartphones and tablets has little upward mobility. Clash of Clans makes a big slice of that money, and Supercell uses that cash to increase its marketing to get more players and more money.
Check out this chart from App Annie that shows Clash of Clans hasn’t fallen out of the top 5 highest-grossing iPhone games in the United States since November 2012:
The success of Clash of Clans — as well as Candy Crush Saga — has created a market where other games have tried to copy that gameplay model. So the stagnation doesn’t only come from just the same two to three games continually making the most money, but it also comes from every other developer releasing similar strategy games like Game of War, Star Wars: Commander, and Dominations.
What’s worse is that even when those games do make money, that almost inevitably means that people are paying money to play the game less.
“Gamers are buying their way into games versus grinding their way through them,” said Khalaf. “Gamers are spending more money than time to effectively beat games or secure better standings rather than working their way to the top.”
This led to a situation where people were playing their mobile games less, but developers were making more money.
“This explains the decline in time spent and the major rise in in-app purchases, as Apple saw a record $1.7 billion in App Store sales in July,” said Khalaf.
But people aren’t spending their money in Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga so that they have more time to play other games. Instead, they’re cutting out the long, repetitive grinding in their favorite games and then going on to other activities — like watching other people play games.
“Millennials are shifting from playing games to watching others play games, creating a new category of entertainment called esports,” said Khalaf. “This summer, Fortune named esports the ‘new Saturday morning cartoons for millennials.'”
Flurry also points out that Minecraft videos are among the most watched content on Tumblr, another Yahoo-owned website. And maybe that suggests a bigger trend in the wider gaming scene. Maybe the next generation of gamers want to adopt and build communities around fewer games for longer periods of time. That’s happened on mobile, and it’s happening on video sites like YouTube and Twitch where the same esports games and Minecraft are always the most popular.
Maybe this is the new definition of a “hit.”