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Game Developers Conference 2020 Takeaways: The Pandemic’s Impact on Gaming, Plus Trends in Asian Markets

by Claire Tak on Aug 18, 2020

Are you getting used to attending virtual events and conferences yet? 😃

One of the year’s biggest—GDC 2020, was completely online and featured a variety of live sessions around game development and ways to increase revenue (and even yoga!). 

The AppLovin team attended and was able to gain valuable insights. We’ll highlight takeaways, plus our team in Asia weighs in on what trends we can expect to see in Japan and India. 

This recap will cover two parts: 

1. A recent GDC survey that polled 2,500 game developers about the impact of the pandemic on the mobile game development industry. Specifically, the survey results highlight how the pandemic has impacted incomes, personal lives, and release schedules for games. 

2. Trends in Asia, including India—a country identified at a GDC session as an emerging market. The findings may be useful for game developers looking to expand outside of the U.S. 

Part 1: How the pandemic has affected developers and studios 

The pandemic has touched and rattled every part of the economy—from job loss to entire industries being decimated, everyone has felt the strain.

The survey examines how coronavirus has altered revenue and productivity for game developers. 

According to NPG Group, the gaming industry experienced an increase in sales compared to the previous year: 

  • U.S. game sales rose 73 percent in April
  • It went up 52 percent in May

GDC’s survey revealed: 

  • 34 percent of business declined
  • 37 percent was about the same
  • 31 percent of business increased

While 8 percent of developers have been laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19, most have continued working. Twenty-six percent of respondents said that their household income has fallen due to the pandemic.

Productivity at home

This new work from home economy is likely to stay, with 42 percent of the workforce now working from home. Seventy-four percent of companies plan to permanently shift to remote work.

GCDC’s survey stayed consistent with this report: 

  • 70 percent are working from home
  • 27 percent already worked from home before the pandemic

Working from home comes with its unique set of challenges and benefits. 

Game devs said productivity decreased

Remote work could boost productivity—one report claimed a 35 to 40 percent increase in corporate office employee productivity. 

However, the GDC survey revealed a different outlook for the games industry. Developers faced issues with how quickly games were being created, updated, and launched. 

Almost half of game creators felt that being at home lowered their productivity and a third said their creativity decreased. 

Respondents pointed to the following problems:

  • Poor communication
  • Isolation
  • Lack of access to critical tools

As we continue to navigate this uncertain environment, it’s no surprise that the last few months have been challenging for everyone but the games industry continues to show how we can still connect while apart.

Part 2: Looking to expand to Japan or Asia? Trends to watch out for

In a GDC session presented by Omdia, note-worthy trends were highlighted for Asian markets, including Japan and India.

This is helpful for game studios who want to expand their user reach outside of the U.S. 

‘Battling’ it out in Japan

Battle royale games were a big focus of discussion. These are multiplayer online games that blend survival and scavenging elements with a last-man-standing gameplay. 

Although it’s a crowded market, this type of game continues to do particularly well in Asia—Ubisoft recently released Hyper-scape on multiple platforms and top Korean game developer NHN also reported that they’re developing battle royale games later this year.  

David Zhang, AppLovin’s China-based field marketer explained, “Because the market is saturated, game developers should first make sure they understand their fundamental gameplay innovations before investing in this type of game.”

As more game developers create battle royale games, they may likely combine it with another genre, such as MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). A great example of this is Tetris Royale, which combines battle royale with classic tile-matching game Tetris and allows 100 players to join in. 

Japan leads the pack for IAPs 

Along with Battle Royale games, players in Japan spend the most when it comes to in-app purchases. Knives Out is another popular game in Japan that leads the pack in IAP spend, making it the no. 3 game in the country with $43 million in revenue in July 2020 according to data from Sensor Tower

AppLovin’s Japan-based field marketer Amy Mills believes the high spending is due to the country’s long-standing history with games, saying, “In Japan, the first mobile game was released in 1999, with Docomo. Also, the typical commute for people in Tokyo is about an hour each way so people spend a lot of time playing mobile games along the way.”

Another reason why mobile games may resonate with the culture is due to the readily available help with troubleshooting. In a previous interview we did with gaming expert Josh Burns, he said customer service for mobile games is very “high touch.” Many companies offer phone support and online communities, which may differ from U.S.-based countries. 

India: The next emerging market

If you’re looking to expand into India, 40 percent use smartphones, which are mainly Android phones. By 2025, India is expected to have around 186 million mobile game users, which means it may be an opportunity, especially if you’re focused on Android games.  

India also has access to cloud-based subscription-led services (think: Netflix or Hulu for games), which could provide more visibility for more games.

Some other trends include room for growth and creativity for fantasy games

Historically, cricket has topped the chart for gaming platforms in 2019, but this is expected to change and expand into other games such as soccer and kabaddi (a popular South Asian contact team sport played by teams of seven). 

So, see you… next year?

While this year’s GDC was online, the team at AppLovin walked away with deeper knowledge and industry insights that will help us continue to build great games. 

We were glad to be a part of it and can’t wait until we can host our annual GDC party again soon.

Claire Tak is Marketing Manager, Content at AppLovin.