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Mobile game insiders predict the biggest trends of 2019

by Lewis Leong on Dec 18, 2018

As the year comes to a close, it’s time to set sights on 2019. 2018 was dominated by trends like console-quality games, the rise of AR experiences, and the hyper-casual genre dominating the top app store charts.

But what trends will dominate 2019? We asked a group of mobile game developers what they think are the biggest mobile gaming trends to watch in the new year. Here’s what they had to say.

Sebastien Borget, COO & Co-Founder, Pixowl

Sebastien BorgetMy predictions for 2019, both for mobile and in general, are that content will still be king through a combination of fewer, more massive hits. Players will be spending more time (and money) on a small number of titles such as Fortnite, Roblox, Clash Royale, Call of Duty, and Candy Crush.

Discovery will play a smaller role as this environment favors titles with stronger recognition, including strong, IP-based games that will get attention thanks to their larger fan base and to upcoming theatrical releases.

“Discovery will play a smaller role as this environment favors titles with stronger recognition, including strong, IP-based games.”

I’m passionate about the potential of blockchain, and I’m expecting crypto-gaming to make a breakthrough in 2019 as we move beyond the hype into more substantive experiences. Players will be empowered through true ownership of their in-game assets and the ability to monetize their creations. This revolution will soon be ignited with leaders establishing themselves in the main gameplay categories of Strategy, RPG, TCG, FPS, and of course Sandbox games!

Nimrod Klinger, Senior UA Manager, Tabtale

Nimrod KlingerAt TabTale, we predict that the coming year will prove hyper-casual to be no mere trend, but actually what mobile gaming is all about. 2019 will be a year of hyper-casual maturation and convergence. We expect to see larger and more experienced gaming companies from other genres get into the hyper-casual space, either independently or by acquiring smaller competitors. The game quality will keep improving, and user acquisition will become even more competitive. Developers who don’t have the deep pockets to maintain massive UA operations will either shift to publishing deals or get acquired.

Peggy Anne Salz, Lead Analyst & Founder, MobileGroove

peggy_anne_salzRather than collect what I call “surface data” to inform data-driven marketing, the focus in 2019 will shift to data-driven execution fueled by a deeper understanding of audience activities and behavior traits. One outcome will be an abundance of granular data that smart app marketers (in many cases assisted by machine learning they have programmed precisely for this purpose) will use to power new approaches to user acquisition and retention. Campaigns will have to get faster, smarter and vastly more personal—because they can.

But this avalanche of data will also force a rethink what we consider to be the critical KPIs and how we gauge success. Depending on the genre of the game—and the audience—it may be essential to move beyond measuring DAUs and MAUs to calculating Hourly Active Users. Tapping the “data exhaust” from how audiences interact with gameplay and advertising will equip app marketers to optimize campaigns for the individual “in the moment” to drive deep-funnel activity and engagement. It’s early days and I give a high-five to companies—including Etermax, Gazeus Games, LUDIA, NexonM, Playrix, Playtika, Pocket Gems, Scopely, Wooga/now part of Playtika (all of whom I have interviewed)—that have made strides, using granular data combined with refined LTV calculations to streamline how they pinpoint and convert high-value players into highly engaged users.

Nate Barker, Business Development Manager, Kolibri Games

Nate Barker

With the incredible success of Fortnite and PUBG in the rearview mirror, there has been a seismic shift in the mobile gaming landscape. While this naturally means we are in store for a plethora of battle royale copycats, savvy developers will recognize the larger trend: traditional PC and console are increasingly successful in the transition to mobile. Action game—second to shooters, the largest PC/console genre by revenue – would seem like the target. The question is—can they be adapted successfully to the F2P model?

Eric Seufert, Mobile Dev Memo

I have two predictions. The first is that hyper-casual reaches a saturation point and plateaus. Hyper-casual was seen as one of the big growth opportunities in 2018, but given the lack of consumer affinity to hyper-casual titles and their publishers, the ease of building out a “publishing” business for hyper-casual, and the race to the bottom in terms of developers payouts for hyper-casual publishing, I think the size of this segment will plateau in 2019.

“Epic proved that a big developer with a massive franchise can take its title off of Google Play.”

My second prediction is that the infrastructure of “off-app store” will be established. Epic proved that a big developer with a massive franchise can take its title off of Google Play, and the Supreme Court is currently deciding whether or not Apple is a monopoly for restricting app distribution to the App Store. I think some companies will spring up to facilitate “off-app store” publishing in 2019—we might even see a resurgence of HTML5 distribution platforms. I don’t think these efforts will be successful, but the allure of reducing the standard 30% app store fee is compelling.

Josh Nilson, CEO, East Side Games

Joshua Nilson East Side GamesI think we’ll see lots more hyper-casual [games], and with more and more new people playing games, there is more demand than ever. Genres like idle, puzzle, and simulation will continue to grow. I’m interested to see how new game stores grow outside of the existing ones as well. With better phones, you’ll see more core games developing full games on mobile. We are excited for 2019 and plan on bringing in some very interesting brands to mobile for the first time.

For more from East Side Games, be sure to read out Ask the Developer interview with Josh.

Farhan Haq, Head of User Acquisition, Nanobit

Farhan HaqWe will continue to see hyper-causal games in the download charts, but there is a feeling that users are getting sick of repetitive games with limited content like these. I see 2019 being the year for more narrative titles to come to prominence, particularly those that blend other mechanics in, such as puzzle or even RPG.

Shreyas Rajagopalan, VP Marketing & Revenue, Green Panda Games

Shreyas Rajagopalan

2018 saw an emergence of various new players competing to dominate the charts with ad-revenue focused games. This crowded race to the top brought with it increasing CPIs for these casual games, resulting in diminishing margins for the games that relied on simple ad-revenue mechanics. To counteract this, 2019 will see casual games integrating a mix of different revenue mechanics such as ad, IAP, and subscription. Some publishers have already implemented this to great effect, and we’ll see a lot of other players ready to continue this trend in 2019.

Kerem Alemdar, User Acquisition Manager, Gram Games

Kerem-AlemdarThe shift of mobile inventory to “black-box’ networks and auto-optimized campaigns with less visibility and control of ad placements will limit the available optimization capabilities. It highlights the importance of other parameters like robust creative processes. As UA professionals, we’ll have to adapt our creative and overall optimization methodologies to much broader and strategic levels.

Looking ahead

Taking a look at the answers from the surveyed developers, there a few trends that stand out. The first is that mobile gaming is evolving at a breakneck pace and developers must be ready to adapt. As consumers warm up to subscription monetization and some preferring in-app purchases again, mobile game developers must continually test to see which model makes the most sense for their game. Today, we see more and more developers experimenting with a mix of monetization and creatives to adapt to changing consumer needs.

Another big trend that developers identified is that big players are taking mobile gaming more seriously than ever. The rise of console-quality games on mobile showed that there’s massive potential for the platform. More console and PC-based games will find themselves on mobile, and not dumbed down versions that were so popular just a few years ago.

Where the surveyed devs disagree is where the hyper-casual genre will go in 2019. Many believe that hyper-casual will continue to dominate and mature, while others feel the genre is reaching a saturation point. But where both opinions converge is that there’s a shift in consumer expectation and usage. Hyper-casual games became popular because they’re easy to play, highly competitive, and offer players rewards quickly. This behavior won’t change as consumers still want short session lengths, but longer, more in-depth gaming experiences will also rise on mobile with more publishers realizing the potential of the platform.

2019 will undoubtedly be an exciting year for mobile gaming, and we can’t wait to see what mobile game developers come up with next.

Want more on where mobile gaming is going? Be sure to check out our Future of Mobile Gaming series where we take a deep dive into the trends we see driving change across the mobile gaming ecosystem.

Lewis Leong is AppLovin's Content Marketing Manager.

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