The mobile market is on fire thanks in part to an influx of new users firing up phones and tablets. While some of those first timers are the very old and the very young, a huge number are people in emerging markets just now gaining access to both tech and the ability to connect. It can be argued that gaming is driving mobile growth across the globe. The number of mobile gamers worldwide is expected to increase to 1.82 billion in 2017 according to Newzoo, and mobile has gobbled up a quarter of the total gaming market, which is set to exceed $41 billion by that same year.
It’s easy to argue that demographic shift is exerting the biggest push. Gaming is the second most popular pastime among people with smartphones (ranked only behind browsing social media) and there are now mobile titles catering to every interest, lifestyle and stage of life. The games market is brimming over with tap and touch games for toddlers, brain training apps for the elderly and a host of titles for women 18 and up – now the largest gaming demographic in the US.
But while a broadening audience for video games has certainly contributed to the mobile industry’s expansion, the real growth can be credited to emerging markets rather than already established ones. Look no further than Southeast Asia and China, two areas that are seeing extraordinary download stats and big time revenue growth.
In that part of the world, the value of the mobile gaming industry jumped 86% in 2014 as the technology necessary to tap into the games market became available at prices people could afford. Thanks to mobile technology companies like Snapdragon, more power costs less money and it is now feasible for a larger percentage of the population to buy app-friendly mobile devices.
Of course, a high-quality phone or tablet is only as useful as its programs, but in emerging markets even relatively inexpensive apps may still be seen as an extravagance. If a mobile device purchase is a hard stop for consumers in these markets (who likely can’t be counted on for yearly upgrades) growth can only be maintained until mobile devices are as common as they are in developed markets. That’s a real concern for those banking on continued growth in areas like South Asia and China. Will people buy apps? More importantly, can they buy apps when 21% of emerging market consumers don’t have a bank or credit account – a prerequisite for shopping in most app stores?
There are huge opportunities for those who play their cards right in the mobile space. The key is not just getting tech into the hands of new customers, but also empowering those users to see the value of that tech with applications that are useful and fun. Geographical barriers are no longer an issue; today’s barriers are all financial. And that’s where free-to-play massive multi-player online gaming or MMOs come in.
As stated above, people love gaming and free-to-play or freemium games have long been popular in Asia where MMOs offer not only a diversion, but also connection as an avenue of communication and the feeling that you’re a part of something larger than yourself. The desire to play is already there. The cultural appreciation for gaming is already there. The trick on the industry side will be turning that demand into something profitable while maintaining accessibility at a level emerging markets can support.