As social distancing continues, mobile gaming grows

Consumers’ attention across the globe has turned from outward spaces to the internal spaces of the home, as we all start operating our daily lives within four walls and within the confines of technology – such as our work, communication with others, etc. But what we are looking for has also changed.

While social-networking sites are reporting massive spikes in use due to social isolation, the vast majority of that growth is less from users scrolling through feeds. Instead, people are leveraging messaging services such as Messenger and WhatsApp. It’s clear that direct communication with friends and family members is essential.

Also essential? The need for access to digital services like email, internet, Zoom and Slack. Vodafone is reporting a 30% increase in data usage but notes that much of it is coming from people working from home. Streaming video overall is also up (20%), demonstrating our need for entertainment at this time.

What we found, however, is that more people are turning to mobile games for entertainment than ever before. Some 85% of consumers are playing mobile games for relief, according to our Coronavirus Impact Survey to the EMEA and LATAM regions, conducted in late March. Respondents ranged from 14 to 74, but most in EMEA were in the 25-54 age group.

Mobile games have always been popular in Europe, and we represent 23% of the total global games market – and games overall have grown faster year over year than the global average.

In the UK alone, there are over 2,000 gaming firms, and more than 60% of all registered gaming companies in Europe are less than 5 years old. The biggest driver by far is the mobile gaming segment, expected to expand at a CAGR of 9.6% from 2016-2024.

This is due mostly to the popularity of social gaming, casual games and free-to-play role-playing games – the very types of games that consumers are turning to now, to not only release stress but to connect with other people online. And they’re doing it daily: Nearly half (47%) of respondents are now playing mobile games on their smartphone every day.

Some are sticking with the tried-and-true: 31% of respondents are playing mobile games that they already enjoy, just more often. But there are plenty that are branching out and downloading new ones: 32% of mobile users surveyed are playing new games on their phones.

How are they learning about these new games and being compelled to download them, and then, in many cases, spend money on in-game purchases? Or, in some cases, clicking on ads from brands to learn more about their products or services? The mobile app user acquisition landscape has grown accordingly, and advertising opportunities abound with all of the attention now being paid to this channel.

But it’s still important to keep the user’s needs in mind. In the study, mobile users reconfirmed that the ads they most like to see are those that help them notice products they might need – which during these times has, of course, shifted.

And user-initiated ads, where the user chooses to view an ad in order to receive some sort of benefit (e.g., virtual currency, access to gated content) is also highly regarded: 35% of users listed it as the most positively perceived ad format. Ironsource recently reported that the highest player engagement comes from rewarded ads.

So as we shift into a new world, turn your attention to one of the few media channels that is receiving more attention, not less: mobile gaming. This channel is only going to increase in importance. While mobile game downloads shot up 39% in February alone, even before the crisis had spread worldwide, that was driven by China, where we saw a 62% jump in downloads in the App Store.

Just as all eyes were on China last month trying to predict the impact of COVID-19 in other nations based on what was happening there, we can foresee that mobile gaming use in Europe and other areas within EMEA is going to increase as the crisis continues, and that is something that all advertisers must take note of.

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