Top Six Mobile Gaming Trends That Matter in 2021 and Beyond

Top Six Mobile Gaming Trends That Matter in 2021 and Beyond
Last updated on April 12, 2021

Here’s an exciting stat: worldwide digital games market earnings rose by 15% to reach $11.6B in January 2021. What’s more, mobile grew by 6%. This increase in earnings marks a milestone for the industry and consumers. How exactly will 2021 mobile gaming trends continue to accelerate this growth and evolution? 

We’ve identified six trends that we believe will matter in 2021 and for many years to come. The statistics that support these trends, as well as quotes from mobile and gaming experts, shine a light on key trends around 5G, top-grossing titles, in-game advertising, and connected communities that expect more innovation from developers. Jump to our infographic to see even more stats around the future of mobile gaming. 

General Mobile Gaming Facts 

Let’s start with some general eye-catching facts that set the scene for mobile gaming in 2021. 

  • The number of global game consumers is approaching 3.1 billion, or 40% of the world’s population [Source: DFC Intelligence]
  • Demand for more digital gaming is expected to drive the industry’s worth to more than $94 billion by 2024 [Source: Nasdaq]
  • Asia is the leading region for paying game consumers at 1.42 billion. Europe follows in second place with 668 million paying game consumers with Latin America in third place with 383 million paying game consumers. North America is fourth with 261M. [ Source: DFC Intelligence]
  • Of the 303.7 million mobile users in the U.S. and Canada in 2020, 238.7 million are active mobile gamers, a 12% increase over 2019. [Source: The NPD Group]
  • Close to three in 10 Americans indicate they’ve been playing video games more often than usual amid lockdowns (28%). [Source: YouGov]
  • 83% of employed Americans play mobile games and 55% of them play during breaks in their workdays. [Source: King via VentureBeat]

Trend 1: Gaming Will Continue to Reach All Generations 

Who would have thought that a grandmother and grandson would not only enjoy playing video games together, but that a grandmother would log as many hours as the grandson? 

Video games – like generations of players – have grown up. You are no longer tied to a plugged-in console or reach the end of a game after a weekend. You can play on any device, you can play with friends next door or across the world, and you can watch a game in real-time. 

According to a Deloitte study, before COVID-19, the average US consumer had 12 paid media and entertainment subscriptions. Looking at the generational breakdown: 

  • Millennials averaged 17 subscriptions, Gen Z had 14, and Gen X had 13 [Source: Deloitte]
  • Two in five (40%) of Millennials said they’d been gaming more during the pandemic [Source: YouGov]
  • Renters spent 110 hours gaming during quarantine (timeframe: mid-March to May 2020) [Source: RentCafé]
  • A third of Fortnite players spend six to 10 hours per week playing [Source: LendEDU]
  • Nine in ten (90%) of Gen-Zers classify themselves as gamers, compared to 59% of the American population [Source: MediaPost]
  • The average age of a video game player is 35 to 44 years [Source: ESA]

Trend 2: ‘Future’ Technology is Changing the Gaming Experience

There appears to be a catch-22 with 5G technology: the increase of people working from home resulted in the need for a more robust 5G rollout. However, due to the pandemic, the expansion of 5G has slowed and been delayed in some parts of the U.S. 

The key benefits of 5G for mobile gaming: 

  1. Lower latency rate or the time required for a set of data to travel between two points
  2. Increase in capacity for a richer multiplayer experience 
  3. Greater streaming opportunities for live service games, aka cloud gaming 

Currently, the major networks have deployed 5G for at least 200 million people, with T-Mobile leading the way at 270 million. But even with this optimism and expansion, it is still early days. Here are some stats to get excited about: 

  • The FCC announced in March 2020 that satellite operators would be offered compensation in the amount of almost $10 billion to fast-track 5G C-band spectrum by 2023 [Source: ITP.net]
  • Around four in ten (43%) active smartphones will be 5G ready by 2023 [Source: Newzoo]
  • Six in ten (58%) of gamers already pay a premium to their provider to enjoy the best gaming experience possible. On average, gamers spend $84 a month on their current gaming experience [Source: Ribbon]
  • The three major gaming platforms are Google Stadia, Microsoft xCloud, and Steam Remote Play [Source: RootMetrics]
  • The worldwide cloud gaming market will grow to 124.7 million users by 2022 [Source: Newzoo]
  • To stream games to a screen at 720p resolution, a player would need an internet connection speed of approximately 15 megabits per second compared to 35Mbps or more to play games in 4K. [Source: Polygon]

Trend 3: Top Grossing Mobile Titles Are Worth $ and Downloads

In a SuperData report, the top 10 grossing mobile titles were ranked, based on worldwide earnings from January 2021. Here is the list: 

Sources: Sensor Tower* and Reuters* 

Other stats: 

  • Coin Master saw the highest quarter-over-quarter growth in consumer spend on Google Play in Q2 2020 [Source: App Annie]
  • In the US, Canada, Germany, and UK, ROBLOX was the #1 game in Q2 2020 [Source: App Annie]
  • At the end of 2020, mobile game spending was set to lead over desktop and home console gaming by more than 2.8x and 3.1x, respectively [Source: App Annie]

*Unless otherwise indicated, these reflect worldwide mobile downloads (combined App Store and Google Play) in January 2021. 

Trend 4: Mobile Gaming Will Become Even More Social

In June 2020, WalletHub released an in-depth report that compared the 100 largest U.S. cities across 20 key indicators of gamer-friendliness. The best cities for gamers (top five) overall were Seattle, San Diego, New York, Orlando, and Irvine. 

The report also ranked cities based on gaming environment, internet quality and coverage, as well as gamer and developer opportunities. Seattle appeared in the top five for each ranking criteria and had one of the highest percentage populations of people aged 18 to 49. With the average age range of a video gamer being 35 to 44 years, it appears that Seattle is a prime place for gamers. 

Whatever region gamers reside in, the opportunity to connect with other gamers — sometimes in different countries — is high. In fact, 65% of video game players play with others. A perfect example of this is Among Us, which was first released in 2018. The game encourages people to work together to complete a wide range of tasks while one or two people are, in secret, trying to prevent the team from succeeding. The key to its success: fun, empowering ways to connect. 

How else are gamers utilizing games to be social? 

  • Four in ten (40%) said they have met people through video games that they otherwise would not have [Source: ESA]
  • Half (51%) play video games after work or school compared to 30% of people who play while waiting for appointments [Source: ESA]
  • In 2020, more mobile users downloaded Among Us than any other game worldwide. The game saw 41 million downloads in the US and 264 million downloads worldwide [Source: Apptopia]
  • American rapper Travis Scott teamed up with Fortnite for a concert that had an audience of almost 28 million people [Source: Reuters]
  • Four in ten (38%) new gamers in the U.S. said they prefer chatting with others when playing games compared to three in ten (29%) existing gamers in the U.S. who said the same [Source: Facebook]
  • A quarter (25%) of existing gamers in the U.S. said they prefer playing multiplayer/online modes to single-player, compared to a third (33%) of new gamers in the U.S. who said the same [Source: Facebook]

Trend 5: In-Game Ads Will Gain More Screen Time

In the last year, the majority of Americans have been unable to or preferred not to shop in physical stores, leading to brands readjusting their advertising strategies. If you can’t serve a location-based push notification or mobile ad, how can you reach customers? For mobile gaming, the upward trend is all about smarter, playable ads. 

According to a study by AdInMo, there are two popular in-game ad formats:

  1. Interstitials: full-screen ads, that appear between levels and activities, and cover the interface of the app
  2. Rewarded videos: rewards users for watching full-screen ads in exchange for an in-app reward

Key in-game ads stats to consider: 

  • Mobile app marketers spent $74.6 billion globally in 2020 to drive users to install mobile apps [Source: AppsFlyer]
  • This 74.6 billion, when examined by platforms, saw Android earn $48.5 billion compared to iOS’s $26 billion [Source: AppsFlyer]
  • More than 46 percent of mobile games developers have cited immersive in-game advertising as a key new monetization platform [Source: AdInMo]
  • Six in ten (62%) mobile game players regularly choose to engage with a video ad for an in-game reward [Source: Unity Ads]
  • A third (34%) of gamers said a rewarded video ad is the type that is most likely to prompt in-game purchases, compared to 11% who preferred static interstitial ads [Source: Facebook]
  • Nearly 4 in 5 (79%) developers using a hybrid approach said rewarded video is working most successfully [Source: Facebook and Walnut Unlimited]

Trend 6: Play vs. Watch: Gamers Will Have More Choice

When you think of spectator sports, you probably think of tennis or football. But gaming has been a spectator sport for a decade, particularly thanks to Twitch, a video live streaming service that launched in June 2011. 

The business model has, in many respects, done a 180: audience growth has now overtaken player growth. This means in the short and long term, developers will need to think about the needs and wants of audiences, not just gamers. 

Here are some interesting stats to explain this further: 

  • 71% of Millennial gamers watch gaming video content, or online videos about games, on platforms like YouTube and Twitch [Source: Nielsen]
  • When Millennial gamers are watching gaming video content, they are doing this for an average of six hours each week [Source: Nielsen]
  • Watching gamers play video games online is more popular than watching sports for 18-25-year-olds [Source: Limelight]
  • Valorant was the most-watched game on Twitch in a single quarter with 534 million hours, beating Fortnite which peaked at 399 million hours in Q2 of 2018 [Source: Streamlabs and Stream Hatchet]
  • U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez played Among Us in October 2020, raised $200K for charity and more than 400,000 people came to watch [Source: Washington Post]
  • Amazon bought Twitch in 2014 for $970 million [Source: Reuters]

While no one has a crystal ball, these six trends shine a bright light on how mobile gaming has evolved in the last 10 years, the main players who continue to dominate headlines and leaderboards, as well as how mobile gaming will grow even more in 2021. 

Overall, current and future mobile gaming trends are just a snapshot of the predicted path that mobile gaming will take us on this year and many years to come. The trends we touched on are just some to keep an eye on. 

As we mark a year since the beginning of the pandemic in the US, eyes will also be on the continued effects on gaming habits and behavior. Will gamers play more or less as they are able to venture outside their homes? Mobile gaming means that you can do both. 

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