Top Grossing Apps + What Marketers Can Learn From Them

Top Grossing Apps + What Marketers Can Learn From Them
Posted on July 13, 2021

Global app spending is projected to  climb to $270 billion by 2025*. To give a bit of context, this number includes premium apps, subscriptions across Google Play and the Apple App Store, and in-app purchases

When it comes to top grossing app revenue, it’s worth examining both quantitative and qualitative factors. The number of downloads is an important metric, but understanding why these top grossing apps are being downloaded is even more important. 

In this post and infographic below, we look at both factors and offer an in-depth analysis as to what marketers can learn from these successful apps. 

What Are Free, Paid, and Grossing Apps? 

To avoid any confusion, here’s a cheat sheet on the common terminology surrounding top app lists, roundups, and tables. 

Top free apps: The most downloads with a price tag of $0

Top paid apps: The most downloads with a price tag greater than $0

Top grossing apps: Apps with the highest total revenue 

How Do Free Apps Make Money? 

As of March 2021, almost 97% of apps in Google Play were free compared to 93% of apps in the Apple App Store*. With so many without a price tag, how on earth do free apps generate revenue?

The short answer is: it varies. As an example and base to measure against, research has shown that the top 200 apps on the app store make roughly $82,500 a day*.  So where does the money come from if the app is free? 

It should come as no surprise that advertising is the number one method of monetization for apps. In fact,mobile ad spend will top $290 billion in 2021*. However, advertising is being outpaced by in-app purchases. 

For developers and marketers who are interested in launching a free app, here are some encouraging statistics around effective app monetization methods.  

Top Grossing Apps: Overview

Millions and billions. That’s how much top grossing apps are raking in and are predicted to generate in the next couple of years. These statistics give an exciting snapshot of the upward trajectory of the top grossing apps. 

  • As of February 2021, the top grossing non-gaming apps worldwide were TikTok, YouTube, and Tinder. [Source: Sensor Tower]
  • In 2020, Android and iOS app revenue totaled $111 billion — a 24% increase YoY. [Source: Business of Apps
  • iOS accounted for 65% of total app revenue in 2020. [Source: Business of Apps]
  • Mobile app revenue is estimated to reach $935 billion by 2023. [Source: Statista]
  • Roblox, the online game platform, expects to earn roughly $1.5 billion by end of 2021 [Source: Businesswire]   

Top 10 Free, Paid, and Grossing Apps in Apple App Store

There are more than two million apps available in the Apple App Store*. The following iPhone apps represent the top free, paid, and grossing apps in the U.S. Apple App Store, according to data (as of May 2021) from App Annie*. One of the interesting things to observe about this list is that no one category dominates. Categories include games, business, lifestyle, social networking, photo and video, music, entertainment, and navigation. 

FreePaidGrossing
PoparazziMinecraftYouTube
TikTokHotSchedulesHBO Max
YouTubeBloons TD 6Roblox
InstagramGeometry Dash Tinder
HBO MaxHeads Up!Disney+
Facebook Procreate PocketCandy Crush Saga
SnapchatGrand Theft Auto: San AndreasCall of Duty
ZOOM Cloud MeetingsMonopolyHulu
Facebook MessengerFacetunePokémon GO
Google MapsPlague Inc.Pandora

Top 10 Free, Paid, and Grossing Apps in Google Play 

There are more than three million apps available in the Google Play Store*. The following Android apps represent the top 10 free, paid, and grossing apps in the U.S. Google Play Store, according to data (as of May 2021) from App Annie*. Unlike the top apps in the App Store, this table highlights a strong gaming presence — the free list has seven gaming apps, the paid list has nine, and the grossing list has six. 

FreePaidGrossing
Hair DyeMinecraftGoogle One
Body RaceBloons TD 6Candy Crush Saga
Couples YogaGeometry DashCoin Master
Fidget Toys 3DMonopolyHBO Max
Count MastersTerrariaGarena Free Fire
TikTok HotSchedulesDisney+
Catwalk BeautyStardew ValleyRoblox
ZOOM Cloud MeetingsDead CellsGenshin Impact
Bridge RaceGrand Theft AutoPandora
Crypto.comFive Nights at Freddy’sLords Mobile

A Snapshot of the Most Profitable App Categories 

When you look at the most popular and profitable app categories, there are five that stand out from the crowd: dating, fitness and health, gaming, media and entertainment, and social media. For any marketers or developers hoping to break into one of these categories, here are some inspiring statistics to keep in mind. 

  • In 2021, total revenue of the online dating segment is projected to reach $3.2 million. [Source: Statista]
  • The biggest contributor to the video game industry’s revenue stream in 2020 was mobile gaming at $85 billion. [Source: Screen Rant]
  • According to Facebook’s Q3 2020 results, 47% of Facebook Ads’ revenue comes from the US and Canada. [Source: Hootsuite]
  • Entertainment category apps saw the most user spending — $5.3 billion — on the App Store in 2020. [Source: Sensor Tower]
  • The fitness and health app industry is expected to reach $4.1 billion in 2021. [Source: Mobile App Daily]

Revenue of Top Grossing Non-Gaming Apps

If you had to divide the top grossing apps worldwide list into two categories, there would be gaming and non-gaming apps. The top spot for overall revenue for non-gaming apps belongs to TikTok, with YouTube and Tinder taking the second and third spots. When you examine the numbers by app stores (i.e., Apple vs. Google Play), the top ranking and grossing apps occupy different spots. Let’s look at these statistics in a little more detail. 

  • Google’s parent company, Alphabet, announced that YouTube made over $6 billion in advertising revenue in Q4 2020. [Source: Alphabet]
  • Despite not being on the list of top grossing apps, almost 31% of all US OTT (over-the-top) subscription revenues are predicted to go to Netflix in 2021. YouTube will likely snag third place at 13.2%. [Source: eMarketer]
  • Ryan Kaji from Ryan’s World, the #1 earning YouTube channel, earned $29.5 million from YouTube clips in 2020. [Source: Forbes]
  • The world’s biggest startup — also known as TikTok — contributed $7 billion to ByteDance, the app’s owner. The Chinese company generated roughly $35 billion in 2020. [Source: Bloomberg
  • The dating market has a fierce competitor in Match.com who owns Tinder, Hinge, Match, OKCupid, and Plenty of Fish. Revenue was $2.4 billion in 2020 — Tinder accounted for $1.4 billion. [Source: Business of Business]

Revenue for Top Grossing Gaming Apps

As previously mentioned, China is a giant in the mobile gaming market. This presence is felt across the globe, which is why it’s no surprise that the number one grossing mobile game worldwide is Tencent’s Honor of Kings. The game generated more than $250 million in player spending in April 2021*. Here’s how these games and studios dominate the leaderboards. 

  • Chinese internet company, Tencent, reported earnings of $73.9 billion in 2020. According to Sensor Tower’s data, two of their games — Honor of Kings and PUBG Mobile — have been in the top two revenue positions from January to April 2021. [Source: Business Standard and Sensor Tower].
  • Gaming platform Roblox expects a revenue of $1.5 billion in 2021. The online game by the same name was the fourth top grossing gaming app worldwide in April 2021. [Source: Roblox and Sensor Tower].
  • The Candy Crush franchise generated more than $1 billion in revenue in 2020 alone. [PocketGamer]
  • Pokémon Go dropped out of Sensor Tower’s Top Grossing Gaming Games Worldwide in April 2021 despite reported revenue figures of $1.92 billion in 2020. [The Gamer and Sensor Tower]. 
  • For every dollar spent on iOS and Google Play, $0.71 were for games in 2020. [Source: GamesIndustry.biz]

Mobile Gaming Revenue by Region

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, time spent at home and on mobile devices has significantly increased. One area that has seen sizable growth is mobile gaming, particularly in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. Let’s look a little more closely at app revenue and how revenue differs by region. 

  • APAC is the largest gaming community in the world. China, Japan, and South Korea are leading players within this community. [Source: The Drum]
  • China will make up an estimated 32% of all global games industry revenue in 2021. [Source: XD Network]
  • In 2020, the gross revenue of China’s games industry increased by 20% year-over-year to $43 billion. [Source: XD Network]
  • Latin America is a $5 billion gaming market with 66% of users playing games on their device every day. [Source: AdColony]
  • Mobile games revenue in the U.S. reached $10.73 billion in 2020. [Source: Statista]

App Revenue Case Studies to Learn From 

As mentioned above, there are millions of apps available in both Google Play and Apple App Stores. When you further examine the top grossing apps and their corresponding revenues, there are two that stand out that are worth shining a spotlight on. 

1. Roblox 

With expected earnings of $1.5 billion by end of 2021, the massive multiplayer game is available to gamers of all ages and its popularity and growth can be attributed to two main reasons: its ever-growing, supportive community and a healthy contribution of in-app purchases. While it can be seen as more of a game engine, the database of several thousand player-created games in every genre is definitely appealing. 

There is even an extra layer of monetization opportunities with the in-game currency, Robux. The game is a great example of mobile game marketing at its best. 

2. TikTok

With revenue in 2020 coming in at $7 billion, the social networking giant has a winning strategy for sure. The app appears in the top 10 free apps list for both Google Play and the App Store. For marketers hoping to replicate TikTok’s revenue growth, it’s best to look at influencer marketing which is a big part of the app’s marketing strategy. In fact, influencers and celebrities account for 46.9% of TikTok content*

The mobile app marketing takeaway: diversify your network partners and find the influencers who align with your brand’s values and mission. And make that mission exciting. 

 

App spending is on the rise, and as a result, it’s important that marketers and developers continue to keep an eye on top grossing app revenue. It’s not just a numbers game — the apps that are leading the way in revenue definitely came to play. 

Overall, it’s an exciting time for apps. Even though big names like Tinder and YouTube are likely to remain on top when it comes to revenue, there is still plenty of room and revenue for new apps to grow and generate. It’s about channeling and optimizing for a cross-channel experience. To learn even more about the top grossing apps, check out the infographic below. 

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