Most players abandon mobile games after 24 hours? Ouch

Thinking of leaving your current job to make mobile games? Perhaps you’re a marketing man at Shattosoft games, called Chet Manly, and you think that all the money has fallen out of traditional AAA development, and that all your customers are now free-wheeling, Flappy Bird-playing mobile gamers? Well, you might want to think again, bucky. Some toe-curling new data from a number of mobile gaming studies show that only the very, very, very lucky make it big on the small screen.

First off, let’s look at the latest report by App-testing firm, Swrve--as reported by CVG (opens in new tab). According to data from 10 million players (taken over a 90 day period), a staggering 66% never play their new mobile game after the first day. So, the majority of games on mobile are played over a period of less than 24 hours. That’s frankly staggering, even if you’re one of the most cynical mobile game critics.

However, if you’re one of the smart cookies who charge up-front for a game, then you’ve already made your money. Well done, you. Good luck following that up with a new game or sequel. Given the total lack of brand loyalty that this stat demonstrates, the chances of you getting repeat business for a sequel--or a game ‘Made by the creators of…’--is slimmer than a stick-man drawing of Victoria Beckham. No, you need to brave the over-saturated App market as a newbie again, and the chances of you getting lucky twice are… yeah, Beckham. Stick-version.

Perhaps that’s why many companies have charged towards free-to-play, with arms wide open, expecting a big, rich hug. Well, there’s bad news for these games too. The same research suggests that only 2.2% of all mobile users spend money in games, and that 53% of this spending is done in the first week. So, if you do manage to succeed in parting your players from their cash (and you’re not discarded after 24 hours like so many others) then it’s probably not going to be a sustained thing.

Better keep your spending customers loyal, too. According to data from the same research company (opens in new tab), 50% of all in-App purchases are made by… wait for it… 0.15% of all players. Much is made of how places like the App Store are level playing fields, and how they give anyone access to millions of potential customers, but--in reality--it seems like mobile developers really need to laser-target a very specific, very niche bunch of players in order to become profitable.

Now, here comes the opinion-y bit. Traditional games publishers like EA and Ubisoft have so far struggled to really dominate the mobile charts in the same way they do the ‘traditional’ gaming space. Why? The data seems to suggest that mobile gamers are far less discerning than traditional console players, and far less loyal to brands. Simply aping the mobile development models isn’t enough--you need to completely realign your strategy to be in with a chance of success. And even then, the whole mobile market is built on a mountain of users who will drop games readily when the next shiny, multi-coloured bird arrives on the scene. Basically, the App Store is in no way a solid foundation on which to build a business.

I’m hoping that one of the consequences of all this rather alarming data is that traditional publishers (and anyone else who thinks the grass is greener on mobile development) will pause for thought before shifting their resources from traditional development to mobile. One thing you CAN say for hardcore players is that they’re a reliable source of money. We buy games upfront, for £40/$60, and if we love the series we’ll buy it year after year and spend cash on DLC. And we certainly don’t drop games after 24 hours.

Sure, spending millions of dollars on a traditional AAA game is seen as risky--and it’s true, the margin between success and failure has widened, swallowing up many smaller studios--but surely that’s better than chancing your future in the unpredictable mobile market. The solution is to be smarter with how AAA games are made, to blur the lines between the blockbusters and the indie games we see on Steam and PSN/XBL. Episodic gaming, crowd-funding, side-projects within AAA studios--this is how you make games, because you’re preaching to an engaged audience who want to buy what you’re selling. I certainly think there’s more of a future here than on the choppy mobile seas, where failure is less than 24 hours away.

Andy Hartup