Breaking down the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on mobile games

Craig Chapple is Mobile Insights Strategist, EMEA at mobile intelligence firm Sensor Tower and was previously Senior Editor at

Tech companies are some of the few businesses that have been able to continue to grow in a world changed by the global COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns; the mobile games industry included. 

In my previous column, I noted that Q1 2020 was by far the best quarter ever for mobile game downloads, with 13.4 billion downloads from the App Store and Google Play, up 21% quarter-on-quarter and 39% year-over-year. In Q2 2020, downloads rose again to 15 million, while in Q3 2020 installs dipped slightly to 14.3 billion – still much higher than previous years.

Player spending, meanwhile, has been on the up. In Q1 2020, it hit $17.5 billion, up 6.6% Q/Q and 16% Y/Y. By Q2, revenue grew sharply to $20.1 billion, with growth slowing but still continuing in Q3 to $20.9 billion.

Top Genres

Games that have proven particularly successful are the usual top grossers: PUBG Mobile, Honor of Kings, Candy Crush Saga, and even the location-based title Pokemon GO. Titles that connect people have also found success, including the likes of Roblox, Words With Friends 2, Scrabble Go, and Fortnite, prior to the latter’s removal from the app stores.

Using Sensor Tower Game Taxonomy to drill further down into which genres have seen the biggest gains this year, we took a look at the growth in downloads in the U.S. for the top 100 grossing games in each category.

We found that U.S. mobile games revenue in H1 2020 for Simulation games grew 63.2% Y/Y to more than $851 million, powered by sales from titles such as Roblox and Township. The second fastest-growing genre was Racing, with player spending rising by 51.9% Y/Y to $110.3 million, while Casino rounded out the top three risers, with revenue up 46.4% to $2.1 billion.

Casino also saw big gains for downloads, with U.S downloads for the top 100 games up 39.1% Y/Y in H1 2020 to 89.4 million, led by the likes of Coin Master and Slotomania. Racing was the No. 2 top riser, with installs up 33.3% Y/Y to 75.6 million, while the Shooter genre ranked No. 3 for growth, with downloads rising 33% to 85.5 million.

Long-Term Changes?

Mobile games industry growth has headed into overdrive this year, though this in itself is nothing new. Prior to the pandemic, major IP holders have had enormous mobile launches, with Niantic’s Pokemon GO, Nintendo’s Mario Kart Tour, and Activision’s Call of Duty: Mobile generating well over 100 million worldwide downloads each in their first month. Right now, it looks like the impact of the lockdown on consumer habits will be long-term, resulting in more people playing games on their mobile devices than ever.

But headwinds lie ahead, including the delayed changes to the IDFA on iOS, restricting the ways in which publishers can target users, which could have a material impact on revenue and game downloads. User acquisition will unquestionaly become more challenging, and this industry has been built on it.


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