Drilling down to the core - MCV

Drilling down to the core

Nick Gibson considers how mobile games can appeal to core gamers
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With core games genres dominating the sales charts for console, PC and mobile platforms, it’s easy to think that core gamers themselves are a single, homogenous audience shared across different platforms. Not so.

Recent demographic studies have shown that crossover of gamers between mobile and PC/console has been comparatively limited to date. GameVision recently found that less than a third of western European PC and console gamers have spent anything on or in mobile games in the previous 12 months.

In other words, two thirds of gamers on what are traditionally core game platforms do not see mobile as a worthwhile place to spend their gaming money. Why is this and is there a new opportunity to exploit?

We’ve learned you can’t assume that every new game market will conform to the basic demand dynamics of the long-established console and core PC markets. These venerable markets have largely catered to highly discerning gamers willing to spend large amounts of time and money for deeply engaging, long-session gameplay experiences. As a result, the gameplay bar has naturally been set relatively high and the key to commercial success largely lies in high quality, fun gameplay.

But newer markets such as browser MMOGs and Facebook have evolved along different paths. Constrained by Flash technology’s limitations and the demand for greater accessibility, core game design was distilled down to much simpler and more repetitive gameplay.

As developers got to grips with freemium models, they quickly realised the impact their key design decisions had on revenues and so games evolved rapidly to focus on compelling experiences – often at the expense of being deeply engaging or, in some cases, fun.

The origins of mobile game tropes

Mobile developers took this ball and ran with it. Many of the current top grossing mobile games trace their lineage directly back to the browser MMOG and Facebook gaming era. Multi-layered stat-building gameplay and complex collective play systems – like clans – are often coupled with highly simplistic action gameplay with little player agency.

Examples include team battle games where the battles are auto-resolved, RPG missions that are completed by clicking a ‘Complete Mission’ button, and strategy games where units can only be deployed by the player but never controlled. Despite being labelled strategy, RPG and sports games, many PC and console gamers would barely recognise them as such.

These games aren’t necessarily bad; they clearly have huge appeal as the mass of five-star reviews and huge download numbers demonstrate. However, they also clearly attract a different core audience to that found spending big on PC and console games. So what’s putting them off?

I doubt it’s mobile’s commercial models, because freemium and microtransaction models work well on PC and, increasingly, on console – despite the complaints of a tiny but disproportionately loud minority. I also don’t believe it is a significant technology issue either: current mobile and tablet technology offer huge games processing power.

I believe that it is primarily gameplay appeal that divides these core player bases. If so, this hints at a very interesting opportunity to combine high yield monetisation strategies with more traditional gameplay experiences that might appeal to this potentially significant, untapped core mobile gamer market. And there’s research to support this view.

Core appeal

EEDAR found that there is a direct correlation between spending in mobile games and console usage with the largest spenders more likely to be console gamers. So while only a minority of core gamers active on other platforms spend money on mobile games, those that do are amongst the most valuable. Theoretically, anyone able to unlock the large, untapped market of core gamers yet to embrace mobile games would potentially access the highest value playerbase.

Mobile gaming may not support core games of the complexity and depth of those found on PC and console for some time – if ever – but I can see the gap between these two core markets being steadily narrowed.

In such a clone-heavy market, once one leading player steps in this direction, a mass of others will quickly follow. We might even get to a point where commercial success will be dependent on not just compelling game designs, but also genuinely fun ones.

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