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Americans spending more time than ever on smartphones, but gaming time is falling

Shrinking share of screen time attributed to stagnation, eSports and the unwillingness to grind

An annual study into mobile usage in the US by Yahoo analytics firm Flurry has revealed a population more absorbed by their smartphones than ever before, but one which spends less and less time playing games with them.

Flurry's research found that, although American smartphone usage has gone up by around 35 per cent since last year, with the average owner spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using their devices, the time spent playing games has almost halved. Last year, gaming accounted for 32 per cent of phone usage for US citizens, 52 minutes a day. In the last 12 months it's fallen to just 15 per cent, or 33 minutes a day.

Flurry attributes that shift to three major factors: a lack of new hit games, with the top grossing charts remaining static; the rise of spectator gaming, as gamers spend more time learning by watching streaming services rather than playing; and the unwillingness of players to spend time grinding their way through games, instead paying their way to content via free-to-play mechanisms.

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  • "Lack of new hits: Gaming is a hit driven industry and there hasn't been a major new hit the past 6 to nine months. The major titles like Supercell's Clash of Clans, King's Candy Crush, and Machine Zone's Game of War continue to dominate the top grossing charts and haven't made room for a major new entrant.
  • "Users become the game: Millennials are shifting from playing games to watching others play games, creating a new category of entertainment called eSports. This summer, Fortune named eSports, the new Saturday morning cartoons for millennials. In fact, some of the most watched content on Tumblr is Minecraft videos created and curated by the passionate Minecraft community.
  • "Pay instead of play: Gamers are buying their way into games versus grinding their way through them. Gamers are spending more money than time to effectively beat games or secure better standings rather than working their way to the top. This explains the decline in time spent and the major rise in in-app purchases, as Apple saw a record $1.7B in AppStore sales in July."

The study also indicates an increasing reliance on apps rather than the browser, with browser usage now accounting for just ten per cent of smartphone usage and apps the remaining 90. Messaging an social app use rose particularly quickly, although the researchers believe that a great deal of app and social network usage is actually spent consuming content, just not via the original website.

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Latest comments (22)

Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend2 years ago
There is also the "A phone is not a PC/Console" variable, in which its a bit like the difference between a sports car and a sedan. Sure, both have 4 wheels, an engine, suspension etc. But you probably wouldn't take a Ferrari shopping and take a Honda Accord to the race track. Most people know that any game will be better on PC/Console no matter how quick the mobile chips get.
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Jeremiah Moss Software Developer 2 years ago
Gamers are buying their way into games versus grinding their way through them.
Personally, I gave up on the grind altogether and just stopped playing many of my mobile games. But I understand the trend. It's rather annoying that virtually all mobile games have built in some sort of treadmill / grind into them.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeremiah Moss on 27th August 2015 1:37pm

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Barrie Tingle Live Producer, Maxis2 years ago
Mobile gaming is dead

That's how those who say PC/console gaming is dead do it right? Change in player behaviour = DOOM!!!
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Show all comments (22)
Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development2 years ago
It's certainly dead as a means for small developers to just make games and earn from them. It's completely about economics now, which means the big boys only.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany2 years ago
There you see why so many small studios are moving towards PC and consoles. But I won't say that mobile gaming is dead, although the lack of hits and the minimum movement in the top-ten income products makes me think that this is because nobody wants to buy a new cow until the old one has done giving milk.
Companies make games to earn money, but I have the feeling that in recent years mobile games has been more about the latest and less about the first.
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Jamie Firth Video Games Production 2 years ago
Apple saw a record $1.7B in AppStore sales in July
= Dead market.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development2 years ago
It's sure not dead for Apple, but if you have 1.7B developers all earning 69 cents each, how long do you think that's going to work? It's no good making something that's better than 1.6B developers if you don't get any bigger slice of store visibility, it just means you spend more on dev time.

Premium mobile is SO unviable now for a small dev that the only people still at it just haven't smelt the coffee yet. Even admitting to making paid mobile apps just marks you as naieve in my book.

So you're left with free with ads or free to play. Free with ads is doing us fine right now, but that's not scaleable either, it's just newer so less people sucking at the teet, and the teet isn't that big right now tbh. We set a low bar for "doing fine".

Free to play models don't work without mass advertising budgets. There are some breakouts, but a statistical anomaly is not a good place to build a business model on. Are we still talking about crossy road? How many new games came out since that one?

Did I miss anything? :(
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Jamie Firth Video Games Production 2 years ago
Free to play models don't work without mass advertising budgets.
I don't think this is true - Sure there ARE companies who use massive advertising budgets to keep getting downloads and stay high in the charts. But the CPI crawls upwards and there's a massive bubble waiting to burst there.
You can buy installs on a very small scale easier than EVER: 1) you can target them so that you have a great chance that they will be interested in your game, 2) You can have an advertising budget of however much you like: not like in the old days where there was a huge overhead there: your UA program can start at $1!. If your game is good enough, people will spend. And with every install, the chances of more organic installs grows.
It's just a new way of doing things, and keeping a very close eye on the market to see what seems to be working.

I think all the naysaying is irresponsible: every article claiming that it's an impossible market risks putting great creators off ever getting going, and I want to see what they can make!
Sure it's hard, and you need very different skills on the publishing end, but It's just not true that no-one is making any money.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development2 years ago
I think all the naysaying is irresponsible: every article claiming that it's an impossible market risks putting great creators off ever getting going, and I want to see what they can make!
No, I think it's irresponsible to encourage people to make games in a market that just won't pay for them. Startups have enough problems without people blindly egging them on into a brick wall.

These people you are using as an exception to the rule when you say "there are some making it" ? They're about 0.01% of the total amount of actually very good and well made games available. Promoting that as viable? THAT is dishonest.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd2 years ago
I don't think there are 9,999 "very good and well made" mobile games that fail purely by the luck of the draw for every successful one.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development2 years ago
There's the rub though, how could you possibly know? If I could prove it though, I'd take your bet gladly.

A group I'm in is full to brimming with older industry "names" that have moved to mobile and started small studios. They've all made good stuff and lots of it. I can't think of one of them that's in the top 200 right now or ever. (I myself have around 8 mobile titles currently out that I'd consider "good" and "well made". None of those are top 200 either.)

From my perspective right now the fail rate is 100%, no wiggle room. And I'm being very generous with aiming at the top 200 being a "successs". Given what I just said I only have anecdotal evidence, but a title at 199 in the chart is not paying a studio for long anyway. A few years ago definitely, but not now.
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@Paul I think mobile is crazy and I'd never claim to understand it, but if PC and console now seem a better choice for devs, well a heavy part of why that happened was mobile coming along a smashing down barriers left and right, particularly for small developers, and Sony and Valve equally learned new lessons from it.
So with this in mind its hard to say that what you are saying is completely fair. Your example "I think it's irresponsible to encourage people to make games in a market that just won't pay for them" sure touches on a truth but isn't the entire picture. Even in a healthy market 90% of us have to fail, and if mobile is a now a 95% failure rate, well that's a bit different but it changes nothing about videogames being a hit-driven business as it always was. None of us have a divine right to success, the market owes us nothing, so why cultivate the idea that all boats should either rise or capsize together? Not everybody's game is equally good, so we can't expect everybody to do equally well. We need to allow that there are exceptional games out there, or ideas that appeal to the crowd more than others, and these games do have a chance to see profit on mobile, however slim. And it remains infinitely more easy to publish on mobile than other platforms, even though this benefit is the reason the store is fit to burst with rubbish games.

We should not have unrealistic expectations about platforms. Devs will bemoan their margins from mobile sales while at the same time poo-pooing 95% of everything released on mobile. The second I played Crossy Road I knew it was going to be a hit. If I saw it during development I would have bet the farm on it. Whereas plenty of devs I know would call it a piece of shit even after it was successful. They're exactly the kind of devs who should not make mobile games and exactly the kind who will be amazed when they do fail.

If your reasoning was fail-safe Hipster Whale should have given up before they even launched. Like it or not the 5% who succeed in mobile means the platform is still a going concern and a goal worth chasing - for some.

Now having said all that, buy me a pint and I could rant for a month about how messed up it all is.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development2 years ago
Hard to argue with any of that as I agree with most of it.

I'm trying desperately hard not to patronise, but it's very easy after a (deserved) hit to wax philosophical though. Your average mobile developer, however, is in for a somewhat harder edged brush with reality. Losing your job and maybe even your home isn't something to gloss over and that's where this will typically end for almost everyone.

I think that message needs to be out there, because simply judging by the amount of new titles shipping on mobile every week, not enough people are hearing it before they fall over the edge. We only escaped by the skin of our teeth.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 2nd September 2015 4:46pm

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Ha, for my part I agree with everything you just said too :P In my own defence, I'm heading into my twenty fourth year as a developer and only the last few of those years were not spent directly or indirectly working for someone else, always as a dev. So while I have an ego like the next human over, or a point of view that some won't agree with, I like to think it's based on some real experience of highs and lows in the business and not just blowing air.
As for folks from Fireproof having a rose-tinted view of the market due to our success, well sure, exactly the same way some have an unrealistically doomy view due to bitter experience. The truth lies between these points and for my part all I can hope to do is not come across as overly happy-clappy about the industry - which, I can admit, I've never been accused of.
But does knowledge of Fireproof's success then make me think my view is wrong? Nah. The truth is everything we believe now we believed before we ever made our first game. We've always had an all-or-nothing attitude to the business, we always thought our job was to make a hit or go home. And worse, almost everything we assumed about putting a game out came to pass for us. So I'm afraid we're fucking insufferable. No matter how many mobile conferences I attend I'll never be persuaded that success revolves around business, or user data, or process, or luck. Here's a typical dev story: huge money gets raised, everybody gets a piece except the developer, who goes broke in the end. If there was one thing from console/PC that I'd hoped mobile would kill off it's just this scenario - our industry remains filled with people who make money from developers, not from games.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development2 years ago
Oh I've had some successes, even some near misses on mobile too. (And I also got you beat on time served too, bloody n00bz...) :)

Yep, the whole industry is pretty shit really, with the creative doers getting the wet end of the stick every time - nothing's changed on that front.

I think the reason I stand up about this so much on mobile is that this sector is just different from the rest. There's a trillion percent more people at it, and you have to also be your own publisher without that fact being too obvious. As such it's far easier to get caught with your eyes shut. We can't publish for toffee which is why we never made it big in mobile. Our games have won awards so it's not that, arrogance notwithstanding.

Short version: For the right blend of ability and insight, I'll concede that it probably actually is easy to earn on mobile, some money at least. But "normal" devs who might otherwise be working at EA on project X aren't it. But they're exactly the sort of people who look like they should be, both to themselves and to those who egg them on. It's really not about the code or the art and I too realised that too late.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 2nd September 2015 7:24pm

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Jamie Firth Video Games Production 2 years ago
And it remains infinitely more easy to publish on mobile than other platforms, even though this benefit is the reason the store is fit to burst with rubbish games.
And that's the reason, I think, that most of that huge percentage of games don't make money: It's easier to *distribute*, but so few devs are doing the actual *publishing*, which on mobile has never been more key. Visibility is, on the surface, so much harder. It's a completely different game with different rules, and most devs are making good games (yes, a lot are making bad ones, but that's another story: that's much harder to fix!) and just throwing them out there expecting them to find an audience. You just can't do that.
Mobile games success is much more focused on the publishing side of things, and yet a huge proportion of devs I speak to don't know how to do any of that stuff. They get caught up in the "we can self publish, so we will" side of it not realising that it's a huge portion of the battle.
That's the bit we have to fix. The market is there for good games if you know how to find your audience: competition is fierce and most devs are only playing 30% of the game.
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Anthony Gowland Consulting F2P Game Designer, Ant Workshop2 years ago
most devs are making good games
Hmm, I disagree with that.

I think most devs are making poor games. A large number are making okay/acceptable quality games that are utterly unremarkable but not actively bad. Maybe a hundred are making good games. A couple of dozen at the most are making excellent games.

When players are faced with so much choice, "okay" is simply not good enough.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Anthony Gowland on 3rd September 2015 10:36am

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Jamie Firth Video Games Production 2 years ago
Fair enough - When I say "good", read "good *enough*".

My point is that a mobile game's "goodness" is actually 3 part - 1/3 is the "game" bit (what you "play" in a traditional games sense), 1/3 is the "metagame" bit (Your structure/progression/economy) and 1/3 your "visability" (marketing, UA, store optimisation).
Even if your "game" part is 100% (which a lot of developers see as the whole thing), if you completely ignore the other two (as a huge percentage of "self-publishing" developers do) then you're still at 33% overall.
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@Jamie
Your 'thirds' point is true for lots of mobile games but not all. An economy you say? Well sure, once you include an economy, gated play sessions, infinite progression etc you're competing with King and Supercell no matter what your game is about or whatever world it's set in. And in those cases yup you better be armed with huge ad budgets and all the rest. But some games have none of that, at all, and wouldn't even appeal to fans of these games if they did. So we can't suggest the same priorities for every title.

And its very hard to pin down what good "enough" means, but to say most devs are making "good enough" games suggests it's only the the audience's fault we're not all millionaires. If you mean slick & well produced games, yes there's tons of those, if you mean games that mimic big titles exceptionally well, there are lots of those too. But barely any of them are worth betting on and the majority would fail even with a fat ad spend behind them. Difference matters. Visibility is a huge issue for everyone but a large majority of all games declared failed due of lack of visibility would not succeed if they had it. If you want evidence of this, consider that most well made games that do have visibility ie. backing by VC's or publishers or even Apple & Google, fail to break out too. Surrounded by an ocean of releases we forget too quickly how rare a hit actually is.

Most of our industry has always been concerned with replicating something that's already a success, and that includes copying mechanics. Whereas as long as I've been at it, its always those who surprise the market that shake it the most. And the most reliable (and these days, the cheapest) way a developer can surprise players and the competition is to make your game as freshly & fiendishly interesting as possible. For that reason I find it hard to recommend a lot of the "All the big games do X, Y & Z so do that or you're dead" advice. If you're not an Empire, don't mimic the Emperor. And in the sense that its better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven, beating your own path to a smaller market seems a stronger, more achievable and more stable start than trying to take on already conquered territory from the off.
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Jamie Firth Video Games Production 2 years ago
I think that the 1/3s thing is true of mobile games, console games, all games. All of the components within vary from genre to genre, from business model to business model, sure - but they are the 3 core components of the games success. Generally a publisher does one, the developer another and the other is a combination of the two - of course each game is different, but we're talking in general terms.

I'm not talking about making a "hit" here btw - I was talking about a game that can make some sort of ROI. And mainly I was pointing out that "making a good game" was likely to end in failure unless you are doing the other parts equally well: if you're not equipped to publish and self-publish, as many MANY developers are, is it any real surprise that you come up short in a market where visibility is hard and expensive?
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd2 years ago
"Well sure, once you include an economy, gated play sessions, infinite progression etc you're competing with King and Supercell no matter what your game is about or whatever world it's set in."

Not really. Lots of F2P games exist on rungs below the giant whale-chasing casinos, steadily turning a profit, they just don't get breathlessly written about by a tech press in constant pursuit of the next big bubble. (I've even seen places classify Fallout Shelter as a failure because it hasn't stayed toe to toe with Game of War and Candy Crush. I expect Bethesda don't see it that way.)

I totally agree with your point on innovating rather than mimicking 'accepted best practice' though. This is still largely a hit driven business and every hit is a novelty on some level. The sight of giant studios throwing hundreds of bodies at unseating CoC/GoW is truly absurd.
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@ Robin Ha, look if nerdling paid-game makers like us are making money in this F2P market we can all take to the bank there are plenty F2P games making a decent living. My point was more about genres, that in the market you compete more directly with games that share similar mechanics with you. i.e. if your horror-themed title set in New York features systems & mechanics from CoC, you are still competing with CoC for Kings crowd more directly than Resident Evil and Capcoms fans. We're encouraged to believe that this is not the case, that adding a new wrapper is what originality looks like in the mobile market. I don't think most players see it like that at all and the market realities seem to back it up. There are colossal F2P failures every day yet all we hear about is how paid games is a dumb market to enter into.
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