For the longest time the assumption was that AAA publishers didn't need to look at the mobile space - after all, why bother with a mobile game when your audience is looking for a 15-20 hour AAA experience on consoles? That way of thinking clearly changed at E3 2015, however, when Bethesda Studios unveiled its mobile game Fallout Shelter, which instantly jumped to number one on the mobile charts and proved to be a marketing coup for the studio as it worked to finish developing Fallout 4. Fans were hungry for anything Fallout, and as Todd Howard has noted, the game has seen over a billion hours played. Now with the AAA launches of Battleborn and Uncharted 4, we've seen new mobile efforts in advance of their releases with Battleborn Tap and Uncharted: Fortune Hunter.
"We see this game as part of the Uncharted 4 marketing effort, definitely," Sam Thompson, Sr. Producer for Sony Interactive Entertainment told GamesIndustry.biz. "But it's also just a great game for fans to enjoy the franchise in a new way. We expect it will introduce new players to the franchise just as it will give longtime fans a way to stay engaged when they are away from the PlayStation. The Uncharted 4 multiplayer rewards available within Fortune Hunter are also a great addition to both games."
Sony and Uncharted developer Naughty Dog teamed up with mobile developer Playspree to bring the puzzle-based adventure game to iOS and Android. "It's important to work with a mobile-first team since the medium plays differently; but that partner also needs to understand AAA development for the studios to partner effectively," noted Matt Griswold, Playspree founder.
It's hard to say whether games like Uncharted: Fortune Hunter or Battleborn Tap have a direct impact on sales of their AAA cousins, but making a mobile title that can stand on its own certainly helps. That's why Fallout Shelter was so successful, said SuperData analyst Joost van Dreunen.
"Bethesda showed how much the release of a solid mobile game could be a key tent pole in the marketing campaign of the HD game. I expect that this trend is only getting started"
"Certainly, the success of Fallout Shelter has spawned more than a few ideas among other publishers. But there are two critical components to it: first, the answer to the question whether the release of an accompanying app is part of a revenue or marketing strategy. Fallout Shelter still has updates to this day, and was launched well in advance of Fallout 4. Second, timing is key. Uncharted Fortune Hunter feels more like a hook for the main game with barely a week before the main game's release," he remarked.
"It is currently still difficult to correlate a mobile app release with in-game revenue, but we have seen examples in the past of how it may have a positive effect on overall engagement and monetization. For instance, the FIFA 16 UT companion app has been downloaded around 15 million times on Android and iOS combined. For a game that depends so heavily on micro-transactions, this type of pervasive, cross-platform presence is key to strengthening user retention and spending."
EEDAR's VP of Insights, Patrick Walker (who predicted that we'd see more pre-launch AAA companion apps) said that while early attempts at companion apps via the "second screen" idea were not worth it for core gamers, incentivizing players who are highly interested in an upcoming AAA release by allowing them to unlock items or features is a great way to upsell them on the console title.
"The biggest shift in publisher thought regarding companion apps has been the realization that the best integration of a mobile app with an HD game is just to create a great branded mobile game... if a player is excited about an upcoming HD release the ability to get a taste of the game through a solid mobile game is very exciting, especially if a player can start working on unlocking things in the HD game. Companies were already leveraging HD IP in solid mobile games (e.g. Dragon Age Heroes was released in between HD game releases), but Bethesda showed how much the release of a solid mobile game could be a key tent pole in the marketing campaign of the HD game. I expect that this trend is only getting started," Walker said.
So will Sony look to do more on mobile in advance of its other major AAA IP releases? "It's impossible not to consider mobile these days since so many players (and that definitely includes AAA players) are also playing on their devices throughout the day," said Griswold. "The challenge is finding the right way, and amount, to connect the mobile and console experiences; but we think there should be a beneficial connection."
Thompson added, "We are always looking to expand these incredible worlds and give players new experiences - so we'll continue to explore ways to do that across screens of all sizes if it's a fit."