Report: Mobile games generated $22.2 billion on Q1 2020 (Sensor Tower)

The pandemic has highlighted the lucrative potential of the mobile sector.

This week, mobile analytics provider Sensor Tower published its report examining mobile gaming revenue for the first quarter of 2021, and the numbers point to a significant increase in player spending. According to the data, mobile games generated $22.2 billion in Q1, an increase of 25% compared to Q1 2020. 

Craig Chapple, mobile insights strategists at Sensor Tower, attributes much of the increase to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, mobile spending has been trending upwards over the last several years regardless, but the pandemic appears to have accelerated things a fair bit. Now, as the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines gets underway, and we hopefully enter the final stages of the pandemic, Chapple expects mobile spending to slow throughout the rest of the year.

“We forecast that both mobile game revenue and downloads will grow once again in 2021 year-over-year–but as the world hopefully opens up, market growth will be slower than seen in 2020,” he told GameDaily. “We expect player spending to increase by nearly 20% YoY from 2020, while downloads will only increase marginally this year, before seeing stronger growth in the subsequent years.”

It was PUBG Mobile and Honor of Kings that snagged the top two spots on the revenue charts for the quarter. The former launched on mobile platforms in early 2018, and has already surpassed $5 billion in lifetime earnings, according to Sensor Tower. It’s an impressive feat that puts the game in some esteemed company; other titles that have crossed the $5 billion milestone include Clash of Clans, Monster Strike, Fate/Grand Order, and Honor of Kings.

Chapple said that PUBG’s success on mobile has some strong implications for PC-first games on the platform. Adapting PC gameplay to a smaller screen comes with a host of challenges, but it’s also important to consider how to monetize your game in the incredibly competitive mobile space. 

“While the PC version from which it's based has been a huge blockbuster, PUBG Mobile has differentiated itself substantially to become a hit in its own right,” Chapple explained. “Hitting $5 billion in such a short space of time on the App Store and Google Play is a staggering achievement, and it’s really been spurred on by the game’s Royale Pass and the developer’s ability to constantly release new content and events.”

The trend of console and PC games being adapted to mobile has been growing in recent years. Chapple pointed to a number of such properties that have found success on mobile, including Call of Duty: Mobile, Mario Kart Tour, Crash Bandicoot: On the Run, and, of course, Pokémon Go.

“Mobile provides a platform to broaden the audience of a console/PC IP, and, when done right, create potentially very lucrative returns,” Chapple said.

The consistent release of new content is key to success in the mobile sector, and it’s why years-old games continue to thrive there. Looking at Sensor Tower’s charts, the majority of the top ten titles are more than a few years old, pointing to a longevity that’s rare in the segment.

“The key focus for the top publishers is live operations, ensuring new updates and events are consistently released to keep players engaged for the long haul,” Chapple said. “PUBG Mobile and Genshin Impact are two great examples of how to keep players coming back and spending, as the development teams churn out exciting new content to keep things fresh and ensure players don’t run out of things to do.”

The battle bass method is another popular business model, providing incentivized gameplay and monetization all in one. In other cases, like Fortnite, developers will introduce updates that significantly alter the gameplay experience, keeping the title fresh for long-time players.

In all, the takeaway from Sensor Tower’s report is that mobile games are continuing to thrive. Device saturation ensures that the segment has a massive built-in audience, and the pandemic has cast a spotlight on mobile gaming as a go-to form of entertainment. Moving forward, this trend is likely to continue, albeit at an unknown pace. Expect analysts to be watching the data closely.

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Sam, the Editor-in-Chief of GameDaily.biz, is a former freelance game reporter. He's been seen at IGN, PCGamesN, PCGamer, Unwinnable, and many more. When not writing about games, he is most likely taking care of his two dogs or pretending to know a lot about artisan coffee. Get in touch with Sam by emailing him at  sdesatoff@rektglobal.com or follow him on Twitter.