No one working in the video game industry will claim that video game consoles are the future of the industry. That era is over. Where cloud gaming, mobile, and all PC gaming from social to browser will ultimately intersect with console games in the medium’s near future is unknown but today, we know this: mobile gaming is huge and growing. Major publishers like Electronic Arts aren’t making the biggest bank from it yet—mobile accounted for $284 million of EA’s total $4.14 billion in revenue—but mobile is growing swiftly.
Even if mobile isn’t where the money is yet, it’s certainly where the players are. A new survey conducted by Information Solutions Group, detailed at GamesIndustry International, concluded that there are now 125 million people playing mobile games in the United States and the United Kingdom.
To put that in perspective, Microsoft has only sold 67 million Xbox 360s worldwide. The Super Bowl, the single most watched television broadcast in US history, only has an audience of around 111 million people. Mobile gaming’s audience in just two countries trumps both those audiences.
People play mobile games more often than console games as well. Survey respondents showed much greater interest in mobile games than consoles. Just 18 percent said that they played games on consoles while 33 percent said they play games on phones. 46 percent of all time spent playing video games was on mobile devices. 40 percent of adults that took the survey had played at least one mobile game in the past month.
Sales remain a sticking point though. Free-to-play games are the biggest driving factor in mobile gaming’s rise, with 70 percent of respondents saying that free games spurred their interest. (The proliferation of new smartphones are a factor as well, with 47% of respondents saying new devices are behind increased play.) The problem is that only half, 51 percent, of mobile gamers are spending any money.
Game designers and publishers alike have cottoned to the mobile future. Activision is investing more and more in mobile while indie studios like Camouflaj pursue more and more ambitious projects for devices like the iPhone. Game makers need to make a living though, and mobile devices just aren’t bringing in the same cash that console games have in the past. If free-to-play and micro transactions are the future, how do game makers convince players to spend more? The answer isn’t advertising either, as companies spend less and less on traditional advertising campaigns.
Mobile gaming has a commanding audience, but how it will redefine the industry remains a mystery.