How To Tap Into The Mobile Gaming Industry's Huge Marketing Opportunities

bird playing angry birds

Photo: Flickr Potyike

At the current rate of mobile usage and mobile gaming’s growth, we’re all going to have arthritic thumbs in a few years.Naturally, marketers and advertisers are seeking to capitalise on this growing segment, trying everything from cross-platform promotions and merchandising to in-game billboard advertising.

And while it seems to be a “throw every idea against the wall to see what sticks” approach in the mobile gaming space right now, even some of the ideas that slide toward the floor can be profitable and provide great exposure for brands.

Here is an exploration of selected games, statistics, and trends that are ahead for mobile gaming.

Mobile Gaming By The Percentages
If you think that most gamers are teens, think again. According to Popcap Games, creator of mobile games Bejeweled and Zuma, 31 per cent of all gamers are between the ages of 25 and 34. Only 17 per cent of mobile gamers are between 18 and 24. 

According to the same research, more than 90 per cent of smartphone users play a mobile game once a week. At the close of 2011, the average smartphone user will have spent $25.94 on mobile games. That amount may not sound like much, but just four years ago, the mobile gaming market was almost non-existent. In addition, by the end of 2011, half of the 90 per cent of mobile phone users in the U.S. will be smartphone users. 

What this data tells us is that a) smartphone users play games on a relatively frequent basis; b) the games target a lucrative segment; c) it is a sizeable market; and d) assuming that the growth of smartphone users (among mobile phone users as a whole) continues, there’s a lot of segment growth ahead. 

Let’s look at the types of games players are playing.

Disgruntled Wildlife And Online Agrarians
One needs to look no further than Angry Birds to understand the potential of mobile gaming marketing.  Rovio’s consistent chart-topping mobile game is played by more than 40 million worldwide. Downloads of both ad-supported and paid versions of the sling-shotting fowl app have reached 75 million. The popularity of Angry Birds is representative of the most-played genre of mobile games: puzzles (66 per cent).

Rovio has successfully moved into merchandising and is looking to expand across multiple platforms such as media production partnerships (movie franchise? Saturday morning cartoon perhaps?). And investors are biting—so far Rovio has raised $42 million in its platform-expansion efforts, plans that include moving into the social media market.

As of yet, however, it has not been proven that social media and mobile gaming go hand-in-hand. Zynga’s FarmVille has shown that social media games can fall short of expectations. The original, Flash-based social media game, available via Facebook, took the world by storm in 2009.

It’s estimated that over 80 million people per month (15% of Facebook users) play FarmVille, with the average player being female, age 43, who earns in excess of $50,000 annually. Zynga’s mobile version (for Apple iOS) has been downloaded only 6.5 million times from the App Store since its release. Relatively speaking, this number is not bad, but it falls well short of expectations for FarmVille Mobile. 

By contrast, top mobile game developer Pocket Gems (Tap Farm, Tap Store, Tap Jungle, Tap Zoo), who is also successfully securing growth financing ($5 million in December 2010), reports that its total downloads have topped 18 million. Pocket Gems’ Tap Zoo—mind you, a “free-to-play” game—is one of the highest grossing apps since its September 2010 release. The game generates revenue when players look to pay real-world dollars to circumvent in-game limitations such as animal breeding wait times and in-game currency deficiencies.

Decoupling From Apps
A prevailing trend for game developers is a move toward the decoupling of games from proprietary OS platforms and their individual app store/sole distribution networks.  HTML5, a huge leap in the way forward to today’s multimedia technology, can be presented via web browsers (including mobile optimised browsers), allowing developers to create a single app for multiple platforms. The technology also gives game developers and distributers a way to circumvent app stores and offer games and web-based game subscriptions directly to mobile gamers—and build upon direct relationships with those gamers. 

While still in its development stage, HTML 5 holds a lot of promise for simple, social media/browser-centric games such as FarmVille. With developers looking to unshackle themselves from OS producers such as Apple, Google, and Blackberry, advertisers will have a more diverse and abundant selection of partnerships—from small boutique game designers to large corporate developers—to choose from. 

What should result is a dramatic shift downward in placement and partnership costs for marketers. And let’s not forget that it’s the type of “Wild West” market that inspires and requires innovation and experimentation to stay on top of the trend.

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