The mobile game business is stalling. Research firm M:Metrics estimates that 9% of U.S. wireless subs played a game they’d downloaded to their phone in a month last quarter. That number didn’t budge from the year before.
The good news for game companies: U.S. mobile phone users do like the idea of playing games on their handsets — 22.3% did so in a month last quarter, up 6% y/y. But they’re generally playing free games that come pre-loaded on their machines.
What could boost game download growth? Smartphones, like RIM’s BlackBerry, Nokia’s N-Series phones, and Apple’s iPhone, which are making up a growing percentage of the overall mobile market. M:Metrics says 17% of U.K. smartphone owners played downloaded games in a month during Q4, versus 10% of ‘dumb-phone’ owners.
That’s good news for game companies (and perhaps advertisers who will foot the bill for the games) but mixed news for carriers: Smartphone users aren’t locked into mobile operators’ start pages, or “decks,” where carriers have revenue-sharing deals with preferred game companies.
When smartphone users find “off-deck” games on their own, carriers are less likely to get any revenue kick-backs from game sales or in-game ads. But for now, they should be happy to sacrifice that (minuscule) lost revenue stream for the $15-$40 per month that smartphone owners pay for access to the mobile Web.
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