New mobile game statistics every game publisher should know in 2016

By Mike Sonders

While the mobile app market is more competitive than ever, the opportunities remain huge. For example, new smartphone owners install mobile games more than any other type of app in the first week of ownership.

Source: Admob, “The App Developer Business Kit”

To get an edge in this crowded market, mobile game publishers need competitive intelligence that reveals the most attractive opportunities and most risky areas of the market. These mobile game statistics also provide benchmarks that help mobile game developers measure app success and recognize areas for improvement.

Today, using app market insights from SurveyMonkey Intelligence, we’re taking a look at mobile game genre statistics in the U.S. for the following metrics. (Click to jump to that section.)

Note: Throughout this post, the terms “genre” and “category” are used interchangeably when referring to different types of mobile games.

With data for every type of mobile game in hand, we can identify the best (and worst) opportunities in the mobile game ecosystem and establish the standards of success.

As you’re reviewing the data, keep in mind that every game is categorized by its publisher, and that a game can appear in one or more game categories. For example, Clash of Clans is both an Action game and a Strategy game. Candy Crush Saga falls under both the Arcade and Board game categories.

Mobile game download statistics

Mobile game genres driving the most downloads

When discussing the health of their businesses, mobile game publishers often start by citing download statistics. After all, all other desirable mobile game behaviors and metrics (like users, engagement, and revenue) follow downloads, by definition.

Action and Arcade drive almost twice as many downloads as any other mobile game category in the U.S.

But we generally can’t jump to any strong conclusions about why one mobile game genre gets more downloads (i.e., installs) than another.

Downloads matter, but don’t jump to any strong conclusions about them

Factors including paid acquisition, word of mouth, partnerships, getting featured in app stores, and more can impact download statistics. Whether by design or by accident, the influence of these respective factors varies from game to game and even among mobile game categories.

There’s also the supply factor, where there might be many more games titles available in one category than another. So the former game category presents many more opportunities to drive downloads than the latter.

Finally, downloads vary dramatically among individual game titles, so there are certainly racing game apps, for example, that have driven more downloads than some mobile arcade games.

That said, this ranking of mobile game genres by total monthly downloads does speak to the relative popularity of each mobile game genre, and installing Arcade and Action mobile games is massively popular right now, by a large margin.

Sign up for SurveyMonkey Intelligence to get free download statistics on thousands of mobile games.

Mobile game user statistics

Getting a lot of downloads for your game app is a great start, but to make decent money, you need a lot of of active users who engage with your game at a healthy rate.

The best mobile game genres by monthly active users (MAU)

The monthly active users (MAU) metric counts the number of people who open a mobile game’s app at least once in a 30-day period. Unlike downloads, which solely measure installs, MAU captures how many people actually use a game app. So it’s a better behavioral indicator of popularity than downloads.

The five mobile game categories enjoying the largest populations of active users in the U.S. are Arcade, Adventure, Puzzle, Action, and Simulation.

While the Arcade game category tops both the download and MAU charts–cementing its position as the most popular mobile game genre–it’s otherwise clear that downloads and usage aren’t perfectly correlated. In other words, getting a bunch of downloads doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get a lot of active mobile game users. (On the bright side, the design decisions under your control can have a substantial impact on usage rates.).

The best mobile game genres by engagement

If you’re monetizing an app with advertising, then the more time your users spend playing your mobile game, the better. More time = more opportunities to show ads.

With an average of 105 minutes of play per active player per month, the puzzle game genre gets the most engagement in the U.S. The disparity between the best and worst game genres is quite large; mobile puzzle game players spend 5.7x more time per month playing than educational game players.

What’s more, while Arcade is the most popular type of game in terms of downloads and monthly active users, it falls short of Puzzle by 44% in terms of time-spent engagement.

The underlying components of the time-spent-per-month figures are the engagement metrics of days-per-month and time-per-day. These vary among games genres and aren’t correlated with each other:

  • Puzzle games arrive at the top of the time-per-month chart by driving both high days-per-month engagement (9.2 days) and the highest time-per-day engagement (11 minutes and 27 seconds).
  • Dice games are played on 9.3 days per month, on average, which is more frequent than any other type of mobile game. On the other hand, dice players only spend an average of 4 minutes and 42 seconds playing on those games, which is pretty low compared to other game types.
  • Educational game players only engage on 3.4 days per month, which is the least of any game genre. On the days they play, they engage for about 5 minutes and 23 seconds.

Mobile game engagement varies among game categories and players

The figures in the chart above represent averages for each game genre, so keep in mind that actual engagement performance among games within a category can vary dramatically, in part due to the varying engagement styles of different types of people.

Source: Google/Greenberg Inc, “Mobile Gaming Research Study,” Dec. 2015

The most avid gamers spend tens of hours per month playing on their smartphones, but the average time-per-month engagement for most games is much lower than that, as you can see in the chart. That means the majority of mobile gamers play for much less than an hour every month.

For game developers, this points to the necessity of providing enough content to keep avid gamers engaged while having a core loop that provides a fun and satisfying experience for gamers who only play short, infrequent sessions.

Mobile game revenue statistics

The mobile game genres driving the most revenue

The mobile game revenue stats below reflect estimates for in-app revenue, which is money paid out to developers through the app stores. While these revenue rankings don’t include advertising revenue or proceeds from direct partnerships, they’re still a strong indicator of the overall lucrativeness of these game genres.

In terms of overall revenue in the mobile game industry, the Strategy and Role Playing genres generate the most money by a pretty large margin. Together, the Strategy and Role Playing genres account for more than 30% of the revenue generated in the mobile game market.

And it’s not because those two categories have driven the most downloads, usage, or engagement. As you’ll see in the next section, the Strategy and Role Playing game genres are particularly good at monetizing their active players at high rates.

The game genres with the best average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU)

Looking at the total revenue in these mobile game industry statistics tells us which genres are attracting the most overall player spend, but in terms of setting goals and benchmarking your game’s performance, it’s just as (or more) important to consider the average mobile game revenue per player. The more money each player spends in your game app, the fewer players you need to meet your revenue goals.

That’s why mobile game publishers have widely adopted the average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU) metric; to measure how well they’re monetizing their players.

On average, Role Playing and Strategy games make more than twice as much revenue per DAU than any other mobile game category. Your own mileage will vary depending on your game design, but those two genres seem to inherently monetize really well relative to others.

Want revenue and ARPDAU statistics on a particular mobile game, category, or publisher? Sign up for a 14-day free trial of SurveyMonkey Intelligence.

Mobile game genre market share

To sum up, these are the genres with the biggest shares of the market in terms of downloads, users, and revenue in the U.S.

Note that the Adventure, Action, and Puzzle genres appear in the top five of all three dimensions of market share, which foreshadows the lessons highlighted in the following section.

Highest share of mobile game downloads

(Number of downloads in July, 2016)

  1. Arcade (63.1M)
  2. Action (61.5M)
  3. Puzzle (35.5M)
  4. Simulation (34.1M)
  5. Adventure (31.8M)

Highest share of mobile game active users

(MAU in July, 2016)

  1. Arcade (80.7M)
  2. Adventure (69.8M)
  3. Puzzle (64.5M)
  4. Action (61.0M)
  5. Simulation (56.5M)

Highest share of mobile game revenue

(Revenue in July, 2016)

  1. Strategy ($194.4M)
  2. Role Playing ($162.2M)
  3. Adventure ($114.1M)
  4. Action ($97.8M)
  5. Puzzle ($92.8M)

Five lessons from these mobile game app statistics

1) Downloads don’t guarantee active users, which don’t guarantee engagement or revenue

No game category appears at the very top of all three lists, affirming the fact that in the mobile game market downloads don’t mean a thing if you can’t get people to actually play your game… and pay for things in it!

2) Adventure, Action, and Puzzle games look like safe bets

The Adventure, Action, and Puzzle game categories all rank in the top five game genres in terms of downloads and monthly active users, which points to their current popularity.

Plus, all three enjoy higher-than-median engagement and monetization (ARPDAU) rates.

Certainly every mobile game’s success is highly dependent on its design and user acquisition strategy (and budget). But in terms of improving your chances for success in the mobile game market, it wouldn’t hurt to develop a game in one of these three genres.

Honorable mention: Arcade games are the most popular type of game right now, and feature both high engagement and respectable (just below median) monetization rates.

3) Role Playing and Strategy game monetize really, really well, but…

Strategy and Role Playing games like Clash of Clans, Mobile Strike, and Game of War drive the highest ARPDAU in the mobile game industry by a wide margin. And these games dominate the top grossing charts, with games in these categories making more than $10 million per day combined in the U.S.

But beware: these categories are also the most competitive, especially for user acquisition.

4) You probably shouldn’t make a Music, Trivia, or Education game

Music, Trivia, and Education games suffer from a lack of popularity (in terms of both downloads and active users), bottom-of-the-barrel engagement rates, and poor monetization rates.

A brilliant game design and marketing strategy can create a shining outlier in any game category, but the odds are heavily stacked against you in these three genres.

5) Don’t forget to design for both avid and occasional players

Avid gamers play for hours every week, while many casual gamers play for less than an hour every month. Make sure you design your game to satisfy both groups by providing lots of content and a core loop that can be enjoyed in short gameplay sessions.

Conclusion

The mobile app market is more crowded and competitive than ever. The prospect of trying to break through the noise and succeed with a new game title can seem daunting. But remember, the demand for mobile games is huge:

Source: Admob, “The App Developer Business Kit”

With brilliant game design, an effective user acquisition strategy, and insightful competitive intelligence, you can give yourself a leg up on the competition.

This post originally appeared on August 17, 2016 on the blog of SurveyMonkey Intelligence, a provider of competitive intelligence for the mobile app industry.

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