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Trends shaping the mobile gaming industry in 2024

Zimad's chief product officer Kirill Zhukovsky and lead marketing manager Anastasia Shilo explore the biggest opportunities in mobile

The mobile gaming industry is intertwined with innovations and trends in various fields. As new trends emerge, audience demands may evolve. To keep players engaged, it's crucial to promptly update strategies, test new hypotheses, and address current needs.

In this article, we explore the trends shaping the outlook for mobile game development and strategies for retaining audiences in the context of constant changes.

Unprecedented key rate levels

The landscape of mobile game development mirrors the broader economic climate. For example, recent years have witnessed record-high key rates (which determine bank lending rates and the cost of credit). As such, loans from banks are becoming more expensive and less available to businesses. With investments becoming more costly, the number of venture projects in the mobile gaming industry has declined.

Looking back, it becomes apparent that there are significantly fewer daring and innovative experiments today. Developers have shifted their focus towards tried-and-tested and highly predictable gaming models. They are gravitating towards casual genres and midcore, while stepping back from hypercasual projects. Zimad is increasingly approached with offers to sell well-established projects with a solid track record of ad monetization, which was less common a few years ago.

Live operations

Live ops is a strategy that has become an integral part of mobile game development. One of the key trends in live ops will be the increasing importance of events supported by IP collaborations (which we'll cover in a moment). Another is the development of new event monetization methods. In 2024, we expect a broader range of premium reward systems and additional paid features during events. There will be a particular focus on content accessible only through payment, which opens up new monetization opportunities.

Live ops is also expected to see an increase in the use of narrative elements, social components, and meta-games, making events more appealing to players. These events evolve beyond mere tasks into a 'game within the game,' which contributes to increasing player engagement.

In 2024, we expect a broader range of premium reward systems and additional paid features during in-game events

Collaborations between brands and IPs

Collaborations are a trend that continues to capture the attention of brands across all categories. Businesses increasingly opt to attract new audiences through partnerships with another well-known brand or one that aligns perfectly with their target audience.

Zimad has partnered with brands such as National Geographic, Disney, Marvel, Life, and Nickelodeon, introducing thematic puzzle packs in Magic Jigsaw Puzzles. These packs aim to attract new audiences while retaining the interest of existing players. It is worth noting that each collaboration has been carefully planned: at first, both brands thoroughly assess each other, seek common values, evaluate audience relevance, and articulate the message that this partnership should convey.

Kirill Zhukovsky, Zimad

From a marketing perspective, having a franchise can significantly reduce the cost of traffic. If your game is based on The Lord of the Rings, an army of fans will come to you simply for the sake of it. But it's important to remember that if the game itself is terrible, even the most popular IP won't save it. Think back to how Kabam Studios' Marvel: Contest of Champions gathered a huge audience in the first few months after release thanks to the Marvel IP. Or Marvel Strike Force, for example. Another case in point is Machine Zone Studios' ad campaign using the image of a celebrity: Arnold Schwarzenegger. Using a celebrity to promote a game is also a very good option.

According to surveys among the players who spend between $5 and $25 a month on mobile games, the most important element in choosing a new game (besides gameplay) is story, setting, and theme. It can be assumed that people will be much more active in downloading games that immerse them in a familiar world with their favorite characters than if it is a brand-new story.

Even casual games like Magic Jigsaw Puzzles have been experimenting with subscription and other forms of monetisation

Hybrid monetization model

According to a recent Gamesforum Intelligence study, revenue diversification ranks third among the challenges of the gaming market in terms of app monetization. Declining advertising eCPMs, rising CPI, and the resulting drop in revenues are forcing developers to actively change products to engage different segments of players at the same time: those who are willing to make in-game purchases and those who are more likely to watch ads to receive similar in-game bonuses.

Developers of hypercasual games that profit from advertising are now looking for ways to at least partially shift to in-app monetization. This requires them to add unfamiliar functionality, such as soft paywalls and subscriptions. Conversely, owners of casual and midcore games are forced to consider integrating advertising to at least partially compensate for the decline in revenue. One of the most common options is to add rewarded video placements for non-paying players.

Successful implementation of products with hybrid monetization requires tight collaboration between product and ad monetization teams. Ultimately, in-app advertising and in-app purchasing features should be equally available to players, shaping their gaming experience depending on their preferences. Proper audience segmentation with the availability of different game flows also opens up new marketing opportunities.

Zimad is no exception. For example, more than four years ago, subscriptions were integrated into our flagship Magic Jigsaw Puzzles, which was previously monetized primarily through advertising. And now, the company continues to work on balancing IAA and IAP revenue in its other games.

Artificial intelligence

AI streamlines and accelerates the process of content creation and graphic rendering. As a result, the number of games available in mobile app stores is significantly increasing. Additionally, this gives rise to new formats directly related to AI-generated content.

For example, the Sora tool from OpenAI can be used to create advertising creatives. It can be a gift for indie developers who don't have the means and skills for video production. It is theoretically possible to make cutscenes in Sora, but at the current stage of development it will not be possible to build a high-quality game this way. However, using it to create a presentation for investors is feasible.

For AI to truly benefit the business, responsible individuals who will monitor the use of modern tools in all departments of the company should be considered. This applies to both development and content creation. New solutions will soon emerge: they will automate the work of game designers, serve as assistants in game design documentation, and create digital clones of gaming systems, facilitating more accurate forecasting of A/B test results.

Adapting apps for new markets entails more than just translation. It involves sensitivity to cultural values: local holidays, traditions, and taboos

Strategies for content updates

Many games within particular genres, especially those with content such as coloring pages and puzzles, are quite similar. Therefore, it's essential to find ways to stand out and retain the audience. This requires regularly monitoring player feedback, understanding their needs and concerns, studying analytics, and promptly responding to trends. For example, you can create content related to a global event, such as the outcomes of the Oscars, or a universal visual trend like Pantone's Color of the Year.

Anastasia Shilo, Zimad

Another crucial aspect when updating content is to rely on the experience of UA campaigns, mapping the pathway from ad creative assets to in-game content. A classic example is the use of misleading mechanics, which are later introduced into the starting flow of the game after performing well in creatives.

It's also important to keep an eye on market changes, testing and adding new mechanics and mini-games that can impact retention metrics. All the major aspects outlined above can result not only in retaining players but also in encouraging users to return to the app, increasing the number of re-installs. Of course, this requires a comprehensive approach to content promotion, using a wide range of marketing tools, from community engagement to retargeting and in-app events.

Quick fire trends

We'll finish with a few other trends we think developers need to consider in 2024:

New markets

In developing countries, such as India, the digital coverage of the population and the number of devices are increasing, and consequently the demand for mobile games is expanding. South and Southeast Asia are experiencing rapid growth in the mobile gaming sector due to increased technical literacy and availability of smartphones. There is an increasing number of participants and viewers of cyber sports events in the region, reflecting the growing popularity of competitive gaming.

This emphasizes the need to adapt apps for new markets, which entails more than just linguistic translation; it involves sensitivity to cultural values: local holidays, traditions, and taboos.

Nostalgia

This trend is rooted in finding inspiration in 'old' gaming mechanics, reviving them in new successful titles, and re-evaluating and testing mechanics years later with minor tweaks. Successful examples of this strategy include trending mechanics like Draw One Line and Nuts & Bolt Puzzles, which trace their origins back to physical retail games prior to the digital era.

Pokémon Sleep is an example of mobile games being built around self-care

The trend of nostalgia has intensified not only in the mobile industry but also in many other fields. For instance, consider the rising sales of vinyl records and the comeback of film cameras. Moreover, this trend is universal — it resonates with both adult audiences and Generation Z. Nostalgic sentiments and the chance to reconnect with the past are the feelings many people seek today.

Self-care

One of the prevailing global trends today is the emphasis on self-care. This explains the popularity of mental health practices, self-nurturing, wellness gadgets, and assistant apps. As a result, the mobile gaming industry is focusing on benefits for users. For example, Pokémon Sleep promotes the fostering of healthy sleeping habits.

Charity

Games also feature content that highlights developers' social responsibility. For example, they integrate in-app events centered around the company's charitable activities. This significantly increases player loyalty.

Not so long ago, Israeli mobile game company Playtika joined the global tree planting campaign initiated by the Dots.eco organization. The campaign is aimed at restoring forests around the world — the game developer asked players to complete specially created levels that would give in-game rewards equal to the trees planted. More than 300,000 trees were planted as part of the campaign.

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