Mobile Gaming 2023: Trends and Insights for Brands to Target Players
By Simon Stone
Last year was a tale of two halves for gaming. Just as PwC predicted unbroken growth through to 2026 — with global revenue set to exceed $300m — alternative reports claimed that slowed consumer spending had already put the market in slight but notable decline. Caught between opposing ends of the forecast spectrum, brands have rung in 2023 with lingering questions about gaming and the prospects for valuable advertising areas, especially mobile. Some answers to these questions lie in closer data evaluation.
How are gaming habits evolving?
Industry commentators have highlighted that, as well as being far from insignificant, the reduced projections that total 2022 revenues at over $180bn still exceed pre-Covid yields and suggest corrective sector stabilization after the pandemic explosion, not a major downslide.
But arguably even more important are insights gathered from gamers themselves. According to our latest research, player interest hasn’t eroded – it’s evolving. Appetites remain as strong as ever, with just under 70% of UK consumers continuing to play across smartphone and tablet devices. What has changed is how users engage with much-loved games. Instead of trying to reconcile conflicting estimates, smart brands should therefore be focusing on adapting near-term strategies to meet real gamer habits and needs.
What is the new gaming normal?
As consumers settle into a new kind of normal, it’s become clear that broader gaming behaviors are here to stay. While eased restrictions and soaring cost-of-living pressures have driven consumers to cut back on bigger purchases — such as new consoles and subscriptions — mobile has maintained its popularity as an affordable and easy gaming option. In fact, 14 million gaming apps were downloaded in the first half of 2022 alone.
Across the last 12 months, however, attitudes and habits have started to change. Mobile gaming has gone from being seen as a largely time-filling entertainment to a free time pursuit for the majority (63%) of UK consumers. Moreover, the finding that only 15% continue to game for five hours per day suggests many users are now having to adjust gaming patterns around new post-pandemic routines, with most (38%) clocking in 1-2 hours of play.
Yet, despite the challenges of reduced free time, determination to make space for gaming remains strong: 94% of users game at least once per day, with 38% playing 3-4 times and 31% squeezing in five sessions. These shifts indicate that gaming is firmly established as an integral part of everyday life, with users slotting in play as often as possible — harnessing the flexibility of mobile to help them do so. For brands, that means there is still plenty of scope for regular connection with passionate users. The latest IAB Compass report projects the spend on gaming advertising to reach £1.84bn by 2026 — more than doubling the current estimated spend of £815m. Despite this projected growth, ensuring advertising success also calls for brands to have an accurate understanding of how to optimize message delivery for fast impact (as users grab gaming slots when they can) and align with evolving individual activity.
Players flex their multi-tasking muscle
Unsurprisingly, eagerness to maximize reduced leisure capacity is also fueling adaptation in how users interact with games, as well as when. For many, gaming is still about total immersion; with almost one-fifth (19%) of UK consumers giving their full attention to mobile games. An increasingly high number, however, are leaning towards versatile play, where gaming enjoyment is combined with other activities.
Our findings show nearly half (48%) of UK consumers blend their mobile gaming sessions with TV viewing. Meanwhile, some also listen to music (17%), check social media (13%), and plug into podcasts (3%). Just as the initial smartphone adoption boom brought the rise of second screening, today’s users are dividing their mobile gaming time between multiple content and platforms. From a brand perspective, these findings underline that mobile gaming is able to stand firm within the ever-more varied media mix — and sustains its powerful grip on user attention. Equally, however, promotional efforts will need to be built with more diverse engagement in mind. Rather than homing in exclusively on specific apps, brands must harness the divided attention by delivering complementary ads across channels and ensuring each message adds up to a seamless experience.
Levelling up relevance requires better insight
Put simply, mobile gaming effectiveness depends on accurate insight. Only with a reliable and up-to-date view of user preferences and actions can brands deliver ads that persistently hit the right mark for each player, and drive valuable returns. At the practical level, this means granular measurement of the impact ads generate is essential. Marketers should be carrying out an evaluation which allows them to optimize campaigns based on tangible campaign performance measurements – in place of proxies – which should then be fed back into advertising efforts. Keeping campaign assessment closely tied to goal-oriented metrics from the beginning will enable marketers to paint an accurate picture of the results produced by each of their ads, ranging from purchase intent to brand lift.
Armed with this detailed insight, they can make more informed creative and delivery decisions in line with what the data shows works, and what doesn’t. For example, performance-centric analysis will determine which formats, tactics and offers drive the highest volume of desired actions for key audiences; allowing brands to serve relevant messages that have a greater chance of resonating quickly with time-pressed users.
Similarly, an in-depth picture of cross-media performance will help brands uncover how messages can be efficiently synchronized across mobile gaming apps, TV, social media platforms and more to reinforce brand connection, and increase the likelihood of active response; CTV ads which feature a code for redeemable in-game points, for example. This effectively encourages users to re-focus their attention on mobile gaming apps and increases positive perception of the game and brand.
Brands need to base decisions on real player insight
Gaming development has always been player driven, and that hasn’t changed. Looking beyond confusing and contradictory industry forecasts, insights gathered from players highlight that the sector is still growing and increasingly mobile dominated, but moving in a different direction. Life after lockdown has brought shifted responsibilities and needs, with consumers striving to juggle their enduring love of gaming with other priorities and limitations.
This makes it vital for brands to look beyond confusing forecasts and start basing decisions on real player insight. Dialling up focus on action-centric performance measurement will enable them to pinpoint the fastest and most effective path to ongoing mobile ad wins: using accurate knowledge of ad performance and user response to guide incrementally better advertising.
Credit: The Drum