Everyone knows it, almost everyone has it: a smartphone. For many, these mobile all-rounders have become an indispensable part of their everyday lives. Whether to make a phone call or to send messages - for billions of people, the first touch automatically goes to their mobile device. Smartphones have changed the way we communicate - and how we play too.

Mobile games successful

Monday morning, a subway on the way to the city center: an elderly lady sorts colorful sweets, the young man next to her tries to score a goal with his thumb. An everyday image that illustrates the triumph of game apps. Mobile gaming is now a popular pastime across all generations.

Up until the 2000s, fast gaming PCs and consoles were mainly used to play mobile games, but today mobile games appeal to many people who have not played or have only played a few so far. In Germany, over 18 million people currently use their smartphones to play games. This makes the devices Germany’s most popular gaming platform.

The main reason why mobile games are so successful is their constant availability and easy accessibility.

“The powerful smartphone is always in your pocket. Add to this the high quality and wide range of games that are easily accessible. In the past, the big studios mainly focused on big hits. With a fixed price and regular additions, the high development costs could ideally be brought in, good profits achieved and possibly less successful titles picked up from in-house. "

Jörg Müller-Lietzkow, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Paderborn.

In the app store, players can find small, cross-generational games for in between, so-called casual games, and epic worlds and great graphics no longer have to be done without on the go. With mobile games, everyone can always play what they want and where they want. This change has also led to a rethink in game development. With mobile games, a further business model has been added to the so-called full price games, which is known as free-to-play.

With free-to-play, games can be downloaded and used free of charge. The player decides for himself whether and, if so, how much money he wants to spend. In-game purchases are primarily used to buy new levels or so-called skins, with which the own game character can be personalized. What has remained the same compared to the classic full-price games: You have to convince enough players of your idea.

A mobile game today needs at least one million players to be profitable.

Jörg Müller-Lietzkow

According to Müller-Lietzkow, a mobile game today needs at least one million players to be profitable. Because of this, around ten percent of the players spend money in the game, ten percent of them regularly. In order to break the magical player limit, almost all studios now rely on international productions for the large markets in the USA and Asia.

This new approach is worthwhile: if you make it to the top of the Apple and Google app stores with your idea, you can earn good money with mobile games. The market for gaming apps has been growing in the double-digit range for years. For 2019, experts expect the games industry to generate 60 percent of its sales with titles on tablets and smartphones.

“Game apps are one of the biggest growth drivers in the global games market. According to estimates by market researchers from App Annie, global sales of game apps are expected to rise to over 2022 billion euros by 113. Gaming apps are therefore the main driver of the entire app economy. "

Felix Falk, Managing Director of game - Association of the German Games Industry

However, as the market grows, so does the competition. For example, US smartphone users can now choose from a range of more than 800.000 game apps. On average, more than 2.000 game apps are published every month or over 60 per day. The marketing costs in order to be perceived by a sufficiently large number of players in this rapidly growing offer have therefore risen significantly in recent years. In particular, smaller developer teams, which are typical for the games industry in Germany, often do not have the opportunity to keep up due to the difficult financial framework conditions.

“The share of German game developments in the overall local market has been falling for years. Game apps from Germany only make up 3,7 percent. So there is clearly a need for action. "

Felix Falk, Managing Director of game - Association of the German Games Industry

The games fund approved by the federal government in the amount of 50 million euros is therefore an important step and must now be implemented quickly. Examples such as Kolibri Games, Softgames or Fox and Sheep show that there are real mobile success stories “made in Germany”.

Kolibri Games - surprise success from the shared apartment

Even if the app market is getting bigger and more confusing and more and more large companies with huge marketing budgets and manpower are pushing for the next success, they still exist - the success stories of small developer studios that achieve international success with just a few people land. Daniel Stammler from Kolibri Games can tell such a story. Stammler and three colleagues developed their game “Idle Miner Tycoon” in a shared student flat in Karlsruhe. Today, almost three years later, the app has already been downloaded over 60 million times. Every day around 1,5 million players of all ages go in search of rare gemstones in their digital mine.

“Idle Miner Tycoon” was designed to be very international from the start. Most of the players come from the USA and Europe, but the fan base is also growing in Asia. The players now generate more than 40 million euros in sales per year. A hefty sum for a game that was developed within two months and brought to market with almost no marketing.

“We were convinced of our idea and the good feel of the game. That's why we wanted to bring our app out as quickly as possible and develop the game further in dialogue with the community. "

Daniel Stammler, founder of Kolibri Games

“Idle Miner Tycoon” is catchy. Bad decisions at most slow down success. Failure is practically impossible. Even without having to look into your own mine every hour, business with virtual stones is still going on. In-game purchases are not absolutely necessary, success is also there. Around one to two percent of all players still buy helpful goodies on a regular basis. That makes up about half of the revenue. Kolibri Games earns the other half with advertising. Gamers receive a reward for watching around 30-second clips within the game. The principle was well received from the start. After just a few months, the young company was able to hire its first employees and invest in marketing and the expansion of its gaming world.

Until today there are minor updates almost every week. This guarantees long-term fun and ensures the loyalty of the players. The company now has 90 employees and moved to Berlin last year. An important reason for this step: Mobile gaming experts are easier to find in the capital than in Karlsruhe.

“In the medium term, we want to bring more titles onto the market. Five well-running games would be nice. "

Daniel Stammler, founder of Kolibri Games

Kolibri has also launched a second game. “Idle Factory Tycoon” works on the same principle as its predecessor and is just as successful. Here, too, the one million player mark was cracked after a few months. From the founder's point of view, the manageable number has two important advantages: contact with the community is not lost and the titles can be continuously developed.

The future of mobile games is in Messenger

Softgames founder Alexander Krug, on the other hand, takes a completely different approach. His Berlin studio has developed into one of the largest developers of HTML 5 and messenger games in the world over the past ten years. More than 500 titles come from his house - variants of mahjong, quiz games, racing simulations or small building games. They all have one thing in common, they can be played for free and very easily. You can find them on numerous websites - like Spiel.de or Yahoo. A business model that has worked well for many years.

The portals hope that the games will keep their users on the website longer and show them more advertising. However, there is still much greater potential in the second focus of the Berlin studio. Instead of being played in a separate app, many softgames games are played directly in Messenger from Facebook, WeChat and the like. Facebook launched its Instant Games game platform in November 2016 with only 15 selected partners, including soft games, and finally opened its Messenger to all external game developers in spring 2018 after a successful test phase. Many other services followed the example of the social network. A step that makes sense: Just text messages and the exchange of videos and pictures are no longer enough to retain users long enough.

And Krug also believes in the enormous potential of messenger games.

“Messenger are used by all ages and around the world. In Asia in particular we are seeing a huge boom in messenger games. "

Alexander Krug, founder of Softgames

In fact, the number of Messenger app users worldwide could rise to 2,5 billion in the next few years. If only a fraction of them are interested in the games on offer, there is a big mobile games revolution with “huge reach” on the horizon. From Krug's point of view, the appeal and potential of messenger games lies primarily in the social component. The game takes place in direct interaction with friends and family, sometimes against each other, sometimes with each other. Success can be shared quickly - either in the Instagram story or the WhatsApp group. And indeed: people spend significantly more time with messenger games than with other games. So “Cookie Crush” by SOFTGAMES, a fairly successful and colorful 3-in-a-row variant, has an average dwell time of 25 minutes.

Fox & Sheep - High quality apps for kids

Mobile games have opened up completely new target groups for game developers - in addition to seniors, this also includes children with their parents. Smartphones and tablets are a natural part of growing up for future generations. A corresponding number of apps for toddlers can be found in the digital stores of Google and Apple. One of the largest and best-known studios for child-friendly apps is “Fox & Sheep” from Berlin. In 2011 the founder Verena Pausder showed a feeling for trends. The iPad had only just hit the German market.

“With their display and intuitive handling, tablets and smartphones are well suited for children's hands. At the same time, the right content was missing. "

Timo Dries, Executive Director

And since then the studio has been delivering precisely this suitable content. With success: at the end of 2014, game manufacturer HABA joined Fox & Sheep. The Berlin founders' secret of success: They are parents themselves and understand the needs of other adults. Because they develop games for children, but they have to convince the guardians.

“Often the mothers or fathers play a round themselves and convince themselves of the pedagogical standards and the child-friendliness. You have to be prepared for this during development. "

Timo Dries, Executive Director

Parents have a strong need to carefully introduce their children to the digital game world. The graphics must therefore not be too flashy and colorful, and the games must not get completely out of hand. Advertising is just as frowned upon as the insistent request to play one level after the other. Instead, adults seek beautiful, ideal worlds. In addition to having fun, learning effects and creativity are very important to them. The Berlin studio has adjusted to this.

When opening each game for the first time, it starts with a tutorial for parents. Only then does the open and intuitive world begin for the children, which in the best case scenario they can help shape and influence themselves. You have to take the adults by the hand much more closely and show them everything. The children would discover the games on their own and, if necessary, ask their parents, explains Dries.

Mobile games build a bridge between casual and frequent gamers.
Mobile games build a bridge between casual and frequent gamers.

Another important factor: Instead of advertising or in-game purchases, the business model is based on premium products that can be played offline for two to four euros, including all updates. In addition, there are high demands in terms of aesthetics. The worlds are designed by professional illustrators - some apps are more reminiscent of interactive children's books than colorful games. In addition, parents can control the playing time of their offspring with a timer.

With this concept, the makers not only convince German parents and children. Games like “Orchard” or “Little Fox Veterinarian” are translated into 16 languages, developed for iOS and Android and appear all over Europe, China and the USA. Because without the broad, international orientation, the market for children's apps will not work either. The high quality illustrations and development are expensive, plus support, updates and marketing budgets. Six-digit amounts for development are more standard than exception. Without players willing to pay, this business model will not work either.

Mobile games are more popular than ever. Whether for distraction, entertainment or relaxation: every day billions of people around the world access their smartphones and tablets to use game apps.

The mobile titles quickly developed into the decisive growth driver for the entire ecosystem around smartphones, mobile communications and app stores.

The games have also developed into an important growth engine for the games industry. The industry experts at App Annie forecast a global market share of more than 60 percent for the current year. However, the share of German app developments in this market is negligible. With the games fund of the federal government in the amount of 50 million euros, that should now change. It is intended to create the framework for improving overall game development in Germany in the future. So that there will be even more successful game apps “made in Germany” in the future.

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