Mobile games have always been a driver of innovation in the app space, but since the pandemic started, it’s become clear that they are also a main driver of mobile engagement. Lest not forget the biggest takeaway from the Epic vs. Apple lawsuit in 2021. That is, that games make up a huge 70% of all App Store revenue. For reference, the App Store drove $70 billion in 2020 alone, so this is a considerable chunk of change. This, combined with the fact that 7 mobile games now make over $100 million in App Store revenue every month and that in 2021, the top 10 apps by revenue in the Google Play Store were games; makes the topic of top mobile games relevant for every mobile marketer, regardless of whether they’re growing a game app or not.
Top Mobile Gaming Markets
Gone are the days when the United States market dominated mobile gaming consumption. With the rise of smartphone adoption around the world, has come a diversification of top mobile gaming markets. Mobile users in emerging markets such as India, Brazil and Indonesia are now driving more downloads and active user engagement than those found in the United States.
Top Mobile Games: Markets by Downloads
By downloads, India is the world’s biggest mobile game market, driving close to 5 billion installs of mobile games. Trailing this engagement is the United States at over 2 billion downloads. Finally, Brazil, Indonesia and Russia round out the top five overall markets as of the first half of 2021.
Source: App Annie
Top Mobile Games: Markets by Revenue
The Asia Pacific (APAC) region continued to dominate the mobile gaming market by revenue. This included the United States, Japan, China and South Korea. Collectively, all four markets make up 45% overall market share. Germany rounded out the top five.
Source: App Annie
The Top Mobile Games
It would be reductive to pinpoint one app as the top mobile game in any market. Why? Because standards of success vary. Arguably, a game that drives the most revenue or installs could be considered the best. Or, the game that retains the most active users. However, none of these considerations necessarily identify games that are the most innovative, influential or fun. With that said, the apps we’ve identified as the top depend on an alchemy of all the above: downloads, consumer spend and retention. We’ve also identified games that find themselves at the top of multiple markets, as a reflection of reach around the world.
Finally, rather than just identify the top mobile games that drove the most money or engagement, we’ve identified ones that showed mobile growth acumen. In other words, they maximized their usership through effective growth strategies like hyper-localization, thoughtful community-building, third party integrations and more.
Without further ado — and in no particular order — here are three top mobile games of 2021 in mobile markets around the world.
1. Top Mobile Game: Free Fire
In terms of growth, Free Fire by Garena was one of the stars of the Battle Royale sub-genre in 2021. It ranked #1 by global downloads among Battle Royale games, and #2 among all games. Notably, it also surpassed PUBG Mobile as the top mobile Shooter game with the most lifetime downloads.
Source: App Annie
Free Fire hit #2 in game app downloads worldwide and #1 in consumer spend in the United States in H1 2021. It also topped the charts in other top markets in the first half of the year. In India, it ranked #1 in consumer spend, #3 in active users and #8 in downloads. In Brazil, it ranked #1 in consumer spend, #2 in active users and #3 in downloads. This top mobile game itself was launched back in 2017. What accounts for its rise in 2021 specifically?
- A mobile-first mindset: Garena intentionally optimized its game for almost all mobile devices by keeping the download size small. The game publisher also designed ‘bite-sized’ in-game missions to fit 'on the go' mobile time frames.
- Effective Hyper-localization: The reason Free Fire has seen much success across different markets for its localized content. For example, the game struck a thoughtful collaboration with famous footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo. Garena created a universe and character inspired by Ronaldo based on this collaboration. The impact: Free Fire saw immense growth in regions where football (soccer) is popular, including LATAM as a whole.
- Thoughtful Community-building: As mentioned above, the thoughtful collaboration between Free Fire and Ronaldo prompted growth. Growth was also spurred by the subsequent collaboration with the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF), or the Brazilian Football Confederation. It’s APAC collaboration, the Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore (FFWS 2021 SG), prompted peak viewership in the Singapore market. In fact, the Finals of FFWS 2021 SG hit a high of 5.4 million concurrent viewers, the largest viewership of any esports match in history.
2. Top Mobile Game: PUBG Mobile
PUBG Mobile by Tencent broke records in 2021, surpassing $1 billion in global consumer spend. In fact, it’s the top game in terms of revenue of 2021, beating out Honor of Kings — another Tencent title — for the #1 spot.
Source: Sensor Tower
Launched in 2018, the Battle Royale/Shooting game drove more than $7 billion in worldwide lifetime player spending across the app stores as of Q3 2021. What accounts for this top mobile game’s wild success?
- Effective Hyper-localization: PUBG Mobile is locally known as Game For Peace in China and Battlegrounds Mobile in India, two top mobile gaming markets. The Chinese market, in particular, is known to be notoriously hard to crack when it comes to localizing content that’s seen success in western markets. To date, the game has generated somewhere around $4 billion in China, or about 57% of total global player spending.
- Successful PC/Console Game Crossover: Part of PUBG Mobile’s success is due to its delivery of a console-quality gaming experience on mobile. The game might have been first launched based on a popular PC/Console game but the mobile app has evolved expansively from content. This includes offering seasonal content, in-game events and licensing deals that have kept players engaged. The scale of new content releases has also kept in-game spending up.
3. Top Mobile Game: Roblox
Roblox by Roblox Corporation is not just a game but a platform that allows players to play a huge array of games made by third party creators. In fact, Roblox is one of the best-known metaverse apps, reflecting the rising dominance of metaverse mobile games. Metaverse apps foster player expression by allowing users to interact in real-time through their virtual avatars.
In 2021, Roblox ranked #4 in worldwide spend, generating about $1.3 billion. It also ranked #5 in active users worldwide in the first half of 2021. It dominated in specific markets. In the US, it hit #1 for both consumer spending and active users in 2021. In fact, Roblox has driven the most revenue of any game app in the US and UK markets for 5 straight quarters since Q2 2020. Roblox ranked #3 in consumer spending and #1 in active users in the Brazil market.
The title was launched on iOS back in 2012 and Android in 2014. However, it didn’t experience explosive growth until the pandemic started in 2020. Why?
- Third party integrations: The mastery of Roblox lies in its enablement of 3rd party developers to build and monetize on its platform. This has contributed to endless content offerings. While the games themselves are not necessarily the highest quality, the diversity and breadth of content was exactly what users were looking for during shelter-in-place. With that said, Roblox is a useful case study in a game that positioned itself to win by being in the right place at the right time. In this case, the right place was offering quantity over quality in terms of content and the right time was doing so when the demand for new content in the face of endless lockdown restrictions was high.
Top Mobile Games of 2021 Takeaways
The previously mentioned games serve as useful case studies in the mobile growth strategies that work.
- Hyper-localization & Thoughtful Collabs: Free Fire and PUBG Mobile built thoughtful collaborations in specific markets to provide relevant content. For Free Fire that included partnerships with football players and federations to resonate with regions where the sport is popular. PUBG Mobile was successful at localizing its content in the highly-specific Chinese market.
- Successful PC/Console Game Crossover: Games launched from popular PC/Console titles can see great success if they continue building off that content. PUBG Mobile’s successful crossover shows that providing console-quality mobile game experience is the new standard.
- Third party integrations: One strategy to feed the ongoing demand for entertainment in the pandemic is providing the ability for third party integrations. Roblox’s model incentivizes third party developers to build games on it’s platform. This has created endless content offerings to its users.
- A mobile-first mindset: An easy win to setting up your game for success is limiting download size and game session times. Why? Because letting users easily download your game regardless of their device expands potential usership. Also, creating bite-sized game times positions content to be easily consumable in the mobile-first age.
Ready to Win the Mobile Growth Game in 2022?
With so many use cases of mobile gaming growth success in 2021, it can be hard to figure out what works for your app. Reach out to us for support planning your app’s mobile marketing strategy in 2022 and beyond for maximum growth!