Just How Popular Are Mobile Games?


We all pretty much take it for granted at this point that mobile gaming is an extraordinarily popular activity. Most everybody seems to have at least a few games on his or her phone, and some of us have dozens. On road trips, airplanes waiting for takeoff, busy subways and bus rides, or even in the bathroom, we check into our mobile games, either competing with others or trying to better our own top scores and achievements.

But it’s hard to actually quantify in a meaningful way how popular mobile gaming apps really are. There’s not an exact measurement of how enthusiastic the public is for these games, and even looking at downloads and activity is unreliable because there are multiple mainstream app stores with different numbers in these respects. Still, we can try to get a general feel for mobile gaming popularity by looking at a few different pieces of data.

For starters, let’s look at the most popular mobile game of the year (and really, of all time): Pokémon Go. Everyone you know is playing it, right? Well, that seems to be the case for most people. One analysis back in July, when the game was about at the height of its popularity, looked at percentages of iOS and Android users playing Pokémon Go and found that there were probably about 9.55 million daily users of the app. And that didn’t count gamers under the age of 18 (which would probably make for a pretty significant addition), nor did it include gamers outside of the U.S. In other words, a very conservative, U.S.-only estimate pegged the population playing a single popular smartphone game at just under 10 million each day. Throw in the under-18 crowd and consider the hundreds of other mobile games out there and you’re talking about tens of millions of daily smartphone gamers, making u
p a significant portion of the United States’ 320 million-person population.

That’s a nice threshold for the amount of general activity there is with regard to mobile games. But what about simply looking at how often smartphone users are using their devices to play games, versus doing other activities? This is a little bit harder to determine. When you see someone across the aisle on a bus bent over a mobile phone, you can never say for sure what he or she is actually doing. A study was conducted using 2014 data to determine exactly what people are doing when they use their phones, and it found that about 32 percent of the time was devoted to gaming. That may not initially sound like quite as much as some would imagine, but when you consider that 17 percent of time on smartphones was found to have been devoted to social media, that 32 percent starts to look a lot bigger. People are spending almost double the amount of time gaming that they’re spending on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

And what about from a monetary standpoint? The example that makes for the most interesting discussion in this regard is Supercell, the indie development team behind Clash Of Clans and other titles. Before Pokémon Go came out and changed the very notion of a viral mobile game, Clash Of Clans was right up there with Angry Birds and maybe a handful of others as one of the most popular “viral” games in the short history of mobile gaming. And we now know that in 2015 the company generated $2.3 billion in revenue, pocketing a cool $964 million in profit. Those are exceptional numbers and reflect directly on the activity associated with the game. Certainly there’s a relatively small portion of gamers willing to spend significant money on in-app purchases that skews the value of Clash Of Clans slightly. But it takes a huge number of users and a mind-blowing amou
nt of activity to push a small game developer’s worth up that high. And again, this is just one game, albeit a very, very popular one.

We can’t ultimately come to a conclusion or any kind of definitive description of how popular mobile games are. But looking at some of these numbers from just a few studies and a few major games, it might be safe to say that mobile gaming is even more popular and more active than most of us give it credit for. There are tens of millions of people in this country alone spending incredible amounts of time and energy on this branch of gaming. And that might be an indication that we’re still just beginning to see how vast and creative the mobile gaming industry can get.

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