Analyze the top trends in mobile game design and functionality of 2020

At the end of each year, we always like to take a look back at the past twelve months and see what’s going on in the world of mobile game features and design. There’s always a fascinating mix of developments, some evolutionary and some revolutionary, from game mechanics to graphics and monetization.

Mobile gaming remains an incredibly dynamic industry in terms of game design, giving its creators the ability to test and iterate quickly and inexpensively compared to much bigger titles for PC and consoles. The sheer size of the mobile gaming market also ensures that there remains a huge ecosystem of design innovation.

In terms of market value, Newzoo’s 2020 Global Gaming Market Report stated that “mobile games (including smartphones and tablets) remain the largest gaming segment with revenues of $ 77.2 billion. and growth of + 13.3% year-on-year “.

Wilhelm Voutilainen, GameRefinery

With that in mind, let’s take a look back at some of the top trends in mobile game design in 2020 and more specifically, how the global pandemic has dictated the direction in which many game creators are heading.

1. The rise of social features

It’s no surprise that a by-product of people not being able to meet in person is that they are looking for new social experiences online. To replace the normality of going to concerts and other “normal” events, we saw the Fortnite Travis Scott Astronomical Event and the Roblox x Lil Nas X Concert Experience.

While these events have occurred across multiple platforms, mobile was no exception with an overall acceleration towards the in-game metaverse and increasing interaction with the game outside of the in-game context. For example, we have seen a significant increase in the use of reception areas, where players can relax and show off their beauty products or play mini-games and chat with each other.

This has been particularly popular in China with games such as QQ Dancer, Audition Online, QQ Speed, and Aotu World. We expect this to increase in the West in 2021 and have seen a few examples in Call of Duty Mobile with its anniversary event and lobby.

Roblox x Lil Nas X concert experience reportedly gathered over 33 million attendees

Roblox x Lil Nas X concert experience reportedly gathered over 33 million attendees

This surge in the popularity of social mechanics in games was the main trend for mobile games during COVID, contributing to the resounding success of one of the biggest games of the year: the cross-platform title Among Us.

Most notable was Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez who first played the game on Twitch, which was a huge success, peaking at 435,000 viewers at one point. Although Ocasio-Cortez was playing on PC, there is no doubt that others were on mobile and the availability of mobile cross-play has contributed significantly to the success of the game.

2. The incredible success of Genshin Impact

Genshin Impact is a game that has successfully crossed the divide between console and mobile. With a strong emphasis on quality and a substantial nod to Breath of the Wild, Genshin Impact has captivated players across multiple platforms. Perhaps the most significant reason for this was the title’s emphasis on core gameplay, resembling a console game on mobile but coupled with free-to-play systems and gacha mechanics to monetize the game.

Of course, not all game developers have the resources and the muscle to do the same thing MiHoYo did with Genshin Impact on mobile. But the title has proven that it is certainly possible to create a successful free-to-play game while exceeding gamers’ expectations to deliver “gamer play,” by which we mean an HD or AAA experience.

After just a few months, Genshim Impact has become one of the highest grossing mobile games of 2020

After just a few months, Genshim Impact has become one of the highest grossing mobile games of 2020

The existence of Genshin Impact also shows that mobile gaming experiences don’t have to be heavily compromised in terms of visual quality and base gameplay. It gives hope that other free games can go in the same direction.

A question mark still hangs over the game’s long-term viability from a monetization standpoint with the need for more endgame content to retain players who have completed all of the main quests. The good thing is that miHoYo has a solid foothold in all major markets including China, Japan, and the United States. Genshin Impact’s approach to quality on mobile and console, along with its focus on core gameplay, creates an exciting direction for other developers.

You can watch our in-depth review of Genshin Impact’s features and design here.

3. How geolocated augmented reality games have adapted to the times

A global pandemic lockdown and roaming augmented reality games are not good partners for obvious reasons. AR games have had to adapt to changing circumstances with severe restrictions on the movement of people.

Pokémon Go has achieved this by introducing remote raid passes that let you play anywhere, so you don’t necessarily have to move around. If you look at the numbers for Pokémon Go, you would logically think location-based games would be hit the hardest by a lockdown, but contrary to what you might expect, Niantic’s game has had record quarters.

Pokémon Go Revenue Growth in 2020

Pokémon Go Revenue Growth in 2020

4. The newfound popularity of “old” traditional games in China

Looking at China, where things were horrendous in February and March, we noticed that some of the Mahjong games saw significant revenue spikes. For example, QQ Mahjong saw an almost 700% increase in downloads and Sichuan Mahjong also saw a more than 600% increase in downloads.

It was a signal that people were looking for virtual options to play Mahjong, which was traditionally something that was done in person. We can’t be entirely clear about the demographics of the people who caused this spike. Still, it’s likely to be active seniors who wouldn’t necessarily define themselves as gamers suddenly realizing that they were stuck indoors with a lot more free time.

As you can see, 2020 has been a fascinating year for mobile games, and we expect 2021 to feature some exciting developments. The rise of social features and events (we call it “mobile social 2.0”) will continue to manifest in new ways.

We’re also fascinated to see how major mobile versions of IPs like League of Legends: Wild Rift and The Witcher: Monster Slayer translate to mobile. It’s an embarrassment of wealth as there are even more games based on Lord of the Rings, Marvel, Harry Potter, Avatar, and Blade Runner sitting in progressive launch. So, until then, happy new year.


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