The market for so-called midcore games like "Clash of Clans" is growing as gamers seek a deeper experience from free-to-play titles, say analysts. To be sure, casual games like "Candy Crush Saga" remain immensely lucrative. But mobile developers are discovering that more immersive game play increases engagement—and engaged gamers spend more money on virtual goods.
The distinction between casual and midcore games can look fuzzy at first, but it matters. Research firm Newzoo estimates that global revenue for more challenging midcore games accounted for $3.8 billion of the total $14.9 billion mobile market last year. That's nearly double the $2 billion in revenue they had the previous year.
"It's starting to get to the point where, if nothing else, you have to have a little bit more of an enticing offering, a larger narrative and broader brand," said Joost van Dreunen, CEO of SuperData Research.
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The little bit more that midcore titles offer might be a storyline, high production value and customizable characters—elements that make "core" console and PC games immersive. Midcore mobile games pair these elements with simple, swipe-and-tap controls. They're less repetitive than puzzle games like "Candy Crush Saga," and often incorporate real-time strategy and role-playing.
As casual gamers graduate to these games, they are increasing their spending, say analysts. In the first two months of the year, "Clash of Clans" saw average revenue per user increase from $1.29 to $1.34, according to SuperData Research. Meanwhile, average spending among "Candy Crush" players remained unchanged at just under 60 cents during the same period.
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Other top earners include "Modern War," a military-themed role-playing game from Funzio. Strategy titles "Game of War" from Machine Zone and Kabam's "The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth" took the number 5 and 11 spots in the iOS app store in March, respectively.
Analysts say these games owe their success to the developers' ability to boil down the experience of classic real-time PC strategy games such as "Warcraft" and "Age of Empires" for touch-screen play.
"Companies that know how to adapt their core title or theme to the mobile platform—the casual aspect that a mobile platform forces on you—they are the most successful," said Peter Warman, CEO of Newzoo.
Primary targets for midcore developers are 30-something fathers, many of whom stop playing expensive PC and console games because they can no longer dedicate the many hours they take to master. Members of this demographic also tend to be employed and have disposable income.