Episode 11: 2020 Retrospective with the GameRefinery Analysts

Mobile GameDev Playbook podcast by GameRefinery

As the end of the year approaches, this episode of the MobileGameDev Playbook will take a look back at what 2020 has had to offer the mobile gaming industry. We’ll delve into the key trends to come out of this eventful year, including the rise of social mechanics, changes to location-based AR games to fit COVID lockdown restrictions, as well as some of the secrets behind Genshin Impact’s success. To wrap the year up, we’ll also do some forward-thinking about what might be in store for the industry in 2021.

Host Jon Jordan is joined by GameRefinery’s Chief Analysts Kalle Heikkinen, Erno Kiiski and Wilhelm Voutilainen.

We’re available on all major podcast platforms – if you enjoy the episode remember to hit subscribe!

• BuzzSprout
• Spotify
• TuneInRadio
• iHeartRadio
• Apple
• Google Podcasts

Topics we will cover in this episode:

1. How COVID and lockdowns have shown in how people play mobile games over 2020

2. Eye catching mobile games of 2020 and briding the gap between PC/console and mobile

3. What we’re expecting to see in 2021


Jon Jordan: Hello and welcome to the Mobile GameDev Playbook. This is the podcast that provides insights into what makes a great mobile game. What is, and is not working for mobile game designers and all the latest trends in mobile game design. In today’s episode, we’re going to take a look back at what’s been happening in 2020. In particular, some of the key geographic differences notably between the US and the Chinese markets.

I’m your host, Jon Jordan, and joining me this week, we have three experts from GameRefinery, each of which covers a different location. First up we have Kalle Heikkinen, who is the Chief China Analyst at GameRefinery. How’s it going, Kalle?

Kalle Heikkinen: Very good. Thank you. How about you?

Jon: Yes, not bad at all. We also have Wilhelm Voutilainen, who is the Western Market Chief Analyst. How’s it going, Wilhelm?

Wilhelm Voutilainen: Yes, I’m doing really well. Thank you. 

Jon: Good. Finally, we have Erno Kiiski, who is the US Chief Game Analyst. How’s it going, Erno? 

Erno Kiiski: I’m good. Thank you. 

Jon: Good we’ve covered off the world. Each of you are going to be delving into your areas of expertise through the podcast, but I guess we can’t really cover 2020 without covering COVID, which obviously isn’t a direct impact on mobile game design but clearly has had a massive impact on games in general and the way we’ve been playing mobile games. Can we kick off by just looking at the impact that the COVID and the various lockdowns have had on how people have been playing games?

How COVID and lockdowns have shown in how people play mobile games over 2020

Kalle: Definitely. Sure. This has definitely been a very interesting year for mobile gaming for many reasons, but one of them has definitely been the impact of COVID. I think game developers have been super eager to find ways to boost engagement in their games. They know that people now have more time in their hands. They know that their consumer power’s relatively high as the people who play games are very engaged with games.

People have turned to games to answer to the demand for social interaction and stuff like that. One of the manifestations of that, what we’ve seen is the increase of these modes and instances that our players basically hang out in the game and interact with the game outside the actual ‘gameplay’. Some examples that come to my mind are that you have this like a lobby area or instances where game players can hang out, they can show up their cosmetics, they can play mini-games, chat with each other.

“People have turned to games to answer the demand for social interaction”

Kalle talking about how game developers have approached COVID

This is especially popular in China, for example, in games like QQ Dance, Audition Online, and QQ speed. Another thing is that many games have tried to find ways to emulate things that people used to do before the pandemic. Going to concerts for example, or going to movies. Games like Fortnite and Roblox have been trying to take advantage of this and create virtual opportunities for players to do these things inside games.

Jon: Yes, definitely. It seems that probably these changes may have happened over time, but I think there’s been an acceleration of moves towards this idea of metaverse as you rightly put it. Interestingly, people like to play in games, there are specific things that you do in the game but also as soon as you stop, there’s also a lot of time just hanging out in the game, and you’re still in the game. You’re still maybe talking about what happened in the thing you just did, but it’s that much more social activity. Have you seen any differences in geography? Have Western markets, US markets behave differently from Asian, Chinese markets?

Erno: Well, I would say there are a lot of similarities in that sense that if we look at, for example, what Kalle just mentioned, different social platforms and stuff like that coming to the games and that can also be, I would say tied into this social viral hits that we have seen in the market during the pandemic. Fall Guys was a good example from the PC console side but now after that, Among Us, really simple experiences. The whole key of those games is the social aspect.

I don’t know if there wouldn’t be a pandemic, I think Among Us could have been a viral hit in a similar manner. Still, I think the whole pandemic and the need for the social experience boosted that, for example, the virality of Among Us, what it had. You can go with your friends and play together and stuff like that.

Jon: Absolutely. No, I think it will probably take us a while to unpick what has happened because I think in general, some of the figures I’ve seen across all gaming is 2020, in terms of revenue is up like 20%, something like that. I guess we’ve seen in general games companies stocks do well and generally people thinking that’s a good thing. I guess there will be different influences.

Have you seen anything yet in terms of games adding new features that maybe they wouldn’t have done? Have you seen different sorts of in-game features become more popular? Are there any data points around that?

Erno: Well, directly tied to the pandemic, it can be really hard to say which features were brought or changed their roadmap because of the pandemic, but of course the first thing comes to mind is the location-based games. We’re looking at Pokemon Go and so on. When they introduced their rate passes and these tickets that allow you to play anywhere, so you don’t necessarily have to move around. If you look at the numbers of Pokemon Go, for example, you would think maybe a location-based game is the one that would take the biggest hits from the pandemic but actually, they have had their record quarters now. They were able to turn around a really tough situation for them by introducing specific types of features.

“If you look at the numbers of Pokemon Go, you might think that a location-based game would be the one to take the biggest hit from the pandemic, but actually, they have had their record quarters now. They were able to turn around a really tough situation for them, by introducing specific types of features”

Erno talking about how game developers have adapted to COVID challenges

Kalle: I think when the pandemic started, a lot of games were giving out a bonus or extra rewards to make sure that people were coming back to the games and play them. I think that was one effect as well. Going to the China side of things, this is not perhaps feature related, but just one thing that came to my mind is that in February and March, when the situation was really fought in China, something interesting that we noticed was that some of the Mahjong games in China experienced really significant revenue bombs.

For example, QQ Mahjong had almost 700% downloads increase also on the download side. It was definitely a signal that people were seeking virtual options to play Mahjong which traditionally has been something that you do obviously in person.

Jon: I guess that’s a good point. I’m guessing, not having any specific knowledge about the demographics of people who play Mahjong in China but I’m guessing that part of what we’re seeing is also a demographic of people who were very busy out doing things, working mainly I suppose but a group of probably older people who certainly wouldn’t define themselves as gamers suddenly had a lot more time on their hands. It was like, “What do we do?”

Well, obviously we watch box-sets, but equally, people who maybe played a bit of Candy Crush, all those very casual games suddenly had a lot more time, and you started to have different groups of society suddenly gaming when they were teenagers, I guess, what else could they do?

Kalle: Yes, for sure. I think that’s really something that happened.

Eye catching mobile games of 2020 and briding the gap between PC/console and mobile

Jon: Cool. I think maybe the pandemic will come back into our other discussions, but I think we can pop the majority of that there and move on. Every year there’s always some big releases. What are the kind of games that have caught your eye in terms of either doing something new in terms of game design or the games that have just had a big impact in terms of having millions of players and generating millions of dollars? What are the big ones?

Erno: Yes, well, of course, we’re following the markets quite closely here in GameRefinery and following the games that make the impact and checking out what they do. That’s our core business. Of course, like everybody knows Genshin Impact, being the big one, everybody talks about huge hits, huge games, really an interesting approach to mobile gaming in that sense that they focus so much on the core gameplay experience. It feels like being a console game, but then they have the free-to-play systems and gacha and free-to-play mechanics built on top of that to monetize the game and so on. That’s definitely, of course, a big thing. 

“It feels like a console game, but then they have the free-to-play systems and gacha and free-to-play mechanics built on top of that to monetize the game”

 Erno talking about Genshin Impact success 

Then there are plenty of other games. League of Legends was, for example, just soft-launched, not globally launched yet. Then games like Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells, match-3 game from Zynga. They were innovating also quite a bit on the core match streak, on puzzle mechanics, how the actual puzzles work, and stuff like that.

Then we have other examples. I think one of the most interesting games of the year was Redecor. It’s actually this quite small Finnish company that made this decoration game, in a similar manner as Design Home from Glu. Basically, you’re decorating homes and stuff like that. Now it’s really, really challenging the big company of Glu in that genre, on that type of games. It’s currently in top-grossing, I think, 50 almost, 50 to 100.

Wilhelm: Yes, it’s right in the 50.

Erno: It’s really, really coming out of nowhere and being a huge success for a small company’s game. Then I would say a highlight may be EverMerge. It’s a game from Big Fish Games. It’s a merge game, a genre that’s a bit trending at the moment. Games where you merge different things and you complete these puzzles and stuff like that. Merge Dragons! From Gram Games was the big hit, being on the market for years, but now we have seen new competitors in that market, and for example, EverMerge being one of the most successful competitors in that category.

Then maybe as the last one, I would want to highlight Seven Deadly Sins, which came during early 2020. It’s a turn-based RPG utilizing the popular anime IP. That’s been a huge success in the West and, actually, all around the markets, in Japan and in China. It’s one of the most successful turn-based RPGs currently in all of the three markets.

Jon: We’ve got a few to work our way through there in different genres. I guess Genshin Impact is the obvious big highlight one. I guess it plays into lots of different themes. We’ll dig into the game design side of things, but I guess the key thing is, as we’ve seen with Fortnite, it is another game that is platform-agnostic, I suppose, to some degree, in a sense that it’s available on PC, console, and mobile.

Do you now think at the top-level that that sort of development is now the way it needs to be for these big companies to reach the big markets and generate billions of dollars? Because up to this point, certainly in the West, we’ve had this idea that PC and console games are different and then you do a mobile version of it. That’s still the Call of Duty, still very successful. Do you think now we’re moving where the platform you’re deploying your game on becomes irrelevant?

Kalle: I think that, obviously, not all game developers have the resources and the muscles to do the same thing that miHoYo did with Genshin Impact, but for me, definitely, it showcased that it is definitely possible to make a successful free-to-play game and still deliver a gamer’s game, as to say, an HD or AAA experience, however, you want to wrap it up. For me, definitely, it was closing the gap between HD and mobile.

“It is definitely possible to make a successful free-to-play game and still deliver a gamer’s game, as to say, an HD or AAA experience”

Kalle talking about the success of Genshin Impact 

I guess we could talk hours about Genshin, but the top observations that I’d like to make are that, as a gamer, I’m super happy that we have these kinds of experiences available and certainly, personally gives me a weapon to counter-arguments on the lines of free-to-plays, the dark side of gaming and stuff like that.

However, if we put our business lenses on and look at the game, I think the game’s long-term trajectory is definitely still a big question mark. I think it’s safe to say that they need to address issues like endgame content to retain players, but yes, it’s going really well for them. The good thing is that they have a solid foothold in all the major markets, including China, Japan, and the US. That’s a very nice thing for them and gives them a good geographical balance for their revenue stream, so looking good.

Wilhelm: I would like to add to that still when thinking about that more and more companies are going to go that way. I personally think that at least the huge success that Genshin has had, basically, in all the platforms. It’s not just a huge success or a huge hit in mobile, it has been such a huge hit everywhere. I think especially the big companies now are definitely at least thinking about that approach much more. “Could that be the way for our game?”, for example, to approach the market or how to build the game, for example.

Like mentioned earlier, the game is so focused on the core gameplay aspect. If you compare it to many other, let’s say, action RPGs that have been in the mobile game market, those have been more focused on the meta layer. The actual core gameplay has been autoplay and stuff like that, but looking at Genshin and those experiences, could there be a possibility of building more core-gameplay-focused games with this RPG, gacha style meta, or other free-to-play meta on top of that. I think it definitely encourages a lot of developers to maybe try that. I guess that we’re going to see much more of that kind of approach in the future also.

Jon: It’s a good point. In every respect, it’s demonstrated the best of all worlds in the sense that it has that console flair. If you just see a video of it, you go, “That looks amazing,” which mobile games have always struggled with just because they’re not really built-in that way. That allows it to have that immediacy where people just go, “Oh, that’s great,” and it’s available on everything.

Then it also has, what we would see, as the best of mobile, which is this monetization, which you can choose to do or choose not to do, you can choose to spend a lot or choose to spend nothing. Obviously, famously, it is– I don’t quite know what the overall budget is, but it’s been rumoured, over $100 million worth of development budget. Obviously, not many companies can handle that sort of budget for, potentially, quite a risky game.

It’s worked globally. China has been very good at building PC games and mobile games in the free-to-play experience. I don’t know whether a Western company would quite have come up with the mix. I guess it’s good. For game design, it’s a good one to get deep into, to understand, potentially, how all games are going, not just mobile games. I think, as much as we love mobile games, games are becoming games, aren’t they? These features and these elements are just becoming mixed up.

Other interesting ones you pointed to. I guess Harry Potter: Puzzle & Spells came out from Zynga this year. Again, talking about big budgets, it’s interesting that they were quite open, saying it’s, I think, the biggest development they’d ever had. They didn’t say how much it cost. I guess it comes back into taking something that you know can be a big hit with IP, and then taking a lot of game design elements that are rife in the game space.

Can we dig into that a little bit? On the game design side, what are they doing that’s different, or are they just using the conventional tools that a mobile game designer would have?

Erno: If we’re talking about match-3 puzzle games, what they’re doing or innovating a lot is, of course, on the core gameplay and level mechanics of how the puzzles work. In that game, you unlock these spells that help you through the level. For example, you unlock some spells from the Harry Potter Universe that I can’t remember.

You unlock a lot of spells, and then you can use those in the core gameplay. For example, you can levitate some flowers out of the game board and stuff like that. The whole spell system, how it works, that’s quite innovative and unique. A bit hard for me to explain without actually showing you the screen, but the whole core play mechanics of how they use the spells in the puzzles and how you unlock the spells and you go through the puzzles, that’s something that basically has never been seen in match-3 puzzle games before.

Jon: Good. I have to say, again, on a different level to Genshin Impact, it is just a beautiful looking game, obviously, it’s not a 3D action game, it’s a match-3 game, but it’s an extremely polished product. I guess, like most people, well, not most people, I was going to say, like most people I’m not a Harry Potter fan, but a lot of people are Harry Potter fans. I’m not a Harry Potter fan. I know a bit about Harry Potter, I’ve seen some of the films.

You just feel they’ve taken that IP and they’ve integrated it in quite a deep way, which is not the case. It is interesting, I think we’ll go on to talk towards the end of the podcast about games coming out next year, and it’s interesting how big IP is becoming an increasing part of it.

There were some other games I wanted to cover that weren’t mobile games, but I think they’re interesting as we review the year. They’ve been mentioned already. We have Among Us and Fall Guys, which are not initially mobile games. Fall Guys doesn’t have a mobile version yet, I don’t think even, but they’ve been what you described as viral hits. Is that just because we’ve been in lockdown and looking for softer experiences to play, or is there something deeper going on there in terms of the game design that they’re offering and the experience?

Wilhelm: Well, when we are looking at, for example, Among Us, it’s an extremely simple, asymmetrical party game where the core game is super simple. You have the imposters and the rest of the players, the rest of the players are doing tasks and are trying to escape from a ship, and then they’re trying to find out who the imposter is, which are often the core game ideas of different party games.

When we are looking at the features of the game, it’s extremely simple, so the real fun concept carries it in the core game. Of course, as it’s a huge viral hit, it’s been in the top download charts for a while now, but it’s going to be really interesting to see if, for example, top streamers, what happens when they run out of the content and stop doing content around Among Us, what will happen.

Because right now, looking at, for example, the monetization model of the game, there’s a little bit of ad monetization, but the main part is the decorative items, like hats, pets, and so on, but when looking at comparing to the other top-grossing games that are monetizing with decorative items as well, the Among Us monetization is really way great right now, which could be improved further. For example, adding more different skins, effects, and so on.

Erno: Yes, and also in this genre of viral hit social games. For example, as you mentioned Fall Guys. We have seen Fall Guys was a huge hit and everybody was talking about it all around, even outside of the game industry. It was everywhere. Now, I think the trend has been going downwards and it actually has surprised me how long Among Us has been on the top and is still on the top and everywhere on social media and so on.

If you look at those games, like Wilhelm mentioned, really light on monetization, really, really light on the game mechanics, really, really light on the possibilities for the long-term gameplay. If you look at, for example, Among Us, it’s about 50 cents per download on mobile in iOS in the US, which is not much, of course, but, as it’s generating crazy amounts of downloads, it’s even way up there on the grossing charts.

If we are looking at the game, if it doesn’t bring anything, to be honest, these are this one-hit wonder, so to speak. I’m very sceptical of how these types of games can actually sustain, and when they have this one hit, they have to bring another one or something that comes and replaces Among Us. On the PC side, there is this horror game called Phasmophobia, which is now the big hit on Twitch. It’s generating this huge virality behind it.

It’s definitely a tactic to go to, make these types of experiences, but personally, I feel these are more like a genie in a bottle, they have kind of a perfect idea that fits the current market situation, and then a little bit of luck. For example, like with Among Us, it’s already a couple-years-old game, and now it just became a viral hit. It’s an interesting type of game because it’s really hard to make any conclusions or draw lines on what type of games you should be making or these types of playing games you should be making because they are this type of viral hits that can be really, really, really hard to do again.

Kalle: Do you guys think that someone could take the basic concept of Among Us and the core gameplay design and make it a proper free-to-play game with a more robust feature set, with more guild mechanics and more different kinds of PvPmodes and stuff like that?

Wilhelm: Right now, there have been some games, like huge games, like Roblox, which basically in Roblox you can create millions of different games. There has been one of the most popular ones actually being a total copy of Among Us. Why not, really? You could actually make a game, literally Among Us, name it something else. I think there have been some copies in the China market.

Kalle: Yes. It was the same thing that happened after Fall Guys. One of the things that are included in our job description is that we go through the top 500 grossing and download games and look at them. In the download side of things, you do see a lot of these copycat games of different games that are popular in the West but haven’t been officially released in the Chinese market.

For example, with Fall Guys, there were loads of Fall Guys copies in the download charts when that was a big hit and still is. Not long after Among Us became successful, we already were able to witness copycats of that in the Chinese download charts.

“Not long after Among Us became successful, we already were able to witness copycats of that in the Chinese download charts”

Kalle on Among Us copy-cat games

Jon: Good point. It’s always interesting that in games, there’s complexity versus accessibility and monetization potentially versus retention, and those are always slightly in tension, and you need to probably go for one or the other. The games we’ve been talking about that have been very successful commercially have gone for complexity and monetization. What’s nice with Among Us and Fall Guys is the concepts are just good. They came out, and they didn’t add loads of things to them in the beginning, so that got them virality.

You could say it would be a different experience if you had Among Us with guilds and things like persistence. That would be interesting, it would appeal to some people, but it wouldn’t have gone viral in the same way. That’s a little bit about lifespan, having the ability to launch something and then look at what audience you’ve got and where you want to go with it from there.

Erno: Yes, definitely, another point to add. It will be interesting to see Among Us, they are a super small team, but it’s interesting to see because they were actually developing Among Us 2, but now they went away from that and wanted to focus on the first Among Us that’s already a viral hit. Really interesting to see what plans they have for the long-term focus, what they are going to do with the game.

What we’re expecting to see in 2021

Jon: Should we move on and look into our crystal balls and think about what’s going to be happening next year? It’s always hard to make predictions. If we were doing this podcast at this point last year, none of us would have got anything right. We know there’s a lot of cool games that are in soft launch, they’re available in certain territories for different sorts of testing. What games are you looking forward to, and why do they stand out? Why are the ones that you expect to do well in the next 12 months?

Kalle: Sure. There are loads of interesting games coming up in 2021. I’d say some of the most interesting ones are probably a couple of MMOs that are rumoured to be coming out soon. Summoners War: Chronicles, for example, which is supposedly a prequel to the popular Summoners War game and it’s going to be an MMORPG. Then we have Warhammer: Odyssey, which is also a take on the MMO genre. Interesting with the former Warhammer IP.

I think these two games pretty nicely follow the trend of bringing the PC console HD IPs to the mobile side as well. In terms of the MMO space, it’s going to be interesting that if they are going to be able to crack the MMO code in the West where it traditionally has been a little bit tougher.

“It’s going to be interesting to see if they will be able to crack the MMO code in the West where it traditionally has been a little bit tougher”

Kalle on 2021 trends

Erno: Personally, I’m waiting for the Genshin Impact of the MMORPG to hit the Western markets. That’s what I’m waiting for.

Kalle: Also on the shooter side, we had COD Live which is probably going to be an interesting one. It’s from the PUBG team, so it will be interesting to see.

Wilhelm: What we noticed right now is the shooter genre, at least in the West, is not too saturated. There are not many new games actually after COD Mobile and battle royale there has been no new top-grossing crossing shooter games released yet. There is definitely space for more.

“The shooter genre, at least in the West, is not too saturated. There are not many new games after COD: Mobile and Battle Royale, there has been no new top-grossing crossing shooter games released yet. There is definitely space for more”

Wilhelm on 2021 trends

Erno: Yes, definitely the games Kalle mentioned, it’s really interesting coming from the PUBG mobile team that we know that they were basically one of the first ones when the battle royale craze started on mobile and brought PUBG to mobile. Now it’s a huge hit. A really interesting game for me personally. It’s like, if I understood correctly, like a survival, a bit like left for dead on PC type of shooter experience that they are working on and they are soft-launching that. That’s a really interesting title for the next year for us.

Kalle: Talking about the shooter still, of course, Apex Legends Mobile coming up.

Erno: Yes, definitely, that’s one of those– well, the rumours about the mobile version has been around for ages. It’s also following the trend of bringing successful console PC IPs to mobile. Let’s see. Let’s see how that pans out.

Jon: For a genre like Battle Royale that’s had a good couple of years now, game developers on mobile have looked at it from different angles, we’ve gone through the realistic stuff. We’ve gone through various IP things. We’ve ended up not on mobile yet, but Fall Guys, these very different takes, these very cute takes on it. Is there still a lot left to experience? Battle Royale, to me, I wouldn’t say I’m a particular fan of the genre. I’ve played the usual suspects, but is there a big addressable audience looking for something new, or is everyone happy with what they’ve got?

Erno: I think basic Battle Royale experience where you drop 100 people to the map, and then they fight out and so on and the last man standing. I think that is already the big games like PUBG and then Garena Free Fire and the games like that, at the moment they are dominating that. Making a game exactly like that, I don’t see it working very well. There are ways to twist the Battle Royale idea.

Like you mentioned, of course, Fall Guys, totally different types of ideas. I think one good example is actually PUBG Mobile. They just launched this Metro Royale expansion to their game. That game mode it’s basically a whole new game mode. It works exactly as if you know the popular PC game called Escape from Tarkov. That’s been a huge hit on PC and a big game on Twitch and stuff like that. They actually released this game mode that’s really similar to Escape from Tarkov to PUBG Mobile. 

That twist, I think there is still plenty of life in that genre. The basic idea of just scavenging and then the last man standing and stuff like that, I think that can be really hard to take the market away from the big boys at the market at the moment.

Kalle: I totally agree with Erno. I think a lot of the Battle Royale games have been experimenting with other things as well than just the traditional battle royale game mode that we know. For example, obviously, we all know that Fortnite, for example, has this metaverse thing going on and as we talked about the hangout spaces and stuff like that. They are clearly at least some of the Battle Royale games trying to find other ways to engage the players in the game other than just the core gameplay.

Jon: I’ve been looking at a quick overview of games I saw that were in soft launch. I’ll read some of them out and see if you can see the trend I’m going for here. We have MARVEL Realm of Champions, Lord of the Rings: Rise to War, Marvel Duels, Harry Potter: Magic Awakened, Disney Mirrorverse, LEGO® Star Wars™ Battles, Blade Runner Rogue, and there’s another unnamed Star Wars game.

That is obviously not all the games in soft-launch, but it seems to me that next year is going to have a lot of games from the same IP. Is IP going to actually become a bit of a problem? We’ve seen this in the past. It’s not new, obviously, that we’ve had a lot of IP mobile games, but it seems like next year, if all those games come out, that’s quite a lot of games using the same IP and probably the same sorts of games. Is IP, do you think, becoming an issue in the sense that it’s harder to put in innovative game design in an IP?

Erno: Yes, of course, the saturation might be a problem for some cases, on some IPs. We have seen so many games with similar IP and similar ideas. Then again, if you think about how the mobile game systems work, for example, let’s say character collector RPGs, the whole idea is collecting characters. When you have already emotional attachment to the characters and so on, so, of course, the IP usually organically helps quite a bit on what kind of game we are building. Definitely, it might become a little bit of an issue if we get 50 Marvel games per year and so on.

At least at the moment, if you look at the new successful games, for example, in RPGs, many of them already use the IP just because of the reasons I mentioned that the whole monetization is based on character collection and then you have more incentive on the side of collecting characters and so on. There are, of course, many ways and many angles to look at this but, yes, it depends on quite a bit.

Jon: Any of those IP based games, ones you will be looking forward to playing, other than just for professional reasons, are there any of them that excite you? Because I do wonder, particularly for something like Marvel, there are so many Marvel films. And there are so many Marvel games coming out that almost the thing you were using the IP for, which is to gain recognition, almost becomes the issue because you’re like, “What part of the Marvel universe is this?” It actually adds I think to me, a little bit, a certain level of confusion.

Erno: In a way, I agree. Then in another way, we look at, for example, Marvel Comics and how that world has been living for ages. Is that you have somebody read some comics and so on, and sometimes there are different metaverses and different universes and different stories or using the same character from different stories and stuff like that. Yes, in a way, they are all connected, but then in a way, they are not connected. There’s also that angle that I see, especially, for example, with the comic book parallel with the games and then the comics.

Jon: What do we think in terms of more generally looking at genres we think might either be, not necessarily reinvented but gain prominence again next year? We mentioned it before the League of Legends: Wild Rift game currently in soft launch. There is always a bit of stuff going on with mobiles. There are always people trying to feel like mobile hasn’t really had a really strong mobile game, particularly in the West, I suppose. Do we think that’s something that the League of Legends team can actually fulfil in 2021?

Wilhelm: Right now, when looking at, for example, the Western market in terms of mobile games, there has been one game, pretty much dominating that space, which is that Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, which is right now, it’s actually doing quite well. It’s been in the top-grossing 100 for a long time now. Of course, in China, we have that, I don’t know, followers or in China is Honor of kings, it’s been dominating that. We have analyzed the Wild Rift right now, and I have to say personally as a true mobile PvP fan, the game feels super true to the original PC game.

Gameplay-wise, it’s going to attract a lot of MOBA fans outside of mobile. It’s going to be really interesting to see how it can compete with Mobile Legend: Bang Bang, and Honor of Kings. For example, Mobile Legend: Bang Bang just recently released an update where they updated the game’s graphics. It looks really similar to the League Of Legends now. It has a really similar core fan base, that’s going to be really interesting.

Right now, when combined on a feature depth level, of course, it’s still in the soft launch. It has really a lot of champions and things to collect which is great in terms of monetization. In terms of social features and personable gachas, it seems a bit lacking compared to those competitors. It’s going to be really interesting to see when it gets released, hopefully, next year, that’s how it’s going to affect that mobile space.

Erno: Definitely. If we look at the visuals, you put Mobile Legends and League of Legends side by side, and they’re super, super similar in that sense. It’s going to be really interesting to watch the pool of League of Legends IP, for example. First of all, does it pull players away from Mobile Legends, it has been growing, basically, year over year in the West also. Does it pull players away from that because it’s a really similar game and now you have the actual League of Legends on mobile? Do you go and play that If you have played Mobile Legend for a couple of years, and you have your characters and skins for that game and so on?

Is the IP enough, is the gameplay enough to pull the players away from Mobile Legends? Really interesting to see what’s pool outside of the players, who’ve never played MOBAs on mobile.

For example, League of Legends, of course, everybody knows has an absolutely massive, massive audience worldwide. What’s to pull off the mobile version for those players who haven’t played MOBAs on mobile? Do a new audience get attracted to the mobile gameplay also. Really interesting.

Kalle: From my side, it’s definitely going to be very interesting to see how it will affect the competitive landscape in China. As we all know, Honor of Kings is just a massive game in the market. There have been some other games that have tried to take a piece of the mobile pie in China out of Honor of Kings, but they haven’t found that much success. League of Legends is definitely a big IP in China as well and if they go through with the launch in China, it will be extremely interesting to see how that will then pan out.

Jon: Absolutely. We have plenty to look forward to. I guess the one thing you do have with these IPs or whether it’s internal game IP or an external game IP, is one great thing about mobile free-to-play is that they’re very very accessible. Whenever these things come out, we’ll be downloading them and deciding based on how we how they play, whether they enjoy the experience or whether to play them some more.

That’s the ultimate thing for game designers with mobile is you can address a massive audience, and they can test very quickly whether they like what you’ve designed. Excellent, guys, thank you very much for today. We could continue talking, but I think we probably reached the limit of what we should do at least. Thank you to Kalle, Wilhelm, and Erno.

Erno: Thank you.

Kalle: Thank you.

Wilhelm: Thank you.

Jon: Of course, thank you for listening, we publish podcasts on the latest mobile game development trends every month so please do subscribe to the Mobile GameDev Playbook if you haven’t already. We’re available on all the usual podcast platforms, and why not give us a review? Coming to the end of the year, you can feel, not charitable, but you can feel like giving us a review. That just helps other people, who are interested in mobile game design, find us on these podcast channels. Thank you so much for listening and come back next time and see what’s going on in the world of mobile games.

Trusted by leading game studios and publishers

Zynga logoWooga logoG5 Games logoRovio logoUbisoft logoWargaming mobile logoFunplus logoGameInsight logoludia grey logoMag Interactive logoPixonic logo