Analyst Bulletin: Mobile Game Market Review March 2021

Analyst Bulletin March 2021 header

Last March was an update-filled month for mobile game markets, and especially the US market saw several interesting new games entering the US top 200 grossing list. Moreover, Japan’s market continues to be dominated by the quirky interactive story about derby horse girls that we first introduced in the previous Analyst Bulletin. But without further ado, let’s see what other mobile game market highlights our game analysts have picked for us this time.

The data and examples shown here are gathered from the GameRefinery service, which you can access here. If you’re interested in checking more than 2.5k unique, high-quality overview pages across our genre taxonomy & markets, you might want to pay a visit!

Also, don’t forget to check out our new video series based on the Analyst Bulletin. Mobile Game Insider provides a monthly snapshot of the biggest and quirkiest stories from the mobile gaming industry.

In the first episode, host Alysia Judge talks all about PUBG’s third-anniversary mobile celebration and how RPG Kalpa of Universe has entered the top-grossing charts. We also discuss a few of the recent industry trends, features, and mechanics and provide a sneak peek into the weirdest (and wonderful) mobile games out there. Lastly, our very own analyst Kalle Heikkinen gives us the answer to what he believes is the most exciting development in the mobile games industry at the moment.

US Market Overview

  • Brawl Stars revamped Power Play game mode into a Power League.

Brawl Stars' new game mode, Power League
Brawl Stars’ new game mode, Power League
  • Genshin Impact’s newest update revolves around The Windblume Festival. This event also includes multiple things, e.g., the event’s main storyline quests with a bunch of voice-acted dialogue/cutscenes and various mini-games types.

Genshin Impacts' The Windblume Festival event update
Genshin Impact’s Windblume Festival event includes an event dungeon called Peculiar Wonderland. The twist here is that players need to complete three mini-games before they go into the battle against the enemies.
  • PUBG Mobile celebrated its 3rd anniversary with an update filled with plenty of stuff, such as new limited-time Hundred Rhythms- mode and anniversary celebrations in the Cheer Park (the social hang-around area in the game).
  • Roblox celebrated the 8th Annual Bloxy Awards event, which was definitely brought to the next level compared to the previous Bloxy events. The event contains a hangout hub with, e.g., a scavenger hunt for exclusive rewards, a spaceship that takes the players through different games in the Roblox metaverse, the awards, and a rock concert by Royal Blood.

Roblox's 8th Annual Bloxy Awards mobile game event
Roblox’s Bloxy awards are shown on a screen of the spaceship, taking the players through different Roblox games in the metaverse while showing the winners of the Bloxys and their speeches.
  • Mobile Legends introduced a Survival Nexus event with Battle Royale mode, in which players control the new hero Beatrix while looting, surviving in a shrinking map, and killing other players in the usual battle royale fashion.
  • It has been a while since the last big Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes update so the latest update brought a welcomed new game mode addition, called Conquest, to the game.

Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes' new game mode Conquest
Galaxy of Heroes’ Conquest mode is a recurring event mode (currently the event lasts for two weeks) with quite deep mechanics but the main idea is choosing paths, collecting power-ups, and beating single-player PvE levels to progress further in the event to gain rewards.
  • June’s Journey’s new loyalty card system offers players some extra rewards for all the purchases they make. Every time player makes a purchase, the card gets a stamp. To claim the rewards, players need to fill the card with stamps, and the reward amount is based on the money amount the player has spent.

June's Journey's new loyalty card system
June’s Journey’s loyalty cards also come in an event format, so players have only a limited amount of time to get all the stamps and unlock the rewards.
  • Coin Master’s new Teams-feature brings guild mechanics to the game.
  • Candy Crush Soda Saga’s Bear Brawl is live, bringing PvP/competition aspects and loads of other related features to the game.
  • Two Dots x Chobani collaboration event introduced a completely new event mechanics; word puzzles! Players must figure out what word the Chobani themed image represents and form the correct word from the available letters. Chobani is a Greek Yogurt brand, and various Chobani ads are running in between the event levels.

Two Dots' collaboration event with Chobani Yogurt brand
In Two Dot’s word puzzles, players can add more dots to make the image clearer, but this will lead to a lower score. The score gained from the levels increases the reward earned when all the category levels are completed.

The ongoing Battle Pass trend is not weakening. More and more games added BP mechanics to boost retention and monetization (e.g., House of Fun: Casino Slots 777).

All in all, March was a busy month for new interesting games entering the US top 200 grossing list. Here are some of the most interesting ones:

Another highlight of the month was the release of Crash Bandicoot: On the Run by King. The game has been the top one in downloads for several days since the launch and recently broke into the top 200 grossing.

China Market Overview

  • Battle of Balls (球球大作战) introduced asymmetric recurring PvP-mode.
  • Call of Duty: Mobile (使命召唤手游) added new game modes. New game modes are
    A) 5v5 “rage mode,” the team with more points wins the match, 1 point for a kill, but if a player is in “rage” state he can score 2 points with each kill, “rage” triggers after getting a kill
    B) Battle Royale submode with small prison map
    C) Battle Royale submode, where players can collect materials to build a tank for their team.
  • In Popkart Mobile (跑跑卡丁车官方竞速版), players can now visit inside their houses at their home base and buy furniture, windows, floors, etc. to decorate their homes. The update also brought a new photo community mode. Players can share photos and upgrade their photo community level by completing tasks like liking other people’s photos.

Popkart Mobile homebase decorations
In Popkart Mobile, players can visit each other’s houses to check out their fancy decorations. Decorative items can also be bought with photo community currency, which players can gain by completing tasks in the new photo community mode.
  • Rise of Kingdoms (万国觉醒) introduces guild competition PVP mode “Osiris League” (already exists outside of China), as well as collaboration event with Ninja Gaiden 3

Rise Of Kingdoms x Ninja Gaiden 3 collaboration event update
Rise Of Kingdoms x Ninja Gaiden 3 collaboration event includes event material items that players collect from the world map by attacking barbarians and collecting resources. The event material item is used to complete an image puzzle with special rewards.

New interesting games that entered the Chinese top-grossing and downloads list in March are sidescrolling ARPG WangChuan FengHuaLu (忘川风华录) from NetEase Games, and Kalpa of Universe (天地劫:幽城再临), an RPG with superior production values from ZlongGames, the same developer that developed Langrisser Mobile. Both games had their launch this March.

Moreover, Sky: Children of Light (光·遇) was again in China’s top 10 grossing list (due to Days of Bloom event update celebrating spring), which is very interesting considering how unique and lightly monetized game this is compared to the majority of the Chinese market.

Analyst’s Overview of Sky: Children of the Light (光·遇) in GameRefinery service
Analyst’s Overview of Sky: Children of the Light (光·遇) in GameRefinery service

Japan Market Overview

March’s big collaborations:

Kotodaman + Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba event
Kotodaman + Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba event includes a quiz-type playing mode, where players need to answer trivia questions about Kimetsu no Yaiba to defeat enemies (in the traditional Kotodaman style of course, by creating words from hiragana syllables).
  • Grand Summoners + Hatsune Miku -vocaloid collaboration.
  • 実況パワフルプロ野球 had a collaboration with yakyuu-player Kenta Maeda and Japan’s most successful Youtuber Hikaru. In the update, both Kenta Maeda and Hikaru were made into playable event characters.

Other major game updates:

The Seven Deadly Sins: Grand Cross' Hawk Pass Battle Pass
The Seven Deadly Sins’ Hawk Pass Battle Pass now also includes weekly and daily tasks. One of the biggest additions in the overhaul is the Mileage system which introduced a new kind of currency (food bowls for Hawk). The new currency can be obtained by completing Hawk Pass tasks.

Japan market’s other March highlights include Uma Musume Pretty Derby’s (ウマ娘 プリティーダービー) ongoing domination of Japan’s top-grossing list’s top place and back-to-school medical exam themed event with thermometers, scales and stethoscopes as event currency in mahjong game Jantama (雀魂 -じゃんたま-).

Mobile game Jantama’s back-to-school medical exam themed-event
In Jantama’s back-to-school medical exam themed-event, players could gather three different event currencies: thermometers, weight scales, and stethoscopes. Each currency corresponds certain value of mahjong yaku (combinations of mahjong tiles within winning hands that are worth points) and if those yaku are created in the core gameplay, players are rewarded with the corresponding currency.

Japan is also celebrating Hanami (means “flower viewing” in Japanese, the traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of cherry blossoms), so a few of the games in Japan market are having Hanami-dedicated seasonal events to celebrate festivities.

If you’re interested in different seasonal events that game developers usually use to find new and exciting ways to drive player engagement, check out this blog post on how to drive up your revenues with seasonal events.

New interesting games that entered Japan’s top 200 grossing list were:

Q&A with the GameRefinery’s Game Analysts

Our next interviewee in the Q&A series is GameRefinery’s Senior Game Analyst (Japan), Sonja Skoglund.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your current role and what it entails?

I have worked as a part-time analyst at GameRefinery in the Japan team for 4 years while studying and finally started as a full-time analyst around last Christmas. My background is in Japanese language and cultural studies, so I would consider my understanding of Japanese pop culture to be my strength as a Japanese market analyst.

My everyday work consists mainly of playing and analyzing games, keeping the market data up to date, and adding new games’ feature sets to the database, as well as together with the whole analyst team participating in developing and fine-tuning our game feature palette and genre taxonomy to better reflect the current markets. My expertise lies in the Japanese market, so I try to bring that viewpoint into our daily discussions and shared knowledge base as much as possible. I am also responsible for localizing our SaaS to the Japanese language.

How did you first get into games?

I fell in love with the Game Boy Pokemon Yellow and Silver as a kid. We were only allowed a PC at my childhood home and were not really encouraged to seek out PC games, so we kids went crazy whenever we could borrow our neighbours’ Game Boy or PS and play the Pokemon games or Crash Bandicoot and what not. After The Sims games, the next time I got really into playing was when I got introduced to the Final Fantasy series and remembered the incredible feeling of exploring a fantasy world, that was the biggest driver for me in the Pokemon games. Nowadays, it is very exciting to find something like that on mobile as well!

People are often intrigued about the unique nature of the Japanese mobile gaming market. Can you name something particular that would be useful or interesting to know about the market?

One major point, in my opinion, is the utilization of Characters with a big ‘C.’ Character driven TBRPG’s are the bread and butter of the Japanese market, but their secret goes beyond the genre’s inbuilt focus on characters’ battle prowess and strategic development. There is a lot of effort put into developing “soulful” characters, creating the background stories and visual styles, introducing visual novel elements, arranging voice acting, utilizing well-loved character archetypes and tropes, and mixing and matching those in a new way in order to create something that resonates – something you will get hooked into and want to see more of. When you combine this effort in detail with mechanics that “allow” (urge) you to unlock and collect more secrets of your favorite characters, the effect is very powerful.

In your opinion, what do you think mobile games will look like 5 years from now?

Whew, five years is a very long time! Gaming, in general, has become a very mainstream, whole family pastime while the generation that has grown up with games have already for some time been building their own families and a culture where gaming is not just a marginalized “nerdy” thing. Everybody has a smartphone now, so one thing we have already seen is complex, almost PC/console-level games developed for the mobile game markets for hardcore players to heavily engage in, while at the same time casual gaming has become a huge thing and the number of titles and effort put into them has grown substantially. I would imagine that we will see more and more variety in player demographic groups that will be open to targeting, and therefore more and more titles that will try and succeed(!) in covering different unassuming niches. Educational games and the gamification of learning processes are one thing I am personally very interested in and would like to and expect to see more on mobile gaming markets. There’s one line of approach for Finland’s education export projects!…

It is a cliche, but I would also guess that there will always be some level of ambition in developing special kinds of technologies (such as VR glasses) and new ways of utilizing existing technology (such as location tracking). Some of those will be buried in history as discarded gimmicks, but there is always a chance for something yet unimaginable to become an integrated part of (or at least an established way of spicing up) mobile gaming. Whether they will be successful or not, I am personally looking forward to seeing some crazy innovations!

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