Sensor Tower: These genres are thriving in the $2 billion U.S. mobile-RPG market

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The game industry continues to show off how it’s benefiting from the pandemic. This time, it’s mobile role-playing games bringing in more dough, according to analyst firm Sensor Tower. So far in 2020, mobile role-playing games have brought in an estimated $2 billion in player spending in the U.S., which is already 33% higher than its estimates for 2019.

And squad-based RPGs are leading the charge as most game segments benefit from the pandemic, with Scopely’s Marvel: Strike Force and its ilk bringing in $850 million of that $2 billion so far this year. Mobile RPGs gathered just over 115 million downloads since January, which Sensor Tower said is an increase of 1.8%. As Sensor Tower Randy Nelson explains, this shows that “developers need to stay on top of changing trends in consumer preference and discover new spins on this classic genre that can help them stand out and attract new demographics of players.”

Having a big-time franchise license doesn’t hurt, either.

Squad-RPGs include the likes of Raid: Shadow Legends and older games such as Summoners War and Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes. These are free-to-play games in which players spend to improve their squads, though you can make teams without giving up a penny.

“Squad-RPGs focus on drafting characters and building a synergistic team. Encounters and battles are typically low-touch or have an auto-battle mode. Characters are drafted through some form of a gatcha,” Nelson said. In this case, gatcha means acquiring packs or characters through paid or free currency.

In second place are survival-RPGs. These are games like Ark: Survival Evolved and Last Day on Earth. These games made big splashes on PC, especially Ark as it established itself in 2016 and came out of early access in 2017 before moving to consoles and mobile. It’s still among the top 20 games on Steam.

Nelson said that both squad and survival are riding the success of battle royale, which became a worldwide phenomenon in 2018. This has led to a mobile players to explore other games.

“Hypercasual mobile games in the U.S. have historically flourished. However, with the rise of games such as PUBG Mobile and Fortnite, midcore titles have found an enthusiastic audience,” he said. “As players flock to a wider variety of genres, the more advanced squad and survival games are now thriving.”

Turn-based RPGs (one of the older genres in all of gaming) aren’t as prominent as the others, but spending here is creeping up as well. “U.S. consumer spending in traditional turn-based mobile RPGs was flat when comparing the January to August period between 2018 and 2019. However, it grew 9% Y/Y from $166 million between January and August 2019 to $181 million in the same period in 2020.

What about the pandemic?

Of course, spending and play time have increased thanks to COVID-19. As other parts of the world have opened up, the U.S. has continued to struggle with containing the virus. That’s left many Americans spending as much time at home as possible, attending school and working from their apartments and houses.

So while the industry as benefitting as a whole, Sensor Tower has found that squad games have become the hot RPG genre in 2020.

“As our previous analysis showed, global mobile gaming revenue on the whole climbed 27% year-over-year in Q2 2020 due to shifts in consumer behavior amid the pandemic. This is also reflected in our newest analysis on U.S. consumer spending in mobile RPGs. The growth in mobile RPG spending for the January to August period between 2019 and 2020 was 4 percentage points higher than between the same period in 2018 and 2019,” Nelson said.

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