In recent years, mobile-first gaming has rapidly risen as smartphone companies continuously enhance their products, making it easier for players to access games whilst on the go. This technological development has brought forward an industry shift, that has seen iGaming companies redirect their focus towards mobile-first content.
With more and more companies embracing the increase in mobile gaming, we explored the success of this new generation offering and what the future holds.
According to you, what brought forward the increase in mobile-first gaming?
Arcangelo Lonoce – Head of Business Development at Habanero:
The watershed moment came a number of years ago when smartphones finally managed to deliver a properly premium gaming experience. Indeed, phones have improved exponentially to the point where you could argue that mobile technology is as good as if not better than desktop.
This has been made possible by the improvements in ‘light betting’, by which I mean data, allowing players to enjoy parallel matches etc. When you can reach that point, laptop gaming becomes obsolete as you can flick through just as seamlessly as on desktop. Just of course like the wider world, when it comes to relaxing on the couch, mobile will always be your primary channel over a laptop – whether that’s shopping, gaming or Instagram.
Of course, with HTML5 becoming ubiquitous and flash disappearing has accelerated the mobile-gaming trend. You can look at emerging markets or countries that never went through the ‘laptop era’, as given the leap in tech developments in the last decade, it means that smartphones are simply more affordable and accessible to players than MacBooks ever will be. Latin America is a great example of this.
Vladimir Malakchi, CCO at Evoplay:
The accelerated growth and penetration of global smartphone usage across every corner of the world is the key driver behind the impressive rise we have seen in smartphone gaming. Data from 2021 reveals that over 6 billion people use mobile phones worldwide, and this number continues to grow, with the 5G standard being one of the catalysts. Emerging markets are catching up fast too – with the majority of regions now greatly investing in the development of mobile technology.
In addition to this, according to our research, three-quarters of gamblers prefer to play on mobile, doing so every 4.2 days on average. Other sources show that in 2020, 50% of the online gambling revenue came from mobile, which isn’t surprising as 75% of traffic belongs to mobile. The numbers clearly don’t lie, and the high demand for mobile gaming is a call to action for suppliers to accept this trend.
Thomas Smallwood, Head of Marketing at ESA Gaming, comments:
A mix of technology and convenience is the short answer. Mobiles now provide a simpler and faster way for players to enjoy their favourite games. It’s fair to say that the trend towards mobile has also probably been accelerated during the pandemic as the move from retail to online has quickened.
Madis Raus – Head of OneTouch:
Obviously, the widespread use of smartphones and availability internet has had a positive effect on mobile-first gaming. These days people use mobile devices to perform certain tasks, their far easier to use and more accessible than laptops and desktops. Additionally, mobile devices allow people to do things whenever and wherever they want, whether they’re commuting or simply passing time.
By making the mobile-gaming experience seamless and engaging at the same time, players will continue using mobile devices for entertainment. This is something which will naturally increase over time, as mobile devices continue advancing and being capable to perform at higher standards.
Are there any verticals that perform better on smartphones? And how can developers improve those verticals that don’t work as efficiently?
As an expert on slots and table games – I would say table games are inherently easier to develop and render when performing on smartphones compared to slots, but if we look at numbers, slots are dominant, with a market share of around 85% or so, which shows that the player demand this vertical more than any other.
However, looking at table games, there’s a lot to be said about performance. They have excellent stable rates of acquisition and retention – so there is less motivation to tweak a formula that is clearly working. They also have higher average bets, greater lifetime value and from a mathematical and user interface viewpoint, I would certainly rank them up there as one of the best performers.
Given market demand though, we can assume slots will always retain the lion’s share. So how does one improve the vertical? Stories, subject matter and narrative are key, as is the UI, although we mustn’t forget, it all starts with the maths – you need to get that right first, and then you can start talking other improvements.
Actually, all verticals and mechanics perform well on smartphones. However, while creating a product for hand-held devices, there are key principles to follow: easy-to-understand UX, simplicity of a game, uncomplicated graphics, and adaptation to vertical view.
One thing is for sure – it makes no sense for suppliers to choose a specific type of game to develop for smartphones. The fundamental point is to accept that the mobile-first approach is a basic demand for players.
I think sports betting is a natural vertical for mobile. With the ability to play high-quality live streams on mobile devices, in-play betting is no longer just for retail or desktop and the fact that bets can be placed anytime, anywhere is a major factor.
The limit in phone storage also means that casino can be trickier on mobile, especially in apps where users often need to download the games they want to play exactly because of this limitation.
These are two factors behind ESA Gaming’s development of ultra-lightweight games for sportsbooks. The EasySwipe suite of games is accessed through a widget we have designed and developed which enables players to seamlessly move between games and sports bets rather than being re-directed to another part of the site or a cumbersome casino page. The sports betting experience is unhindered and conversion to casino games happens at lower cost.
Mobile device usage differs slightly from desktop usage, this means that mobile users have different expectations. Since people use mobiles to pass time or when they’re in between things, the attention span of the mobile user is often shorter, these are things to consider when providing content to them.
In my opinion it’s the matter of the speed of games rather than specific verticals, fast games tend to perform better, as the player doesn’t need to wait too long, which is a bonus especially when they’re looking to kill some time.
To improve further, developers need to consider the peculiarities of mobile device usage and think about ways of implementing content that doesn’t depend on usage patterns, making the products more appealing and engaging to players.
What are the difficulties of adopting games to function on smartphones?
Habanero as a company operates with a mobile-first approach, therefore, we don’t find any real challenge when it comes to rendering games on mobile since our products are designed with smartphones in mind. After all, we disposed of Flash in 2015 and since then we have always developed our games using HTML5.
Adapting a visual component to all models of smartphones, including early versions, isn’t an easy task but is possible thanks to cutting-edge technologies. They allow us to create visually stunning products compatible with most smartphones. The optimisation of UX, UI, resolution and graphics for all platforms is the main priority, as we want to ensure that our players get high-quality content on any device.
Another challenge, which we have also overcome, is the amount of data used by games. Our proprietary game engine Spinential, developed in-house has been a real gamechanger for us, accelerating the loading speed and optimising the storage capacity. This solution has been designed with a purely mobile-first approach in mind, and we’ve really reaped the benefits.
The obvious thing is the greatly reduced screen space and the practicality of a hand-held device. Because of this, we have chosen to develop ‘mobile-first games’ and move away from adapting desktop content. This means every aspect of the game is thought out with the mobile user in mind, ideally with the ability to do everything just with a thumb. Of course, the challenge is to make everything on the screen accessible, so it is a constant evolution as the user demands more features.
Different game types have different elements, for slots it may be the screen ratio, for example how to make symbols as big as possible and still keep the popular grids. Alternatively for Live games, you need to consider the screen size, ensuring that the player can see what is happening in the stream and whether the cards shown are in sync with what’s being reported etc.
As mentioned above, when adapting games, it’s important to consider the peculiarities of mobile device usage, developers must think about ways they can make games as fast and seamless as possible but at the same time still engaging on a smaller screen.
How fundamental is it for operators and developers to adopt a mobile-first strategy?
It’s extremely important, otherwise you’re missing out on 80% of the market! There were some suppliers that were very late to the HTML5 adoption, which made it incredibly frustrating for operators – plenty of which I saw first-hand back when I was at BetVictor during the 2010s. To put things into perspective today, you simply cannot launch a game as without considering a mobile-first approach, since you’re forgoing an absolutely huge amount of revenue.
Moreover, mobile gaming allows people to play remotely, therefore players don’t need to depend on a desktop or laptop to participate in their hobby. With mobiles advancing and 5G becoming the norm, we’re now looking at a whole new world of possibilities to enhance mobile-first even more, the ramifications of which will be huge, especially when it comes to content and loading speeds.
Keeping in mind the number of global smartphone users, prioritising mobile devices when creating gaming products is a must. Moreover, it is expected that in a couple of years, this number will grow to seven billion. Currently, the US, China and India lead the list of countries with the highest rate of mobile penetration. However, as the latest data shows, the potential of emerging markets in regard to mobile usage shouldn’t be underestimated. This is a direct sign for suppliers to throw all efforts on products focused on mobile gamblers. The mobile-first approach isn’t just a trend, it is a philosophy, which is getting more and more supporters. There is no better time to embrace mobile-gaming than now.
You could argue it is a percentages game. When desktop provided the higher user count it made sense to develop content for desktop. With the advancements in mobile technology, the increased numbers using mobile and the loyalty associated with apps I think a ‘mobile-first’ strategy is key in the growth of any gaming brand.
This is very essential, especially when it comes to companies surviving in this extremely volatile industry. Just by looking at how much traffic is already generated from mobile channels, you can see how strong the area is, and there’s nothing that indicates a potential decrease in mobile device usage.
If companies wish to attract modern players, it is really essential to adopt a mobile-first strategy, as modern players will look for a seamless mobile experience, if it isn’t available on your brand then they will simply look elsewhere.
With smartphones continuing to evolve, what does the future hold for mobile-first gaming?
I would expect mobile-first gaming to be the only way forward – it’s the old debate on how much entertainment is a part of iGaming. Whilst entertaining is a key aspect, you must also keep the experience flawless. Certain things haven’t worked out, 3D gaming for example, as we’ve learnt that people don’t really gamble to get lost into the symbology of the slot – but rather the thrill of the win, which is the entertainment.
So, in my view, mobile gaming will gain an even larger market share than it has now, it could soon become by far the only way of enjoying this experience. Additionally, with new demographics coming online, the future holds lots of opportunities for interaction of everything from social to multiplayer, shared in any possible way. Cross-sell opportunities are also endless, with push notifications and the like, as players can carry their game anywhere they go – whether that’s being entertained at home, when out and about or during the commute.
I am sure that we will see an industry-wide adaptation of gaming content to mobile platforms in the very near future. Once the value of mobile gambling is fully understood, the industry will immediately aim to transform existing and future products.
I believe the iGaming world will continue to develop in this direction as an exponential pace, focusing on innovative technical solutions, mechanics, features and visuals optimised for various mobile platforms, models and markets. The key is to find the balance between the quality of gaming products and their adaptation to mobile – and getting this right is where developers need to be investing their energy.
Smartphones will continue to develop but I would place more focus on the changing user demands. New game types, more regional content as well as promotion and gamification features are already driving us to change the titles we design and develop.
We will soon launch new in-game promotional tools for operators as well as new style of games, including bespoke games.
I believe that the introduction of 5G will bring a ton of opportunity to the table, as the introduction of 5G will bring forward a range of improvements to speed and accessibility. This may also give developers a bit more freedom when they think about creating games for mobile phones.
With smartphones being so advanced these days, the size of the game doesn’t matter as much as it once did, the quality is now the utmost important factor when it comes to designing new mobile-games. This is the same with live content, with the technological improvements, it’s now easier to provide good quality streams, so now developers need to focus on other elements that will make their game stand out from the competition.