Mobile game spending drops 5% as inflation causes market to cool


Candy Crush Saga logo displayed on a phone screen.

Jakub Porzycki | Only Photo via Getty Images

According to a report by app analytics firm Data.ai, spending on mobile games fell last year as consumers became more frugal in their purchasing decisions in response to rising inflation.

Global mobile gaming spending fell 5% to $110 billion in 2022, Data.ai, formerly known as App Annie, said in its State of Mobile report on Wednesday. The report also looks at the general health of sectors such as mobile advertising, retail and social media apps.

Still, initial installs of mobile titles rose 8% to a record 90 billion, with so-called “hypercasual” titles leading the gains.

“We’re seeing this big theme emerging that people are more price sensitive and financially conservative,” Lexi Sydow, head of insights at Data.ai, told CNBC, adding that the “biggest success” has been in app spending in gaming.

Faced with economic headwinds such as higher prices and borrowing costs, people limit their discretionary purchases. Gaming in particular has come under pressure.

Global revenue from games and services, including console and PC games, is expected to shrink 1.2% year over year to $188 billion in 2022, according to a July research note from market data firm Ampere Analysis.

In recent years, the growth of mobile gaming has been the dominant story in the games industry, with major publishers making big bets on mobile game developers.

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early last year, take two bought mobile gaming company Zynga for $12.7 billion. In 2016, Candy Crush Saga maker King was acquired Activision Blizzard for $5.9 billion. US tech giant Microsoftmeanwhile, is banking on further growth in mobile gaming with its planned $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

However, this growth has recently been challenged by a series of macroeconomic headwinds, including a rise in the cost of living and higher interest rates.

2020, Microsoft and Sony have launched their respective next-gen gaming consoles to provide more competition to mobile competitors.

The past year has also seen a return to in-person activities and a normalization of travel rules since the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, when much of the world settled at home.

Non-gaming apps proved more resilient in 2022, according to research from Data.ai, with the value of purchases in such apps growing 6% year over year to $58 billion. Growth was mainly driven by subscriptions and in-app purchases on streaming platforms, dating apps, and short video services like TikTok.

Non-gaming app downloads grew 13% year over year to 165 billion.

That did little to offset the slump in mobile games spending, however, as app store spend fell 2% to $167 billion. Figures include installs on third-party Android marketplaces in China, where Google’s official Play app store is banned.

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The market faces further headwinds in 2023, with privacy measures recently introduced by Apple App manufacturers are expected to be more heavily burdened.

Apple launched its app tracking transparency feature in 2021, which asks users if they want to be targeted by advertisers.

Data.ai expects spending on global gaming-specific apps to fall another 3% this year to $107 billion, driven by lower disposable income and changes in privacy protections.

Google plans to introduce privacy restrictions similar to Apple’s that would restrict tracking across Android apps.

“By limiting your targeting options from an advertiser’s perspective, it becomes more difficult to attract the big whales who spend the most on games,” Sydow explained.

The changes mean trouble for Meta, owner of the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram. Meta’s Chief Financial Officer David Wehner previously warned that Apple’s ATT could cut its revenue by $10 billion in 2022. The company generated most of its $117.9 billion in 2021 revenue from advertising sales.

Meta faces stiff competition from rival company TikTok. The Chinese-owned short video app hit $6 billion in total spending last year, becoming only the second non-game app after Tinder to reach the milestone, according to Data.ai.

Sydow said the impact of Apple’s privacy measures hasn’t yet surfaced in 2022 numbers — with overall spending falling across both iOS and Google Play — but is likely to have a much larger impact this year.

Despite the overall slowdown in spending in 2022, there was still “more demand for wireless service than ever before,” Sydow added. According to Data.ai, first-time app downloads grew 11% to 255 billion, while hours spent in apps rose 9% to a record 4.1 trillion.