$7 billion. That’s what the value of the mobile gaming industry in Southeast Asia is expected to be around (according to a recent Frost & Sullivan report) by the end of 2019. The $1 billion mark has already been breached, and at present, over 50% of the total number of apps downloaded by smartphone-users here are iOS/Android games. Couple that with the fact that, on average, one out of three people play games on their handsets at least once every week – and you get a fair idea about the popularity of gaming applications in this region. Let us here take a look at some interesting stats related to usage of mobile games in Southeast Asian countries:
- The big players – Out of the 11 nations in this part of the world, 6 countries – Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines – contribute the most to the mobile gaming sector. Among them, Indonesia is the leader of the pack, with more than 34000000 regular gamers (13.45% of the country’s total population), with Vietnam (31400000 gamers; 33.9% of the population) occupying the second spot. Singapore has the lowest number of individual gamers in absolute terms. However, well over 50% of the country’s population are gamers – highlighting the high adoption rates of mobile game apps here.
- Which country contributes the maximum revenue? – With a 21% share in the total revenues from gaming apps, Thailand is the most profitable market in Southeast Asia for mobile game developers. Researchers have predicted that the country will maintain (in fact, slightly increase) its leadership position till 2017 (by when, the total revenue from SEA countries will nudge towards $2.5 billion). Indonesia and Malaysia are pretty much close together at the second and third spots (both nations contribute around 19% of the total revenues from game applications). The only Southeast Asian country that is likely to show a dip in revenue generation from mobile games is Singapore – with its revenue share expected to go down from 14% to 12% in the next couple of years.
- iOS vs Android – iOS games are gaining in popularity in these countries, but Android still rules the roost here. Software analysts and experts from the field of mobile game development in Asia feel that it is the presence of a large number of low-end, ‘budget Android smartphones’, that drives the popularity of Google’s platform in Southeast Asia. The extreme fragmentation of the Android platform does pose a problem for developers (particularly while deciding the OS versions new games should be compatible with) – but over time, as adoption rates become more uniform, the issue will get sorted out.
- Type of games – In all the 6 main countries of SEA, strategy-based games generate the maximum downloads. Racing games, arcade games and role-playing games have their takers as well, as do multiplayer action and adventure game apps. Interestingly, these 5 genres of the gaming apps are the most popular in all the six nations (there are slight differences in their respective engagement percentages though). Games developed by Western app companies (like Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans) enjoy maximum popularity.
- Scope for further growth – Unlike the US market, or even the markets in countries like South Korea and China, the mobile gaming industry in Southeast Asia is nowhere near saturation. This point can be illustrated easily by the fact that, while download figures are high, app store revenues from gaming applications are still on the lower side here. The percentage of revenue from mobile games in the total app revenues in the 6 leading SEA countries vary in the 50%-70% range – significantly lower than the 90%+ figure in South Korea. Game developers have to implement separate app monetization strategies to earn from their applications (ads, in-app purchases). App makers unanimously feel that app store revenues in SEA is still at a very early stage of growth.
- Usage of paid features – Nearly 1 out of every 2 mobile gamers in Thailand spend actual money on the gaming applications they use. The stat is pretty much the same in Vietnam. In Singapore, less than 30% users go for paid features – but that is more than offset by the fact that those who spend on mobile games, spend really big. The annual spend per payer figure in the country is just a shade under $190 – nearly 6 times more than the corresponding figure in Malaysia (around $33), where multiscreen games are the most popular. Although the mobile app market in Philippines is growing at the highest rate among Southeast Asian nations, it still has one of the lowest annual pay-per-user (a bit over $ 8). The same figure for Vietnam ($12.7), the SEA country with the highest number of gamers in absolute terms, is also low.
- Pace of growth – The European gaming market has a projected CAGR (2013-2017) is 14.8%, as per studies conducted by mobile app developers and analysts. The Latin American mobile game industry has a CAGR of 14.2%. These figures nearly pale into insignificance, when they are compared with the 28.9% CAGR of the Southeast Asian gaming app market, for the same period. If the 2015-2019 time span is considered, the CAGR (48%) is even higher. Clearly, these countries are on the fast track, as far as mobile game development is concerned. Spiralling penetration figures of smartphones is the principal cause for this.
- Opportunity for local game developers – Although Western titles still take up the lion’s share in the lists of most downloaded games in Southeast Asian countries (in Philippines, 15 out of the top 20 games are from Western companies), local developers are also in with more than a shout. Touchten, an Indonesian game development company, has two hugely popular games in its kitty – ‘Infinite Sky‘ and ‘Ramen Chain‘. GameMaker (in Thailand) and VNG Corp. (in Vietnam) are two other successful game developers from the SEA region. The competition is tough, but there is definitely a scope for local mobile app companies to thrive here.
- Who plays what? – In terms of gross revenues, ‘Clash of Clans’ holds top spot in nearly all the major Southeast Asian countries. A notable exception is Thailand, where ‘Let’s Get Rich’ is the best-selling game (which has got a lot to do with the overwhelming popularity of the LINE chat application in the country). Usual suspects like ‘Subway Surfers‘ and ‘Candy Crush Soda Saga‘ also have considerable fan-following in all the SEA countries. ‘Everybody’s Marble‘ (in Thailand and Indonesia) and ‘Hay Day‘ (in Indonesia) are also big money-churners.
- Country-wise growth in mobile gaming – Between the 2014-2017 period, the mobile app market in Southeast Asia is expected to grow by approximately 215% – making the region arguably the most lucrative for professional game developers to target. Vietnam, with an annual growth of nearly 90% in downloads, leads the way – followed by Thailand and Phillipines. Among the major countries in this region, Malaysia is the only one where the rise in app downloads has somewhat tailed off (since it has come close to matching the app markets of Japan and South Korea).
- The biggest rivals – Surveys have identified mobile chat applications and social networking apps as the biggest challengers to games, in the Southeast Asian markets (as far as jostling for the users’ attention is concerned). Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and LINE (particularly in Thailand) have large user-bases, while Zalo is witnessing rapid increase in adoption among users in Vietnam. Blackberry Messenger, predictably, is still fairly popular in Indonesia. Among social media apps, Facebook is far and away the most popular, with several cities featuring in the list of locations with the largest number of active FB accounts in the world. Gaming apps might be growing fast, but users are interested in other types of applications too.
- Making in-app purchases – Nearly 45% of gamers from the Southeast Asian markets spend money on mobile games – but there still exist roadblocks in the way of implementing in-app purchase options. The main reason for this is the extremely low credit card penetration rate (around 10%, if Malaysia and Singapore are excluded). Over the next few years, as more people start using credit cards, the purchase of virtual goods through mobile games will become easier. For the moment though, mobile app developers have to supplement their in-app purchase plans with other subsidy-based app monetization plans and advertisements.
- Language barriers – With the probable exception of Singapore and Malaysia (both of which are primarily English-speaking countries), customizing mobile games in local languages is something app developers have to consider. For a country like Thailand, which generates the largest revenues from gaming apps, it is not sufficient to release games that are not available in the Thai language. While creating games for these markets, developers need to make sure that their products have multi-language support. Otherwise, acceptance levels will remain low.
- Separate countries. Separate features – As already stated above, Thailand is the leading SEA country in terms of revenue generation from gaming apps. The CAGR of the gaming industry (2014-2017) of this country is 31%, with total revenues expected to be around $495 million by the end of 2017. Fast adoption of mobile internet services has boosted the total percentage of online population in Phillipines by more than 8 times. Although the total population level and the percentage of mobile gamers spending money of apps is low in Singapore, the country accounts for the highest annual spend-per-user ($189). In Malaysia, most app-users prefer multi-screen gaming (smartphone, PC, console and tablet). And of course, Indonesia has the largest pool of mobile gamers in absolute terms – thanks to its comparatively ‘young’ population.
Unlike countries like China and Russia, it is easier for third-party mobile app and game developers to enter the Southeast Asian markets. The average count of Android game downloads in these countries is almost 4 times more than the number of iOS games downloaded by users (highest difference in Indonesia; lowest in Vietnam). Apple, however, has the edge in terms of revenues (except for Malaysia) from app stores. Mobile gaming has picked up serious momentum in Southeast Asia, and over the next five years or so, both downloads and revenues are likely to increase manifold.
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