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Inside the Mobile Gaming Boom in SEA

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Mobile Gaming

Mobile Gaming Boom: Though the most attention-grabbing headlines related to the future of gaming tend to cover either VR or eSports, there’s another huge element active in today’s remote gaming market: smartphones.

In fact, the most-downloaded mobile games of 2021 as recorded by Forbes include close to 200 million global downloads for each popular title. These figures outperformed other mobile categories by download numbers, including music, shopping, and even social apps. The future of mobile apps will clearly favor games—and rightly so.

The modern market for games is incredibly varied, allowing developers to create engaging and diverse titles for every interest. The most popular games, Subway Surfers, with 191 million downloads, and Roblox, in second place with 182 million downloads, were both created specifically for mobile devices.

Others, like PUBG Mobile, with over 1 billion total downloads as of December 2021, were first a popular video game and eSport that developers later adapted for mobile. Mobile iGaming has also become popular in recent years, especially as leading brands start to launch mobile and browser-based platforms.

While mobile casinos have been around for a while, a lack of recognizable brands has slowed progress for mobile rollouts. However, that’s now changing as global names become smartphone-accessible. For example, betMGM is one of the fastest growing legal gambling companies which many people will recognize from huge casino resorts in Macau and Las Vegas.

Clearly, there’s a mobile boom happening worldwide—but the numbers specific to the Southeast Asian (SEA) market are particularly astounding. According to a study by ASEAN Business Partners, over 82% of people living in urbanized areas of Southeast Asia are mobile gamers and, back in 2019, Southeast Asian mobile gamers contributed over $4 billion to a market worth $49 billion.

So, what’s behind Southeast Asia’s love of mobile gaming over PC and console choices?

A New Way to Play

Around the world, gamers of all stripes have bemoaned the inclusion of pay-to-play formats and microtransactions. Both are common ways for publishing companies to leverage a free app into a profit. In places like Thailand and Indonesia, many gamers grew up with mini-charger, which means microtransactions are an accepted aspect of the mobile gaming experience.

This has led developers to pour resources into creating new titles, as they’re easy to leverage for profit. This is less true in other markets, such as North America, and even Singapore, a country with a strong Western influence.

Whether gamers stay warm to microtransactions has yet to be seen. However, there are still various games that remain profitable for publishing companies based on advertising dollars alone, which means a pay-to-play scheme might not saturate the SEA market for years to come.

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Highlighting Local Culture

Aside from profitability, SEA mobile games are also leaning toward social elements that allow for team gaming. This became especially popular in 2020, though multiplayer gaming platforms for mobile devices are still in an early development stage.

Aside from bringing gamers in Southeast Asia together, there’s the added element of distinct local cultures. When the Philippines hosted its first major eSports event in 2019 for Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, the game included a lineup of new characters that reflected folklore in countries like Myanmar, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Local developers are working around the clock to create unique games that gamers from Laos to East Timor will find personally interesting. While most of the top-performing games in the region are Western titles, the region has a massive population with disposable income that might not lean on Anglicization across the board.

New Demographics

Aside from an active gaming population that’s undeterred by microtransactions, gamers in Southeast Asia are also diversifying greatly. Typically, mobile gamers will be of a younger, male demographic. However, the gaps between age and gender for mobile gamers, rather than console or PC gamers, is smaller.

In general, Southeast Asian mobile gamers aren’t of a younger age and aren’t uniformly male. In other words, the mobile gaming market is incredibly diverse in the range of preferred titles; it’s not just PUBG Mobile that’s seeing added interest, but also games like Project Makeover and Cooking Madness.

In fact, in 2020, 59% of Vietnam’s female population considered themselves a gamer versus only 54% of men. These types of figures directly correlate to the health of a gaming market, as Vietnam comes in comparatively higher than countries like the Philippines, which don’t have quite as many female gamers.

Additionally, mobile gamers are older than in other global markets. This harkens back to the availability and diversity of gamers. While mobile gaming titles have been overwhelmingly developed and marketed for younger audiences, this is starting to change.

 

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