What you need to know

While 44% of mobile gamers purchased a game or spent money on features/items within a game over a three-month period, only a small fraction (16%) of those who made a purchase estimated they spent $30 or more. As more mobile games enter the market and look to drive revenue through purchases, they’ll be competing for attention from a small fraction of the market. When looking at user retention, it becomes even more clear that many developers and advertisers will need to rethink their approach to promoting and creating games – the seven-day median user retention rate for mobile games at the end of 2020 was just under 7%.

Another challenge mobile gaming faces comes as the US recovers from COVID-19 and businesses reopen. Consumers are eager to get out of their homes, which may result in a decline of mobile gaming as people start seeking all the activities that they weren’t able to do regularly over the pandemic. 44% of mobile gamers agree that mobile gaming will be less important to them as more activities outside their home open up.

It will become increasingly difficult for any individual mobile game to stand out as more brands expand into mobile gaming. This is no longer a segment filled with only simple or casual games, but one that caters to a wide variety of gamers. Brands should take this opportunity to creatively explore how they can engage new audiences or create twists on common game genres that keep experienced gamers invested.

Mobile gaming is still early in its lifecycle as an entertainment medium, but this is a critical transition moment for the sector. Mobile devices have become capable of running more sophisticated games and cloud gaming promises to make multiplatform gaming even easier than it already is. Mobile brands will have opportunities to establish robust legacies that rival PC and console games, but they will need to be willing to take creative risks, create unique mechanics and push the envelope on what can be done in a smartphone or tablet game.

This Report looks at the following areas

  • How mobile gaming brands can respond to ever-increasing competition and app monetization challenges

  • The risks of app sprawl, privacy battles and misleading mobile ads

  • How mobile game brands can effectively expand their target audience, without alienating their core players

  • Momentum for cloud gaming and subscription gaming services as well as how mobile game franchises can benefit


For the purposes of this Report, a mobile game is defined as a video game available on smartphones and tablets. Video games on handheld or hybrid consoles (ie Nintendo Switch) are also discussed because many smartphone and tablet games are available on the Switch and it represents a competitive category of entertainment. For more information, please see Mintel’s Console Gaming: Spotlight on The Next Generation – US, April 2021.

Market context

This Report was written in June 2021, with fieldwork conducted in May 2021. Therefore, this Report reflects consumer attitudes and behaviors during the period when lockdown restrictions for COVID-19 were just being lifted across the country. Although most states were not under full stay-at-home orders, many still had capacity limits for indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Particularly in the short term, mobile gaming is likely to take a backseat to other hobbies. While it’s not likely many consumers will give up mobile gaming completely, 44% of mobile gamers agree it will become less important to them as more activities outside their homes open up.

On the other hand, many organizations realized that they could easily facilitate remote work throughout 2020, and they’re planning to continue offering flexible work options after the pandemic. More gamers are working from home and they will also need hobbies that they can easily get into during work breaks but put down again when they need to be productive. Given that mobile gamers generally became even more accustomed to playing at home over the last year, it’s likely that many will return to mobile games after activities like going out to eat and travel become a normal part of life again.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel bases its expectations for economic growth on projections provided by the CBO, the FOMC, the Conference Board and other public sources. Consensus estimates forecast US GDP to increase by 6.5% in 2021. Unemployment has been forecast to decline to as low as 4.1% by the end of 2021 with an average of 5.7% for the year.

COVID-19: US context

The first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the US in January 2020. It was declared a global health pandemic and national emergency in early March 2020. Across the US, various stay-at-home orders were put in place in Spring 2020, and nonessential businesses and school districts closed or shifted to remote operations. The remainder of 2020 saw rolling orders, as states and local governments relaxed and reinforced guidelines according to the spread of the virus in each region.

Vaccine rollout began in December 2020. Mintel anticipates business operations in the US will remain in a state of flux through 2021 as vaccines are widely administered and social distancing restrictions and capacity limitations are relaxed.

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