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5 Mobile Game Trends to Watch for in 2016

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It’s been a great year for mobile gaming. We’ve seen traditional game developers pushing into the mobile space, most notably Activision Blizzard’s unexpected $5.9 billion purchase of Candy Crush developer King. We’ve also witnessed the emergence of mobile eSports and Samsung’s GearVR headset heralding the start of the virtual reality revolution.

Next year should be even more exciting as the mobile market continues to mature, but it’s hard to predict exactly how the industry will evolve over the next twelve months.

In the absence of a crystal ball, we’ve reached out to a number of mobile developers and industry insiders to get their predictions for 2016’s key mobile trends. Here’s what they see for the year ahead:

1. The competition really heats up

“Popular games will get even more divided between simple, indie-like casual games—Shooty Skies, Agar.io, Alpha Bear— and heavy hitter, brand-driven games—Katy Perry, Mobile Strike, Covet Fashion,” says Jon Chew, user acquisition specialist at Bandai Namco. “With the success of games like Fallout Shelter, Lara Croft GO, Sonic Dash 2 and PAC-MAN 256, you’ll also start to see more console-originated games jumping into the fray. Things will get super, super competitive, and it’ll be really hard to stand out—don’t forget, Nintendo is coming!”

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Shooty Skies, Agar.io and Alpha Bear

“To survive, we’ll probably see a lot of crossovers between games as a way of staying competitive in the charts while creating more value for players,” Chew says. “Rovio and SEGA did a really good job of this with their Angry Birds Epic ‘Sonic Dash’ crossover event earlier in the year. At the end of the day, 2016’s best games are going to have high quality and likely have some kind of pre-existing fan base attached to them.”

2. Indies get niche to find an audience

“We’re in such a mature market for mobile games, it is hard to predict what will happen in 2016,” says Ethan Levy of game monetization consulting firm Famous Aspect. “Given where we are at, I expect many smaller developers will look to cultivating niche audiences as a path to success. Maybe it won’t generate top 150 grossing hits on the iOS charts, but going after an enthusiastic niche can allow a developer to make a fun, targeted game that is financially successful. As such, I expect that in 2016, designing game systems that provide strong material for game streaming will gain in importance as a method to spread the word about your game and reach new players.”

3. Mobile drives virtual reality

“In 2016, I predict that the mobile gaming market will reinvigorate itself as an extension of the emerging VR industry,” says Juan Mendiola, a mobile game developer and production consultant at Exodo Animation Studios. “Without a doubt, the media darling of VR is the Oculus Rift, but VR’s true unsung hero and harbinger will be devices like the GearVR and Google Cardboard, which transform simple mobile devices into unique VR experiences. Virtual reality and mobile gaming will become the most logical pairing. Clearly there will be issues to be solved here, like how does one play Clash of Clans in VR? It will be interesting to see how developers navigate and adapt to this new and uncharted territory, but at the same time it’s what makes this period in mobile gaming the most exciting.”

Star Wars Google Cardboard viewers. Image via Mashable.com

Star Wars Google Cardboard viewers. Image via Mashable.com

4. Mobile studios use eye candy to pull in gamers

“Similar to the traditional PC and console triple-A ‘higher graphics’ battle, the new robust mobile devices’ CPUs & GPUs will encourage studios to push their game graphics forward to catch casual gamers with amazing and hypnotizing first impressions,”  says Nir Miretzky, the chairman of Israel’s digital games industry association, GameIS. “And only then monetize them with their great gameplay and mechanics.”

Miretzky points to games like Real Boxing 2: Creed and Angry Birds 2 as early examples of this trend, which he says will head to new heights in 2016, “moving studio money to the graphic design department, while helping the marketing department’s efforts, too.”

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5. Mobile advertisers will collectively bargain to ensure healthy viewability standards

“One of the consequences of a fragmented and competitive mobile market is that some revenue maximizing ad networks exert bargaining power over individual developers,” says Christian Calderon, vice president of marketing and development at mobile studio Dots.

“One example of this is when ad networks force advertisers to comply with different attribution standards. This makes it harder for mobile advertisers to have accurate measurement and system of record. I believe that advertisers, as agents heterogenous in their revenue and spend, will collectively bargain to define ad performance metrics, create standard classifications for attribution and ad units, and ensure healthy market conditions for viewability in mobile.”

What are some of the big trends you predict for mobile gaming in 2016? Let us know in the comments below.