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The Mobile Game Dev’s Guide to Emerging Markets: Latin America

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Within its 26 countries, Latin America has nearly the same number of people and twice the landmass of Europe. If it were a consolidated entity like the European Union, its $4.8 trillion economy would be the world’s fourth largest. Still, it remains uncharted territory for most mobile game developers. But why?

On its surface, LatAm often confounds foreign investors because of widespread income disparities and low bank account ownership. These facts, which make doing business difficult, have been compounded with recent regional economic decline. Yet there’s still reason to think that LatAm will be big news in mobile gaming.

For starters, industry research shows the region’s mobile game market will be worth about $2.2 billion this year, making its market over three times larger than Southeast Asia—despite having a roughly similar population size. Moreover, growth rates are nearly identical in the two regions. Chartboost’s data shows LatAm edging over Southeast Asia by one percent, with 77 percent year-over-year growth in bootups:

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This heady growth will continue. According to eMarketer only 156 million of the 627 million population have smartphones, with the majority residing in just six key countries: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Peru. Many of the early adopters have fairly similar tastes, which leads a heavy lean toward action games, according to Chartboost data.

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But LatAm is a large region, with differing tastes across areas. Read on for a deeper look at how LatAm countries stack up, and how mobile game devs should approach each.

Mexico

Mexico is one of LatAm’s most important countries for reasons that extend beyond its 122 million inhabitants and $1.26 trillion economy. The country is a close geographic neighbor to (and trading partner of) the United States. This means Mexico’s mobile gamers are more similar to their northern neighbors than other Latin Americans. This can make them an easier target for developers who may usually focus on the U.S.

According to market research firm SuperData, the Mexican mobile game market is said to be worth a sizable $498 million in 2016. Mexico is also home to a number of high value players (as covered in the LatAm section of Chartboost’s most recent Power-Up Report), making it a prime target for mobile game developers looking for paying players in popular genres like casino games.

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A growing number of developers are also appearing in the country: “Latin America is growing as a market, but it’s growing faster as a developer,” says Jorge Morales, CEO of Larva Games in Guadalajara, where the government is fostering a tech hub.

Unfortunately, Mexican developers must fight the bad PR of the country’s drug war—even if it has little to do with them. “The news about the country is really making it hard. When we go to [popular trade shows around the world] and show our work, people are very interested,” says Morales. “But when we mention we’re from Mexico, they have second thoughts.”

Brazil

Even Mexico can’t measure up to Brazil, though, with its 200 million people and $2.5 trillion GDP. SuperData reports that the country will generate about $798 million in mobile game revenue this year.

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SuperData Research 2014

That said, Brazil is not as easy to enter as Mexico or some other LatAm countries in part because smartphone penetration has lagged in a down economy.

For more on Brazil, see Chartboost’s emerging market guide for the country.

The rest of Latin America

While there are no other countries the size of Mexico and Brazil in LatAm, several are notable including Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Venezuela. Each of these (except Argentina) is measured at under $100 million in yearly revenue by SuperData, but the totals add up to a significant sum.

The challenge for game developers is finding a way to reach all of these smaller markets at once, along with the several large ones. But it has been done—and the rewards are huge.

Maximo Cavazzani, the CEO of Argentina-based Etermax, says that when its hugely popular game Trivia Crack hit #1 in LatAm, the group made “10 times more money” than it did as a #1 title in Spain. Cavazzani points to the social nature of Latinos as a helpful marketing tool when trying to reach multiple small markets in the region.

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Trivia Crack appealed in another way, too: its user-generated content engine meant the game had built-in localization, personal to the area. The many countries of LatAm have differences, says Cavazzanni, “but they also have a common core, which is that nobody cares about them. There aren’t many services that are direct to Latin America.” Games that are well localized, and able to respectfully reference local culture, will find an eager following.

Latinos outside Latin America

Another important group in LatAm is a paradox of sorts since it’s outside of the region. The diaspora of Latinos to the United States has produced a population of over 55 million people—of whom 38 million still speak Spanish. Many still identify strongly with their cultural heritage.

There’s a strong element of word-of-mouth.

“As far as film and media publishing, there are companies that have created very strong businesses just catering to Latinos in the U.S., for instance Univision,” says Giancarlo Mori, CEO of publisher Movyl Entertainment. A Spanish-language mobile game could capture the same audience.

These Latinos may also be one of the most valuable LatAm groups in terms of return on investment. “They tend to be very gregarious, very social and influence each other,” says Mori. “There’s a strong element of word-of-mouth.”

Conclusion

At the moment, most publishers are still holding off major campaigns in LatAm due, in part, to fears that the struggling economy will prevent growth. But the greater issue for mobile gaming is likely smartphone penetration, which at 25 percent has room to double. And for these factors, growth is already in motion, poising Latin America to become a potent force in mobile gaming in the coming years.