With over a billion users, Apple’s App Store presents a steadily-growing market for developers and customers alike. Since its launch in 2008, the number of apps on the store has risen from just 500 to more than 2 million, accounting for around 30 billion downloads in 2018.
While social media, messaging, personal finance and food delivery apps are all on the rise, gaming apps remain the most lucrative market for both Apple and Google, representing 65% and 85% of consumer spend, respectively. Apple’s gaming app revenue exceeds Google’s by several billion dollars, despite the fact that around three quarters of global downloads are made via the Play Store.
As detailed further down, some of the biggest changes this year for iOS apps are in reference to casino games and gambling, both in terms of real money gambling and those that use virtual currency.
Today’s Top iOS Games Apps
In 2019, Apple separated its iPhone and iPad app market, creating a separate iOS for iPad with different requirements for app development. Following this move, the market can now be broken down into four sectors, comprising free and paid games for both operating systems.
There was a surprise when a late contender topped the iPhone free games download chart for 2019. Despite only being released in September, Mario Kart Tour was able to eclipse the competition from the rest of the year to take the top spot. This is a so-called freemium game, meaning that revenue comes from some advertising and from the small percentage of players who are willing to make in-app purchases.
There was no change in paid iPhone game app downloads, with Minecraft still the most popular title. The launch of the subscription service Apple Arcade also means that most indie developed games apps have migrated there and are not found in the top ten anymore. Apple’s own pick for the Arcade Game of the Year 2019 was Sayonara Wild Hearts by Simogo, a genre-busting musical fantasy that was four years in the making.
In terms of iPad game downloads, Minecraft is also the biggest title in the paid section. Number one in the free iPad games download chart is the massively multiplayer Roblox, where users design their own games and play those made by others.
Rule Change on Apps for Casino Sites
Apple made a few significant changes to their operations in 2019, in particular the heralded release of Apple Arcade in September. Priced at £4.99 per month, this service gives access to more than 100 titles with no advertising or microtransactions. The games come from a mix of big name and indie developers and was rolled out alongside other paid bundles such as Apple TV+.
Some other changes may have flown more under the radar for the average customer, but they are likely to have a significant impact on the way some apps are developed and used going forward. Of particular consequence were Apple’s reforms relating to apps developed by legit and licensed casino websites and other real money gambling providers. The new guidelines state that Apple will now only support native gaming apps, while also prohibiting access to real money gaming via HTML5 games distributed in apps.
The implications of this change for developers are appreciable. Most apps are created to function on different operating systems, with a few minor changes to make them compatible. Apple’s new requirements will force developers to make an entirely new app for iOS, which for some smaller companies may not be affordable. Added to this, the separation of the OS for iPad and iPhone would require two apps in order to be functional across all Apple devices.
Apple and Gambling
These latest changes to the guidelines make it clear that Apple is set on removing all real money gambling from its apps. Recent years have seen several purges of such apps from its stores in certain regions, including China and Norway. Geo-restrictions already apply to any casino site, lottery or sports betting apps, but this new step looks likely to put an end to them altogether.
Google may hold the majority of the global market share, but in the UK and the USA, almost half of smartphone users choose iOS. These are two of the biggest countries for mobile gambling, so Apple’s decision is sure to have a big impact on how casino sites choose to proceed.
It seems almost inevitable that this will be the final nail in the coffin for casino apps, which have in any case been declining in popularity in recent times. The majority of casinos now opt to make their website fully mobile compatible, thus bypassing the need for a dedicated app.
Social Casino Apps a Growth Area
As the market for real money gambling apps has declined, there has been a parallel growth in apps for social casino gaming. These games are inspired by those found in casinos, including poker, bingo, slots and many others. The major difference being that gambling is conducted in virtual currency, with no real financial gains or losses.
These games also have an element of social interaction with other users, allowing players to take turns and challenge each other via the platform. Such games are extremely popular globally, and the removal of real money risk means that the apps conform to the new guidelines imposed by Apple.
The revenue for this market was calculated at more than $5 billion in 2018, representing an increase of almost 11% from the previous year. Income from social casino apps comes via a number of channels, including paid apps, advertising and freemium models.
Future of iOS Gaming Apps Market
The first quarter of 2020 has seen a significant increase in games downloads compared to the previous quarter, with 30% more downloads per week across Google and iOS. Some of this can be attributed to the temporary conditions imposed by governments worldwide, which have resulted in people being required to stay at home more than they usually would.
Notwithstanding the current situation, global mobile game downloads and revenue are projected to continuing their upward trajectory as market penetration of smartphones increases.
Breakout game apps this year include simulators that recreate creative activities such as wood turning and carving. Popular console games are also becoming increasingly available on mobile, as technology improves and allows app developers to include better functionality on the small screen.
Puzzle and strategy games are also showing strong growth for iOS users.
Subscription services are the ones to watch for the direction of the games app market in 2020 and beyond. Younger generations are more likely to sign up to a service such as Apple Arcade, with unlimited access for a fixed monthly fee. The model is also proving popular with families, as a single subscription is accessible to multiple individuals within a household. The elimination of in-app microtransactions is of particular benefit to parents who wish to control their children’s spending on games apps.
Another factor that will affect the future of games apps is the rollout of 5G coverage around the world. Although it has so far been slow to start, it is expected that within four years more than 60% of global users will be covered. Game app developers are sure to be some of the first to take advantage of the low latency – i.e. processing large amount of data with minimal delay – that 5G will bring to the table.