When It Comes To Mobile Games, It's The Little Things (Like Money) That Count
By Mike Masnick, Mon May 02 23:00:00 GMT 2005

A lot of people are apparently playing games on their mobile phones regularly. Does that mean it's a big business? Maybe not.


It seems fairly obvious that, if you hear a company that makes games for mobile phones giving overall stats on how many handset users are playing games on their phones, you should take the numbers with a grain of salt. The company in question obviously has some bias. However, it is interesting to see the claims of mobile game maker Sorrent/Macrospace saying that "64% of the general phone-owning population play a game on their handset once a day or more." No matter how you look at it, 64% seems like a pretty high number (though, you could question just what the study means with the qualifier "general" as opposed to just saying all phone owners). Update: This has been clarified by the company, and the BBC reporter apparently misunderstood the number. The 64% of users is, indeed, high. Rather, the study says that 64% of mobile gamers play a mobile game once a day -- which makes the overall market even smaller, further supporting the rest of this post.

However, even taking the number at face value, it's still not clear that this really means that the mobile gaming business is big business. While the BBC article describing these stats doesn't go into enough detail about these numbers, it does note that the company that did the study has found most people are looking for fairly simple games they can pick up and put down with ease. In other words, these games are time-fillers -- not past-times. They're being used to fill in the gaps.

As such, is there really that much money to be made directly in supplying those games? If you were to look at the PC market, the stats would probably be somewhat similar. A large percentage probably play games every day -- but those games are probably Microsoft's Minesweeper and Solitaire games that have been included with every shipment of Microsoft Windows for over a decade. That's not an indicator that people want to buy mobile games, but an indicator that people like to waste time. It's likely that the games that the majority of those people are playing every day are simply the default simple games included on most mobile phone platforms these days.

That doesn't mean mobile gaming can't or won't be a huge business. There's plenty of evidence to suggest it can be quite a money making experience -- but to judge the market based on these kinds of very general stats seems questionable. The real issue in judging the size of the mobile gaming market is figuring out exactly what kinds of games people will actually pay to play -- or whether there's a different business model around mobile games. Just looking at the aggregate data, including the default games does little to prove very much about the market at all.