For those of you who grew up in the 90s, Pokemania was all over. Starting off as a video game, it soon took the world by storm. There was the ridiculously popular anime series, trading cards that were so addictive that many schools banned them, the company behind Pokemon even released a movie. Pokémania had taken hold, and it came to define an entire generation of 90s kids.

But just when Pokeflu seemed to be dying down, we got Pokémon GO. Developed by Google off-shoot Niantic Labs, the augmented reality app was released in 2016 and transformed the way we play mobile games. Using GPS data to insert characters from the game into your surroundings, the game exploded. We’re talking over a billion downloads all-time.

Explosive Growth During Lockdown 

Pokémon GO has been around for over four years. It also works by using real-world locations to enable the gameplay experience. Not exactly a profitable formula if most customers are under lockdown, right?

Not exactly. Pokémon GO has raked in a staggering $1.92 billion in 2020 alone, over a 2x increase compared to 2019. For the year, it sits fifth on the list of highest-grossing free games on the market.

The reason the game has managed to survive Covid-19 is the company behind its development. Niantic was able to pivot extremely quickly after the initial lockdowns were announced, making several changes to the game which adapted the gameplay experience (without having to leave the house!).

For example, the game now features a doubling of the player’s ‘radius’ for in-play interaction, e.g. gyms or landmarks. Gym battles can now occur from the comfort of your own La-Z-Boy. Steps taken inside the house are now taken into account with in-game distance challenges. The player-vs-player battle system is now also available through shorter distances, while spawn points were also increased.

The company essentially paused a range of features it planned to release last year and changed the game plan in a matter of days. With a development team that’s capable of doing that at a moment’s notice, it’s no surprise the game is still a huge success.

The Rise of Mobile Gaming Apps 

With lockdowns becoming part and parcel of daily life, technology has become absolutely essential to our everyday survival. Stats have shown that we’re now spending an average of 6.5 hours per day playing online video games or watching Netflix or some other streaming app.

Even without our daily commutes to work (where smartphones are a constant companion), mobile gaming had a stellar year. Video game revenues are up by 25% in 2020, and on iOS, users downloaded a staggering 2.6 billion games in Q3 2020.

Pokémon GO’s success, therefore, is a home run you should have seen coming. And it’s not the only one. Here are just a few that are hitting it out of the park in 2020 (excuse the multiple baseball references!):

Honor of Kings. Sitting pretty at the top of the charts is Tencent’s Honor of Kings. Raking in a staggering $2.54 billion in 2020 alone. Look for the game’s popularity to continue into 2021.

League of Legends. Still, a fan favorite, League of Legends closed off the year with an extra $1.75 billion of revenue. The game is the blueprint for the successful free-to-play genre; optional buys during gameplay drive the huge profits of this title.  

Mobile gambling apps. Mobile gambling apps have come a long way in recent years, offering solid gameplay and decent graphics. Downloads have been soaring during the lockdown, with smartphone betting being particularly popular. A good example is a European market where mobile gambling is expected to account for 50.8% of total online casino revenue by 2022. What is surprising, considering their strict laws, is that gambling apps are surging in the Middle East as well. We can now see many mobile casinos offering a huge selection of games in the region, and being VPN compatible may be one of the factors that contribute the most.

Anything that’s free-to-play. This is the future of gaming, there’s no doubt about it. Free-to-play now beats games you have to pay for in terms of gross revenue, accounting for 78% of the market’s total. And we predict this number is only going to increase in the future. It’s the only way companies can ensure the long-term viability of a title. Yes, it’s more expensive in the long-run, but it does mean developers can consistently churn out upgrades to increase replayability.