Mobile games eclipse Nintendo as entry point for newest generation of gamers

Mobile games are now the most popular entry point for young gamers. Here's what that means for mobile games developers.

Super Mario and Luigi aren’t just beloved video game characters.

For many, Millennials especially, they were the gateway into a vast virtual world of fun and exploration. But the Mario Bros. weren’t alone. With franchises that would remain popular for decades to come — like The Legend of Zelda and Super Smash Bros. — Nintendo established itself as synonymous with childhood for generations of children the world over.

That is until recently.

As GoNintendo reports, industry analysts Magid Games Team is out with a new survey that finds for the first time, for kids between the ages of 10-17, smartphones and tablets are the first devices they’ve used to play video games.

For anyone who’s been around kids in the last 10-15 years, this should come as no surprise. According to the Census Bureau, 81% of households with children between the ages of 5-17 years old now own tablets.

That increased presence of technology in the home has led to a major rise in usage among very young children, as data from the Federal Trade Commission shows. That usage, according to the FTC, is primarily on mobile devices for children between the ages of 0-8.

If you’re a gamer reading this, you probably have a fond memory of the first time your parents handed you a Gameboy, or the first time an older sibling let you experience a SuperNES or Nintendo 64. For the most recent generation of gamers, that memory will be of receiving their first iPad or smartphone.

But while the tech has changed, gatekeeping for children has not.

Kids wield the tablet, parents own the App Store

While mobile is the new entry point for gamers, many children don’t have free wheeling access to the Google Play Store or Apple App Store — and for good reason.

But that means it’s up to parents to download appropriate content for their children, making them gatekeepers to a certain extent.

While kids may be willing to try any game that fits their current mood, adults tend to be much more discerning. They’ll opt for apps that are age appropriate, geared towards children, and, most importantly, from reputable publishers. The data bears this out.

A horizontal bar graph shows the most popular mobile apps among kids.
Via Statista.

A generational moment for mobile games

Mobile games will be the first games played by one out of every three kids, today. As a result, the mobile games market is projected to surpass $98 Billion in 2024 and eclipse more than $118 Billion by 2027.

And while there will be more opportunity for mobile game developers than ever before, they can also expect competition to stiffen up.

For one thing, Nintendo isn’t taking this paradigm shift lightly. In recent years, the Japanese game maker has developed and published mobile versions of two of their most popular titles: Super Mario and Mario Kart. Both games consistently rank for their respective categories and have won editors choice honors.

Similar AAA franchises, formerly only available on PC and console, have similarly developed mobile versions of their games.

Beyond mobile-first game development, mobile gaming has also expanded to include ports of console games (like CAPCOM’s Resident Evil Village) and game streaming recently won a major victory to exist on the Apple App Store.

All of this means while the mobile games pie has grown bigger, it hasn’t gotten any easier for developers to grab a slice.

App performance is more important than ever for mobile games

According to our most recent State of Mobile Experience survey, 50% of users experience an app issue daily.

When you’re going up against apps developed by Google and Meta, and gaming platforms like Roblox, a buggy user experience isn’t going to cut it for parents and it’s especially not going to cut it for young gamers.

Building highly performant mobile apps, however, is easier said than done.

As those who have tried their hands at it will attest, building mobile apps, especially for wildly diverse platforms like Android, can be more difficult than web frontend or backend development.

A screenshot of a Tweet from Vasiliy Zukanov.
Via @VasiliyZukanov on X, formerly Twitter.

But app performance is a key component of getting your app to rank on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store — and ranking is paramount to amassing and retaining users.

To beat out the competition, mobile games engineers need to optimize for startup time and key user flows. More importantly, they need to be able to quickly identify issues, reproduce errors, and deploy fixes at high velocity.

It’s why the world’s biggest mobile game developers are highly selective of the mobile monitoring tools they use to optimize their games.

Embracing a better future for mobile games

For Gen Z and Gen Alpha, mobile games are set up to be what consoles were (and in many ways still are) for Millennials and Gen X.

With that said, it’s important to remember why consoles became more popular than its predecessor (PC gaming) in the first place. Consoles were (eventually) affordable platforms that allowed anyone to plug and play. They made it easy to get into the game: just switch on the console, insert the game, and get to playing. No computer updates required. No installs necessary.

Likewise, mobile devices are the easiest and most readily available ways for kids to get into gaming today. Bugs, freezes, crashes, and other issues are similarly frustrating for young gamers to deal with as PC updates and driver installs were back in the ‘90s.

To not just compete, but to win, in mobile games today means being as easy to game on as an old Nintendo. That means app performance is just as important as game design.

To help make building better users experiences easy, Embrace provides mobile games engineers with a one-of-a-kind user session timeline that makes reproducing any issue a breeze.

As a leading mobile monitoring solution, global mobile games developers like Wildlife studios leverage Embrace to optimize their apps and get ranked more frequently in app stores.

Learn more about how Embrace can help you build highly-performant mobile games by requesting a demo today.

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