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From Browser to App: Why Developers Are Migrating to Smartphone Apps

Of all of the momentous changes that have occurred within the gaming industry in recent years, none have been as pronounced as the shift toward app-based gaming.

By some estimates, the market for app-based smartphone gaming is now larger than both conventional PC and console gaming markets, estimated to worth a staggering $68.5 billion in 2020; making up more than half of the $152 billion global gaming industry.

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This rise has prompted many game developers to migrate from their previous focus on browser-hosted games toward a renewed focus on smartphone apps. Let’s take a closer look at why smartphone apps are now the premier platform for new games and the industry players that are driving this shift forward.

How Market Trends Have Favored Apps

Before diving into the ways that game developers are pivoting to smartphone apps like never before, it’s worth taking a closer look at the market forces that have driven this pivot. The mobile app gaming market has grown double-digit rates almost every year for the past decade – levels of growth that other sectors of the industry could only dream of.

Much of this has been driven by the increased availability and penetration of smartphones that are able to host quality games. An estimated five billion people now own a smartphone – a number that is much, much higher than the number of people who own consoles or even PCs.

Meanwhile, it has become cheaper and easier to manufacture smartphones that are capable of running the calibre of games that were once exclusively the domain of high-end consoles and PCs. The fact that a run-of-the-mill Samsung Galaxy device is now capable of running hit titles such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, as well as a number of console-quality action games with ease, highlights just how far the mobile gaming market has advanced in such a short time-span.

Standalone PC Games As Apps

One of the main drivers of the migration to app gaming in recent years has been the willingness of standalone PC game developers to reformat their most popular titles for smartphones. The aforementioned release of the San Andreas app, which is a carbon-copy of the original game, is just one example of many.

Bully, another iconic game from Rockstar studios, is now available in full on Android and iOS. The first two Max Payne games, both of which were massive hits with PC gamers at the turn of the last decade, are also playable on a smartphone – another example of how the development studio Rockstar is leading the charge toward app-based gaming.

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Other developers have also been following suit. Square Enix recently released the original Tomb Raider game as an iOS app, before following shortly after with the release of the 2011 game Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light on the same platform. The list goes on.

Online Casino Games As Apps

Another key industry player in the app revolution has been the $53.7 billion online casino industry. While originally many of the biggest casino game developers offered their titles exclusively as browser games, virtually all of them have since recognized the pre-eminence of apps and adopted their games accordingly.

Today, all of the most popular online slot titles have been adapted for Android, including games such as Triple Diamond, Cleopatra, and Quick Hit. Some studies have shown that close to half of all people who play real-money casino games now do so via their smartphones, a trend that has undoubtedly been influenced by the fact that so many casino operators were quick to transform the entirety of their browser offerings into a self-contained app format.

Of course, many of those same casinos have formatted their websites so that browser-based gaming is still possible on mobile, but it’s clear that they see the future of their industry in app development.

Browser MMOs As Apps

Another emerging and recent trend in the world of smartphone gaming has been the release of hugely popular browser-based MMO games as apps. The fantasy MMORPG Runescape, which has a global following of millions, recently revitalized its business model by releasing the official Runescape Mobile app, which has had hundreds of thousands of downloads since 2019.

The competitive shooter game Fortnite has also jumped on the bandwagon, allowing its 78 million monthly players to enjoy the game on their own iOS/Android app. In a similar vein, the development team behind League of Legends has also expanded its offerings with a spin-off app called League of Legends: Wild Rift, which consists of a more restricted version of the browser version.

Meanwhile, the PC gaming library Steam has made what is arguably the biggest stride into the app market to date with the release of Steam Link, which allows users to play all of their Steam PC games on their phones.

It’s clear that smartphone apps look set to continue cementing their dominance of the gaming market. The only question left is how other platforms will adapt in response.

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