How carriers can grab a piece of the billion-dollar mobile-gaming pie

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece John-Paul Burke, Country Manager UK, Ireland and the Nordics for Gameloft, has some tips for how operators can grab a bigger piece of the mobile gaming action.

You only have to look around your train or bus home from work to see how many of your fellow commuters are playing a game on their smartphone, to know that mobile gaming is absolutely huge.

The global mobile games market was estimated at $63.2 billion in November 2018 (according to Newzoo’s 2018 Global Games Market Report). It’s clear that what was once a niche hobby reserved for hardcore gamers is now mass market. Every smartphone is a console, meaning that everyone, everywhere, can be a gamer. Even within the gaming industry, mobile gaming makes up 42% of worldwide revenue.

This has let companies across a number of sectors diversify their revenue streams, providing the scope for them to reach existing (and prospective) customers through mobile gaming. Yet arguably, carriers have been slow to embrace the opportunity, and have largely overlooked gaming as part of a broader package of benefits.

As competition for customers looks set to intensify even further within the mobile industry, here are three ways carriers could use gaming to differentiate their offering.

All-you-can-eat gaming

The mobile sector has long understood that it can leverage people’s love for entertainment streaming services, to incentivise prospective and existing customers. EE was the first to clock on, announcing a six-month free subscription to Apple Music for its users in 2017. Vodafone soon followed, and now offers a huge range of video and music streaming services to customers across its Red Entertainment plans.

Not dissimilar to services such as Netflix or Spotify, “all-you-can-eat” gaming packages allow customers access to a range of games – either on a complimentary basis, or for a fixed monthly fee billed directly through the carrier. Customers could benefit from, for example, unlimited downloads and play time, with no in-game ads, while carriers can benefit from a proportion of the income, and increased customer loyalty.

These packages are already offered by carriers in the Americas and Europe. Gameloft’s own unlimited gaming platform is used by America Movil, Telefonica LATAM and Tim Italy. However, they are yet to become common in the UK. This is soon set to change. Verizon announced earlier this year that it would be joining big tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft in developing its own games streaming service. We can expect to see increased interest and demand from UK customers in all-you-can-eat gaming – with opportunities for UK carriers to offer this kind of package.

Surprise and delight

Another route carriers could take to engage existing customers is to surprise and delight them in the games they’re already playing.

Services such as O2’s priority scheme demonstrate the power of reaching customers where they already are. For instance, allowing participants to buy tickets for their favourite artist or event up to 48 hours before the tickets are released to anyone else. Offering a huge range of deals and discounts in the stores and restaurants customers visit every day. These are small incentives but help people to experience the things that matter to them. They punch above their weight in terms of the value they add.

A number of publishers work with carriers to offer their customers free in-app credits or power-ups in their most-played, blockbuster games. This is an effective tool to build loyalty, surprising customers with the means to progress in the game they’re playing is a quick win that carries value for the users.

Infrastructure to support mobile gamers

Emerging technologies, which can help boost network performance, will allow carriers to offer packages that fundamentally improve the quality of their customers’ gaming experience. After all, for gamers, network performance is of utmost importance, especially when gaming gets competitive. Good bandwidth, low (or no) latency and packet loss all help ensure that their game runs smoothly, and that they’re on a strong footing when playing against others.

With 5G set to launch this year, there’s a huge opportunity for carriers. Mobile gamers will arguably be the greatest beneficiaries of 5G, which can help make increasingly detailed and bandwidth-heavy mobile games smooth and lag-free. Similarly, Edge computing, which enables data to be processed closer to the user, could also help reduce delays.

Some telecoms companies are already offering packages tailored to the gaming industry’s huge market – such as Virgin Media’s VIVID 350 fibre broadband, promising an ultrafast connection fit for the needs of PC and console gamers. It’s only a matter of time before mobile carriers begin investing in their infrastructure in order to offer similar packages to mobile gamers.

Ofcom’s decision late last year to reform the switching of mobile communication services means it will be easier than ever for consumers to take advantage of competition, and to move to a better deal with a different provider. Yet Ofcom’s decision also presents an opportunity for carriers. There’ll be greater scope than ever to catch the roving eyes of potential new customers. Either way, telcos need to ensure they’re offering customers everything they can – and part of this should be making it their mission to help people more easily play the games they love. Or, they risk missing out on their slice of the $63.2bn mobile gaming pie.