The latest Onavo engagement data is a bit of a stunner. It shows that more than 20% of American iPhone owners used the “Candy Crush Saga” app in July. This stat absolutely crushes typical top game engagement levels. The second highest engagement for a mobile game is 10%, which was reached by “Words With Friends.” Summer blockbusters “Temple Run 2″ and “Minion Rush” are each at 5%.
“Candy Crush Saga” has reached giddy highs where it competes with such staples as Twitter (27%) and Snapchat (20%) in the monthly engagement battle on Apple’s iPhone. The fascinating thing about Candy fever is that the game itself is built on the most ancient, boring mechanic in the business : match three shapes.
The special insight of the game’s developer, King, was the decision to wrap this shopworn cliché of twitch gaming in a narrative. The player sets out on a long voyage where beating each level helps him or her move a step further on a map. This seemingly simple twist lures Candy addicts into a fantasy world where time spent on the app translates to a real sense of achievement and progress.
This is one example of the “casual to mid-core” transformation of the mobile game market. Simple games like “Fruit Ninja” used to dominate the app market — every time you played them, you started from scratch. But a new wave of blockbusters like “Candy Crush Saga” and “Clash of Clans” enable players to accumulate achievements. You move deeper in your quest or expand a village with every game session.
This is where mobile games begin to challenge console games seriously. Bite-sized hits like “Dots” come and go, rising up the charts and fading away as consumers get bored with the one-minute format. But a new generation of apps with deeper narrative structure is demonstrating unprecedented levels of addictiveness. “Candy Crush” has now hit the 20% engagement level among U.S. iPhone owners. “Clash of Clans” has a fraction of that engagement number, but it reigns as the No.1 revenue generator globally a year after it debuted. This game is probably grossing close to $100 million a month — a full year after it started climbing revenue charts.
The console game market is facing a deadly foe in mobile games because the mobile app market is evolving and deepening rapidly, gaining complexity as tablets equipped with big displays start rivaling smartphones as a revenue source. No, mobile games cannot compete with “Halo” or “Call of Duty” in depth, sophistication or visual dazzle. But they are quickly erasing the gap with what used to be a thriving mid-list market of console franchises like Rayman or Sonic The Hedgehog.