The State of Shooters
Despite the fact that massive games like Call of Duty: Mobile, Garena Free Fire, PUBG Mobile, and Apex Legends Mobile grab a large part of the public’s and industry’s attention, the Shooters genre only accounts for a small fraction of the mobile games market. In terms of downloads, the chart below shows that, for the trailing 12 months (November 2021 - October 2022), Shooters only made up 5% of the market.
The genre fares a little better in terms of revenue, sharing 6% of the pie.
Over the trailing 12 months, Shooters have been downloaded 2.6B times, representing a modest growth of 4% year-over-year. A look at the trends shows an interesting seesaw, with downloads trending down at the start of 2021, rising up at the end, and then coming back down again in Q3 2022. The reason for the initial uplift was the global launches of Free Fire Max and PUBG: New State, which occurred in Q3 2021 and Q4 2021, respectively.
What about the big dip in Q3 of 2022? Two of the biggest contributors to that are the good launch of Apex Legends (contributing 28M downloads in Q2) that steeply decelerated (12M in Q3), as well as the banning of Battlegrounds Mobile India in Q3. This, coupled with a general drop in shooter downloads in India (the biggest country by downloads) over Q3, has resulted in negative growth. We’ll continue tracking this over time to see if it is just a blip or the beginning of a trend.
The revenue trend tells a slightly different story. Shooters made $3.6B in revenue over the trailing 12 months, which is a -6% change year-on-year. The revenue outlook also looks grim, with increasingly negative growth rates. This reflects the overall state of the mobile games market, since as a whole it has shrunk by 5% YoY, which is due to a combination of a post-IDFA world impacting ROAS on user acquisition and the unsteady economic conditions triggered by a variety of factors, including post-COVID economic impacts, the war in Ukraine, and increasing interest rates.
Besides the general macroeconomic trends, though, we see three events worthy of investigation. Namely, what caused the big spike in Q1 of 2021, the dip and bounce of revenue in Q4 2021 - Q1 2022, and the massive declines in Q3 2022?
The strong uplift in Q1 2022 was due to a combination of factors. First, Call of Duty: Mobile was released in China on Christmas Day of 2021, adding ~$35M in revenue over Q1 2021. Free Fire was also steadily growing in revenue from the US (its biggest region by revenue), with 28% growth quarter-over-quarter. Finally, PUBG Mobile had particularly strong updates over Q1 2021. The popular Metro Royale mode, an extraction shooter mode introduced in update 1.1 (November 2020), continued to gather momentum in January 2021 with the release of Chapter 2 of the game mode and included a new progression mechanic. There was also the game’s 3rd anniversary in March, which included an anniversary party and music-themed events.
The Q4 2021 dip in revenue is also partially due to China introducing tighter game-playing restrictions on children under 18. From September 2021, minors were restricted to only be allowed to play games on Friday-Sunday for an hour each day. We can clearly see the effects on China-based games like Game For Peace and CrossFire, with revenue plummeting after the announcement.
We also see that revenue recovered after a couple months, and we speculate that compliance to the rules began to wane. According to this report from Niko Partners, 29% of youths were ignoring the restrictions and playing more than 3 hours a week, often using their parents’ accounts.
The final event of note is the massive decline in revenues beginning from Q2 of this year, and this can be blamed on the general economic and structural headwinds the whole industry is facing. We touched on this lightly above, but it is a complex amalgamation of post-COVID and war-related issues, accelerating layoffs, UA inefficiencies, and budgetary pressures from rising inflation. The US Federal Reserve began raising interest rates to combat inflation in March, and we can see a clear impact on US revenue in the chart below (the US and China make up 57% of the Shooter market). The significant decline in income we see from China in Q2 is the result of a weak Game for Peace update in April (the game generates 76% of all Shooter revenue in China), which increased with the June update that was timed to coincide with school holidays in July and August.
Before we go into subgenre details, let’s take a look at the overall top performers of the genre in 3 different areas — Downloads, Revenue, and Engagement — between November 2021 and October 2022.
In terms of downloads, Free Fire is #1 with 2.7x the number of downloads compared to the game in second place — PUBG Mobile. In fact, Free Fire alone makes up 11% of all Shooter downloads and is one of the few games to grow over the past 12 months.
In terms of downloads market share, the top 10 Shooters only comprise 29% of downloads. As such, we’ve omitted an “other” category in the market share chart below, as it would have drowned out the movement of the top 10.
Here, we can clearly see the failure of PUBG: New State and Apex Legends to gain a significant foothold in the Shooter market, with the former showing a particularly drastic decline just a month after launch. We’ll unpack this failure a little more in the Battle Royale breakdown further below.
The revenue crown is carried by Game For Peace, which comprises 26% of all Shooter revenue and has almost double the numbers of its global counterpart — PUBG Mobile. With 3 games (Game For Peace, PUBG Mobile, CrossFire) in the top 10, Tencent holds a stranglehold on the genre, holding 48% of the market share.
In terms of growth, the chart doesn’t look so good, with most games posting double-digit reductions in revenue YoY. There are 3 bright spots, though, with Game For Peace, CrossFire, and Mech Arena showing good growth numbers, which we’ll dig into when we dive into the subgenres.
A look at how the market share of these games has changed over the past 12 months shows that the story is dominated by Game For Peace’s steady growth — the game’s grown even bigger at the expense of its rivals, PUBG Mobile and Free Fire.
Globally, the game with the most active users is Free Fire, which isn’t unexpected given its high download numbers. What’s slightly surprising is that Fortnite is still showing up in the 10th position, even with the app being taken off both app stores. The nice side effect of Epic’s cross-platform strategy means that players who have already downloaded the game (or acquired it via other means) are still able to play it. Unfortunately, that’s the end of the good news, as what we see more generally is a steady loss in the number of active players across the top 10, with the exception of World of Tanks: Blitz and Standoff 2, which have remained flat.
It is also worth noting that Apex Legends’ active user base isn’t too shabby (especially during the first 3 launch months) versus the top 3, which showcases how powerful the IP has been for the game. But it has not been able to convert that volume into market-share-eating revenue, which we will get into later in the report.
Compare that to Call of Duty: Mobile’s (CODM) active user position and revenue volume generated, which helps put into perspective how good of a product CODM really is and how much more powerful the Call of Duty IP is. Whether this also showcases differences between getting a shooter built by TiMi Studios (CODM) or Lightspeed & Quantum (Apex Legends) is up for speculation. What we can say is that the overseeing entity (Activision Blizzard vs Respawn) definitely has a very significant role to play in how the product materializes into a long-term business, regardless of whatever best practices are shared internally between Tencent’s game studios.
In terms of engagement, Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) holds the crown for the highest average time spent per user over the course of 12 months (filtered by games downloaded more than 1M times) and has impressive retention numbers, like a D180 of 17%. This shows how sticky the game was and what a big loss its banning was for Krafton.
When looking at the top 10 games by average time played per user (filtered by games with more than 1M downloads to get rid of statistical outliers), we see 3 distinct buckets: games with an average of 12+ hours of play time, 7-10 hours, and less than 7 hours.
The top bucket is made up entirely of Battle Royales, which also show up in the top 10 for active users, indicating that this subgenre both attracts many players and keeps them in the game for a long time. The second and third buckets feature all the Shooter subgenres from FPS’s (Call of Duty: Mobile), Tactical Shooters (World of Tanks Blitz), PvE Shooters (Zombie Gunship Survival), and Snipers (Sniper Arena). What’s interesting about these buckets is that besides CODM and World of Tanks Blitz, the rest of them are out of the top 10 chart for Shooter downloads. Standoff 2 and War Robots are in 17th and 18th position, respectively, but the rest are way behind and out of the top 200 downloaded games.
The games in buckets 2 and 3 feature less mainstream themes like mechs and warships, yet are able to garner significant playtimes, which shows that they’ve managed to find and own niches. That’s tempered by their generally low D30 and D180 numbers, signaling that players are front-loading all their engagement and then churning out. There may be a potential opportunity in the market here, and we’ll discuss this in the PvE Shooter section.
India holds an outsized grip on Shooter downloads, comprising 23% of all downloads. The single most downloaded game is Free Fire (16% of downloads in India), but PvE shooters are also extremely popular there and make up 50% of all Shooter downloads. This is likely because network connectivity is still spotty in many parts, with this article from Bloomberg stating that 92% of all users complain of poor network connectivity and speeds. Thus, the most popular of these PvE shooters are “offline” versions of battle royales (FPS Fire Battleground Survival) and classic FPS’s (FPS Commando Shooting Game).
Revenue-wise, China holds the top spot with 35% of the mobile Shooter market, followed by the US with 22%. The dominance of China is largely due to Tencent’s grip on the genre with Game For Peace, PUBG Mobile, and CrossFire, two of which (Game For Peace and CrossFire) are China-only. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia appears in the top 5 for revenue, and as the MENA market is projected to grow to $5B in 2025, it shows that the region could be a fruitful one for this genre.
Another country of interest is Japan, which spent $300M on Shooters despite having the least downloads within the top 5 countries by revenue (14.2M), giving it the RPD crown at $21 (second place is China with an RPD of $17). The Shooter on top in Japan may be surprising — NetEase’s Knives Out, which earned $196M over 12 months with an RPD of $55! The popularity of Knives Out highlights how developers need a hyper-localized strategy in order to find success in Japan — a formula that Chinese developers look to have cracked as games from Chinese devs (except Pokemon Go, which, to be fair, is a Japanese IP) are the only non-Japanese ones to make it in the tough Japanese market.
Here, we note significant events such as new game launches, big soft launches, and other top news.
The biggest events over this period were the banning of both Free Fire and BGMI in India, plus the launches of PUBG: New State and Apex Legends. We’ve touched on this a little when looking at the state of Shooter downloads, but we’ll be unpacking it more in the Battle Royale breakdown.
Before we move on to subgenre breakdowns, let’s do a quick recap. Shooter downloads remain flat, only exhibiting 4% growth YoY, while revenue has dipped 6% YoY and big IP launches like PUBG: New State and Apex Legends haven’t exactly set the genre alight. Free Fire and BGMI are banned in India, making Indian gamers sad because they love Shooters, making up 23% of downloads. China holds the Shooter revenue crown, bolstered by Tencent’s China-only games, Game For Peace, and CrossFire. Now, with all that big-picture context in mind, let’s dig into the meat of this report!
We’ve classified Shooters into 4 main subgenres:
- Battle Royale: PUBG Mobile, Free Fire, Apex Legends
- FPS/TPS/Tactical Shooters (abbreviated to FPS for the remainder of the report): Call of Duty: Mobile, War Robots, Doodle Army 2
- PvE Shooting: Hunting Clash, Left to Survive, Critical Strike
- Sniper: Sniper 3D Assassin, Pure Sniper, Sniper Fury
We recognize that this bucketing isn’t perfect and certain games may cross subgenre boundaries or be classified differently depending on data platforms. For example, Call of Duty: Mobile has a Battle Royale mode and Hunting Clash can also be considered Realistic Sports under Arcade. By and large, however, this bucketing works for the majority of the games and doesn’t hugely impact our analysis.
Here, we see that PvE Shooting maintains the biggest slice of the downloads pie (40%), with Battle Royale and FPS sharing the majority of the remainder (25% each). Sniper games complete the picture at 10% of all downloads.
Battle Royale has experienced pretty significant download growth of 22% YoY, spurred on by the release of PUBG: New State and Apex Legends. FPS saw a respectable 9% growth, but with no big new games it falls behind in second place. PvE Shooting has seen a slight retraction of -4%, but it’s the Sniper subgenre that has lost the most market share (a 14% reduction), which we will dig into further in the report.
When looking at revenue, Battle Royale dominates, making up 68% of all Shooter revenue; FPS is in second place with 29% of revenue, leaving PvE Shooting and Sniper fighting for the crumbs. The shrinking of Shooter revenue has impacted all subgenres, although not equally, and the smaller segments have taken much bigger hits, relatively speaking. It’s a testament to Battle Royale’s size that the 5% revenue reduction it saw is larger than the entire revenue of PvE Shooting and Sniper combined ($124M vs $113M).
Now that you’ve got this overview in mind, let’s take a deeper look at each subgenre. Despite the weak results of the genre as a whole, there certainly wasn’t a lack of action within each subgenre, and we’ll unpack them all for your reading pleasure. Let’s go!
#1: Battle Royale
Downloads – New Games Fizzle
Over the past 12 months (November 2021 - October 2022), Battle Royale has seen two new launches – PUBG: New State launching in November 2021 and Apex Legends launching in May 2022. The quarterly download spikes associated with both releases can clearly be seen in the graph below.
One might have expected the Battle Royale market to grow as a result, but the results are mixed. Over the period, Battle Royale games have been downloaded 630M times (+22% YoY) and accrued $2.3B in revenue (-5% YoY).
While those games did make significant contributions during their launch periods (in part due to launch UA campaigns), downloads quickly settled back down. This becomes clearer when looking at the downloads market share of the top 6 downloaded Battle Royale games (responsible for ~84% of all downloads).
The inability of new games to gain a foothold shows how entrenched PUBG and Free Fire really are (we can also include CODM in this entrenchment, even though we’ve classified it under FPS), and new games struggle to either attract new audiences or permanent swaps in player loyalty. Even big IPs like Apex Legends and PUBG aren’t able to easily break into the market. Case in point, look at how both Apex Legends and PUBG: New State came in strong but quickly fizzled out, with PUBG: New State’s decline (in green) particularly stark.
This chart also exposes just how much Free Fire is dominating downloads, with more than 2.3x the downloads of second-placed PUBG! In fact, Free Fire is responsible for more than 50% of all Battle Royale downloads. A look at the year-over-year change shows that Free Fire has continued growing with a respectable 19% increase, but PUBG has shrunk by 12%.
The big story, though, is Game For Peace seeing a massive 119% increase in downloads. Keep this data tidbit in mind, as it’ll help when we unpack revenue numbers next.
Revenues – Performance Woes
Revenue has been trending down at an accelerating rate since Q1 of 2022. This isn’t all unexpected because, as we’ve seen above, the genre as a whole has experienced a soft year.
A closer look at the top 5 battle royale games by revenue (97% of the market) shows that most of the top 5 have seen reduced revenue, with PUBG and Knives Out being the biggest contributors to the YoY revenue dip (with a combined loss of $360M compared to the year before).
The outlier here is clearly Game For Peace, which is the only game to grow revenue, and this chart of market share shows how dominant it has grown.
The source of its growth is clear — it has managed to attract more players (remember the +119% growth in downloads) and is better at monetizing those players, as we can see in the below chart of Game For Peace’s RPD. While Knives Out has similarly high RPD, recall from our breakdown of the top regions for Shooter revenue that the majority of this is being driven by Japanese players and thus the smaller population there versus China acts as a limiting factor for its monetization.
What may explain Game For Peace’s bucking of the KPI shrinking trend is that China’s zero-Covid policy has seen extended lockdowns in multiple major cities over the past year (which has recently been rolled back). As a result, the “pandemic effect” is still, essentially, in effect - at least in this data. As Game For Peace is a China-only game, it is seeing the benefits of millions of people being forced to stay indoors with little to do.
As an aside, one of the largest events of the year was a virtual concert titled “BLACKPINK: The Virtual”, featuring the titular KPOP supergroup.
The concert was watched by almost 16M people and featured in-game events during the period of the concert (July 22-31st) that gave the game a nice short-term 2x revenue spike.
The event also won “Best Metaverse Performance” in MTV’s Video Music Awards, an impressive feat considering it was going against Ariana Grande in Fortnite, BTS in Minecraft, Justin Bieber in Wave, as well as Charli XCX and Twenty One Pilots in Roblox.
Battle Royale is Owned by Tencent
When you consider that PUBG Mobile and Game For Peace are developed and operated by Tencent, you can get a sense of the outsized influence the publisher has on the subgenre. In fact, courtesy of those games, Tencent is responsible for 63% of all revenue generated in Battle Royale, with Garena and NetEase in distant second and third places, respectively.
Is the Tencent juggernaut too big for newcomers to the subgenre to overcome? Looking at how PUBG: New State and Apex Legends have fared, it does seem to be a difficult task. Not only do new games have to compete against Tencent, they will also need to combat a reduced interest in the subgenre itself, as this Google Trends chart of “battle royale” showcases.
Regarding the Google Trends chart, when we extend the date range all the way to December (see below), we see an interesting spike. Is this a sign of renewed interest in the subgenre? Unfortunately, no. The spike is related to a game Sigma Battle Royale that masqueraded as Free Fire Lite, and was generating interest mainly in South America.
When we discard the red herring of Sigma Battle Royale, the combination of Tencent’s grip on the subgenre and waning interest in the subgenre means that new “more of the same” Battle Royales will struggle. But… where there’s stagnation, opportunities for innovation are there for the taking, which leads us to our next point.
The Dawn of Extraction Shooters is Coming
Both New State and Apex Legends Mobile did not introduce enough change to the Battle Royale formula. Sure, they introduced new mechanics like character abilities and weapon customization, but the structure and feel are by and large similar. The relatively minor changes these games introduced were not enough to convince players to switch game allegiance, but perhaps a new way to play could. When looking at the top shooters in China, a new game called Arena Breakout has quickly jumped to second place in downloads and 5th place in revenue despite only launching in July.
Arena Breakout is an Extraction Shooter, an evolution of Battle Royale, and one we predicted will be the next big thing. Here’s an example of gameplay from the Chinese beta, and you can see the more methodical pace, with looting being a much slower process compared to a game like Apex Legends.
The early indicators from China are promising, and a global version has been in beta in Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines since November 14th. If Arena Breakout proves successful on the global stage, expect more games of its ilk to follow.
Cross-Progression May be a New Paradigm
We’re all familiar with cross-platform games, with Genshin Impact’s simultaneous launch on mobile, PC, and console a harbinger of the trend. What’s new is cross-progression between different games that have been tailored for specific platforms. Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile has been designed from the ground up for the mobile audience, with much shorter battle times and even introducing 6v6 Deathmatch and Domination modes. Cross-progression means that players will be able to progress a “universal” battle pass across Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, and Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0.
The way it works is that there are “linked” rewards that, when unlocked, will be available to your account on any of the three games. There will also be platform-exclusive rewards that can be unlocked but are only usable in specific platforms. The screenshot below shows the redesigned map-style battle pass with highlighted linked and exclusive rewards (there’s also the whole non-linear aspect to the new “battle map”, which is an interesting but completely different topic. You can get more information about that here).
Of course, this raises questions of progression arbitrage (which, as this content creator has noticed, seems to already be present) and cannibalization, so it’ll be interesting to see how Activision Blizzard will handle this. Either way, this is an interesting industry development that we expect may trickle down to other games soon.
Battle Royale growth has slowed in the last couple of years and based on its current trajectory will have shrunk in 2022. New games are not easily able to make a dent due to the massive moats that PUBG and Free Fire have built. Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile is coming next year and is a huge IP with a very successful sister title in CODM. The difference here is that CODM entered the market much earlier and with fewer strong opponents while Warzone Mobile has to face up against entrenched incumbents.
That said, we shouldn’t forget the power of the Call of Duty IP, which is far stronger than that of Apex Legends. It will be interesting to see whether the IP can become a major tailwind for Warzone Mobile, and it’ll be even more interesting to see how mobile audiences react to two Call of Duty mobile games being available – the key question being, will both game experiences existing be net-cannibalistic or net-additive?
In our (perhaps premature) opinion, Warzone: Mobile, while being a fun experience tailored for the medium, just isn’t differentiated enough from the existing competition. Even its sister title CODM includes a Battle Royale mode, so it really will be very optimistic for Activision Blizzard to believe that they can release two titles with pretty much the same offering without any cannibalization. The likely long-play here is that Warzone: Mobile (which is completely developed in-house) is a step towards weaning the company away from Tencent, who helped develop CODM. Thus, even if it cannibalizes players and revenue from CODM, it may even be a net-positive for the company and a foundation for building its own shooter empire to rival the goliath that is Tencent.
So Warzone: Mobile is unlikely to herald a new era for Battle Royale, but what could cause a surge of new interest would be the rise of the Extraction Shooter. We’ve been predicting that it’ll be the next big thing for a while now, and all it needs is a killer game. Could Tencent’s Arena Breakout be it? The next 6 months will be interesting and should make the next Shooter genre update an intriguing read!
#2: FPS/TPS/Tactical Shooter
Downloads - Flat Growth
Over the past 12 months, this subgenre saw modest growth of downloads at 669M (+9% YoY). When looking over the past 24 months, we can see a relatively stable and flat trend in downloads growth.
The reason why these downloads aren’t seeing a big swing in numbers is because this segment’s downloads are extremely fragmented. This is partly due to the broader scope of the subgenre, which includes diverse games like CODM, War Robots, and Doodle Army 2. As such, no single game claims more than 10% of downloads (CODM holds the crown with ~9% of downloads). In fact, the top 10 games only comprise 40% of all downloads, unlike the larger scale consolidation we’ve seen in Battle Royale.
The market share chart (above) of those top 10 games also shows us that CODM has been losing its grip on the market. Its huge download market share in Q4 2020 and Q1 2021 was due to its launch in China (December 2020), which briefly overtook the U.S. as the country with the most downloads. This has since petered down (China is now in a distant 4th place), resulting in a halving of CODM’s market share that has been gobbled up by several smaller players. This can be seen more clearly in the chart below.
Revenue - A Downward Trend
Revenue over the past 12 months has seen a small reduction in the FPS/TPS/Tactical Shooter market to $1B (-7% YoY), and a look at the data shows signs of a shrinking market.
This is partly because the United States makes up 32% of the market and is down 15% YoY, a trend which (as we highlighted in the State of Shooters section) began earlier in the year for a few macro reasons.
In terms of revenue market share, we see the opposite phenomenon as downloads (which had many relevant players). Revenue is concentrated in the hands of a few games, with the top 7 games making up 86% of the subgenre’s market.
CODM is the biggest game here and holds more than 50% of the market, though (similar to downloads), the game is losing market share. However, this time we have an emerging contender in the form of CrossFire gaining share. To be fair, these two games are not actually heavily competing, as CrossFire is China-only while CODM generates 45% of its revenue from the U.S.
Looking at revenue growth over the past 12 months, we are greeted by a sea of red with two outliers – CrossFire with 45% growth and Mech Arena with an astounding 271% growth in revenue!
CrossFire’s growth is likely due to the same circumstances as Game For Peace – China’s zero-Covid policy forcing extended lockdowns, thus maintaining the “pandemic effect”. The reason behind Mech Arena’s explosive growth is simpler; it released an Android version that has become the platform of choice for its players and a major source of revenue.
It’s also interesting to note that the U.S. is Mech Arena’s most profitable country and is one of those rare games that mainly monetizes an Android audience from the U.S. (57% of U.S. revenue is Android).
The focus on Android is publisher Plarium’s speciality, as a look at their portfolio shows that their top 3 products — Raid: Shadow Legends, Mech Arena, and Vikings: War of Clans & Puzzle — all have better performing Android versions, whether looking at worldwide data or just in the U.S.
2023 Will See Major IPs Heat Up the Segment
Most games in this category are 3-5 years old, with one of the most popular games, Doodle Army 2, being 11 years old! While there have been a few new entrants over the past 12 months, such as Sky Warriors from Wildlife and T3 Arena from XD Inc., they have not made a big impact. This will change in 2023, as major titles from large publishers such as Battlefield Mobile, Rainbow Six Mobile, and The Division: Resurgence are slated for release. Riot’s Valorant Mobile has also been undergoing closed beta testing in China and may be a dark horse for a 2023 release.
The interesting thing about Valorant is the choice of China for the closed beta test, since western devs typically choose other T2 and T3 countries. For example, Rainbow Six Mobile’s initial beta was tested in Brazil, India, Singapore, and the Philippines. Perhaps this foreshadows what Riot Games feels will be its most important market, as its most successful mobile game, Wild Rift, was a relative disappointment until its launch in China (which makes up 84% of revenue). This might be a smart move from Riot, because there is an immense appetite for Shooters in China (which as we’ve mentioned earlier, makes up 35% of all mobile Shooter revenue).
We do see two key risks: One, will Valorant resonate with the Chinese audience? And two, will it be approved for launch in China?
For point one, while the PC version of the game has not been approved for launch in China yet, there is a thriving underground esports scene which has produced a team (Edward Gaming) that qualified for Valorant Champions 2022. The fact that an underground esports scene exists (still fairly niche, to be fair) gives us a sense that there is some level of pent-up demand here. The question is then how large this pent-up demand is and whether the game, if it finally gets approved, will reach a wide audience or remain a niche product.
The second point is a complete wildcard at this juncture. As mentioned earlier, the PC version of Valorant is yet to be approved despite being more than two years since its global launch. Still, Tencent did get a game approved in November (Metal Slug: Awakening), so it doesn’t look like the government is putting the publisher on a complete freeze anymore (although the speed of approvals is still glacial). Unfortunately, like everyone else, we can’t easily make a prediction here; the release of the game is completely in the hands of the Chinese government.
Regardless of whether Valorant makes a global launch next year, 2023 will see things heat up nicely, and the new competition will provide jockeying that should further impact CODM’s market share.
Russians Blocked from Spending
Russia is one of the most important markets for this segment, coming in 3rd by downloads and 4th by revenue for the trailing 12 months. Since the war in Ukraine, spending has plummeted because Google and Apple (though not officially confirmed) have blocked both store and in-app purchases. This policy is likely to remain until the war ends, and until then, games with a high percentage of Russian spenders will struggle.
Call of Duty: Mobile Introduces the Battle Pass Vault
As part of CODM’s Season 10 update (launched on November 7th), a new feature called Battle Pass Vault allows players to progress in expired battle passes. It uses a new currency called Vault Coins that are earned from the battle pass that is currently live. While revenue is up 24% in November compared to October, we can’t fully attribute this spike in revenue to the feature. We’ll continue to track this over the next 6 months and report back in the next Shooter report.
There is much excitement ahead in 2023, with many new games like Rainbow Six Mobile, Battlefield Mobile, and others that will rejuvenate this segment. The question will be if these games will manage to significantly grow the market, or will we see the same pattern from Battle Royale, in which the new entrants burn bright but ultimately fizzle out. The key difference here is that all of these games are quite diverse — in theme, gameplay, and even visual style. This should mean that there is a higher chance that one of these games gains enough traction to be a standout success.
#3: PvE Shooting
Downloads - What’s In A Name Change?
As we saw in the subgenre market share chart above, downloads for PvE Shooters are slightly down YoY, but when breaking this down into quarters, we can see that recent trends are flat, if not slightly increasing.
This subgenre is even more fragmented than FPS/TPS/Tactical Shooters, with the top 10 games only making up 28% of all downloads. Even categorizing by publishers is no better, as the top 10 publishers only make up 34% of all downloads. The reason for such fragmentation is likely the generally lower content quality, meaning that players churn through games quickly.
As an example, the biggest game in terms of downloads is Critical Strike: Offline Game (5% of downloads). An example of gameplay can be found here. The modus operandi of these publishers seems to be to release a game, and then when downloads wane, change the name to drive up interest (Critical Strike was recently renamed to Counter Terrorist Strike: CS). In fact, Critical Strike has gone through 6 different name changes since its launch in December 2020. The chart below shows a selection of its name changes mapped to downloads, and the strategy is clearly paying dividends in terms of getting more downloads after a name change. The caveat here is that the large bump in downloads from November 2021 was largely driven by downloads from India that was supported by a UA campaign that helped it rise to 4th place in the country download charts.
A look at the top 10 games (remember, they still only comprise 28% of downloads share) shows that the majority of them have been losing downloads, likely picked up by the newer entrants like Critical Strike and Beach War, which we can see in the market share graph below this.
Revenues — Continue to Sink
It hasn’t been a good time for PvE Shooting, with data showing a significant negative trend.
Revenue is much more concentrated than downloads, with the top 10 games making up 75% of the market, led by Ten Square Games’ Hunting Clash (which also publishes Fishing Clash).
One of the games here may be familiar — Zombie Gunship Survival is one of the top 10 games with the highest average play time, although, as we can see here, it isn’t monetizing all that well. Still, the fact that the game can command such high play times hasn’t escaped its competitors notice, and the core mechanic (shooting at enemies with a machine gun from a high vantage point) also features in Left to Survive and Beach War (the 4th most downloaded PvE Shooter). There does seem to be some potential in the mechanic here, and perhaps, like we see in Puzzle games, a mashup of this plus another mechanic from a different genre (maybe an RPG) could be an exciting new way to play.
In terms of revenue, the game at the top, Hunting Clash, is also a significant portion of Ten Square Games’ (TSG) revenue (22%), though it lags significantly behind the publisher’s hit game, Fishing Clash (70% of revenue). The advantage TSG has is an established playbook in the form of Fishing Clash to follow.
The slide above shows how TSG’s feature roadmap for Fishing Clash resulted in the growth of downloads and bookings for the game, a strategy it is repeating for Hunting Clash.
While Hunting Clash was one of the three games that saw revenue grow YoY, the rest of the top 10 fared pretty badly. The question here is why these games are losing revenue, and why do they seem to monetize so poorly? First, PvE Shooters tend to have weaker retention numbers than the other subgenres. The chart below compares the average D30 for the top 5 games in each subgenre by revenue, and we see that PvE falls way behind Battle Royale and FPS.
As a result of poor retention, revenue suffers. A similar chart (below) that shows RPD reflects how distant PvE Shooting and Sniper games are compared to the other subgenres.
Most of these PvE Shooting games employ a level-based structure with very light meta in the form of weapon unlocks and upgrades, which goes some way to explaining the lack of long-term retention. This doesn’t mean that the lack of depth can’t be overcome, though. In TSG’s Q3 2022 earnings presentation, Hunting Clash reported a 30% increase in revenue quarter-over-quarter which was attributed to new features, strong live ops, and product improvements. TSG further plans to continue executing its “ambitious product roadmap with the goal to continue to grow the number of users and bookings.”
An Unfilled Opportunity Exists for the Right Game
We’ve seen that there is a large appetite for PvE shooters, as it holds the largest share of shooter downloads. This is largely taken up by a large variety of games with low-quality bars that are popular in tier 2 & 3 territories like India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, and Pakistan and are largely monetized via ads. These regions typically do not generate much revenue, but as we’ve seen with Free Fire, the right game can turn this around. A high-quality PvE Shooter will be able to stand out against its competition and stake a place in this subgenre. This was the approach of Hunting Clash, and we can see how successful it has been with this strategy, as it has grown to capture 30% of PvE Shooting’s revenue despite being less than 1% of downloads.
To a lesser extent, Beach War by Horus serves as another example of this strategy, and it has been steadily growing its revenue since its launch early last year (though still a far cry from Hunting Clash).
Besides production value, Hunting Clash has a much more established feature set, metagame, and social features — essentially all the baseline requirements for a successful F2P game.
The fact that the two most popular games are basically offline re-imaginings of Counter-Strike suggests that a team-based PvE shooting game with the right production values and feature set could find success.
Zombie & Hunting Games Dominate Revenue
A look at the top 10 PvE Shooter games by revenue shows just two themes – zombies & hunting, with 8/10 of the games having a zombie theme.
A look at the Google trend for the search term “zombie game” shows that while interest has trended down over the past 5 years, there is still significant interest in the theme.
The same check for “hunting game” shows a similarly high level of interest. The peaks and troughs we see here correspond to the winter and summer months in the northern hemisphere. Basically, when it’s too cold out to hunt, you stay home and play.
What does this all mean? Essentially, the enduring level of interest in these themes means that new games that follow this trend will have a built-in base of fans. The danger here is that it becomes harder to stand out when everyone does it, which is essentially what’s happening with PvE zombie shooting games. On the other hand, Ten Square Games was smart in choosing a popular theme that isn’t saturated, giving it higher market differentiation and resulting in success with its hunting-themed games, Hunting Clash and Wild Hunt.
PvE Shooter games are the less sexy subgenre, filled with many low-quality knockoffs of PC/console titles. Still, the subgenre holds a significant share of downloads, particularly in tier 2 and 3 countries, because the games have lower spec requirements and are played offline. There is potential here for a dev team to release a game that exceeds the current quality bar that, paired with the right theme, can potentially find a strong foothold in the subgenre.
Downloads — Declining Subgenre
Of all the subgenres, Sniper has been the most badly hit. As seen above, downloads are down 14% YoY, and recent trends indicate continued softness.
The top 10 games are responsible for 73% of all downloads and is dominated by Wildlife’s Sniper 3D Assassin (32% of all downloads). No other game comes close in downloads, and it has been THE Sniper game since 2017.
Despite its dominance, the game has been steadily losing downloads. In fact, the whole subgenre peaked back in 2019 and has seen a steady slide, with Sniper 3D Assassin essentially keeping pace.
Revenues — Oh, Where has it Gone?
The revenue trend is not pretty, showing a consistent double-digit downwards slide.
It’s not just a recent trend either, as the subgenre has been in decline since its peak in 2018.
The top 5 games combined comprise 89% of all revenue, and considering that this subgenre captures the least money, it leaves all games out of the top 10 begging for scraps. The top 5 games are also pretty old, with the top 3 games all older than 5 years (Sniper 3D Assassin is 8 years old!), and the subgenre likely needs to evolve.
As we can see in the chart above, double-digit losses are par for the course. The bright side is the appearance of two new entrants in the form of Miniclip’s Pure Sniper and FeelingTouch’s 僵尸前线3D (or Zombie Frontline 3D, according to Google Translate).
There was also Square Enix’s Hitman Sniper: The Shadows, which launched early this year. Unfortunately, the game has since been removed from app stores and the studio behind it, Square Enix Montreal, shut down. The game itself was an innovative take on Snipers with the addition of puzzle elements, but its performance was terrible. It only picked up ~600K downloads and less than $700K in revenue over the 10 months that it was live. While Square Enix doesn’t have the best mobile track record for its western-oriented IP, Hitman is still one of its strongest properties, and the company’s best-performing western mobile game is Hitman Sniper, a premium title released in 2014. That just shows how difficult it can be to crack into the Sniper market with even the Hitman IP failing to resonate with the core audience.
That perspective means that it’s interesting to see Miniclip enter into Sniper games, considering the decline of the subgenre and the fact that Pure Sniper is essentially Sniper 3D Assassin with slightly better graphics and UI/UX. It looks like Miniclip is making a play for Sniper 3D Assassin’s place at the top of the pack, essentially a younger, better-looking upstart challenging the battle-tested but aging alpha wolf. Zombie Frontline 3D, on the other hand, brings some innovation to the subgenre, with some levels featuring on-rails non-sniper combat. In fact, the sniper sections of the game seem to serve as an intermission for the assault rifle portions, and perhaps, that is what players want.
Sniper Games Desperately Need an Evolution
As we’ve seen, this is a subgenre in serious decline. Sniper games feel dated and static, and the whole mechanic of staying rooted in a single place to snipe enemies comes from an era where mobile devices were much less powerful, thus necessitating the convention. With the power of devices now, there is room to expand what a sniper game is. Perhaps inspiration can be taken from PC Sniper games like Sniper Elite (see example gameplay here), which includes stealth and infiltration elements, or even like what Zombie Frontline 3D is doing with its on-rails combat sections. Either way, it’s clear that the old formulas are not working.
The Shooter genre has had a relatively eventful 12 months, with the launches of games like PUBG: New State and Apex Legends Mobile being the positives tempered against the negatives of Free Fire and BGMI being banned in India. In terms of KPIs, the genre remains relatively flat in downloads despite those new launches, and revenue has shrunk compared to the previous 12 months.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as we do have something to look forward to — an absolute smorgasbord of shooters that will be released in the next year:
- Battlefield Mobile (EA)
- Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile (Activision Blizzard)
- Rainbow Six Mobile (Ubisoft)
- The Division: Resurgence (Ubisoft)
- Farlight 84 (Lilith Games)
- Rebel Riders (King)
- Valorant Mobile (Riot Games)
- Earth: Revival (Nuverse)
- Arena Breakout (Tencent)
With such a great range of games coming soon, we’ll hopefully see downloads and revenue trend more positively again.