A deep look into the mobile shooter market

When the player wants to kill a few hours and a couple of opponents in an entertaining way, the options of mobile shooters seem unlimited. But is this an indication of oversaturation in the market? Let’s take a deeper look at it. 
the cover image for the article, "A deep look into the mobile shooter market," featuring three top mobile shooter games.

There’s a mobile shooter for every kind of audience nowadays, from the ones that offer cute, cartoonish graphics to the ones that feature more serious and realistic environments or even the ones that take place in space. They also offer the player financial flexibility, with many being free, while some lean toward microtransactions or in-game purchases. But are so many options oversaturating the market? GameRefinery looked into the matter and tried to find an answer. 

Although Mighty Doom represents the Doom legacy with its tiny body and big head on mobile platforms, the shooter genre started long before on a different platform with the same title. The PC version of Doom is recognized as the mother of the shooter genre, the title that singlehandedly emerged a new era in PC games along with so much controversy. Those controversies are far behind the games industry, and the genre is established well. So well, indeed, it almost had no issues during its expansion into the mobile platforms. It was practically a natural path for the established shooters to carry their legacy over the mobile, which attracted new competitors who saw the opportunity to gain a foothold in a relatively newly established platform. This begs the question: “Has the mobile shooter market been oversaturated?”

GameRefinery is an address to resort for the answer to such a question. As a mobile game analytics company with the possession of vast amounts of data, unique algorithms, and experts to process and analyze it, they took a glance into the matter and looked for an answer.

The dominant players in the mobile shooter genre

Call of Duty: Mobile, PUBG MOBILE, and Free Fire. These three account for roughly 80% of the market share in the Western world, with the remaining 20% divided among other titles. These three games predominantly rely on in-app purchases (IAP) centered around cosmetic enhancements. 

Free Fire distinguishes itself from its counterparts by offering cosmetic items that confer character and weapon enhancements. The highest-tier weapon skins, for instance, subtly alter weapon attributes, providing a slight competitive advantage. Additionally, characters and pets can be upgraded with various skills that impact gameplay.

Given that Free Fire lacks the brand recognition enjoyed by PC and console giants like Call of Duty and PUBG, developers likely opted to incentivize players with extra gameplay benefits. This strategy has yielded results, as Free Fire boasts significantly higher revenue per download (around $29 ARPD) compared to PUBG Mobile ($12 ARPD) and Call of Duty: Mobile ($7.30 ARPD).

Monetization strategies in the mobile shooter genre

In the broader market, most top-grossing shooters among the top 500 prioritize monetization through upgrades and potent in-app purchases. This approach aligns with the demands of sustaining a purely cosmetic business model. To maintain player engagement, developers must consistently introduce fresh playable content alongside numerous purchasable cosmetics to fuel the in-game economy. For instance, titles like Call of Duty achieve this through monthly updates featuring new classes, maps, game modes, and more, leveraging their blockbuster franchise. Smaller studios, lacking the resources for frequent content updates, often opt for power progression to secure higher revenue per download and enable a sustainable, less content-driven model.

However, this reliance on player progression tied to monetization is frequently criticized for being “pay-to-win,” particularly in genres heavily focused on competitive multiplayer. Striking the delicate balance between monetization and gameplay can prove challenging, often resulting in player backlash and negative reviews.

Exploring untapped subgenres of mobile shooter games

Despite the dominance of Call of Duty, PUBG, and Free Fire in the mobile shooter market, opportunities exist for developers willing to explore lesser-known subgenres. Four categories stand out:

Extraction Shooters: This subgenre, characterized by slower gameplay, centers on looting items, eliminating enemies within time limits, and extracting from the area. Often, these games adopt a PvPvE (player vs. player vs. environment) format. Notable titles in this category include Escape from Tarkov and Hunt: Showdown. On mobile, Arena Breakout has gained traction in the Chinese market, offering realistic FPS gameplay with survival elements.

Survival Shooters: These games revolve around survival in post-apocalyptic settings, often featuring zombies or other threats. Detailed weather, hunger, and health mechanics add depth to the gameplay, emphasizing exploration, resource gathering, and combat. Titles like “The Last Day on Earth: Survival” have garnered popularity on mobile.

Looter Shooters: RPG-like looter shooters, which combine storytelling, character progression, looting, and shooting, remain relatively unexplored on mobile. Expansive open worlds, where players hunt AI-controlled enemies and other players, offer unique opportunities for narrative-driven gaming experiences.

Tactical FPS Games: Rarely seen on mobile platforms, tactical FPS games prioritize slow-paced, tactical gameplay. Typically, players form teams and engage in pure PvP gameplay. Titles like “Critical Ops” have demonstrated the viability of this subgenre on mobile, albeit without significant revenue impact.

Mobile shooter game developers and publishers should be wary of the battle royale genre

The overwhelming popularity of battle royale games, exemplified by Fortnite, presents a formidable challenge for new titles seeking recognition. Despite featuring unique elements, Apex Legends Mobile struggled to secure a stable position in the market and ultimately shuttered its operations. The intense competition in this subgenre, particularly from established giants, poses a formidable barrier to entry for smaller studios.

GameRefinery concludes its analyses with a reminder that three major franchises grasp 80% of the market and suggests that venturing into more untapped genres is a safer way to gain a foothold in the mobile shooter games industry. 

If you are interested in the full version of the analysis, you can check the full version of “Is the Mobile Shooter Market Saturated? Top Tips on How to Innovate in a Crowded Genre.”

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