Mobile Gaming

Free Fire’s Success Proves It’s Only the Beginning for the Battle Royale Genre in Mobile Gaming

Donny Kristianto

Our new Mobile Gaming report reveals Free Fire is the #1 Downloaded Battle Royale Game in H1 2021

It's possible to think of the entire mobile gaming industry as a giant Battle Royale showdown: fierce competition, loads of competing genres, only the strongest survive.

Who's winning this fight to the death? In terms of time spent, the Battle Royale sub-genre itself.

Of course, this is not a perfect analogy. Mobile gaming is not a zero sum game. There's room for everyone. But there's no doubt that the Battle Royale genre is currently dominating the attention of players.

Proof of this comes in App Annie's 2021 Mobile Gaming Tear Down report, which explores the key trends on subgenres, monetization and user acquisition for H1 2021.

The headline numbers reveal prodigious growth across all the key mobile games metrics:

  • Weekly game downloads at more than one billion - up 25% on 2019
  • Monthly spend on games per device at $9 - up 45% on 2019

Indeed, the health of the market is so good that we expect total spend on mobile gaming to pass $120 billion this year.

Diving deeper, it's clear to see the extraordinary impact of the Battle Royale sub-genre on the space. In particular, Free Fire has been in high demand in 2021, ranking #1 by global downloads among Battle Royale games, and #2 among all games — a testament to the popularity of the subgenre on mobile devices. Free Fire Also surpassed PUBG Mobile as the top Shooter game with the most lifetime downloads.

Battle Royale is a relatively new category, which has its roots in 2010s survival games such as Minecraft and ARMA 2. Gamers love its ability to deliver action and – importantly – unpredictable outcomes.

Within the genre, a few games stand out. At present, Free Fire by Garena is making the greatest impact by growth.

Garena's title was launched in 2017, and has quickly risen to compete with IP that historically has been better known among US gamers such as Fortnite, PUBG and Apex Legends.

Free Fire was the #1 downloaded battle royale game in H1 2021, showing strong growth in user acquisition for the title. It also achieved the second most downloads of any game worldwide in H1 2021, indicating not only its popularity among battle royale games (its direct subgenre, according to Game IQ) or even Shooter games (in genre), but all games casual and core alike. This is particularly impressive given hypercasual games tend to dominate the top charts and were ranked #1 and #3 during this time period.

How has it achieved such success in just four years?

The company itself credits four key factors: a mobile-first mindset, hyper-localization, its approach to community-building and thoughtful collaborations.

In an interview with Somewhat Mobile, Harold Teo, director of Garena and Free Fire's global producer, elaborated on this. He explained how Garena has been careful to optimize its game for almost all mobile devices and to keep the starting download size small to ensure the vast majority of games can run it. Garena also designed game missions to be short to fit with 'on the go' mobile time frames.

And he highlighted the collaboration with Cristiano Ronaldo. The footballer is the most followed person on Instagram, so this was not a difficult decision to make. But Garena went further, creating a character and universe (Chrono) around Ronaldo.

Data from App Annie showed that this propelled Free Fire to huge success in soccer-mad regions, including Latin America, where Free Fire now generates twice the revenue of the #2 Shooting genre game, Call of Duty. Free Fire has continued its hyper-localized approach towards building local communities with its recent partnership with the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF), or the Brazilian Football Confederation. Free Fire activations will be included at some of the Brazilian football teams' matches. Additionally, Free Fire players from around the world will have access to exclusive collaboration skins and other in-game items themed around the partnership — an innovative example of bridging real world events with the digital gameplay.

Free Fire also saw its community-building efforts take shape with the Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore (FFWS 2021 SG), held earlier in May 2021. The Finals of FFWS 2021 SG hit a peak of 5.4 million concurrent viewers, excluding Chinese platforms. This was the highest peak viewership of any esports match in history, according to Esports Charts.

Looking ahead, we expect to see shooters and action genres continue to dominate global gaming time. A key reason for this is the improvement in underlying network technology – not least 5G. These titles depend on social and multiplayer features, which are only enhanced by 5G's ability to reduce latency and lag.

Ready to uplevel your mobile gaming performance? Read App Annie’s 2021 Mobile Gaming Tear Down.

November 3, 2021

Mobile Gaming

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