Mobile gaming skyrockets in UK as users pay to win

Global gaming trends: Consumers spent $10bn on mobile games in first half of 2021

Gaming has increased significantly in the last year and people in the UK have spent more time playing mobile games, with puzzles top topping the list and 43% of people making in app game purchases.

The large scale mobile gaming was conducted by Toluna, a tech company that operates in the market research space, surveyed 1,060 mobile gamers or people interested in mobile gaming, aged 16 to 45 in the UK.

Key findings

  • 53% of respondents are spending more time playing video games on their smartphone vs. 12 months ago
  • 52% of people are playing more games on their video consoles and 50% more on their handheld game consoles
  • 45% of people are using their tablets more to play mobile games

The highest increase is in smartphone and video game consoles users and mobile gamers now spend 80 minutes a day playing games via mobile devices

The reputation of a mobile game publisher greatly influences our decisions to purchase a game with 60% of people deciding to buy a mobile game based on the brand and status associated with this brand. The most popular mobile games to play in the UK are:

  • Puzzles (49%)
  • Trivia and word-based games (35%)
  • Action games (35%)
  • Simulation and management games (31%)
  • Strategy games (31%)

Gaming monetisation

65% of respondents believe their perception of how fair a mobile publisher is on monetisation has a major impact on their purchase decision

While we agree there is a place for companies making money from mobile gaming through in-app purchases and adverts, we aren’t completely happy with how they go about this.

• Over a quarter (27%) are unhappy with how transparent gaming costs are
• 48% dislike the use of screen takeover adverts used by gaming companies for monetisation reasons
• 20% are not pleased with the value of money mobile games offer
• Some of us (15%) find it difficult to find the kind of mobile games we want to play and 13% of us are dissatisfied with the quality of games on offer.

Despite this, 64% of people surveyed agreed that monetising mobile games which are free to download with ads and without in-app purchases is acceptable and fair.

56% agreed that it’s acceptable to use traditional pay to download (without in-app purchases) while a lower number, 41% said that it’s fair to use games that combine in-app purchases with to pay to download as a model.

With subscription games, 45% agree that a subscription model that allows you to download games is acceptable, similar to the percentage of people who agreed that it is fair to use a subscription-based model that allows you to stream games (46%).

Paying to win vs. Playing to win

Nearly half (43%) of respondents made in-app mobile gaming purchases in the last year, and made these purchases, on average, around twice a week.

• Out of those surveyed, nearly half (49%) spent money on buying extra currency within games
• 41% of gamers spent money on purchasing extra lives or health related offerings
• 34% of users paid to customise their game whether that was to personalise character or surroundings
• Nearly a third (32%) spent money on buying extra equipment, resources or enhancements to make their game strategy stronger
• 30% of people spent money to buy themselves into the next level of a game or unlock a map, for example.

When asked about how they feel about spending money to win games, nearly one in five (19%) agreed that it was acceptable to pay for securing extra lives, 18% thought paying for lootboxes was acceptable, and 17% thought buying extra experience points or buffs was acceptable. 22% agreed that they don’t mind paying to buy extra equipment or resources needed to win a game. More people found it acceptable to purchase items that didn’t affect your ability to win (25% thought purchasing skins or cosmetics was acceptable, and 26% thought purchasing extra levels/DLC was acceptable).

When asked there actual preference around whether to pay to win or win through skill for specific game items, over a quarter said they would pay rather than use skill to win if able to spend money to customise their game (26%) or buy levels, maps or other content to play (26%). 24% would prefer to win by buying extra equipment and 21% would prefer to purchase extra lives rather than relying on their skill to win the game.

Downloaded games vs. streaming games

There are signs that mobile streaming could impact current monetization models, while it is currently fairly niche with only 19% of mobile gamers having claimed to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (the service with the highest user-base according to our survey), a further 18% stated they intend to subscribe. Of those aware of services that offer streaming, such as Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, Google Stadia, GeForce Now etc. 35% stated they prefer streaming to downloaded games, while 29% stated they prefer using downloaded games and 37% stated they thought both were equally appealing. Of those that preferred streaming, when asked why, 42% thought streaming services had better quality games, 40% thought streaming was better value for money, and 36% thought it was the future of gaming.

However there are currently barriers to widespread uptake of streaming, 41% of our respondents stated they tend to avoid subscription based models that allowed streaming, and of those that preferred downloaded games, when asked why, 56% stated it was because they don’t like paying subscriptions for games. Quality is also a concern, 35% stated they worry about streaming quality as a reason they prefer downloaded games.

Jonathan Shingler, Research Director at Harris Interactive, a Toluna company, said: “Mobile gaming has exploded in the last 12 months as people across the UK have spent more time at home, and more time on mobile technology especially smartphones and video consoles. It’s clear that people are prepared to pay to win when it comes to in-app mobile games, and also feel there’s a place for monetisation by game publishers – but only to a certain extent. We still don’t seem sold on subscription-based mobile gaming models, and downloaded games over streamed games are much preferred as some admit that they would rather pay to win a game than use their skill to win one.”