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In-app purchasing by tablet gamers set to top $3bn by 2016

Mobile gaming is a tried and true platform for people to get their Angry Birds or Words With Friends fix. But in the next three years, it will also become immensely profitable, particularly on tablets.

A new study from UK-based Juniper Research estimates that tablet owners will spend an estimated $3.03 billion (£2bn) on in-app purchases in 2016 — more than 10 times the $301 million figure (£198m) calculated for 2012. About 86 per cent of that $3 billion will come from gamers in Asia and North America.

The shift to tablets is nothing new — NPD reported last month that they will outsell laptops for the first time this year. But the on-the-go availability of multiple services on tablets in addition to games could pull users from dedicated gaming consoles.

"The freemium model, which is being embraced by tablet users, cannot be implemented as easily on portable gaming devices," Juniper said, since games must be purchased upfront and often don't allow for 3G or 4G connection.

There's also the increasing sophistication of gaming tablets like the Razer Edge (pictured, top) - pitched firmly at the enthusiast market - to take into account. Still, Juniper anticipates smartphones to remain the primary device for in-app purchases, topping $6 billion (£3.95bn) by 2016.

Developers are increasingly monetising their skills by focusing on the "stickiness" of their games. No longer is a high-quality title enough to guarantee a profit. But implementing virtual currencies instead of offering in-game items or pay-per-download titles could help. This tactic, Juniper said, can increase user engagement, since the digital dosh is available within only that game.

"When we consider that only a small amount of gamers actually make in-game purchases, and those that do typically only spend a few dollars, it becomes apparent that there are a small proportion of consumers spending thousands annually on these virtual currencies, who subsidise the game for everyone else," report author Siân Rowlands said in a statement.

Even fake money can serve as enticement for players, like those who sit in front of a free-to-play casino-style game, throwing cash at in-app purchases. According to the report, games like Slotomania, Poker by Zynga, and Texas Poker are seeing sharp increases in the number of users buying chips and other in-game items. Some, Juniper said, happily spend upwards of £50 in one transaction.