Three of the top 10 highest-grossing mobile games ever launched in 2012. Candy Crush Saga, Clash of Clans and Puzzle & Dragons have each generated billions of dollars in revenues, before counting spin-off titles or licensing deals.
They came out when smartphone screen sizes were getting larger, giving developers more real estate to play with. Games makers were beginning to master the business model of free-to-play games that charge for extra lives, power-ups or personalised outfits.
Today, mobile has gone from being a sideshow in the gaming market to its biggest source of revenue. Turning games into “live services”, with a constant stream of new levels or limited-time events, can sustain a popular mobile game for just as long as a console title, if not longer.
Candy Crush Saga has been the most enduring global hit of that 2012 cohort. It has had 3 billion downloads and it still attracts more than 200 million players a month.
Financial success has not, however, been matched by cultural impact. The game’s lifetime earnings are estimated to be similar to those of the Star Trek or Superman franchises, but it possesses only a fraction of the cachet of those pop-culture stalwarts.