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Games rule the iTunes App Store: Most popular genres revealed

This article takes a look at the popularity of the games genre within the iTunes App Store and explores the most popular genres, comparing them by country.

Simon Hill, Blogger

December 16, 2014

9 Min Read

This blog was originally posted on Localize Direct's blog on Dec the 15th 2014.

Today we’re going to dive into the wonderful world of iOS games. We’re going start by showing why Games is the most important category in the iTunes App Store. We’re going to examine its dominance by the numbers. And finally, we’re going to drill down to uncover how genre popularity breaks down by country.

Mobile games are big business. According to New Zoo research mobile gaming will be worth $21.7 billion this year, generating 27% of global gaming revenues. That’s expected to grow to $26.3 billion for a 30% share next year. The mobile gaming market has never been healthier.

Everybody loves games

Games have always been the most popular category in the iTunes App Store. Whatever way you care to slice it – number of active apps, number of downloads, time spent, revenue generated.

For September 2014 Statista data reveals that games make up 20.38% of all the active apps in the App Store. The same report from July 2013 reveals a 16.98% share for games, so the trend is towards even greater dominance.

How does that share break down into numbers? According to Localize Direct’s App Store statistics analysis there are more than 300,000 games in the App Store currently, 309,420 as of the 2nd December 2014, to be precise. That’s the number of games in English.

Taking a look at Flurry data we find that gaming accounts for 32% of all time spent on iOS and Android devices, though social media is a close second. As a single app Facebook is the overall winner at 17%. Twitter and other social media apps make up another 11%. But even adding them together, games are still in the lead.

If we look beyond the total numbers and share we find that games are even more dominant than they first appear. Distimo’s report, Unveiling the Secrets behind App Store Category Dynamics, analyzed data from February 2014 and found that a staggering 74% of App Store revenue came from games (incidentally that figure was 90% for the Google Play Store). It also revealed that games accounted for 40.6% of all downloads (51% for the iPad, 36% for the iPhone).

The speed of growth

Before we drill down into iOS game genres and compare their popularity in different languages we should point out the phenomenal speed of growth. On average, looking at the last three months of App Store statistics, there are 400 new iOS games released every single day.

If we do the same calculation for the total number of apps, we find that the daily average over the last three months is 1,050 new iOS apps released every day. That means almost 40% of the new iOS apps in the last three months have been games. It’s a clear sign that games are the fastest growing category overall.

Localization of games

Only 13% of iOS games are multilingual. This is a huge missed opportunity for developers. The Common Sense Advisory report, Can’t Read, Won’t Buy, revealed that 75% of respondents from ten non-English speaking nations want products in their own language. 55% of those surveyed revealed that they would only buy at websites where the information was presented in their language, and that figure rose to 80% for those with limited English.

That report also found that partial localization is considered better than no localization. A staggering 67% of respondents revealed they would prefer it if at least navigation elements and some content appeared in their language, even if it’s not fully localized. For iOS games, localizing basic menus, the app description, and other meta data in the iTunes App Store could be enough to spark a boost in sales for targeted countries.

What about genres?

How about the most popular iOS game genres? What are they and how do they differ from country to country? Do the numbers reflect national stereotypes? It’s interesting to examine the top game genres for different languages because there are real variances. These statistics show the overall numbers of games in each genre, so they indicate which genres are most popular for developers.

The top ten game genres for English are:

  1. Puzzle (72,316)

  2. Arcade (69826)

  3. Action (65,249)

  4. Family (58,370)

  5. Educational (45,452)

  6. Adventure (38,943)

  7. Strategy (26,671)

  8. Board (25,165)

  9. Simulation (21,729)

  10. Trivia (17,091)

You can visit the App Store statistics page to get the full list of 18 and to start comparing them with other languages. The top 23 languages are covered. The chart will display the top game genres for the language you choose, but you can also examine the differences compared with the last country you looked at (they’ll be marked in brackets).

The same list for Chinese is:

  1. Puzzle (6,698)

  2. Family (4,804)

  3. Action (4,239)

  4. Educational (4,015)

  5. Arcade (2,953)

  6. Strategy (2,892)

  7. Adventure (2,926)

  8. Board (2,681)

  9. Trivia (2,243)

  10. Card (2,157)

The Spanish list differs again:

  1. Puzzle (4,483)

  2. Educational (3,674)

  3. Family (3,524)

  4. Arcade (2,108)

  5. Adventure (2,089)

  6. Action (1,920)

  7. Board (1,545)

  8. Strategy (1,453)

  9. Simulation (1,059)

  10. Trivia (911)

The French list is almost identical to the Spanish, Adventure and Arcade switch places and so do Strategy and Board. The top ten genres in Japanese and Korean are very similar to the English list, except that Role Playing breaks into the top ten and Trivia drops out. For Russia the basic top ten is the same, just in a different order and once again Trivia drops out, but this time Word comes in.

Puzzle is the most popular genre worldwide

The most popular genre overall is Puzzle by a large distance. It came top in every chart except for Arabic, Czech, Polish, and Swedish where Educational came top. The top genre in Turkish was Family. In every case where Puzzle wasn’t top it came in second or third. Clearly, whatever language you speak, puzzles are fun.

Family and Educational are in the top five for every language and they’re in the top three for the majority.

Arcade is the next most popular overall, appearing in the top five for every language except Polish and Japanese where it’s sixth, Finnish, Danish and Greek where it’s seventh, Czech where it’s ninth, and Arabic where it’s tenth.

Conforming to stereotypes?

Would it be safe to assume that certain genres of game are more popular in certain parts of the world? Let’s take a look.

The idea that RPGs are more popular in the east appears to have some factual basis. For English the Role Playing game genre places 16th and that’s broadly similar for French (13th), Italian (14th), and German (14th). In fact, it doesn’t break into the top ten for any European language. But, when we head east we find it much higher up the charts. For Japanese it comes 9th and that’s broadly similar for Korean (10th), Thai (10th), and Chinese (11th).

We also find that Card and Word games are less popular in English, placing 14th and 15th respectively. They don’t make it into the top ten for French, Italian, German, Japanese, Korean, or Spanish. However, for Arabic Word is 5th and Card is 8th, and in Czech Card is 5th and Word is 6th.

If we look at the other end of the chart we find that Dice and Music are always down there. Racing and Casino are more popular in English (11th and 12th) and Vietnamese (10th and 12th) than most other languages where they rank in the bottom four.

There aren’t any other major variances that leap out. It’s perhaps surprising just how similar the top game genres are across the board.

How does it translate?

You can use the data on the App Store statistics page to find out about the most popular genres in different languages. It shows broad trends, but it may also be the case that some of the differences are related to the importance of localization for those game genres rather than indicative of the popularity of those genres. We aren’t taking into account how many English language games are being downloaded and played in non-English speaking countries; a practice that is much more common in Germany, for example, than it is in Korea.

We’re also looking at how popular these genres are with developers rather than consumers. These statistics show where the developers are focusing their efforts, not necessarily where the money is. The Distimo report, Games: King of the mobile eco-system, from last year revealed that the top five iOS game genres by revenue were Role Playing (14%), Strategy (13%), Action (12%), Simulation (11%), and Adventure (9%), but that’s a topic for another article.

The bottom line

There are certainly some geographical differences in game genre popularity across the globe. The statistics and comparisons make for interesting reading and could help you decide on which countries to target. But, it’s important to remember that we don’t know exactly how these genre figures correlate with customers or revenue. One thing that isn’t in doubt is that localizing your game increases your potential audience.

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