Computer gaming is big business in Latin America. A combination of pandemic lockdown restrictions, expanding smartphone penetration, and faster mobile network connectivity has increased the region’s engagement with mobile gaming titles.
Market research company Newzoo estimates that mobile games will generate US$3.5bn of revenue in Latin America during 2021, up 13% from 2020. According to the 2021 Global Games Market Report, mobile games account for 48% of the region’s entire gaming market, including physical and digital game copies of titles for PCs and games consoles, in-game spending, and subscription services like Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, excluding advertising.
There are 88.4m mobile gamers in Brazil alone, for example, generating over US$1bn a year. Mexico accounts for just under US$900m of equivalent turnover, followed by Argentina and Colombia.
Smartphone penetration and faster mobile networks driving growth
But the growth of the mobile games market has been driven by additional factors, including the ready availability of affordable smartphones (Google Play accounts for 68% of Latin American gaming app store revenue compared to 30% generated by Apple’s App Store).
By the end of this year, around 352m smartphone users will be in Latin America, expanding further to 400m in 2023. Many countries in Latin America also have import restrictions and tax regimes that push the prices of gaming consoles and PCs out of reach for local consumers, leaving the smartphone as the most viable option for gaming.
GlobalWebIndex (GWI) data suggests that almost 99% of Mexicans between the ages of 16 and 64 owned a smartphone as of the third quarter of 2020, significantly more than those owning a laptop or desktop PC (74%) or a games console (48%). Smartphone penetration is equally high in Brazil (99%) and Argentina and Colombia (98%) though the latter also have higher rates of PC ownership (81% and 77% respectively) compared to 72% in Brazil. Fewer people in those other Latin American countries own games consoles, ranging from 38% in Argentina down to 32% in Brazil, for example.
As well as the wider availability of affordable smartphones, the countries of Latin America also see almost universal improvements to their mobile network infrastructure as operators expand and upgrade their coverage and capacity. Ookla speed tests conducted in January this year indicate that the average download speed of mobile Internet connections in Mexico increased 13% year on year to 32Mbit/s, for example. They were also up 18% in Brazil (29Mbit/s), 12% in Argentina (28Mbit/s) and 9% in Uruguay (40Mbit/s).
In Guatemala, they jumped over 40% year on year to 29Mbit/s in 2021 to outpace equivalent wired broadband connections (18Mbit/s). Average mobile Internet download speeds also hover around the 20Mbit/s mark in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile.
Mobile games are a popular activity
Those improvements appear to have encouraged and enabled large swathes of the Latin American population to play games on their smartphones. Over three-quarters of adults aged between 16 and 64 in Brazil and Mexico already do so according to GWI, again ahead of those that play games on either laptop and desktop PCs (42% in Mexico and 47% in Brazil) or consoles (54% in Mexico and 41% in Brazil). Around two-thirds of the same demographic also play games on smartphones in Argentina and Colombia, exceeding those who participate in the same activity on either PCs (55% and 47% respectively) or games consoles (41% and 36%).
According to the mobile app analytics firm App Annie, players also tend to engage with a diverse range of mobile game genres. The company listed Pokémon Go, Candy Crush Saga, Ludo Club, and Parcheesi Star in its list of popular games ranked by monthly active users (MAUs) during January 2021. However, Free Fire and Roblox led in both MAUs and consumer spending.
Gamers in the region also spent heavily on titles such as Call of Duty Mobile, Coin Master, and Manga game Saint Seiya: Awakening. GWI estimates that two-thirds (67%) of Mexicans aged between 16 and 64 use a mobile game app at least once a month, dropping slightly to 63% in Argentina, 61% in Brazil, and 59% in Colombia.
Simple payment options will encourage greater adoption
More mobile gamers in the region now appear happier to pay for their content rather than access it for free – 47% in 2021, up from 43% in 2019, according to Newzoo. The company estimates that the average spend per play has increased from US$22.1 to US$27.3 during the same period. However, the picture varies considerably from one country to another – those in Mexico spend more than their counterparts in Brazil.
Millions of people in Latin America still don’t own credit or debit cards, or even bank accounts, to fund those game purchases. According to World Bank global financial inclusion data, in Mexico, only 37% of adults aged over 15 have bank accounts, while less than 10% have credit cards. The figures are similar in Argentina and Colombia, where less than 50% of the adult population have bank accounts and less than a quarter of credit cards.
Newzoo has forecast that consumer spending on mobile games in Latin America will further expand to US$5.1bn by the end of 2024. But the market could prove to be much larger if games developers, app stores, and telcos offer flexible payment options to suit every budget and personal circumstance. For these people, carrier billing arrangements that allow consumers to pay for mobile games and in-game content by adding the purchase to their mobile phone bills can be a much faster, more convenient option for both the buyer and the merchant.