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Global gaming market in 2018 – top mobile games by downloads and MAU

With our smartphones "getting smarter" each year, gaming has slowly crept upon mobile. Console sales are not high-as-expected, Sony announced in the latest update. Many of the popular games like [...]

January 28, 2019

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With our smartphones “getting smarter” each year, gaming has slowly crept upon mobile. Console sales are not high-as-expected, Sony announced in the latest update. Many of the popular games like PUBG are going mobile.

In 2018, there were 194 billion downloads. That number was steadily increasing in the past few years. (App Annie)The technology boom has allowed users to have more apps on their phones without having the need to delete them – average user in the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia has over 100 apps on their phone.

Games are not the category to overlook in the app stores – in 2018, games accounted for 74% of user spending in the app stores. Most profitable markets were China, the United States and Japan. Those three market accounted for 75% of user spending in 2018. Consumer spend grew rapidly in both mature and emerging markets.

State of mobile market in China

Tencent shares in 2nd half of 2018.
Tencent shares in 2nd half of 2018.

China’s growth was limited in the 2nd half of 2018, after the uncertainty around Game License regulation. For third biggest app worldwide by consumer spend – Tencent video, Chinese video streaming website, that meant more than 5% stock fall for the first time in 13 years. According to China’s education ministry, their goal was to address growing number of short-sightedness in China’s youth population. For the game developers that meant more strict regulations, like controlling the number of approvals for new online video games, implementing an age rating system for games as well as restriction for the amount of time minors can spend online.

Despite China’s freeze on game approvals, global consumer spend in games from China-headquartered publishers increased in 2018, but at a slightly lower year-over-year rate. Approvals for games should gradually resume in early 2019, Chinese companies will continue to seek opportunities abroad, pushing harder for international expansion. In two years, China game publishers have seen increased success in markets outside APAC, especially in the Americas with the growth of 140% from 2016.

In December 2018, rumor about recommendation of bans on nine popular games in China, mainly battle royale titles shook the gaming community. Games like Fortnite and League of Legends are criticized for blood and gore, vulgarity, even for overly revealing female characters. We hope this only stays just a rumor!

Technological race between US and China

Companies that have headquarters in US and China generated more than half of total consumer spend in the top 300 parent companies in 2018. China was leading with 32% of total consumer spend globally accounting to $19.6 billion.

Top 5 parent companies for global consumer spend in 2018 were Tencent, NetEase, Activision Blizzard, BANDAI NAMCO and Netmarble – all gaming companies.

Top Games by Downloads

Top mobile games by download in 2018, source: AppAnnie
Top games by download in 2018, Source: AppAnnie

Games like PUBG Mobile, Fortnite and Free Fire showed us how powerful mobile devices have become. In 2018, games accounted for 74% of consumer spend in the app stores. Mobile games was the fastest growing category of gaming overall, leaving behind consoles, desktop games and handheld gaming. PUBG Mobile was the most-downloaded game in more than 100 countries during the first week of availability, becoming one of the fastest games to reach this achievement to date. Top games in China, Japan and South Korea reflect the competitive online gaming culture in those nations.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Fortnite are some of the names we’re seeing in top charts all over the world. They might look very different and appeal to different markets, but they both can fit in the same category of battle royale games. Every player aims to be the last standing. According to Statista, these two games are popular in very different markets. PUBG advanced in Asia, and Fortnite has received more attention in European countries.

Hyper-casual games dominated the top downloads charts. They’re characterized by simple gameplay mechanics. They have very few features, opposite of core games. It should be so simple that it can be “explained in a screenshot”, as former Rovio vice president Eric Seufert said. Hyper-casual trend started with Flappy Bird. Before that, games were rich with features and users had to spend some time before being immersed in the game. After the success of Flappy Bird and the virality of that game, the world realized that bigger isn’t always better. Flappy Bird developer Dong Nguyen turned his simple game into an internet sensation. He earned around $50,000 a day from mobile ads during its peak. Will 5 years later hyper-casual remain at the top of the charts?

Top games by smartphone MAU (Monthly Active Users)

Top mobile games by smartphone MAU in 2018, source: AppAnnie
Top games by smartphone MAU in 2018, Source: AppAnnie

Candy Crush Saga still held the top charts among Western markets. In this list there is not many new names – games published during 2018. Pokémon Go, popular location-based AR game launched in 2016, still remains one of the most used games in the world. This game introduced feature innovations like social gaming, peer-vs-peer trainer battling and events. That meant more engagement among users, resulting with high number of monthly active users. Launched in 2017, HQ Trivia captivated North America with live appointment gaming, trend that many other companies copied. Newcomers like battle royale game PUBG and hyper-casual game Helix Jump gained a huge global user base in less than a year.


Mobile has only continued to grow in 2018, and with customers being more open to in-app purchases, consumer spend grew rapidly. Global market was affected by pause on approvals of the new games in China. That resulted in first drop of Tencent shares in 13 years. That meant more competition on the Western hemisphere – with China’s publishers trying to focus their efforts abroad. We didn’t see many of new games – PUBG was a phenomenon transitioning from console to mobile. It fastly became one of the fastest growing mobile games ever. Some games remained steady on the top, like Pokemon Go, still keeping the players excited with new features.

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Slavica Grgić

I'm Slavica, Social Marketing Manager at Udonis. If I'm not writing new blog posts, I'm making sure that everything is picture perfect.


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Jeff Collins
Jeff Collins

With better devices, I can only expect more games will be available on smartphones!