One Life, Many Gamers: Mobile Gaming Trends in Southeast Asia

Each of Southeast Asian nations has some interesting insights for western mobile gaming developers. While one market has more female mobile gamers, another has a history in online gaming or some even have edge over other ASEAN markets in English proficiency. Thanks to the fast-rising mobile internet connectivity and high youth population, Southeast Asia’s mobile gaming is set to grow at 17.4% y-o-y. In 2020, an average Indonesian player increased the number of online games played each month by 26% compared to the 2019 average. The governments have also realised this trend and included esports as a medal event in the Southeast Asian Games since 2019.

A google survey revealed that at least one in three smartphone owners in Southeast Asian markets played mobile games once in last seven days. Over 82% of Southeast Asia’s urban online population are gamers and mobile gaming leads by a significant margin over PC and console. Southeast Asia alone has contributed a significant share to the growth of global mobile games that was valued at $49 B in 2019 making up to 60% of the overall revenue of the gaming market.

In 2019, the gaming sector generated $ 4.3 B with a y-o-y growth of 13.9%. The same year mobile gaming was valued at $ 3 B and PC gaming only a third of it and growing at less than half of mobile gaming growth rate.

Why should boys have all the fun?

Closing the gender gap with a highly patriarchal market is a feat that the gaming industry of Southeast can boast of. 77% of women into online gaming are mobile gamers vs 83% of male gamers, the gender gap in uptake of mobile games is lowest compared to console 64::75 and PC at 50::63.

Infact, gaming is not only popular among the Gen Z but also to late-adulthood population. The gaming audience in Southeast Asia comprises 14% female Gen Z gamers, 12% male Gen Z gamers, and 25% women, and a little more than half at 14% of men of 45 to 54 years of age. This is also true for Vietnam where 59% of women were gamers where only 54% of men were gamers. In 2020, there were 48.99 million females and 48.6 million males in Vietnam’s population – a marginal difference? With such high numbers and naturally so Vietnam’s mobile gaming boom has been higher than that
of Philippines.

Monetize games yet retain players

To encourage in-app purchases, paid downloads and in-app advertising, publishers have resorted to indirect or subsidy-based monetization strategies to make up for direct revenue. With high disposable income and a history of in-game purchasing culture, Thailand and Malaysia can lead as positive examples for the mobile gaming world. Advertising revenue also seems to be a convenient strategy for non-paying gamers.

Thailand is said to be the largest market in terms of gaming revenues in Southeast Asia. Ever since 2000s South Korean, Malaysians and Thai people dominated the traditional online PC game markets and they are much more used to paying for online games.

Indonesia is also emerging to be key mobile gaming market. Nearly 50% of paying gamers come from Indonesia and Thailand. Singapore which is said to be mature market for internet products, will reach a saturation point while the other emerging Southeast Asian markets will overtake the growth. The country reports lowest percentage of paying mobile gamers however they spend more than others per player.

Social gaming is also picking up pace as a segment. With COVID-19 related regulations of social distancing, team games have picked up pace. Mobile messaging apps are also expanding their ability to serve as gateways to new kind of audience for games and online networking services. While still in earlier stage of product lifecycle, one the companies hit the critical level of users to capitalize on network effects, the Southeast Asian market have an opportunity for a massive user base for team gaming platforms.

Anglicized or localised?

In 2019, when the first world-class esports tournament was held in Philippines a game Mobile Legends: Bang Bang led the show. This tournament was ensured that it was brought to players in 14 languages. Their peak viewership touched as high as 760,000. What the game’s Chinese publisher also did was collaborate with Southeast Asian countries to create new characters from their respective histories or folklore like Lapu Lapu from Philippines, Minsitthar from Myanmar, Kadita from Indonesia and Badang from Malaysia.

Western mobile publishers cannot cash-in on the nascency of the Southeast Asian gaming market, a broad young literate middle class population with high disposable income, less regulation and wellestablished western distribution channels such as Google Play and iTunes App Store, but introduce relatable gaming experience.

Mobile interest being more accessible than ever before and affordable high-spec devices and more non-SEA publishers trying to enter makes Southeast Asia one of the fastest-growing markets. Some of the top-grossing games in Southeast Asia are from west. Philippines has some of the most western titles making up almost 65% of the country’s top games. Still to catch up in other markets western game publishers still have an edge over others to rank within Top 20 rankings.

Even as the region most holds low English Proficiency Index (EPI) and English penetration is less than 1% of the market, Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia can be prospective markets for western gamers to enter with their products. Even as Thailand is one of the most promising markets with a high gaming population localisation might get complex but one needs to put money where there is a promising return. On the flipside, Thai gamers might not altogether shy away from anglicised games if they are as good and gaming more about visual cues than about language itself.

A large and densely populated geography, a very favourable young demography, relatively strong and vibrant economy which encourages consumerism, growing disposable incomes for discretionary spends, strong and increasing investments in developing IT infrastructure with internet and mobile connectivity, the Southeast Asia is poised to grow the gaming industry notwithstanding the language barrier.

About the Author

Kavita Panda
Chief Operating Officer | Profile

Kavita Panda is our Chief Operating Officer and Country Manager for India. Kavita was Executive Director of The Walt Disney Company India, wherein, she spent a decade and half in various business roles across Content Syndication, Licensing and Merchandising, Solution Sales and Advertising Sales.