The top 50 mobile games of 2021 (so far)
For hard-core gamers, games are the universe. They are everything: all-encompassing. In some ways, that applies to the whole of Google Play and the iOS App Store as well. Even though there are massive and successful apps in all verticals on both major mobile platforms, games dominate. They really, really dominate.
Just a few stats:
- We learned in the Epic vs Apple lawsuit that games make up a huge 70% of all App Store revenue
- The App Store brings in a huge chunk of change: over $70 billion in 2020 alone
- In July of 2021, the top 10 apps by revenue on Google Play were all games
- The biggest earners on the App Store are typically games: no fewer than seven games now make more than $100 million a year
- There are over one billion games downloaded every single week from the App Store and Google Play
All of which has led some to say the App Store is actually the Game Store. (Which, of course, would make “Google Play” a particularly good name for Google’s app market.)
Lately, I’ve been looking at the top apps in a number of different categories, including the top 100 fintech apps, and I wanted to turn my attention to games. The question I wanted to answer: what are the top mobile games of 2021 so far, and how are they distributed across the iOS App Store and Google Play? An important caveat: I’m looking at the U.S. market specifically, which should be directionally accurate in many locations, but clearly not so much for countries like China, Russia, and Japan, among others.
Here’s what I’ve seen.
Games are the vast majority of top-grossing apps, especially on Android
To no one’s surprise by now, most top-grossing apps are games. But it’s interesting that this is especially true on Android … which provides a few hints as to why fintech mobile growth marketers didn’t follow the bulk of the user acquisition crowd to Android when Apple made mobile advertising performance measurement harder in iOS 14.5.
- 60% of the top 200 most profitable iOS apps are games
- 81% of the top 200 most profitable Android apps are games
(Process: I checked the top 200 grossing apps on both iOS and Android via Apptopia, then eliminated all non-gaming apps.)
It’s not all games, obviously. YouTube is currently the top grossing app on iOS, while Android’s leader is Google One, Google’s storage and backup solution. And the big streaming media services are well-represented: Disney+, HBO Max, Pandora, Hulu, and Twitch. Plus, the biggest and best-known dating apps hit the top 10 on iOS: Bumble and Tinder.
But clearly, games dominate. Especially on Android.
In fact, you have to go down to the 34th highest grossing app on Android to get the first dating app, Tinder. Everything above it is a game, except for Google One and a couple of streaming media services.
The question, of course, is which games are winning.
The top 50 mobile games across iOS and Android
Here’s the list of the top 50 games of 2021 so far:
|Overall rank||Games||iOS rank||Android rank|
|1||Candy Crush Saga||2||1|
|3||Garena Free Fire||4||2|
|8||Candy Crush Soda||19||11|
|9||Lords Mobile: Tower Defense||25||6|
|11||Call of Duty||16||16|
|14||State of Survival||17||18|
|17||RAID: Shadow Legends||27||12|
|18||Jackpot Party – Casino Slots||23||17|
|20||Slotomania: Vegas Casino Slots||21||21|
|22||Clash of Clans||6||38|
|23||Top War: Battle Game||20||29|
|24||Rise of Kingdoms||26||26|
|25||Cash Frenzy Casino||32||25|
|27||Puzzles & Survival||35||23|
|28||Star Trek Fleet Command||45||13|
|29||Dragon Ball Z||22||37|
|31||Empires & Puzzles||37||24|
|33||Marvel Strike Force: Squad||48||20|
|34||Solitaire Grand Harvest||36||33|
|35||Cashman Casino Las Vegas Slots||31||39|
|36||DoubleDown Casino Slots||30||41|
|37||House of Fun: Play Casino Slots||54||20|
|39||POP Slots Live Vegas Casino||53||32|
|40||Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes||46||40|
|41||Marvel Contest of Champions||42||49|
|42||Lightning Link Casino Slots||40||51|
|43||World Series of Poker||38||56|
|44||Lotsa Slots – Vegas Casino||65||34|
|45||Solitaire TriPeaks Card Games||69||30|
|48||Yahtzee with Buddies Dice||44||64|
|49||Game of Thrones: Conquest||47||69|
|50||Big Fish Casino: Slots||58||61|
A few observations about the top 50 gaming apps
- Battle battle battle
No fewer than 20 of the top 50 games involve battles, making it the single most popular type of game. There’s major differences, of course, between games here — Clash of Clans is not very similar to Empires & Puzzles, and both are very different from Call of Duty — but clearly fighting and battling, whether in teams or individually, is hugely popular. And, clearly, hugely lucrative.
- The king is the king
King is completely rocking it, with 2 games in the top 8.
- Roblox wins the make-your-world-and-play-in-it sweepstakes
Roblox is an absolute juggernaut. Minecraft doesn’t make the cut, mostly because it’s a paid app that ranks pretty well on iOS (52nd) but nowhere near that on Android.
- Casino apps dominate after battle games
Americans love casinos and gambling: no fewer than 12 casino/slots/gambling games make the top 50 games list.
- Old apps rule?
Pokémon go might be more than 5 years old … but it’s still a massive moneymaker. Clash of Clans, PUBG, Fishdom, Candy Crush … many of these apps have been around for a LONG time. They’ve built huge player communities, and they’ve commanded loyalty for a significant period of time.
- Sports is MIA …
There’s only 1 sports-themed game, and it’s Golf Clash (Madden NFL is #52 on the iOS top grossing list, and nonexistent in the top 75 Android games).
- IP-driven games are important, but not dominant
Only 8 of the top 50 are powered by IP from big entertainment brands like Marvel or Star Trek.
- Alas, poor Fortnite … we knew you well
Fortnite is nowhere present, thanks to Apple’s and Epic’s epic battle. However … we should expect to see it again soon, given the court’s judgement. Epic has already submitted for reinstatement into the Korean App Store based on a new law there that requires Apple and Google to open up payments, and we can expect similar in the U.S. That said … using third-party payment processors may make it harder to know who’s winning in mobile
It’s important to note that there’s clearly a few ways of building a list of the top 50 apps. (And that “best” is very much a subjective assessment.)
However, from a mobile growth and mobile measurement perspective, I’m taking “best” to mean most successful. And I’m taking most successful to mean most profitable, mostly, and most used, partially. Those are probably very questionable assumptions for many gamers, so be warned.
Another important point, if you’re looking for the most profitable games across both iOS and Android, perhaps the best method is to get an accurate estimate of each game’s revenue on both major platforms, add it up, and rank them by revenue. One thing I didn’t like about this method is that it preferences iOS apps, which especially in the U.S. are more generally speaking more profitable than Android — 64% more profitable, on average, according to a 2019 calculation — even if Android apps are used a bit more. That means Roblox, which is tops on iOS but fifth on Android, actually makes more money than Candy Crush Saga, which is second on iOS and first and Android.
I wanted to avoid platform bias as much as possible, so I took the top 75 games on each platform and sorted them by combined gross revenue ranking. The results are directionally correct, but bear in mind the caveats before taking them as gospel written in tablets of stone. (The results are also a little more generalizable to the rest of the world, as the U.S. is approaching 60% iOS marketshare right now.)
All of which, of course, leads to a couple interesting observations:
- There are 50 mobile games that are top-75 for gross revenue on both Android and iOS
- Roughly speaking, two-thirds of the top games are big cross-platform hits, with some exceptions
- 20 games are top 75 on iOS but not on Android
- 22 games are top 75 on Android but not on iOS
Even though games dominate, they’re not alone
It is important to note that although games dominate, there’s more to the App Store and Google Play. In fact, if you look at the top 10 apps by downloads in the second quarter of this year according to App Annie, no games appear:
- HBO Max
- Facebook Messenger
- ZOOM Cloud Meetings
- Cash App
The same is true when you look at top 10 apps by revenue for Q2 2021:
- HBO Max
- Pandora Music
- Google One
- BIGO LIVE
- Bumble App
In other words, the very biggest apps that get the most downloads and earn the most money tend not to be games. They tend to be social apps, messaging, apps, streaming media apps, utilities, fintech apps, and dating apps. But there’s only a handful of these.
After a few massive apps like that, gaming apps completely dominate the top-grossing charts. There’s simply many, many more of them that are extremely popular and super profitable. Only a very few social and media and entertainment players are big enough to compete.
In-app purchases versus mobile commerce: retail purchases
Almost all measures of mobile app profitability are dependent on in-app purchases. In fact, 98% of Apple’s in-app purchase revenue came from games in 2018 to 2019, as we learned in the Epic vs Apple lawsuit. But the most profitable kinds of apps are not those that facilitate purchases of digital items for in-game or in-app use.
In 2020, knowing it was facing pressure from Epic Games, Basecamp, Netflix, Amazon, and multiple other parties to open up payments, Apple commissioned a report and opened up its data to an independent review by Analysis Group. The results, Apple says, are that 80% of the value exchange facilitated by mobile is not for digital goods but real-world goods.
From my story at the time:
Apple’s app ecosystem enabled $519 billion in commercial activity in 2019, the company suggested in a third-party report released today. Only $61 billion of that was digital goods and services, like games, e-books, and apps, and $45 billion of it was in-app advertising.
The lion’s share, $413 billion, was physical goods and services.
In other words, the most profitable app on the App Store and in Google Play is probably no game or streaming service or dating app. It’s probably the Amazon app, which enables a huge amount of mobile commerce for people buying good old-fashioned stuff made out of atoms and molecules. How much it makes exactly we may never know, but we do know Amazon owns about 50% of e-commerce in the U.S. And we know that its app is tremendously successful, with over 500 million installs on Android (as you can see on its app listing page) and likely over 100 million installs on iOS.
Once again, top games are subjective
Finally: the top games of 2021 are super-subjective. And it’s probably that if you approach such a list from a perspective of most fun, or most innovative, or more influential, you’d come up with a completely different group of games.
That’s 100% fine.
And I’d love to see it!
Talk to Singular? Maybe you should …
If you’re a gaming app and are looking for marketing intelligence that can drive growth, and marketing measurement that provides the best insights for ROI optimization, book some time with Singular.
Grab a slot here, and let’s chat. We’ll listen more than we talk, understand your business and your needs, and share what we can do to help.