Is self-distribution for mobile games making a comeback?

Is self-distribution for mobile games making a comeback?

Alternative distribution channels for Android apps used to be a hot topic half a decade ago. There used to be dozens of app stores available and we got our feet wet in the process as well.

These alternative stores never took off well and today, Google Play remains the primary channel for mobile game developers to distribute their apps on Android devices. The only notable exception here is China where alternative stores have won.

With Epic Games launching its Fortnite game outside of Google Play earlier this year, is it possible that alternative distribution channels are making a comeback? Probably not in the format popular some years ago, but Epic Games’ move does give some food for thought to other game developers.

At its simplest, app stores provide game developers with user acquisition, distribution and billing. The primary reason why alternative stores failed was that they didn’t get the user acquisition part right. Everyone already had access to Google Play, so there was no need for a secondary channel for app discovery.

But while game developers have focused on growth through app stores, streaming services have over the past few years been using alternative distribution with great success. Streaming companies have been using telcos to grow for quite some time now. Disney is a notable example of a company who has leveraged telcos for both their streaming and gaming content.

Telco partnerships for gaming

Streaming and telcos have been a good match because music and video are generic services that anyone regardless of their demographic profile will want to consume. While 5 years ago mobile games were still considered to have a niche audience, that’s no longer the case.

Today, almost half of gamers are over 35 years old. Taking Indonesia as an example, 6 out of the 20 top free apps are games. What does this mean for game developers? It means telcos are now also becoming more interested in partnerships with game developers. They are willing to provide the same things - acquisition, distribution and billing - to game developers that they have been working on with streaming services.

Unlike alternative app stores, which did not manage to solve the user acquisition part of the equation, telcos have the entire chain covered:

  • user acquisition: established B2C marketing channels with both online and offline presence

  • distribution: enabling service access and delivering digital content to consumers is the telcos’ core business

  • billing: with direct carrier billing (and telco-operated wallets in some countries) in place, any decides to make payments is able to do so

Telco partnerships will not be realistic for all game developers and it will not be the main driver of user growth. But much like streaming services, game developers can use telcos to establish themselves in new markets and create incremental revenue growth.