The biggest surprises of 2012 in social and mobile gaming

2012 was a major year for the social and mobile games industries, with huge moments like  the legal battles between Zynga and developers like EA and Kixeye, the shutdown of kompu gacha mechanics in Japan and the expansion of major game brands onto these platforms. As the year comes to a close, each of us here at Inside Social Games and Inside Mobile Apps are looking back and noting what we found to be the biggest surprises.

AJ Glasser

Angry Birds Star Wars was a big surprise. Given all the iterations of Angry Birds out there, it didn’t seem Rovio could come up with a lot of canon-relevant bird powers, but — particularly after the Hoth update added a Leia bird — the game proves itself to be both relevant and entertaining

Pete Davison

My biggest surprise is the success of Rage of Bahamut in the States — the game is still riding high in the Top Grossing charts right now, meaning that people are not only playing it, but they’re spending money on it. This is particularly surprising given Rage’s many glaring flaws: it’s a game with a slow, cumbersome Web-based interface, a complete lack of sound and simplistic, repetitive and frankly rather dull gameplay, yet it resonates with people enough for them to be willing to put money into it. It has also inspired numerous other developers to try and repeat its success to little avail — despite, in many cases, these rival titles providing a vastly superior experience for players.

Kathleen De Vere

The big surprise for me was Japanese hits flopping in the United States. GREE’s Driland was a total flop in North America, but has been the most popular and profitable ard battle game in Japan for a long time. Puzzles and Dragons also seems DOA. Meanwhile Rage of Bahamut is a mega hit here after being only a middling hit in Japan.

Mike Thompson

The biggest — and most disappointing — surprise for me was SimCity Social. This was billed as Electronic Arts’ next big social hit after The Sims Social. After all of EA’s bravado about how the game was going to give players an experience that was “more city, less Ville”, we realized the play experience was certainly polished but pretty much the same as any other citybuilder (and it wasn’t any more impressive six weeks later). I clearly wasn’t the only player who got bored with the game, as it peaked in July with 1.8 million daily active users and quickly started to lose traffic (it’s now at 430,000 DAU). Another disappointing piece of news this year was that EA recently revealed it killed or delayed 10 social games at it switched to mobile; that makes sense following SimCity Social’s high-profile launch and subsequent floundering.

Emanuel Maiberg

The biggest and most pleasant surprise of the year for me was that social and mobile game developers are actually making an effort with bigger, more ambitious projects. Between Zynga publishing Horn and Respawnables, nWay’s ChronoBlade, Rumble Games’ KingsRoad and many more titles of an equally impressive scope, it seems that developers and publishers in the mobile and social space are no longer content with simply rehashing the same word and management sim formulas (which we still have too many of). I’m afraid that, as is the case in the AAA console titles, many of these teams will not find financial success but I am excited to play their games in 2013 and see how they push the whole industry forward.