Since the dawn of the smartphone, games have dominated consumers’ mobile minutes. In the past year, however, new research shows that social networking has risen to rival gaming on a per-minute basis.
Comparing the average time that smartphone users spent across app categories between the first quarter of 2011 and 2012, Flurry found that gaming dropped by 4% -- down to 24 minutes per day -- while social networking increased by 60% -- up to 24 minutes per day.
“The most significant trend is that for the first time in the history of applications … another app category is rivaling games,” according to Peter Farago, vice president of marketing at the analytics firm. (Flurry first began tracking app usage in 2008.)
“We take the rise in social networking apps as a signal of maturation for the platform,” Farago added. “As game demand may be hitting its saturation point, consumers are also discovering other apps -- namely social networking.”
For whatever reason, Flurry found that year-over-year growth in social networking app usage has been staggering. Not only has time spent increased by 60%, but also within a growing amount of total time spent in smartphone apps among consumers -- from 68 to 77 minutes -- representing a growth rate of 13%.
Flurry also found that ad revenue in apps is being driven primarily by the gaming and social networking categories. For February, March and April, game apps earned 35%, 35% and 36% of total ad revenue in Flurry’s AppCircle ad network, which it says reaches over 300 million unique devices per month.
Over the same three months, social networking climbed from 24% in February to 25% in March, and then to 37% in April.
“This is the first time in Flurry’s history that any category has surpassed games in ad revenue generated," Farago noted. (Flurry launched AppCircle in the summer of 2010.)
In either usage or revenue terms, can games reclaim their dominance among mobile users? Not likely, according to Farago. “As long as the total iOS and Android installed base grows, all categories will continue to grow naturally,” he explains. “However, as we reach saturation for mobile gaming on a per user basis … the games category could start behaving more like a ‘zero sum game’ from here on out, meaning that game companies would have to fight over a finite group of consumers in order to grow their businesses.”
Even with an influx of new consumers into the market, Farago expects would-be casual gamers to be increasingly wooed away from games by more compelling social networking apps.