Game downloads for smartphones and tablets should triple in the next five years, a trend that will have a significant impact on console gaming.
By 2017, the market for mobile games will reach 64.1 billion downloads more than three times what they were in 2012, when there were 21 billion downloads, according to a report released Thursday by Juniper Research in London.
Rapid growth of mobile downloads is being driven by free games, better hardware, and proliferation of smartphones, the research firm reported.
The report said that an increase in the number of sophisticated games--which allow for truly multi-platform game play through the use of cloud technology - will make mobile the primary screen for gamers.
Additionally, greater amounts of memory on hardware means consumers will be able to download more games onto their phones and tablets, it added.
Free games will rule
Free games will totally dominate the market by 2017, it said, with only seven percent of downloads being paid for at the point of purchase.
That may concern some developers, but the author of the report, Siân Rowlands, maintains that free games, which offer paid content through in-app purchases, can be more lucrative for coders than pay-before-download entertainment.
"There's an opportunity there for developers to make so much more money that way," she told PCWorld.
"With a pay-for-download game, a consumer pays once and the developer never sees them again," she continued. "With in-app purchasing, people can spend so much money because there's so many options."
Juniper also believes that the surging smartphone and tablet markets will significantly impact the dedicated portable game market. Mobile games won't eliminate that market, the report said, but "with players such as Nintendo cutting its sales forecasts by 14 percent for its 3DS, and 27 percent for its Wii U, it is hard to deny the challenge by the smartphone and tablet sector."
Nintendo's console platform will also feel the sting of mobile game mania because it aims its products at casual gamers, added Jia Wu, a senior analyst with Strategy Analytics.
"People who used to play casual games on consoles are now playing them on mobile devices," he told PCWorld. "Clearly, that affects Nintendo's market."
"The impact for Sony and Microsoft is relatively small because they focus on the hard-core gamer market and living-room entertainment," he added.
The burgeoning mobile game market may affect console game-makers in another way, however. Wu expects console games to start looking more like mobile games.
"The advantage of the mobile model is that it's easy to pick up a game, try it, and have fun," he said. That's the polar opposite of a hard-core game for a console.
"Right now," Wu said, "even the big studios are trying to learn from mobile games."