The Top Grossing Mobile Game Genres of 2018

by Tom Kinniburgh

This is a continuation from last weeks analysis of the Download Charts in 2018, this week we will look at the Top Grossing Charts in 2018.

Genres and taxonomies are important distinctions for game designers. What works in one genre may not work in another. The audience – their tastes, their expectations, their desires vary dramatically. Within the app landscape, we are generally confined to the genres defined by the stores themselves. However, most of the time, they are too generic or audience trends react quickly and the standard groupings are not large enough. GameRefinery have recategorised and evaluated mobile games into 40 more relevant sub-genres. MFTP worked with their data to see how sub-genre landscape changed throughout 2018 and as a developer which genres might be overlooked or undervalued?

Top Grossing Charts in 2018

The top grossing represents the genres with the best mechanics that make people part with their cash and spend via IAPs. With all free to play the action of conversion (spending money in game) is a rare event. The vast majority of people never spend and those that do spend, spend infrequently. Therefore, games that do well in the grossing chart have game mechanics that increase the likelihood of a conversion event or the frequency of multiple conversion events.

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We took the GameRefinery data set of the top 500 Grossing apps in each quarter of 2018, the games were categorised into a fixed set of 40 sub-genres according to their game mechanics. For each sub-genre, we determined:

  1. The number of games in each sub-genre
  2. The rank of each game
  3. The Min rank, Max (mode) rank, Average rank, Median rank, Standard Deviation for each sub-genre.

Games which have a high number of titles in the the chart, could be considered as strong monetizing genres. Their mechanics encourage higher spends.  Games with the highest rank, i.e Position 1-5, earn the most money on a per app basis. High, Min or Max ranks signify that apps within the sub-genre perform very well.  Using calculated metrics we assess each of the sub-genre ability at driving high revenues on the app store.

We found some clusters of sub-genres that have more effective game mechanics at making money on the app store.  

  • Rising Stars – Genres which have the highest chart rankings, but not necessarily a large number of games.
  • Reliable Giants – Genres that have a large number of titles that span the full chart rankings, top to bottom
  • Smash Hits – 1 or 2 titles that hit the top 20 grossing but the average game performs poorly.
  • Fun but Free – Genres that support a small number of low performing titles consistently.

The Best Top Grossing Genres in 2018

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The number of games in the charts over each of the quarters is a clear measure of a sub-genres ability to monetize.  These are the 4 reliable giants (Slots, Match3, Turnbased RPG, 4X Strategy) in the top grossing charts and we have covered these in the monetization section of the bible.  Each of these sub-genres support a large number (40-60) of games across all 4Q of 2018 that stay within the top 500 grossing. The rest of the genres tend to support around 5-20 games on average with Word/Trivia and Puzzle supporting the most.

Each quarter there is some movement in the number of games within a category. Categories which grew the count of games from Q1 -> Q4 in 2018 are showing stronger performance to monetize. The large dark green circle represents Q4 and the smallest pale green represents Q1. A consistent rise through 2018 would have the largest green circle at the top and the small green circle at the bottom, showing a rise in the number of chart positions being held. Slots, Battle Royale and MMORPG have all shown stead rise through 2018, whereas 4X Strategy, Tycoon/Crafting and Card Battlers have slowly dropped through 2018.  The best rising star categories outside of the Reliable Giants have been Word, Casual Sports and Casual Racing. Each of these have shown that they can grow their category in 2018. Comparing between this and the download charts, you can see that monetization is broader and less condensed although safety lies within the rising giants, which is why we see so many clones and copies of these game mechanics.

The Skew of Top Grossing Genres

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The chart above shows the spread of the revenue data. I took the average data across the 4 quarters to represent all of 2018. All the games have been ranked according to their highest average position throughout the year, the bottom left quadrant are the top performing genres. A wick (the thin blue line) is the min and max position for titles throughout 2018. A Candle the short, fat rectangle is the median and mean chart positions within 2018.  The shorter the wicks the tighter the range for the whole subgenre, meaning more concentrate chart positions. Concentrated high chart positions are favoured because the higher the rank the greater the ability to drive monetization. However, the number of games per category vary wildly and a larger number of games naturally increases the length of the wicks.

AR games such as Jurassic World Alive, Puzzle RPG and Card Battlers all have a number of titles that sit very high in the charts with a tight overall range. These sub-genres represent the rising stars of the grossing charts as they have a small number of top performing titles. It could also mean that gamers in these genres are more fickle, and favour 1 or 2 top titles with unique mechanics rather than playing a range of titles that each feature similar mechanics, like the reliable giants.  A lot of these sub genres also represent new and emerging niches in 2018 and when you observe the data across the 4Q you can often see more game entering and climbing the charts quickly.


If a genre has a dark blue central candle then it means the genre skewed positively, it’s Mean was higher than its median. A positive skew means that of all the games in the sub-genre more of them were of a higher rank than the average, meaning more games towards the top of the charts.  If the candle is white then the genre skewed negatively meaning more of the titles lay towards the lower end of the charts. The wider the bar the bigger the skew.

Games with long blue candles and very low wicks tend to show genres which have a number of top ranking games pulling up some low rank games. Battle Royale, Synchronous Battler and Interactive Story genres all show some stellar titles in the category, but also likely have fast following low performing titles bringing the average down.

Games with long with candles and short overall wicks represent genres that sit in the middle of the ranks, with a larger number of mid ground titles. Card Battler, Bingo and Breeding all feature stable but not stellar performances throughout 2018.

Bubble Chart of Top Grossing Genres

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Top ranking games make the most money and we know that the store itself. Another visual representation of the same data shows the count highlighted by the size of bubble. AR and Puzzle rank highest overall throughout 2018 but have a small number of titles. 4X and Slots have the largest number of consistently performing game in the Top Grossing for 2018.

Competition on the App Store

Competitiveness is a huge factor in deciding which genre to try to attack when building your next game. The more games in a sub-genre, the harder it is to differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd. A small number of titles with a low average rank however, means that the mechanics of the sub-genre itself might not support good monetization and is also a risky undertaking. It is therefore prudent to try to create a game in a genre with a lower number of titles, that each maintain a high average rank. We favour games which are rank 1-10 disproportionately as they take a lot more money than the lower ranks and we also prefer genres which have a positive skew as that’s showing that more of their titles are sitting higher in the charts than lower. We then combine this together to form the Genre Score (This is not a perfect mathematical score, something we came up with) and these game genres. Anything over 0 is good.  

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Match 3, even with it’s competitiveness still stands out as a clear favourite for consistently monetizing an audience and maintaining high chart positions. This has been known about for some time with King and Playrix building entire studios and brands, appealing mainly towards the match3 audience. With enough uniqueness and enough marketing power there is still always room for another match3, but be prepared for the competition on the marketing side. AR and Battle Royale are still the stand out winners in terms of new entrants on the grossing chart. They have managed to support a few titles that all perform quite well while achieving high ranks.  


2018 has seen some real flux in the smaller genres through 2018. Although the top 4 grossing genres remained strong, rather than further consolidation there have been 2 strong entrants in the form of AR and Battle Royale that have supplied new gameplay and new monetization routes. The overall number of viable genre options available to free to play designers has increased and new monetization methods, such as subscriptions or vanity based IAPs are providing large sustainable revenues. Match3, AR and Battle Royale we’re the top genres to pick in 2018. Stay on the look out for more pure RPG, Synchronous Battlers and Turn Based RPGs which might have new twists in 2019 for more adventurous studios. For more established studios the top 4 still consistently perform but the competition from niche studios is increasing and piling on the pressure.