Mobile gaming is an environment all its own. It has proven to be immensely popular and highly profitable, with most gaming revenue coming from mobile games (generally cheaper to produce, if not upkeep). With that, every developer and publisher wants their piece of the pie, hoping their game can be the next big hit to rake in the money and prestige that comes with that.
To that end, there are a nearly endless number of mobile games of a variety of genres, from simple clickers to massive strategy games to endless runners.
We wanted to take a look at the biggest mobile games of 2023 and perhaps look towards the future a bit, and here are our results:
Which games are truly the popular ones? Does a quick bubble and burst over a month mean a game deserves your attention now? What about a steady audience over five years? Many games have big launches due to a tie-in with a popular IP and then fizzle out when people learn the game is not very fun. At other times it takes a while for a game to get popular, only getting a spike due to the right exposure at the right time.
While we could go simply by the number of downloads, we feel that does not give weight to other measures of popularity, like impact on the gaming community, the number of committed and concurrent players, and the amount of time people spend playing the game.
We also decided not to put these in any particular order despite the numbers. Measuring playtime or lasting impact is not something easily done. Additionally, the ebbs and flows of the market mean that these games could have shifted multiple times over the year, changing the rankings with an update or a promotion. Mobile games simply aren't as stable, which in some ways is key to their success and general popularity.
The Call of Duty Franchise is so dominant that it effectively has its own corner of the gaming market, with many people only playing the latest release and buying a console just to play it with their friends. There is a release practically every year, to the point that there are several studios with massive budgets working on it. They are action-packed first-person shooters sporting matches with up to 100 players with their latest battle royale mode.
With all of that stated, a Call of Duty game on mobile does lead to one fundamental question: how on earth do you play a relatively high-speed first-person shooter on the phone? The answer is through careful development and recognizing that phones have improved quite a bit recently. Players not wanting to use a phone as a controller can also use a modern controller, making the experience normal to most players.
In just its first month, the game saw more than 148 million downloads, and it remains one of the largest mobile games in history. It has both multiplayer matches with all of the standard game modes found in Call of Duty games and a Battle Royale mode that includes up to 100 players a match.
There will always be a player base that wants the absolute best graphics and controls and will stand for nothing less. Yet, with Call of Duty: Mobile, we are seeing a switch towards people gaming whenever they get the chance and technology catching up to the needs of the latest games.
While Fortnite or Call of Duty might be the prominent battle royale in the media at the moment, PUBG Mobile still maintains a solid player base. It will be a popular game for quite some time, barring major errors, new competitors taking the player base, or a lack of support from the developer (which seems unlikely). As it has over 1 billion downloads and a major international player base, the demographics might shift, but the game will keep going.
PUGB Mobile players are all placed in a large environment littered with loot, buildings, cover, and some vehicles. Some people play more aggressively, gaining more and better loot but taking on more risk. In contrast, others try to hide, perhaps lasting longer but finding themselves at a disadvantage when only a few players remain. Many players enter, and only one player or team wins.
Compared to the cartoony aesthetic of Fortnite, PUBG is a bit more grounded and, while certainly not realistic by any means, attracts a different audience than the other major battle royales.
While Clash of Clans might have never gotten top billing in terms of the mobile games market at any one time, it remains popular and has reached hundreds of millions of downloads throughout its life after its release on August 2, 2012.
The game generally works as a multiplayer online game in which players group together into clans and fight other players and groups. Resources are earned by attacking other groups. It's a common enough formula among browser and mobile titles. Still, Clash of Clans did something right to make it well-known and popular, building a persistent base of users that keep it in the top 50 grossing titles rounding close to a decade on the market.
If you are not interested in the game's multiplayer aspects or want to learn the game a bit more first, there is a single-player mode people can engage with. It has gotten good reviews and serves as a more in-depth tutorial. It was a rare focus in a game that wouldn't see as much profit from the feature, but it likely kept people playing for longer and building a habit.
The game is still popular in 2021, even to the degree that it is getting additional spinoff titles that were announced recently. Whether a similar game supplants it is yet to be seen, but there will be plenty of options in the future for people who are into the game but want something just a bit different.
Whatever else people might be playing, Candy Crush remains. It has a dedicated, if casual, player base. The game has now been out for roughly a decade, and it has been through various updates and iterations. The match-three gameplay and surrounding mechanics have become staples players feel they cannot find anywhere else (though there are many pale imitations). So far, the series has billions of downloads and is one of the top-grossing games of all time, all for relatively simple design and regular updates.
If you are not familiar, Candy Crush has players swap pieces of candy on the screen to create matches of three or more, removing them from the board and scoring points. Players can create chains and combos as well as powerup candies, which have additional effects. Each level might have different goals, but ultimately it is always the skillful and efficient swapping of candies.
Candy Crush Saga uses a freemium model that often gives players more health, lives, or some advantage if they are willing to spend money. While many people have spent perhaps just a little too much, the balance here does keep people playing.
This social deduction game took the online world by storm recently, and there is still a dedicated player base to this day, whether on PC or mobile. Even if you haven't played it, you probably have heard about it or seen some memes about it.
In Among Us, you are a crewperson on one of several maps, either on the side of the crewmates or the imposter. Crew members need to perform various tasks on the map and figure out who the imposters are. The imposters need to sabotage the crew while killing them, leaving only imposters. Additionally, players can call together a meeting and vote out players. This leads to all sorts of deception, accusations, and tension.
Launched in 2018, the game enjoyed some success but only truly took off in popularity when a series of popular content creators started playing the game, building up a following for the game that has not necessarily stopped since. It gained such popularity that the developers decided to cancel the sequel to focus on further updates and development for the first game.
Among Us was also made for mobile and fits exceptionally well with it, not requiring anything more than the controls and inputs a smartphone provides and the social and logical reasoning of the player. While it can be fun to play with strangers, it can be an absolute blast for you and a bunch of your friends to get together and play.
You have most likely heard of Fortnite, and with good reason. Over just a few years, the battle royale game (they certainly have become popular over the last few years) has turned into something perhaps even larger than gaming. Even Fortnite's developers might think they are on a different level, having the funds to go to court against Apple over the cut of revenue Apple receives.
There are other battle royales on this list, but Fortnite had its own approach and polish. It's easy and fun to play and introduces building mechanics where players can create a cover, towers, and other things, making it more than a straightforward third-person shooter. As the company gained more money and influence, they only branched out more, with there now being concerts hosted on Fortnite and new content at an almost alarming rate.
While not everyone plays the game on a mobile device, this is another scenario in which just the mobile players of Fortnite would outnumber the players of the vast majority of other games. There is always a game ready to go, despite the larger number of players required to start. Epic Games, which develops Fortnite, has an online store and is now one of the most wealthy businesses in the industry. Their investments in the space will likely mean that we will see Fortnite and other games around for a long while.
Pokémon, outside of being a series of top-rated video games, is a cultural institution. There is no media franchise more popular, and some of the most famous creatures are just as recognizable as some real-life animals, for better or worse. Niantic, who worked previously on similar games, worked with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company to create an AR game that used your GPS location and landmarks to graft a game world onto a real one, creating a novel experience for many. It is truly a game that can only exist on mobile devices as we know them today. When launched, Pokémon Go was one of the biggest things on the planet. People were out at all hours playing the game and trying to get every creature (there weren't so many at the time) as well as get the best stats on creatures for battle and gym control, which is a simplified version of those found in mainline Pokémon Games, using the mobile platform.
One would think that Pokémon Go would take a massive hit with the ongoing pandemic. Still, fortunately for both themselves and the player base Niantic adapted the game, allowing for remote raids and more remote features, meaning players could play indoors just a bit more and safely catch Pokémon while social distancing. With plenty of Pokémon left to release and more features that developers could add, Pokémon Go likely has a long future among mobile games and a clear place in gaming history.
It can be a little tough on older phones, and sometimes the mobile screen doesn't do this quite beautiful game justice. Yet, the recently released Genshin Impact is turning out to be a critical and commercial hit. Some people would say it is a clone of Nintendo's Breath of the Wild. In truth, it has several additional systems on top and is undoubtedly its own entity. While many people play it on PC, the mobile market is there for it. People who do not have gaming PCs take full advantage of what the game offers on their devices, with an easy-to-use control scheme and easy-to-understand gameplay.
The game is free to play and is set to remain fun for free-to-play players (in contrast to many other mobile games.) However, there are "gacha" monetization methods. Genshin Impact encourages playing and logging in every day and week, trying to keep players hooked and make the game a part of one's routine. These features are by no means exclusive to Genshin Impact. However, many casual players have reported ignoring these features and reported continued enjoyment of the game.
Most recently, Legends of Runeterra has become incredibly popular. The free-to-play collectible card game from Riot Games (mostly known for League of Legends) has taken hold of the genre, perhaps supplanting mainstays such as Hearthstone and Magic: the Gathering. While there will be players who never leave their game of choice, Legends of Runeterra offers a new and exciting option for people looking to switch games but looking for the right pick.
It is effectively a 1v1 card game utilizing a custom deck of 40 cards, with plenty of different strategic options for players and more coming in regular updates. It has rules designed for shorter matches compared to some online card games, making it an excellent choice for mobile players with a few minutes at a time. It also simplifies things in terms of information and allows for complex gameplay that remains faster-paced. It was consistently praised for being accessible to newcomers.
Legends of Runeterra also received praise for its monetization model, using battle passes of cards for a reasonable price instead of using a booster pack model, making players potentially shovel out hundreds or even thousands of dollars for an entire collection. In general, the game received high praise, which is somewhat noteworthy for a mobile game. While the ongoing pandemic has affected development, Legends of Runeterra is still going strong, and we will likely see continued support for some time alongside League of Legends.
Minecraft is on every platform, with players of all ages doing all types of activities. It is the perfect sandbox in many regards. The simple act of rearranging cubes to fit your creative wants or surviving in a nearly endless world filled with many monsters converts surprisingly well to mobile devices.
The modding community truly makes the game stand out in the PC market and others (to a more limited degree.) Minecraft has a dedicated mobile player base due to the portability and the base game, which is still solid after all these years and gets enough updates to remain a staple of many people's gaming diets.
Although Minecraft has been out for quite a while now on many platforms, improved smartphone technology has allowed users to have an easier time with the game and get a better picture and, in many cases, better controls. As more gaming-related peripherals come out, we get better online infrastructure to support mobile devices, and the developers get more mobile experience; Minecraft is likely to blow up even more on smartphones.
So after these games, what comes next? What will people be rabid for in the course of the next few months? Of course, there will be steady players for all the games listed above and more. Yet, many people will cycle through mobile games quickly. They either get bored, run into a paywall or simply pick something else up and forget their original game.
And all of this is fine. Hundreds of thousands of people would still be playing Everquest if people did not move on from games and decide to try out new developments. Yet what people move onto and stick with matters a great deal, as it will dictate both the genres that will be popular in the future and some business practices.
In truth, we have no idea what the most popular mobile games after the time of this writing will be. While big budgets can make success more likely, and you can usually bank on a popular IP for a little while, a game needs both a breakthrough and staying power to reach the level attained by other titles on this list. We can only eagerly await to see what that is.
The games you see listed here and what you might see as popular might vary greatly. This list certainly does not and cannot include everything. However, what you see above are ten mobile games that have captured the market with their quality gameplay, addictive nature, or sheer power from branding. They reflect both the present and future and any one of them could be something you might want to try yourself. Whatever your takeaway, we hope you enjoyed this list and continue to enjoy mobile gaming in the future.