The Rise of Mobile Gaming in Vietnam: Taking it to the Next Level

by Jade Hoang Business Development Manager, Vietnam, Nativex

The COVID-19 pandemic may have negatively impacted some industries, but others have experienced remarkable upticks in growth. In particular, mobile gaming has seen a notable surge, as extended stay-home restrictions have increasingly opened up pockets of time for consumers to play online games. This is especially significant in regions such as Southeast Asia – where 90% of individuals use their mobile devices to access the Internet, and spend over four hours a day on mobile applications. In Southeast Asia, strong growth in mobile gaming is still anticipated, with a forecasted 250 million mobile gamers in the region by 2021, led by Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Vietnam, in particular, has shown unique characteristics and untapped potential for developers and advertisers alike to reach in-market gamers and consumers. 

Vietnam’s mobile gaming landscape 

With a quickly-growing economy and youthful populace, Vietnam has seen the number of internet users in the country triple over the past decade. Similar to other countries in Southeast Asia, Vietnam’s mobile-first population sees 72% of adults in the country using a mobile device every day. In Vietnam, there are approximately 3.99 million gamers, and over 60% are between 18 and 30 years old. With COVID-19, online gaming in Vietnam spiked, with a 40% increase in mobile game downloads before and after the 2020 Tet holiday in Vietnam (compared with no increase across the same period in 2019).

Chinese-themed online games have also proven to be highly popular in Vietnam due to cultural similarities. In 2017, all but 15 of the 293 games released in Vietnam were launched by Chinese developers. Additionally, data from the Vietnamese Ministry of Information and Communications revealed that 69% of legal massively multiplayer online (MMO) games in the country in 2020 were released by Chinese companies. In the same year, Vietnam also ranked second in terms of mobile video gaming experience in Southeast Asia, behind only Singapore. The high quality of mobile experiences available in Vietnam enables local gamers to enjoy games that demand more powerful graphics and processing systems – such as midcore and hardcore games. 

Midcore and hardcore games

Midcore and hardcore gamers are defined by distinct behaviour and characteristics, setting them apart from softcore or casual gamers. Understanding these motivations and responses are critical for developers and companies to attract the right customers and grow their user bases. 

Midcore gamers still enjoy video and online games, despite busy schedules, and are more invested in gaming than softcore or casual gamers. Correspondingly, midcore games are more challenging than casual titles, usually offer competitive modes, and require strategy and skill to reach milestones and climb rankings. Comparatively, hardcore gamers play to win against other players, test and build their skills, and even complete a game to fully experience the in-game universe. Several steps up from midcore games, hardcore games demand significant time investment, for players to learn game mechanics and immerse themselves in storytelling. Hardcore titles span massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBA) and first-person shooters, many of which are used in competitive esports arenas. 

Esports has proven a lucrative and extremely popular activity across Asia, generating $519 million in revenue in the region last year – representing half of global esports revenue in 2019, and by far the highest figure out of any region in the world. As COVID-19 continues to compel people all over the world to stay indoors, similar strong growth is anticipated in the immediate to medium term. As a result, mobile game developers are in the optimal position to leverage digital channels and reach out to key demographics, to acquire new users for up-and-coming midcore and hardcore games. 

Reaching the right audiences 

To reach the right users for midcore and hardcore games, and maximise acquisition especially during the initial launch phase, developers must carefully analyse consumer behaviour, and tailor advertising strategies to complement these preferences. A key concern for midcore and hardcore titles is around audience targeting – these games do not need to acquire a high volume of downloads and players, but rather need to build a qualified volume, with a high lifetime value – where downloads are made by the right target users who will continue playing a game for an extended time. 

One key strategy for developers is leveraging up-and-coming social channels for maximum impact. This method of increasing large-scale visibility with the target user profile is especially effective in Asia, where social media is constantly used by a large base of young, digitally savvy individuals. In particular, hashtag challenges on TikTok have proven to be especially successful. Hashtags are situated at the app’s top entry points (such as in-feed ads and challenge pages), and are supported by a constant flow of user-generated content – both of which greatly increase visibility. 

Developers have also used playable ads to successfully drive acquisitions for midcore and hardcore games. Playable ads showcase midcore and hardcore games from multiple perspectives, including mechanics, characters, skills and combat. For example, interactive ads from the launch campaign of fantasy MMORPG Dragon Raja allowed the target audience to personalise character appearances and costumes. This in turn helped spotlight highly unique in-game elements, and enabled viewers to directly experience gameplay in an immersive, engaging manner. 

Having a deep understanding of target audiences and personalising campaigns based on these insights have also proven particularly effective. With Dragon Raja, which was launched in February 2020, Twitter and Snapchat were selected as the key social channels to run the launch campaign. These channels were deliberately curated to cater to the target markets of the US, Canada and Germany. To enhance targeting and ad relevance, key user demographics (such as gender and areas of interest) were also identified, and customised creatives were delivered to these specific groups via the selected social channels. As a result, Dragon Raja managed to surpass 2.7 million downloads within the first 30 days of launch.

The future of mobile gaming

While different regions and countries bounce back from COVID-19 at different rates, mobile gaming will continue its strong positive growth – especially for mobile-centric countries such as Vietnam – and is forecasted to reach a potential $98 billion in revenue by 2024. More and more consumers look to playing online games as a form of release, especially in a time where physical travel is all but impossible. In this situation, developers are well-positioned to actively build and scale their user bases, as the overall target audience base continues to grow. They hence need to be especially savvy about evolving demographic trends and preferences, and tailor strategies to showcase emerging games at the right place and the right time, to the right individuals – to ultimately attain conversion and user acquisition. 

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