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Nielsen data shows games remain most-downloaded apps, users don’t mind paying

by Phil Hornshaw

Market research firm Nielsen just released a bunch of new data on mobile app downloading, and surprise, surprise: games are still the most downloaded category of apps. Like it seems like they have been pretty much since the things we now regard as “apps” came into existence.

The Nielsen data tracks the categories of apps smartphone owners had downloaded “in the last 30 days” during the second quarter of 2011 when it conducted its survey. It found that 64 percent of users had downloaded games during that period; 60 percent had downloaded weather apps, while 56 percent had snagged something related to social networking, according to a story from PocketGamer.

That’s not really new information. The mobile game space has quickly become a huge industry, driven both by innovation by developers and the technology they have access to with smartphones, and by small-scale game experiences and low download prices.

But in addition to telling us a lot of things we already know – basically, that games are popular – the Nielsen survey data also told us a few things that are kind of interesting. First off, Nielsen polled app users to find out which apps they’d be most willing to pay for, and found that 93 percent of users would be willing to buy games rather than download free ones.

That’s somewhat at odds with a model of monetization that’s been picking up real steam in the last year: freemium, or free-to-play. That model allows users to download a game and play it for free, but with much of the game’s content only available to players willing to pay for it. Nielsen’s data suggests that while users are getting a lot more exposure to games they can play for free, they’re perfectly willing to pay to download a game they enjoy.

Freemium is definitely a workable way to make money from games, but as some titles, such as Epic Games’ and ChAIR Entertainment’s iOS hit Infinity Blade have shown, users will pay to download games and use in-app purchases to buy premium content when they enjoy a title. Infinity Blade has made about one-third of its $11 million revenue through in-app purchases, so a game doesn’t have to be free to encourage users to spend money on it.

Nielsen also found that mobile gamers on Android and iOS spend more time than average each month playing their games. Assuming an average of about 7.8 hours of mobile gaming each month, Nielsen found Android users logged 9.3 hours each month, but that was eclipsed by iOS gaming which reached an average of 14.7 hours each month. Windows Phone 7 had about 4.7 hours of gaming each month, while feature phones and BlackBerries saw about 4.5 hours each month.

That suggests to me that Android continues to suffer from a lack of games, something developers have been complaining about for some time, and something other developers and gaming companies have been working to rectify. But it also seems that while Android lags behind iOS gaming, it’s still making improvements.