Insights

Big Plays in Mobile Sports Games: Nifty Games Takes the Field with the NFL, NFLPA, NBA & NBPA

April 15, 2020 By Mark Vela, Vice President for Strategy

aXiomatic Gaming is thrilled to provide continued strategic and financial support to Nifty Games, who today announced completion of its Series A round as well as the exciting news that we are developing a mobile game in collaboration with the NFL and NFLPA. aXiomatic participated in this round after leading the Seed round, alongside existing partner Mach Capital and new partners such as Vulcan Capital and OneTeam Partners, the newly formed entity comprised of members of the NFLPA, MLBPA and other professional sports players associations. It is truly an all-star cast of investors teaming up with Nifty to capitalize on the opportunity.

Nifty has a unique vision for how to deliver incredibly fun, head-to-head sports gameplay on mobile devices, and the team’s NFL title announcement coupled with other recent news that they have secured licenses from the NBA and NBPA provides a great sneak peek into their exciting product pipeline. To pull the curtain back a bit further, I’d like to share a few of the key pillars of our investment thesis for Nifty and why we believe they’re well-positioned to hold a world championship trophy in the sports mobile gaming space.

1) Mobile gaming is a hugely attractive market segment within the ~$193B global gaming ecosystem

As a team, we at aXiomatic are big believers in the power of mobile games to broaden the definition of “gamer” to a global playerbase of over 2 billion and scaled to become the highest revenue generating segment in all of gaming.

Here are a couple of the particularly compelling trends driving our conviction to invest in mobile gaming:
(Source: IDG Consulting, a leading analytics company in the gaming space)

  • Gaming’s Biggest Revenue Segment. Mobile Games is expected to become the number one segment in gaming in 2020 with projected revenues of over $100B this year. This would make Mobile even bigger than both PC and Console, which are expected to generate just under ~$90B this year combined. For perspective, at $100B the 2020 mobile gaming segment’s worldwide revenues are expected to be 50% larger than the global box office and music markets combined.
  • Massive, Global Playerbase. Smartphones have become the number one gaming device worldwide with seemingly every global citizen carrying one in their pockets. Smartphone penetration has fueled the market’s growth to an estimated 2.4B mobile gamers, which dwarfs the installed base of PC (~1.3B estimated) & Console gamers (~200M estimated)

2) There is a ton of unexplored market territory in pro sports games for mobile

Prior to joining aXiomatic, I led the editorial team for mobile games at Google Play, where I worked with the world’s top mobile publishers and had an inside perspective on many top titles, including sports games. Based on my experience within the category I believe there are two types of sports games on mobile today, each with their own unique sets of challenges:

  • Realistic sports games (or “simulation games”) attempt to recreate the full, core pro sports video game experience on mobile devices (examples include NBA2K, NBA Live Mobile, NBA Now, Madden NFL Mobile, FIFA Mobile). These are largely mobile versions of existing PC and console franchises, which can run into challenges with porting game controls from handheld controllers to smartphones / touch controls and getting mobile players to commit the time to longer sessions typical of these titles.
  • Hypercasual sports games are much simpler games that typically try to recreate one single aspect of pro sports gameplay, such as kicking a field goal or shooting a jump shot (examples include Five Kicks!, Flick Field Goal, Flip Dunk). These games are lightweight, native to mobile, and often have strong “top of funnel” download numbers in the millions, but their lack of depth and lower-quality production value mean player engagement is harder to sustain and monetization per user is typically very low.

The unexplored market territory I’m referring to exists in between the hardcore realistic genre, which is premium quaity but can be daunting for a large swath of the mobile gaming audience, and the hypercasual set of sports titles, which are mobile-native but fail to attract and sustain engagement with some of the more passionate, quality-focused pro sports fans.

The gap is especially interesting for the NFL, whose viewership on mobile rose 109% from 2018-2019 while its TV viewership grew by 66%, and the NBA, whose younger audience strongly overlaps with mobile gaming. The dearth of variety in officially licensed NBA and NFL games on Mobile (there are only a few for each of the two leagues) leaves a huge opportunity for Nifty to offer a title that explores new ways to engage mobile gamers and serve the massive global tribe of NFL and NBA fans. These leagues also sport large and growing international followings, meaning the upcoming Nifty NFL and NBA games are particularly well positioned to gain interest from billions of gamers worldwide.

3) Nifty Games will build off and expand on an emerging winning formula for leading sports games

In the last couple of years, new mobile sports games like Golf Clash and Tennis Clash have shown us a fresh take on “midcore” sports titles and found great commercial success. These games have outlined an emerging playbook for attracting a large, rapidly-scaling playerbase and providing the kind of awesome experience players are willing to invest in.

Here are some key elements of this playbook, some of which we’ll see applied in Nifty Games’ titles:

  • Easy to pick up and play for casual players, with simple touch controls suitable for smartphones that allow virtually anyone to quickly learn how to play.
  • Core mechanics that are familiar and adapted from the real sport, where actions like swinging a golf club, hitting a tennis ball or shooting a jump shot feel fairly natural and intuitive with the adapted control schemes on mobile.
  • Strong depth and challenging road to mastery for “hardcore” players – despite simple controls, these games also provide a path for highly dedicated players to devise complex strategies, find innovative ways to outhinkg & outmaneuver their opponents and climb the rankings.
  • Quick-session player-vs-player matches – the ability to pop in and play quick, 1-3 minute matches against other players promotes multiple sessions per day without the hassle of logging onto a PC or gaming console.

While Nifty’s first titles are still under development and we can’t reveal too much, we’re excited that their company is part of this new wave of innovation and will be the first to bring it to official NFL & NBA mobile titles.

Ultimately, Nifty Games is a best-in-class example of the way the mobile sports gaming space is growing and evolving. From my time in Mobile games dating back to 2011 when I led Activision’s mobile gaming efforts, I’ve seen smartphones change from basic devices to mini supercomputers while the mobile gaming audience has exploded to nearly one third of the world’s population, and it is inspiring to see mobile sports game developers respond to these dramatic developments with their own big ideas. At aXiomatic, we’re passionate about finding these big ideas and helping bring them to life in the marketplace, shaping the future of gaming as we know it. So as an insider tip from me, be on the lookout for Nifty’s upcoming announcements as they bring the pigskin and hardwood to the glass screen in pockets all around the globe.