A big deal: Why card games are perfect for mobile

Sam Forrest, director of global communications and content at KamaGames, explains why card games are suited to mobile gaming

Poker, and games like it, are perfect for mobile gaming. It might seem ironic that the world’s best-known analogue game has been so widely embraced by digital players, but embrace it they have.

According to a study by PayPal and SuperData, the smartphone is the most popular gaming platform in nine out of the 10 countries surveyed. Card games make up almost one-third of mobile games played, although the other most-popular genres (puzzle, strategy and trivia) share many of the same characteristics of card games too, such as the multiplayer experience, turn-based game-play and even, in some cases, aesthetics.

In fact, card games have more than 300% the audience on mobile as shooters (27% vs 8%) and more than double the players of sports games (sports games are at 11%,). For our part, Pokerist has been downloaded over 100 million times and is played by over 525,000 players every day.

At first glance it might seem like a paradox: Poker, and other card games dating back hundreds of years, are competing with cutting edge, brand new games made for a new technology (smartphones). But this tells only part of the story.

Here’s why traditional card games translate so comfortably to mobile gaming and especially social casino gaming:


As popular as card games are with players, they’re also appealing to developers for a number of different reasons. Firstly, they have relatively low technical demands compared to many app games. Because game-play is the key selling point, the cost of graphics development can be relatively low (unless the developers give it extra focus and effort with third-person, 3D and other innovations).

Aesthetically, a deck of cards fits perfectly within a smartphone’s screen and its shape is nearly identical. This makes for a seamless transition from analogue to digital. Card games also do not require vast processing or memory power and are compatible with just about any smartphones on the market.

That said, while overheads might be lower in some cases, competition is fiercer. We know it’s a competitive market, which is why we offer tournaments, events and frequent new game modes that tweak and play with the classic poker formula to keep our audience entertained and engaged.

Additionally, games are not as dependent on ping time and a fast internet connection as other multiplayer games can be. Multiplayer action games require reaction times in a fraction of a second, while card games just need reliable WiFi or 4G (or even 3G). This, unsurprisingly, is a great advantage for developers trying to enter new and emerging markets, as players do not need a world-class data infrastructure to play.

Basic card rules are almost universally known

Even for players who haven’t played one hand of poker, the mechanics of card games are iconic and familiar. Children’s games like Uno, Top Trumps, and games with a traditional deck (gin rummy, cheat etc) teach the fundamentals from a very young age. Examples of this can be that most card games are turn-based, most involve hiding the cards from other players, and most have a value-based card system (allocating value or powers to some cards over others).

While some regions never embraced specific cultural movements (console gaming, for instance, which doesn’t have a history in many countries), every culture understands the general concept of a card game.

The universality of card games is important for developers who want to conquer the global market. A conservative projection of $3.2bn revenue for 2018 in the US alone for social casino gaming paints an encouraging picture.  China, a country with a long history of card-based games, is set to overtake America as the gaming capital of the world. As reported by Bloomberg: ‘The 600 million gamers in China generated $24.6bn of the industry’s $101.1bn global market value over 2016, just ahead of the U.S.’s $24.1bn.’

China, incidentally, is one of the largest markets to bypass console gaming.

Playing with the format

Because players already understand the principles of card games, developers can play with its form, offering new aesthetic and game-play features when moving the game to digital. Mobile developers can add animation to cards, for instance, or tweak the game-play rules.

A good example of this is us adding ‘Party Modes’ to Pokerist, which bring new variations to the familiar, iconic game of poker. With a mobile, digital version we can offer new games frequently, with the digital ‘dealer’ taking on the administration and rule-keeping, and players can instantly find like-minded opponents. All of these are perks that are easier to apply in short notice to digital versions of card games.

KamaGames has launched seven Party Modes, including ‘10 to Ace’ (which involves only high-scoring cards), ‘Clone Party’ (which duplicates dealer’s cards close to the end of a game) and ‘Joker Party’ (in which the Joker card helps to get the highest combination).


Arguably, there’s nothing more malleable than a deck of cards. Whether it’s poker, Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons or Pokémon (to name just a few iconic games), the format, shape of cards, size of a card and turn-based mechanism usually remains the same.

The ‘trading cards’ genre has proven especially versatile, with existing franchises like Adventure Time, The Elder Scrolls and Hearthstone all being adapted for the genre.

Any card game can be adapted for mobile use, of course, and different intellectual properties can get the card game treatment. Indeed, Disney recently filed a lawsuit to prevent the sale of an app that’s based on a fictional card game that was mentioned in Empire Strikes Back. The ‘Sabacc’ case is still ongoing.

The game of poker itself can also be adapted for other territories and markets, with developers creating localized variations of poker for specific markets. A good example of this is with Pokerist, were we partnered with Yoozoo to launch Poker Champions in India which was tailored specifically to accommodate local playing styles.

Benefits for players

From a player’s point of view, there are numerous reasons for card games’ popularity on mobile devices such as that they’re convenient, they’re easy to pick up, and they’re very multiplayer friendly. A card game is even versatile in how long you play for with some players taking part for as little as two minutes (as long as it takes to play one hand in poker) or literally days on end.

Also, in some territories, social casino games serve a similar purpose to social networks. Many mobile card games (including ours), include the ability to chat with other players, exchange gifts, and animated emojis.

Another advantage is that mobile poker games take over the duller, organisational and “administrative” duties that a dealer or another player would do in an analogue setting. Cards are shuffled and dealt, odds and winnings are calibrated, and values of cards and players’ hands (along with other tips) are available in some poker games (including our Pokerist).

The earliest known card game took place in 9th Century China, so the concept has undeniable staying power. With technology steadily improving, more territories gaining access to smartphones and the universal appeal and adaptability of card games, there’s no telling how many years (or centuries!) consumers will be embracing the smartphone card game.

KamaGames | Poker