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Thanks to subscriptions, iPhone apps finally made more money than games

Enlarge / Apple’s App Store. (credit: Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Throughout the short history of smartphone apps, games have consistently driven more revenue than non-gaming app categories. But that has finally changed in the United States, according to new data from app intelligence firm Sensor Tower.

The shift began in May 2022. By June, 50.3 percent of US consumer spending on apps was on non-game apps like TikTok, Netflix, and Tinder. Spending on non-game apps has recently grown at twice the rate as spending on games. Game spending was exploding at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019 and early 2020, but by late 2020, non-gaming apps caught up, and they surpassed games in 2021.

This has been driven in part by the shift so many apps have made to a subscription-based model of late. For years, games generated more revenue not necessarily because they got more downloads (though they often did) but because their long-term monetization was clearer, more consistent, and more robust thanks to in-app transactions. Other types of apps didn’t have that going for them, and many were sold for one-time purchase prices or offered a limited number of premium upgrades.

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