The year-end numbers from market research firm SuperData are in, and they paint a positive picture for online games that adhere primarily to the free-to-play model.
SuperData reports that online gaming revenue overall in the U.S. grew 11% in 2013, to $11.766 billion, with F2P games accounting for $2.9 billion of that, as opposed to just $1.1 billion for subscriptionbased games. Worldwide, the top 10 F2P PC games alone brought in $3.5 billion.
A couple of clarifications: World of Warcraft is listed on the worldwide F2P chart because it more closely resembles a F2P game in regions other than North America, Europe, and Oceania. The figure quoted is its estimated earnings in those regions where subscriptions are rare. Also, if you read the report, you’ll notice The Lord of the Rings Online is mentioned in the “Pay to play MMO” section, but only as relates to its expansion content, which is more akin to a P2P MMO than an F2P one.
So, freetoplay is still big, both in the U.S. and worldwide. We knew that. Rather, I think it’s more interesting to look at the yeartoyear trends, most notably:
- Subscriptionbased games are down from $1.4 billion in revenue in 2012 to $1.1 billion in 2013, while F2P games rose from $2.0 billion to $2.9 billion. Obviously, the number of titles available plays a part in this, but it’s interesting that F2P games increased by three times as much as sub games dropped. That would seem to indicate that it’s not just sub players abandoning F2P but also the slate of F2P offerings bringing in new players, or at least new money that might not otherwise be spent on online gaming.
- While there are a lot of “unfriendly” F2P models out there, some of the top titles are games that use what most people would consider “friendly” payment systems, like League of Legends, World of Tanks, and Team Fortress 2. I like to think this will encourage developers not to chase the shortterm game of squeezing whales for everything they’re worth and then moving on to the next idea, but I’m a little pessimistic.
- Although not typically covered on this site, social games are mostly free-to-play as well, and their decline, from $2.3 billion to $1.8 billion, may be a sign of their over-saturation and a maturing market tiring of overly simplistic “click (or pay) to win” gameplay. Or so we can hope.
Hopefully, those last two points mean that we’ll see generally higher quality games, as opposed to cheaply made, quickmoney, exploitative garbage in 2014 and beyond. There’s solid money to be made out there, even if you “give your game away for free.” In any case, it’s clear from these numbers that freetoplay gaming, and gaming in general, aren’t going anywhere.
By Jason Winter