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

22 Readers Commented

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  1. JacketX on February 5, 2014

    I was a fan of both P2P and F2P and took a journey primarily on the the F2P market last year.
    First let me say: Heine sight is truly 20/20 as they say and it was by far one of the most expensive and ultimately worthless investments I have ever made in gaming. Well there was some worth considering I learned that F2P is a very costly rabbit hole which one may not find the way out if not careful.
    As fan of PVP and MMOs I strive to gain skill and understanding of my character, class, build, etc, and I look forward to good and great competition. Yet in the world of F2P, I cannot remember how many times I had to use my cc to keep up with “Big Dogs” not because of skill level or mastery of a class or build, but if you didn’t invest $$ then suddenly you were out performed a micro-transaction monster. Whether or not you could stay on par with the spending was never-ending . I understand that this is not all models of the F2P, but it seems to becoming the majority dubbed: “I Buy Power”.
    Even with that I felt that it wasn’t as bad at first because I thought of the times when “No-Life-Kings” ruled and if you had a job or personal responsibilities you could not keep up because they had way more time than you do or you used to. So if I could “buy” and xp stone or booster I can keep up even with a real world schedule…yea sure… Why? Remember with your basic xp item comes others things..up to but not limited to: items to upgrade, mounts, and other non-cosmetic items that add up the cost $$ of staying relevant and on par with many, in turn costing, in the hundreds and some cases thousands of dollars/euros. Was I blinded momentarily by what I thought to be a good choice..Absolutely!
    Finally, when I recounted all that I invested in the “I BUY POWER” lifestyle over the last year it was sad and I realized that if I continue down this road my financial losses would be too great.. So I being a gamer I did not and will not walk away from the industry and embraced a P2P game -FFXIV, yea I’m a fan of the series, but more because of the payment model.
    Later I saw a few other games that were interesting on the F2P (persistent world mmo titles) releasing Q4 2013 and Q1 2014 that boasted alterations to the F2P item shop models and as I tried them (which I am truly a glutton for financial punishment) I saw myself quickly having spent the cost of a console game by the end of the first 2 weeks, spending on bare minimal items..even what some would say are necessities..item bag expansion..upgrade scrolls… and others. Wallah, I am back to losing money.. but this time I caught myself early on and pulled the plug.
    So now I am actually looking towards consoles again (even though some of the games are exploring F2P models) and hope to see balance there, but on a PC MMO level, I will now look to a P2P model and if a F2P game comes out that has some awesome reviews.. I will wait to check reviews or community on how much…. if any… did the user pay..to Buy Power….
    Generations of Gamers are getting older and lifestyle changes are occurring so I wonder how the Gaming Industry will create a balance between the P2P and F2P allowing not a Return of the No-Life-Kings or a Rise of the I Buy Power Lords..but a balance for User..

  2. Akkei on January 30, 2014

    League of Legends, World of Tanks, and Team Fortress 2 can have fair payment models because there is very VERY little in lines of development in those games compared to a full fledged MMO.

    Free to play you are sacrificing quality or quantity of content in your game or you will have to havea malicious model.

    You are comparing apples and oranges in this “article”

  3. Cathulu on January 30, 2014

    I think with the success of FFXIV we will start to see free to play dwindle. I still haven’t seen a free to play game that feels like a complete and polished game. (talking true MMOs) the ones that were pay to play and went free to play are OK but even those start to decay on the content after they go free to play.

    I think there is a place for both models, but just from experience in my gaming comunity (we have a guild of about 500 people who play several games) those of us who actually spent money on free to play games are getting tired of it. Free to play is great for mobas and shooters but for games that you actually intend to take into end game and be your “main” MMO it doesn’t seem to work well.

    I think we will find in the future that AAA top notch mmos with robust PVE end game content will be subscription and supplementary games (such as arena games, strict dungeon crawlers, and other games that have just a few maps that you replay without a persistant world) will go free to play. The exception being EQN though the hype on that game is unwarranted because all we have now are words and promises. From SoE.

    I can tell you that I spent well over a thousand dollars on free to play games last year, and with me getting into FFXIV and the new sub games coming out I definitely will not be spending a dime on free to play again, its just too expensive if you intend to take the games to there fullest (with some minor exceptions) I know many players that actually flip the bill on these games feel the same way.

    Thats just an educated guess, but I personally hope to see both models thrive they both are good but in different ways. Anyone who says free to play games are as updated with the same level of quality as games that are subscription based are only fooling themselves, however on that token games like LoL Dota and Warframe I would NEVER keep a sub up for because I might play a few games here and there spend a five spot now and then to support there development but playing the same maps over and over doesn’t really warrant a sub for me, I need a persistent world with a very large variety of things to do to warrant that.

    I seriously don’t understand why some people can’t understand that there is a place for both models. Nothing is ever truely “free” and if you are playing games with no intention of spending a dime on them I think your argument is nul because you aren’t helping the painstaking development of the game in any way and they are making these games to make money, not for charity.

    Also before someone says it Neverwinter is not a “AAA” title. I wanted it to be, I love the Neverwinter series of games. I tried to love that game but it reeked of that f2p stink, and after you had done about 100 foundries the game was extraordinarily shallow.

    • Trumbles on January 30, 2014

      >FFXIV
      >Success
      …wat?

      • Steve on January 31, 2014

        I hate that game but hes right.

        3 million subs is a great success, it is truly a remarkable story and maybe you should do some research before you spew your bile.

        • Steve on January 31, 2014

          sorry 2.5 million and growing.

          Don’t understand it I always hated final fantasy but I think the fact that they came back and redid the game admitting it was a mess showed some respect to there customers. It was a ballsy bold move and it payed off for them in the end so much that the servers almost broke because they had over five times the expected subscriptions.

          • Bic Boi on February 2, 2014

            Steve, you attempt to appeal to the rationale of the F2P community–a futile attempt. By and large, the greatest portion of F2P players have convinced themselves, much in the same way that a Sony Fanboy convinces themselves, that the alternative is evil, deplorable and should be eradicated. I have always been of the mind that F2P is fine for some but is, in many ways, a trap–the kind that targets your wallet.

            Personally I prefer Pay-to-Play because the quality is almost guaranteed to be high and there’s peace of mind in knowing that someone else can’t exploit their credit card to win(I happen to enjoy PVP and many F2P games are horribly balanced in this respect). That being said, there will always be people who spew hate at you because apparently $15 is a fortune in this world.

            That aside, I put it to the public–if $15 is too costly for a Pay-to-Play game, what are you doing on the internet at all? Short of dial-up, you are paying more than $15 a month just for internet. You pay more than that for all necessities a month. Any decent job will net you $15 in an hour or two of work. (As an example; where I live minimum wage will soon be $11/hour) If you can’t afford $15 a month you shouldn’t be gaming, period.

            Lastly, the exception proves the rule. While I’m sure there are some F2P players who don’t completely loathe and despise P2P games, the vast majority of posts by said type of players are often frothing with rage whenever P2P games are mentioned in the same way that a christian will get furious if you talk dirty about Jesus.

  4. Adrian87 on January 30, 2014

    Nice work on the article, Jason. Thanks for all the info. Glad to see F2P doing so well. Hopefully, you are right and we will see more high quality F2P games.

  5. Zac on January 30, 2014

    How we embrace the cancer;/

    • Bic Boi on February 2, 2014

      As a race we are eerily efficient at killing things, including ourselves. We constantly find ways to harm ourselves. The invention of guns. Factories producing crazy amounts of pollution. Drug cartels pushing stuff that is nothing but dangerous for anyone’s health. Mankind’s hubris will be our downfall.

  6. future on January 30, 2014

    Its like with music now, if i like i go and buy or support, no need to advertise and forcing me shit, soe gtfo!

  7. ignorant on January 30, 2014

    I ignore force to pay games like elder scrolls online and i ignore fake free to play games like star wars old republic online and any other pay to win crap liek planetside 2 and any game from soe, asian scammers!

  8. asso on January 30, 2014

    I wish to see these fagfaces, make comments possible only from facebook ad kick fakes, then we will see how sick people look like!

  9. GamingMaster on January 30, 2014

    World of Tanks 🙂 best Free to play game … of it’s genre

  10. thaghost on January 29, 2014

    “F2P Games On The Rise In 2013, Bringing In $2.9 Billion” … Isn’t that kinda contradicting itself? lol I mean.. “Free to play? Bringing in $2.9 Billion?”

    • Trumbles on January 29, 2014

      Not at all. If you get hooked on a F2P game you can end up spending way more money than you would on a sub game, due to microtransactions. It’s a great yet simultaneously evil system…

      • huewut on January 30, 2014

        not evil, they offer, players dig in. company isn’t at fault at all, unless it’s pay to win… then they’re scum, otherwise, it’s all on the consumer.

  11. Merkadis on January 29, 2014

    Just like i said, sub model is going to be offed, f2p is the future.
    Poe did show everyone how real f2p is done, let’s see what happens now.

  12. Newbstyle on January 29, 2014

    I am surprised that there is actually an author to this piece, keep that up plz

  13. Reave on January 29, 2014

    *face-palm at the first commenter*

  14. Tuga4Ever on January 29, 2014

    Am I the FIRST?????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!MOUNTED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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