Free-To-Play: Twice As Big As Pay-To-Play?
There's a lot of information – and misinformation – out there about the gaming market. Some guy posting on a forum that he “knows” that Game X has a million active players or Game Y cost $50 million to make is about as credible as my saying that I'm descended from French royalty.
(Actually, I think I am, and that I can prove it, but that's a topic for another time.)
I've recently spent some time perusing the SuperData Research site. It certainly looks nice and professional, and its methodology page hints at the quality of its data, but I'd be lying if I said that I had complete confidence in its numbers.
Regardless of my misgivings, there's probably at least some truth in the data the site presents, so, accompanied by an extra-large grain of salt, let's take a look at what SuperData has to say about the gaming market.
According to SuperData's most recent report, for May 2013, digital games amassed $808 million in revenue for the month, with Free MMOs accounting for $181 million of that. By comparison, pay-to-play MMOs accounted for “only” $88 million in revenue, spread across 6.6 million players.
Before you say, “World of Warcraft has over eight million players, so that's automatically BS,” keep in mind that roughly half of WoW's players are overseas. Though not specifically stated anywhere I can find, I assume that SuperData's research only covers North America, or perhaps just the United States, where WoW's subscriber base is closer to three million.
If those numbers are accurate, it spells out what we might have already guessed at but at a greater magnitude that we, or at least I, thought. Revenue-wise, SuperData says that F2P gaming is 206% better than P2P gaming, which I assume covers not only traditional subscription games, but buy-to-play games like Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, and Defiance.
On the one hand, it's not that hard to believe. Those games, along with sub-only games like World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Final Fantasy XI, probably represent the bulk of the non-Free MMO revenue in North America. Compare that to the sheer volume of F2P games out there, which probably include not-quite-MMO behemoths like League of Legends and World of Tanks (which are both counted as MMOs according to a chart in SuperData's Market Movers report), and maybe it's not that hard to believe.
Another note in SuperData's report is the tidbit that states that the F2P conversion rate is “consistently above 15%.” Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi has said on multiple occasions that the conversion rate in World of Tanks is around 20-30%, which would put his game ahead of the curve. Meanwhile, Riot Games President Marc Merrill said that he doesn't know his game's conversion rate and wouldn't tell if he did.
Even if SuperData's numbers aren't totally reliable, and if they includes pseudo-MMO titles, they're probably enough in the ballpark that we can make the statement that free-to-play gaming is bigger in North America than buy-to-play gaming – probably by a wide margin, dollar-wise. And who would have thought that would be the case just three years ago?
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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Oh and before any of you get wise and come at me--I speak of games developed AS Free-to-Play. I speak of it as a mindset, not a payment method. Games made with the intent of being sub-only have proven to be vastly superior quality compared to games made with the intent of being free with a cash shop. This is fact.
Now i have played a few shooters that are f2p that i liked...planetside2..
The reason why F2P games make so much money is that there are people stupid enough to spend money on broken cash shops. People that complain about P2P games end up spending so much more for so little on cash shop items that is basically gambling away your money. You also have people spending money cause they can afford to spend thousands to gain advantages over the people that don't spend as much. In the end, people spend more money in an F2P game than they would of a P2P game cause their stupid with their money. They have this silly notion of spending a little bit this week, and then spending a little bit more next week. But add it all up, and it ends up being so much more money spent than on a P2P game.
In my opinion, subscription games are better. I feel like in these F2P games, there is nothing to earn. Want to be the first to get a rare mount? Nope, someone already bought it in the cash shop. This is one thing WoW has done right, countless rare mounts. When they are current, you actually have to earn them. Past rare mounts are obviously easier to get now, but you still have to do something other than type your credit card info in to get it. This leaves F2P games with Achievements and achievements alone, sure they could still put rare mounts in, but a lot of people will just say "screw it, I'm not going to earn it, I am just going to buy something just as cool in the shop".
I understand not everyone would do these things, but like I said, it is my opinion that Subscription based games are better, IF DONE RIGHT of course.
Nice piece! There's not a lot of industry writers out there that understand the space as well. As you point out, a big part of it takes place outside of the scope of analysts and journalists alike, because privately held companies don't share any information.
One question though: why the reservation about our numbers?
Co-Founder & CEO, SuperData
I for one have grown tired of the usual crap that f2p mmos are covered in and would much rather put in $15 a month and get access to everything over having to spend $100 a month to be competitive(I'm looking at you Allods,Flyff,Grand Fantasia,Mu Online,and so many others)
Yes you can buy game extension time and other goodies for $$$ but you can also purchase same things with ingame money!!
Incorrect. It is not better. It is free. There is a very very big difference.
There are only a handful of AAA free to play titles that have minimal replay value IMO. Free games just don't have the quality pay to play games do regardless of how pretty they might look now.
But I would be lieing if I said I dont miss the days where I only had to pay $7-15 a month an get the whole game for free.. Its hard to explain but I feel like a monthly fee regulated my spending on MMOs. Cause Im pretty sure I spend somewhere around $70-80 a month in Cash shops simply cause I can, And not cause the game is Pay-2-Win but cause theres never a down side to it lol.