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 F2P 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-F2P 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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