Free-To-Play: Twice As Big As Pay-To-Play?

Jason Winter
By Jason Winter, News Editor

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?

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About the Author

Jason Winter
Jason Winter, News Editor
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.

Discussion (34)

Bic Boi 10 years ago
Generally speaking P2P games that are developed as P2P from the start offer much higher quality compared to a game that was developed as F2P from the get-go. F2P can be big all it wants--in the end Quality matters, not Quantity. All the games that are quality and F2P were formerly P2P. Just goes to show F2P games are garbage.

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.

Balan 10 years ago
U guys still pay to play even on free ones xD whats wrong with u cant just have fun without spending your money over something that today is and tomorrow may close and wat about those cash shops u cant play it normal to understand the dificulty of the game ??? i prefer to spend my money on something else than a GAME....

capoe 10 years ago
I have never played a f2p mmorpg that did not suck imo...even lotro(not free past lv 20unless you love to grind/farm for weeks) sucks.

Now i have played a few shooters that are f2p that i liked...planetside2..

View 1 reply
Atonal 10 years ago
Wow this is stupid. You can not go off of this at ALL. Most F2P games in NA are international. You've got a lot of gamers from around the world spending money. Also, F2P is NOT the way of the future. Well it is the future... of death for the mmorpg scene.
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.

Retributi0n 10 years ago
Oh also, my previous comment is just one example. First one that popped in my head and I felt it was a good one :)

Retibuti0n 10 years ago
You can't base which is BETTER off of numbers, you can only base which has been more successful in a certain time frame. That doesn't amount to something being better, as in better quality, better mechanics, better graphics and so on.

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.

gygyg 10 years ago
please a code for nfs world

Joost van Dreunen 10 years ago
Hi Jason,

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?

Hollar back.

Co-Founder & CEO, SuperData

Shapoopi 10 years ago
F2P is for the now. Years from now say 5 or so, something else will be the new MMO thing.

OMJesus 10 years ago
I have been playing many f2p games and I must say this.Yes they outnumber p2p games.But that is meaningless when a majority of them are lacking in quality.Of course there are a few gems in the f2p market but for the most part it is just an ocean of coals.Some p2p games also lack in quality but for the most part they either get refined(FFXIV:ARR) and get better or they sell out to a company that can do more with it.

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)

aooppp 10 years ago
good. most p2p mmos are not worth $15 a month. $15 for horrible slow leveling experience than max level grind grind grind. no thx.

Ax 10 years ago
The better they are, more people will join and income will be higher.

hardmode 10 years ago
dude... watch out your writing. are you high or something?

kkk 10 years ago
I havent paid for my two EVE ONLINE accounts for years!!!!!! How can you say it is P2P ???

Yes you can buy game extension time and other goodies for $$$ but you can also purchase same things with ingame money!!

Sergio 10 years ago
Sush it already dumbass, just because you have your own parents who fill your mouth and your pockets with your very stupid wishes doesn't mean that everyone has parents like that. Free-To-Play get's alot of revenue due to the fact that people don't want to play 20$ to play for a month and then feel obligated to continue to play!

View 1 reply
Hykova 10 years ago
"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."

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.

View 2 replies
DinoLove 10 years ago
Awesome Post Jason!

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.

View 3 replies
RyuKaiser 10 years ago
Here's hoping more games jump ship... and do it well, like RIFT did. Frankly, I'd love to see games like FFXIV go F2P, but so long as companies cling to the old ways desperately, they likely won't see much in terms of good money. Still, some companies just shouldn't do F2P, like EA and SWTOR, which I would highly suspect would influence Squeenix were they to finally jump ship.

View 2 replies

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