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The Free Zone: 2013's Free to Play Top 10

Column By Richard Aihoshi on January 28, 2014

Research company SuperData recently released a list of the top 10 F2P games based on their estimated worldwide revenue last year. Not surprisingly, the top position was occupied by CrossFire, which is said to have brought in a cool $957 million. Depending on how this figure was sourced, is it possible that the MMO shooter from SmileGate and Tencent may actually have surpassed the $1 billion mark? 

It's also natural to wonder how this game stacked up beside World of Warcraft. My best guess is not so badly. Let's remember that only around half of Blizzard's approximately eight million subscribers actually paid $15 per month, which comes to around $720 million. This leaves us to estimate how much the others spent. Considering most are in China, it seems safe to assume the average was considerably lower than what we're used to here. If we peg it at $7.50, then add the $213 million that SuperData says the game pulled in from micro-transactions over the year, we get total estimated revenue of $1.293 billion. Although this is still well ahead of CrossFire, the margin isn't as large as some might think.

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Tencent also took second place with League of Legends. The well-regarded MOBA from US-based developer Riot Games, which the publisher owns, reportedly raked in an impressive $624 million last year. I'm interested to see if the next round of corporate financials will shed light on what proportion of this came from the burgeoning Chinese market.

Despite last summer's closure of its North American servers, Dungeon Fighter ranked third. Although its estimated sales of $426 million put it well back of the two leaders, it joined with number 5 Maplestory and its $326 million to give Nexon a very formidable pair. In between the two was World of Tanks. Wargaming's release apparently racked up a healthy total of $372 million.

Number 6 may well surprise quite a few readers. Those who pay little or no attention to the Far East probably aren't aware of how popular Lineage still is, especially in Korea. NCsoft's venerable MMORPG, which celebrated its 15th anniversary last year, shut down its North American servers in mid-2011. Elsewhere though, mainly at home, it still generated $257 million, clearly attesting to its exceptional longevity.

The remainder of the list began with WoW's aforementioned $213 million from micro-transactions. Next were EA's SWTOR and Valve's Team Fortress 2, in a virtual tie, both at $139 million. The latter company's joint endeavor with Nexon, Counter-Strike Online, followed at $121 million. The grand total for all 10 titles was a hefty $3.574 billion.

One way to help put all these numbers in perspective is to consider them in light of what we know about other prominent MMOGs' revenue. As just one example, it's not unusual on this site to see CCP's EVE Online cited as a highly successful subscription release. Such an evaluation is subjective and thus neither universally right nor wrong. That said, the company's sales for 2012, the most recent full year reported, were $64.4 million. The first half of 2013 brought an increase of $4.36 million over the corresponding previous period. So, for the entire 12 months, it seems reasonable to estimate that the game's revenue was somewhere in the range of $70 to $75 million.

This is undeniably substantial, and I have no qualms whatsoever about anyone calling EVE a success.  By the same token, doing so does seem to beg a question. What label should we apply to a title that averaged nearly $80 million per month?

In any case, SuperData also served up some interesting and possibly eye-opening information about MMOGs in the US. According to its figures, the total market last year was worth $4.019 billion. This was an increase of $638 million, representing annual growth of 18.9 percent. The F2P segment was more than 2.5 times larger in dollar value last year, totaling $2.893 billion in sales, a very substantial 45 percent increase from $1.991 billion in 2012. In contrast, P2P's revenue dropped 19 percent, to $1.126 billion from $1.39 billion. This combination almost tripled F2P's lead, from $601 million to $1.767 billion, while growing its market share from 58.9 to 72 percent.

The company's stated monthly user counts for December also aren't what some might expect. We're told that the F2P category attracted 40.6 million gamers. P2P trailed far behind with 5.3 million. Unfortunately, SuperData doesn't reveal its methodology, so we can only guess how these figures were compiled. There's some overlap between them of course, but even if we make the unlikely assumption that every P2P player crossed over, it still leaves us with 35.3 million (86.9 percent) of all US MMO gamers who were F2P-only. Is this

P2P did pull in nearly three times the average revenue per user, about $21.25 compared to $7.13. An interesting facet of this is that it if we assume the B2P players' and subscribers' averages were around the same, the typical subscriber paid almost as much voluntarily on top of the monthly fee as the average F2P player spent in total, while B2P players spent nearly triple.

If you'd like to know what SuperData made public about other areas such as social, mobile and PC DLC, you can check it all out for yourself right here.


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The Free Zone
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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