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The Free Zone: Some Intriguing Info On F2P ARPUs

Column By Richard Aihoshi on April 22, 2014

Research house SuperData recently released some findings on the average revenue per user for 10 prominent free to play online games. This is an area in which there has never been much readily available data. So, while limited, the bits that were revealed about the likes of World of Tanks, Guild Wars 2, DOTA 2 and League of Legends grabbed my attention and got me wondering.

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The first- and last-named of this quartet opened and closed the rankings, reportedly bringing in monthly ARPUs of $4.51 and $1.32 respectively during the year that ended with March 2014. GW2 was third at $3.88, while DOTA 2's $1.54 put it at number 8. A few things should be noted. One is that the stated amounts are only estimates based on figures from unidentified “publishers, payment service providers and other sources”, and incorporating user figures having undivulged and thus potentially questionable provenance. Another is that the list is not a global top 10; the company did not look at any other releases. We can also disagree with some games being classed as F2P MMOs.

With these caveats in mind, the other six are as follows:

  • Team Fortress 2               $4.36
  • War Thunder                    $3.26
  • Planetside 2                     $2.86
  • Combat Arms                   $2.81
  • Crossfire                          $1.58
  • Heroes of Newerth          $1.48

While it's impossible to have full confidence in any conclusions drawn from tenuous data, there are nonetheless some rather interesting potential implications. For instance, does the apparently well above average figure for GW2 indicate that buying it leads or contributes to players feeling more invested, and thus more willing to spend money? This seems reasonable enough, which makes me wonder if NCsoft and ArenaNet are only barely tapping a well that could be far more productive.

It also seems natural to ask how likely they are to remain satisfied with the game's current level of post-purchase monetization. If they believe the ARPU can be significantly higher, will they voluntarily refrain from adding more items, raising prices or both? Sure, we can argue that they'll hold back in order to avoid backlash from the players. But to what degree is this just wishful thinking?

Realistically, as a marketing manager charged with maximizing profit for a B2P or subscription MMOG, it would be my duty to explore giving its players further opportunities to reach into their pockets, both deeper and more often. I dislike this as a gamer. However, from a business perspective, I find it hard to imagine we won't see more. My only questions are how much and how soon.

It's also interesting that the list may suggest a correlation between genre and ARPU. In this respect, it's unfortunate there's only one MMORPG, and even more so that it's not F2P despite SuperData classing it as one. We can also dispute TF2 being designated an MMOG. In any case, we see that even including it, the war games tend to generate higher ARPUs than the shooters, which all average more than the MOBAs.

Of course, total revenue also encompasses audience size. Accordingly, it's notable that a few are mentioned. For instance, League of Legends pulls in more money than World of Tanks because it has over five times as many active players, well around 58.5 million per month versus about 9.1 million. Among the shooters, there's a similar example. Combat Arms has a much higher ARPU than Crossfire, but with roughly 1.6 million users compared to more than 50 million, it trails far behind in total revenue. For what it's worth, we're also told LoL substantially out-populates DOTA 2, by nine to one.

As a final attention grabber, the average cost per install for an F2P MMO in the US last month was reportedly in the $8 range and trending up. This figure, which presumably covers marketing and other acquisition-oriented activities, is toward the high end of the range I'd have suspected, but seems reasonable enough. What it points out is important. Merely getting lots of people to try a game isn't nearly enough to make it a success. It's critical to target and attract users who will enjoy it enough to stick around for at least a few months.

Closing queries

Are subscription and B2P players committed enough to their games so that, if given the chance, they'll spend more voluntarily than F2P players do? If so, how much more?

Why do you think the shooters on the list have substantially higher ARPUs than the MOBAs?

Why do you think World of Tanks and War Thunder have higher ARPUs than the MOBAs and all but one shooter?

Do you think MMORPGs tend to have higher or lower ARPUs than other types of MMOGs?


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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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