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The Free Zone: More MMO Market Intel

By Richard Aihoshi on October 28, 2014 | Columns | Comments

More MMO Market Intel

“Overall, the total MMO category is on track to generate $11 billion in annual revenues by the end of this year...” This is one of the infobits released by research company SuperData to help promote its latest annual report on the category. While I don't envision myself ponying up the current sale price of $2,000 in order to read the whole thing, this projection caught my interest, as did the 2014 YTD top 10 title list and more.

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As always, I caution against reading too much into such research findings. Without knowing the methodology, it's hard if not impossible to gauge how confident we can be as to their accuracy. For instance, if we look at how the company defines the MMOG genre, we can see from other statements that MOBAs are included. You and I may or may not agree, but in either case, we need to keep this in mind when we assess the level of faith we can have in the stated market number.

There's also the matter of seeming inconsistencies or discrepancies. As an example, the same company said in mid-2012 that worldwide spending on MMOs would reach $12 billion. That was, obviously, two years ago. If we assume that how MMOs were defined didn't change, it looks as if the category shrunk since then, which is hard to believe. This brings up the question of whether we're looking at apples versus apples or oranges. If not, then how should we adjust one number or the other so they're more comparable? Unfortunately, we're not given the information needed to do do.

That said, although we have to remember not to take them automatically at face value, questionable figures are still better than none at all. With this caveat in mind, SuperData did drop a few other potentially interesting tidbits. One was a forecast of growth to $13 billion by 2017. By way of comparison, the prediction presented in 2012 was $17.5 billion for 2015. As above, I don't know what to make of this seeming discrepancy.

It's certainly unsurprising to be told that MOBAs are on the rise. In terms of numbers, they're predicted to represent a 24 percent share of the MMO category this year, a sharp increase from 16 percent in 2013. In dollars, this works out to around $2.64 billion. Seeing this, I immediately wonder what the individual figure is for the obvious leader in the sub-category, League of Legends, and also for DOTA 2

For me, this also brings up questions about Heroes of the Storm. Blizzard isn't known for getting its games to market quickly. It's still uncertain when this one will be ready to launch. What does seem clear is that the longer it takes, the more of an early mover advantage it will cede to the above-named competitors, especially LoL. Will HotS be able to overcome this head start? WoW did, but it can be argued that the market was quite different then.

As well, it turns out that SuperData feels LoL isn't just the top MOBA but also the most lucrative MMO as measured by worldwide revenue for the first nine months of 2014. As you can see in the accompanying table, Riot Games' offering is thought to have brought in $946 million, and to have moved up from the #4 slot during the same period in 2013. Crossfire and previous leader Dungeon Fighter are $49 and $54 million behind respectively. All three are sure to exceed the $1 billion mark for the full year. There's a much larger gap of $263 million to fourth place World of Warcraft.

The $7.974 billion total for the top 10 is also interesting in that if we simply annualize it by multiplying by 4/3, we get $10.63 billion. What strikes me is that if the entire category is projected to hit or slightly surpass $11 billion, this seems to suggest the entire rest of the category, i.e. hundreds of MMOs, will only generate a combined $400 million or so. 

It also seems curious that in its regional breakdown graphic, the worldwide forecast for this year is $10.5 billion. There may be an unstated explanation, (could it be as simple as rounding?) but without one, this figure doesn't sit completely right. The split between F2P and P2P also jumps out. Globally, SuperData projects the former will finish 2014 with 76.2 percent market share, which will increase to 86.7 percent in 2017.

In addition, the same visual tells us that Asia will be the largest regional market this year, generating $4.2 billion (40 percent of the global total. Europe follows at $3.1 billion (29.5 percent), a fair bit ahead of North America's $2.1 billion (20 percent), although these figures may have been inadvertently reversed. It's also interesting to see that whether they were switched or not, P2P does no better than 33.3 percent in either of these areas.

Closing queries

  • Should MOBAs be considered MMOGs? Why do you feel they are or are not?  
  • If we assume LoL is an MMO, will it be the top revenue generator again next year? How long can it hold this rank? 
  • When do you think Heroes of the Storm will launch? What are the chances that it will become the leading MOBA?
  • How well does North America's projected 20 percent market share for this year reflect our region's importance in the global MMOG landscape?
The Free Zone The Free Zone Editorials
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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