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Free-to-play is the future of the games industry, says Xfire in a recent report. The F2P titles supported by micro-transactions were once thought of as a niche market, but according to the numbers, mainstream monthly fee titles like World of Warcraft, are on the decline while free games are on the rise.
According to Xfire, World of Warcraft’s player base saw a brief increase near the end of 2010 that carried over into early 2011 following the release of the Cataclysm expansion. But Azeroth’s total population of players has been in decline since then.
Xfire, which pulls its statistics from over 19 million players using the company’s free chat and server browser client, saw 60,000 daily active unique (DAU) users in September 2009. Today, that number has been halved, with only approximately 30,000 DAU players logging into WoW each day. Compare World of Warcraft’s 14% decline in DAUs over the last three months to Riot Game’s F2P League of Legends, which saw a 70% rise during the same time with an increase of 34,000 DAU players.
“Our 19 million users have avidly played World of Warcraft for the past seven years; we knew it would eventually be overtaken but what really surprised us was the rapid ascension of League of Legends and Free2Play games in general,” said Xfire President, Mark Donovan. “The Free2Play model is becoming much more prolific in the gaming industry, and one major trend we’re seeing is that there are a vast number of games initially developed as subscription titles that failed to gain critical mass, then re-launched with aFree2Play model with great success. Results from many Free2Play games, including GamersFirst’s All Points Bulletin: Reloaded and Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online have been extremely positive.”
How positive? According to Xfire, APB saw a 200 percent increase in players while LotRO quadrupled its active user base, tripling revenues for Turbine after switching to the F2P model. Companies like Zynga, which made its mark as the first social-gaming company to go public today, told the Securities and Exchange Commission that its army of micro-transaction friendly “ville” titles is worth $1 billion.
Above: Numbers! Xfire has them, and according to its latest report, F2P is where the industry is heading
“Free2Play games continue to gain rapid user adoption and retention, and we believe this freemium revenue model will own the lion’s share of the overall gaming market in the long run. As traditional console game sales stagnate, even incumbents like Activision and Electronic Arts are paying attention and are being pressured to develop their own Free2Play titles,” continued Donovan.
Hellgate London, Age of Conan, and City of Heroes are just a few major online MMOs flourishing with a new free-to-play model. Valve has also embraced the F2P model. Team Fortress 2 is now F2P and digital distribution service Steam now supports a collection of F2P titles with micro-transaction support. But that's all on the PC, what about consoles? In support of Donovan's forecast for the future of the industry, Microsoft is also laying the groundwork for F2P titles for the Xbox 360 console via Xbox Live, according to a recent report from Develop - and has been asking developers to discuss ideas for F2P titles that can be monetized with micro-transactions. There's also SOE's Free Realms, a F2P social MMO now available on the PS3 via PSN.
Jul 1, 2011