Gone are the days when you had to fork out a hefty sum of money in order to be able to play games of top-notch quality. The new model of free-to-play games, popularised in large part thanks to MMORPGs and mobile games, has revolutionised the industry by offering some of the most stunning gaming titles available on the market, like League of Legends or Fortnite. The most impressive aspect of free-to-play gaming, though, is perhaps its seemingly unlimited revenue potential.
Free-to-play gaming models and monetisation techniques
Even though in free-to-play games players are not required to purchase the title in order to be able to play, there are still many ways in which developers can make some money back. In-game transactions and upgrades, as well as advertising, can be monetisation techniques that generate robust revenue streams. Other gaming industries, like online casinos, take a mixed approach to free-to-play, by offering no-deposit free spins to allow players to test the waters before committing to a specific provider – and, of course, keep their winnings as if they had deposited their own cash. A similar mixed approach of offering a basic version of the game for free and then giving the player the option to pay to unlock further levels has also been embraced by other titles, like Nintendo’s heavyweight mobile game Super Mario Run.
Fortnite drives free-to-play growth
According to research reported by SuperData, 2018 was a great year for free-to-play titles. The gaming industry, in general, grew by no less than 13% and free-to-play titles contributed to the industry’s revenue by a whopping 80%, with mobile gaming sensation Fortnite claiming the lion’s share of this success. The popular battle royale game breathed new life into the genre and managed to break a record as the game that made the most profit in a single year in the history of gaming. As Statista reports, Fortnite generated $2.4 billion in revenue in 2018 to the first spot among free-to-play games, which collectively made roughly $87.7 billion. In second place, Dungeon Fighter Online contributed $1.5 billion, while League of Legends generated $1.4 billion and augmented reality phenomenon Pokémon GO brought in another $1.3 billion.
How did free-to-play games succeed?
Free-to-play games are very popular for a variety of reasons. The simplest is that they require no money from players to check out the title and find out whether they like it or not – but it is about more than that. Aided by the profits made through increased indirect monetisation capabilities, developers turned to free-to-play games and released some incredible titles that could certainly hold a candle to full-priced games – if not surpass them in terms of quality. This has made players much more eager to try out free-to-play and stick with them, especially within mobile gaming. In some cases, free-to-play games led the industry with pioneering developments: legendary puzzle game Candy Crush optimised the potential of integrating with Facebook as a platform, while Fortnite was a trailblazer in terms of interoperability, with gamers joining in across different platforms, from PCs to smartphones to consoles.
As the mobile gaming market is set to grow even further and get ahead of both PC and console gaming combined to consolidate its place as the most preferred platform, it seems that we have only seen the tip of the revenue iceberg that are free-to-play games.