Free video games… FREE – that’s the magic world. Therefore, it’s not so strange to hear about the sales success of a mobile game. The video game for smartphones and tablets is a thriving market, which in 2018 generated a revenues of 137.9 billion Dollars, or about half of the global electronic entertainment market.
So it is not even strange to learn that Ea Sports, the division of the electronic arts colossus dedicated to the publication of sports games, has totaled revenues for a billion Dollars from mobile versions of its titles in less than ten years. The real news, if anything, is to find out that this billion only refers to the revenues obtained from free-to-play games. But what is behind this figure that emerges from a recent study by Sensor Tower?
First of all, that the mobile versions of Fifa Soccer, Madden Nfl, Nba Live and Ea Sports Ufc, released according to the free-to-play model, have led to revenues worth, if not higher, productions usually sold for a fee. About half a billion, or 490 million Dollars, come from in-game purchases in the Nfl series dedicated to American football, which precede the revenues generated by the optional purchases in the various mobile Fifa, equal to 360 million.
The mechanics of free-to-play is now known to everyone. A video game is released for free, playable without the need to spend a single Euro, and players have the ability to customise or enrich it by purchasing additional paid content.
The videogame industry has been wondering for years about the future of the free-to-play model; and every time the trend seems to fade, a new title arrives to collect millions, if not billions of Dollars. Fortnite and the EaA Sports Mobile data are just a recent example.
Even more recent is the case of Apex Legends. Launched without any warning, surprisingly, the new title of Respawn (those of the two Titan fall) is another free-to-play that follows the path traced by Fortnite. Somehow improving it, if it is true that in the first three days it has collected as many as 10 million players (Fortnite took two weeks to get the same result). And while the economic data of this title have not yet been published, they amaze those of an old fox in the industry: Pokémon Go, do you remember?
The title of Niantic, launched in the now distant 2016, whose economy was based on optional elements. From $37 million in revenue from the iOs and Android versions of January 2018, it has grown to €68.1 million, an increase of 84%. Since its launch, the game based on the famous brand has gained the beauty of 2.3 billion Dollars with only optional purchases.
It is interesting to note that another mobile title where Nintendo has taken over, namely Super Mario Run, since its launch, again in 2016, has totaled revenues of 60 million Dollars. Whereas Pokémon Go has totaled more than 2 billion Dollars. The difference? While the game of the Pokémon faithfully followed the dictates of free-to-play, that of the mustachioed plumber proposed a formula with some initial levels free, and then having to pay a fixed amount to access others. A free-to-play hybrid that has certainly generated interesting revenues, but not as many as could be expected.
Which brings us back to the fact that free-to-play, data in hand, only work if they leave the player total control of the game, even without spending a single Euro. The secret, after all, is simple: you can become a champion of Pokémon Go, Fortnite, Apex Legends, League of Legends (more than 7 billion Dollars to date) or Dota 2 (400 million Dollars a year), just to give some examples, without spending a penny.
At most, you can customise the experience, train better or access certain mechanics faster, but without ever distorting the heart of the game, which remains accessible even to those who do not want to invest money. Where, on the other hand, payers have substantial benefits, ranging from being able to complete the game to more easily beat non-paying opponents, then the market grinds its teeth. You’re going to see video games teach us what true democracy is.