Freemium Rush: Free-To-Play Gaming Now Makes Up More Than Half Of European Market, But Packaged Video Games Still Drive Eurozone Revenue [REPORT]

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By Yannick LeJacq | September 18, 2012 1:35 AM EST

Freemium video games, the cheap and easily-accessible counterparts to premium console or PC games like "Skyrim" or "Call of Duty" that cost gamers upwards of $50 or $60 a sale, now make up more than half of the total market for all video games being played in Europe.

This new consumer data comes from a joint study conducted by Ipsos Media CT and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe. Despite the overwhelming trend towards freemium in terms of total users, however, the report also stated that that sales of traditional boxed video games -- what is increasingly referred to as "physical media" -- continues to support the total market value of videogames throughout Europe.

Drawing from data from more than 24,000 consumers across Europe playing games on any device including consoles, personal computers, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, the survey noted that in the second quarter of 2012, the games market for four regions totaled just over €1 billion, or $1.3 billion. When broken up by individual countries, Germany lead with €351 million ($461 million) in sales, with the UK and France coming in second and third respectively with €291 million ($382 million) and €256 million ($336 million). Spain trailed behind in a distance fourth place with €107 million ($140 million) in sales.

As if often the case today in the tech industry, freemium video games have a much easier time netting a substantial user base than any product that requires potential customers to pay money up-front. But the question of how, exactly, these games can be effectively monetized remains open for the debate. The report indicated that free games, particularly free mobile apps like "Angry Birds" or "Temple Run" account for nearly half of all games acquired in European countries during the second quarter.

But it went on to say that consumer trends in this case don't exactly reflect the main drivers in the marketplace in terms of actual revenue. Online social games like Zynga's many "Ville" titles, for instance, often only manage to convert as little as 2 or 3 percent of their users into paying customers.

At the same time, many traditional game developers such as Electronic Arts Inc. (Nasdaq: EA) and Ubisoft Entertainment SA (EPA: UBI) are now devoting an increasing amount of their developer resources to freemium titles given their potential to attract massive audiences. Sean Decker, Vice President of EA's PlayFree portfolio said in an email that with free-to-play, "blockbuster franchises become even more accessible and available to all types of gamers." Charging a base-line price of zero makes entrace into these games "risk-free, at no cost" to the players themselves while also potentially maximizing the profit eked out of the most dedicated players -- gamers willing and eager to spend much more than $60 on a title they will play for months or even years.

"At the end of the day, it's about giving players choice and more option to consume games the way they want," Decker concluded. "I think you will continue to see EA release more free-to-play titles as long as we are confident that players want that and that we can create a great experience to match their expectations."

Still, the report noted that how consumers spend their time gaming doesn't reflect what drives the market in terms of revenue or volume, with online gaming formats in Germany and France accounting for around half of total time spent gaming, in particular social online gaming. So while 51 percent of the French population reportedly played games in the past year, the country still remains behind Germany in terms of total value for the industry even though that country has a much smaller percentage of gamers (35 percent of the total population).

The report is still notably lacking data from the United States or Asian countries such as Japan, China, and Korea, all of which boast tremendous gaming populations as well. Speaking to the industry site gamesindustry international, a spokesman for ISFE said that the study will "really start to show its true potential once we can compare year-on-year quarters and see trends emerge."

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