Player retention and monetization are two of the biggest factors of making a free-to-play game profitable to developers. While there are some wildly profitable and popular mobile games that utilize the free-to-play model, one can assume that, if made well, a free-to-play game can rake in huge profits from a multitude of gamers. However, that may not be the case, as a recent study from Swrve has determined that only 2.2% of a free-to-play player base ever pay for the content on average, with almost half of the revenue coming from ten percent of that number, a minuscule 0.22%. Less surprisingly, two-thirds of all players who begin playing an app stop playing within one day of starting.
Swrve began the study by tracking 10 million new players to over 30 different mobile games over the course of ninety days. During this time period, they found that the only revenue to come out of player's pockets was from 2.2 percent of the entire 10 million. Within that 2.2 percent, a tenth of that number was responsible to 46 percent of the revenues. To simplify it, out of ten million users, only 22 000 users are responsible for a little less than half of revenues. These are the "whales" who essentially fund the game.
While that may sound scary to developers, that's only half of what the study discusses. The report also explains how difficult it is to keep players around. Out of the ten million users being tracked, two-thirds, or 6.6 million players, quit playing the games within one day. That's how the concept of the free-to-play model works, taking down the barrier of entry (the retail price of a traditional game or app) to let players try it out. Most won't go beyond that. As well, the report shows that over half of the revenues acquired through the games were within the first seven days after the game was downloaded. The average amount of money spent per user was 45 cents over 90 days.
Swrve CEO Hugh Reynolds told Re/Code that the report is "A word of caution around user acquisition," when referring to how companies focus more on getting their app downloaded, rather than focusing on the content of the game and the experience the user has. By keeping users engaged, there is more of a chance that each player will spend money on it, rather than stop playing the game altogether within 24 hours.
Ben Cousins – former general manager of EA Easy and executive producer for Battlefield 1943, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield Heroes and Battlefield Play4Free – has disputed these statistics, stating that they're not that shocking, and in fact, promising. Explaining what the numbers mean on Twitter, Cousins says that 40% retention of players on the second day is "a sign of a real hit."
While it's understandable that games with microtransactions can be seen as outrageous, contributing to the numbers that Swrve reports, many gamers see free-to-play mobile apps as time-killers, rather than immersive and enjoyable games on the same level as current-gen consoles. And while most mobile downloads are usually free apps, that is not to say that every free-to-play game is bent on squeezing money out of the players. Rather, some games obtain revenues through advertisements, rather than introducing a limit of plays per day. Personally, this model is something that I believe most gamers would favour, as long as it was not obtrusive to the gaming experience.
Do these mobile stats surprise you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!