Why Free to Play Games Are So Popular (and Where the Genre is Headed Next)

Aug 18, 2018 by

There’s no denying it: free to play games are making bank. Instead of premium games, which charge players upon entry just to play them, free to play games are free to enjoy and make their money through the sale of microtransactions, typically for cosmetic skins and similar items. According to Superdata’s annual year in review report, free to play games made $82 billion across PC, consoles and mobile devices in 2017.

The report also states that more than 2.5 billion people enjoyed free to play titles last year. But is it more than the allure of free stuff that draws people in, or is it something more? Let’s take a look.

What Makes Free to Play Games Popular

It’s not just the pure allure of a freebie that makes people play free to play games, rather, much of it comes down to the ability to try before you buy. Unlike premium titles such as Overwatch, Grand Theft Auto 5, and the main series Call of Duty titles, free to play titles allow you to gauge whether you will enjoy a game before you put down any money on it.

And it’s not just the base free to play games that don’t cost a dime; the regular updates and expansions are often free too. For example, popular free to play MOBA League of Legends regularly introduces new characters and game modes. With Call of Duty, expansions of a similar ilk (e.g. those that add new maps and weapons) cost money, meaning that your enjoyment of them will peter out if you don’t have the cash.

Where the Free to Play Industry is Headed Next

While the free to play industry is thriving as it is, expect it grow in leaps and bounds in the coming years and months. In addition to microtransactions and sales of skins, also expect free to play games to adopt the free spins and no deposit bonuses of casino games. These sorts of welcome bonuses allow casino game players to test things out and usually last for seven days or so, before players transition to paid customers.

It’s difficult to make money from free to play games but a shift to bonuses would still let players try before they buy. In the long run, as highly engaged players fully embrace a game off of the back of these welcome offers, more money will be spent on them.

It’s also expected that more premium game genres will make the jump to free to play. One recent example of this is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. After releasing as a premium title on PC, the successful battle royale game was later ported to mobile devices as a free to play title, where it has made more than $30 million already. Free to play gamers now expect premium quality with none of the cost and PUBG’s success shows that developers who deliver that will be rewarded.

Free to play games have been strong for quite a while, on both mobile devices and PC and they are growing on consoles too. With this in mind, don’t expect the genre to go away any time soon; further developments and new lines of thinking will only skyrocket earnings even beyond that $82 billion figure.

About Carrie Alvord

Carrie Alvord
Carrie lives in North Seattle and loves biking, running, and drinking around town with friends. She's been to every PAX held in Seattle and has no plans on ending the streak. Her favorite games are Mortal Kombat, Final Fantasy, and Diablo.

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