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Free-To-Play Games Are Serious Business

Forty percent of players have bought something in freemium games

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Free-to-play games are the new “in” thing. It’s the kind of game that everybody wants to make. Zynga and other major developers have already proved that free-to-play can be a healthy and at times, ridiculously profitable, business model. Thanks to the NPD we now have a better understanding of just how the free-to-play market works.

The NPD Group released the results of a study today that revealed 40 percent of all free-to-play gamers have bought something in these games. Of course, this makes the game freemium instead of free-to-play but we’ll get into a semantics argument later. The results of the study go beyond just the number of people buying stuff in freemium titles, but how the gender breakdown works as well

Interestingly enough, more women play freemium titles than men, but it’s the men who are spending the most on freemium titles. I might chalk this up to the fact that men, more often than women, want the most of out of a game even if it is freemium. I’ve observed that female gamers just like to have fun which doesn’t require the purchase of extra add-ons, etc that male gamers think they need.

“The majority of freemium gamers who opt to pay to upgrade their experience do so within the first month of playing a particular game,” said Anita Frazier, industry analyst, The NPD Group. “When designing a game, it’s important to consider features that would drive quick conversion to pay.”

Other interesting statistics point to there being a high adoption rate of freemium games among those who are aware of them. The NPD study found that only 15 percent of people who were aware of freemium games refused to play them. These kind of games also have a ridiculously high conversion rate of 84 percent which means the majority of players are sticking around after a “trial period.”

The gender statistic comes up again here as well with female gamers more likely to convert than their male equivalents. It was found that 18-to-34-year-old males try out freemium gaming but then abandon ship after trying it. Why? Male players in that demographic are part of the core gaming demographic, and find the experience offered by freemium games lacking in comparison to premium games found on consoles and PC. I think the NPD group got it right when the say that for core gamers, “a freemium game would provide a different experience, like a snack versus a full meal.”

All of this culminates in 38 percent of the U.S. population aged 2 and older playing some kind of freemium game. That’s a big number and one that publishers would be foolish to ignore. I just wonder how many of that 38 percent are children. Facebook and Apple are currently facing lawsuits from angry parents whose children have charged exuberant amounts of money to their accounts while playing freemium games.

Remember kids, that extra playtime in Farmville or Smurf’s Village costs real world money, not just Facebook credits. The developer will be happy that you spent $3,000 on some virtual goods, but your parents will be taking it out of your college fund. Have fun waiting tables to get through school.

[h/t: Joystiq]

Free-To-Play Games Are Serious Business
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