Paying $60 up front for a video game? What is this, 1995? When Mortal Kombat II came out for Super Nintendo that year, the average sticker price was $69.99. Accounting for inflation, that’s about $105 today according to the United States Department of Labor. Video games were crazy expensive back in the day, and frankly that’s no way to get people enjoying your creations and it’s no way to do business. That’s why free-to-play gaming is the hottest thing since quarter-operated arcade games—You get the game in people’s hands for nothing and then, when they inevitably want more game, they pay for it.
According to one developer though, free-to-play game makers better brace themselves for a big crash after their games open and start raking in the dough.
Jan van der Crabben, formerly of Creative Assembly and whose credits include both Empire: Total War and Napoleon: Total War, said during his GDC Europe keynote address that free-to-play developers will see a severe drop off in registered players when their games start up. How big? Devs should expect 70 percent of its initial user base to abandon the game.
Most players will, said Crabben, abandon a free-to-play game just moments after registering. The key to netting players is to provide a game that, like the arcade games of old, hooks players within seconds. Retaining those players however requires a World of Warcraft-like stream of rewards to keep them entertained according to strategy game maker. The litmus test for what players will keep paying is four days. If they’re still playing on the fourth day, they’ll pay for content going forward.
Holding onto 30 percent of initial players isn’t a failure though according to Crabben. That’s a successful game.
30 percent is a notable figure in the free-to-play market. Research group Enterbrain reported this week that Japanese social games will rake in $3.4 billion this fiscal year, a more than 30 percent jump from the market’s $2.6 billion take in fiscal 2011. The number of players pouring money into Japanese social game networks like Gree, Mobage, and others is relatively small though, supporting Crabben’s claims. Just 16 percent of Gree users spend money on free-to-play games. But that’s enough to fuel a $3.4 billion per year industry.