Since 2008, the number of people playing video games in the United States has risen by 241%, says a new study from Parks Associates. The Trends in Digital Gaming: Free-to-Play, Social, and Mobile Games study claims that 135 million people play at least one hour per month, up from 56 million in 2008.
Parks is a market research and consulting company that many in the industry are familiar with. When Parks talks about the industry at large and what’s happening within it, developers and publishers listen.
The study shows that the segment growing fastest is the F2P (free to play) and Facebook casual markets. Smart phone-based games are also growing rapidly, now accounting for 17% of gamer’s play choices versus 7% in 2008.
The industry, says the study, is rapidly evolving away from the old retail box “packaged goods” model to the new, game-as-a-service model where consumers download and play for little or no cost and pay for in-game services or for game upgrades on a freemium model.
“Instead of ending support of customers after they buy individual game titles, game companies now focus on building gamer communities and developing ongoing relationships with their customers,” said Parks Associates research analyst and study author Pietro Macchiarella. “The positive effect of this approach is that game monetization can be extended beyond the point of sale. Unlike traditional offline games, the online world allows the industry to earn revenue even when people play the same game repeatedly.”
Macchiarella further says that new paradigms like the F2P model are removing barriers like retail costs and subscription fees, bringing in more casual gamers who would otherwise not play those titles. The microtransaction model, to which these players are becoming more and more accustomed, is seen by players as a way to budget their gaming.
Publishers, meanwhile, are finding that this model is paying off well. While individual transactions might only be one or two dollars, the average paying player is spending $29 per month on Facebook games and $21 per month on F2P titles, which is close to the $24-$27 spent monthly by console and one-off title purchases.
The study further predicts that mobile gaming will expand industry revenues further as technology makes transactions through mobile devices easier.
Obviously, the gaming world is changing. Generally, it seems, for the better as monthly subscriptions and purchased expansion packs give way to in-game gear purchases and power upgrades for a more noticeable gain for the player.