Only 2.2% of free-to-play users ever pay - Report

Swrve research finds 46% of all revenue comes from .22% of player base, two-thirds of people stop playing after one day

Retention and monetization are two of the biggest challenges for any free-to-play game developer. But as reported by Re/code, a new report from app testing firm Swrve suggests they may be even more challenging than previously believed.

Swrve tracked the habits of 10 million new players on 30 games in its network over the course of 90 days, finding that only 2.2 percent of those players ever spent money. The spending of monetized players wasn't spread evenly, as Swrve found 46 percent of revenue came from just 10 percent of that group, or .22 percent of the total player base.

Beyond the monetization concerns, the report also speaks to how difficult it is to retain players. Two-thirds of the tracked users quit playing their games within a day of downloading them. Further pushing the idea that early monetization is key, 53 percent of user spending happened within the first seven days after downloading a game.

Speaking with Re/code, Swrve CEO Hugh Reynolds said the report was a "word of caution around user acquisition," stressing that developers who focus their resources on goosing the total number of downloads need to worry more about keeping users engaged after the app has been downloaded.

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Latest comments (16)

Kim Haar Jørgensen Game Director, Zero Point Software8 years ago
The economics of Robin Hood reversed, I do not like it .. same mechanics applied to a $60 console game that have sold 10M copies would mean that the 0.22 percent of players would have paid ~$135,000 pr. game while the other 9,978,000 have played for free!
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Steve Wetz Reviewer/Assistant Editor, Gamer's Glance8 years ago
@ Kim:

So, you mean it's like software piracy?
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Brook Davidson Artist / 3D design 8 years ago
In other words, make sure you make a game that is good to hold your users and keep them spending. Thought this was common sense.
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Show all comments (16)
Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments8 years ago
It's important to keep these stats in perspective. 2.2% of players paying for a game sounds fine when you consider that's all people who play the game - including those who play it for a few minutes to see what it is.

What would be interesting would be to see those stats normalised by playing time...
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Kim Haar Jørgensen Game Director, Zero Point Software8 years ago
Did not cross my mind, Steve.. there is however a truth to that parallel; would be interesting to see the numbers on hours played from that survey, like Neil suggests. Still drives my crazy thinking about the mechanics at work here and how unbalanced the economics can be. I hope the 2.2% paying the bills can afford it.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 8 years ago
With the exception of Happy Wars, every f2p game I played also didn't last for more than a day before I moved on. Of course I plan on going back to Warface eventually but usually those kind of games don't hold my interest for very long.
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James Gallagher Marketing Manager, Futuremark Corporation8 years ago
Two-thirds of the tracked users quit playing their games within a day of downloading them.
The majority of mobile F2P games use the exact same monetization techniques. The market is flooded with games that follow the unofficial rulebook for monetization at the expense of creative design. Once you've played one typical F2P game, you might as well have played them all. People are not stupid. They want to play interesting games. There's no pleasure in playing a re-skinned version of the same business model again and again.
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Dan Tubb Investment manager, Edge8 years ago
Not sure I like the logic here. I have downloaded a load of mobile games and played for a minute or two to get a feel for it then never returned. Saying that I am playing but not paying is not really true. A more interesting stat would be what percentage of total game hours are made by a user that pays.

By the logic if this story anyone who stops in front of a restaurant and reads the menu before walking off would be described as visiting the restaurant without paying.
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Nate Ballantyne QA Manager, Aardman Animations8 years ago
I'd imagine that the people that stopped playing don't see why they need to spend money in order to progress. It's that whole bait and switch model, they get us playing the game, we enjoy it for a while and it becomes unplayable (or ridiculously difficult depending on the type of game) unless you spend real money. I'm sure that most people stop playing at this point, for me it would depend on the content to warrant paying real money.
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Rafa Ferrer Localisation Manager, Red Comet Media8 years ago
@Dan - I agree, but in your analogy, that restaurant would count menu-checkers as clients toward their success rate, since the number of downloads is a usual metric for the success of a F2P game, whether users play for an hour or a month or whether they pay or not.
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Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments8 years ago
@dan - yes, good point - where people might go and find reviews for a premium app before paying, games with no upfront cost will have many who play a few minutes simply to find out what it is.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany8 years ago
The early drop, so common in almost every F2P, is the modern equivalent of "I will first check the game on that video-game shop that lets me play or in my friends home when he buys it" Making sure that you wake the interest of that person into the game at the very start is hard; mainly because you are pretty much throwing the tutorial at him in the beginning and that may reduce your chances to make the guy have fun from the very start.

Just how I see it here.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game8 years ago
Wow, who would think that people might be attracted to something described as free, believing that that meant they didn't have to pay? Or that most people who got a free game believing it to be free might stop playing once it was no longer free?

Crazy, no?
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Nick Parker Consultant 8 years ago
These metrics should not be new to us. 2% has been the well established realistic conversion rate for building free to play business models for most mobile games, as has the share of "whales" at 10% driving most of the revenues. What seems light is the 46% these whales generate as I would advise a higher share, certainly over 50%, and even over 60% depending on the title, so this Swrve analysis is interesting. The obvious crucial underlying theme is the business objective to acquire a significant number of players to make this model work or/and be very cute in designing the retention mechanics of the game.
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"There's no pleasure in playing a re-skinned version of the same business model again and again."

And yet, console and PC gamers play the same NHL's, Sims, Battlefields, NFS's etc. etc. year after year :-)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Kim Soares on 11th April 2014 11:10am

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Matthew Bennett 3D Engine developer, Sitedesk8 years ago
Agreed - I'd also really like to see these statistics within the context of play time.
I'm hugely sceptical of studies when it comes to the games industry in general . I'm not sure if it is because of the way samples are tested, the causation/causality fallacy or simply how some of these statistical analysis companies work with their data but it seems like they can usually 'prove' any point by fudging data one way or another.

Additionally, I don't think the article shows this but this study was carried out within the specific context of mobile/tablet games - I imagine the PC/Console Free to Play market might be radically different.

Could just be the cynic inside me but there are plenty of companies that flourish on a free to play model so I don't thing we're getting the whole picture here.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Matthew Bennett on 11th April 2014 11:05am

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