Consumer spending on subscription-based MMOs is set to grow to USD 2 billion by 2013, according to media analyst Screen Digest, which says it will remain the key method of monetising virtual worlds.
The report, entitled Subscription MMOGs: Life beyond World of Warcraft, shows that the MMO market grew by 22 per cent in 2008, with consumer spending levels of USD 1.4 billion in North America and Europe.
"Industry commentators have for some time been using the example of the Asian online games market to proclaim the death of subscription business models in the West, praising the accessibility and flexibility of free-to-access games that generate revenue by encouraging players to make micro-transactions as part of the gaming experience," said Piers Harding-Rolls, senior analyst and head of games at Screen Digest.
"Screen Digest has always advocated a mixed model approach for the markets in North America and Europe. Subscriptions remain an important and lucrative way of monetising MMOGs in the West across all game settings and consumer groups, and the results in 2008 support this view."
World of Warcraft was singled out as the dominant force in the genre, accounting for a 58 per cent share of Western consumer spending on subscription MMOs, having amassed USD 2.2 billion from subscriptions since the game's launch in 2005. However, spending on other subscription titles was also strong in 2008, growing 27 per cent.
"As a share of the total ex-WoW 2008 market, consumer spending on premium subscriptions grew by 11 per cent year-on-year, from 35 per cent to 46 per cent," explained Harding-Rolls.
"This swing towards premium subscriptions has helped reinvigorate a diverse market that was threatening to be overwhelmed by the dominant success of World of Warcraft."
He concluded: "Overall, the outlook for subscription-based MMOGs remains positive over the next five years. By 2013, we expect the subscription market to top USD 2 billion in consumer spending and for it to maintain its role as a key business model for monetisation alongside micro-transactions."