MMO business article from end of 2008. How has this evolved since?

Posted: July 3, 2011 in Online games business

Casual MMOs get between 10-25% of users to pay

There’s been some good number crunching going on at conferences and on the blogosphere to find out the basic economics of casual mmo / free to play companies. From a post a few months ago Jeremy Liew figured that successful MMOGs can expect around $1-2 per unique monthly user. A few of the figures from that post below:

  • Club Penguin: $1.62/mthly user/mo
  • Habbo: $1.30/mthly user/mo
  • Runescape: $0.84/mthly user/moothers from outside that article:
  • Puzzle Pirates: $1.50/mthly user/mo
  • IMVU: $1.66/mthly user/mo (from GigaOM)

Those numbers are remarkably consistent across very different types of properties. Habbo hotel is so different from Runescape, one being non-combat and virtual goods based, the other being subscription and heavily combat oriented, that it’s surprising to not see a massive variation between products. We certainly don’t see that kind of ARPU consistency between, say, subscription based music products like Rhapsody and transaction based one’s like Amazon MP3. That made me a little curious to dig in deeper.

Slicing this a different way, let’s look at the ARPU of the paying userbase. From public numbers we can get that Club Penguin had 700k paying users, 2.6m Unique Users/mo, or 25% paying a $5 arpu. Runescape, also from earlier numbers, is 1m paying at 6m players/mo, that means 16.6% paying. According to an email exchange with Sulka over the weekend, Habbo says 10% of its monthly userbase is paying. And checking in with Daniel James, it looks like Puzzle Pirates has 22% of its active monthly registered playbase paying. Boiling that all together with past figures, we get:

  • Club Penguin: 25% monthly uniques pay, $5/mo per paying user
  • Habbo: 10% monthly players pay, $10.30/mo per paying user
  • Runescape: 16.6% monthly uniques pay, $5/mo per paying user
  • Puzzle Pirates: 22% monthly players pay, $7.95/mo per paying user

Ah, there’s some of the disparity we’d expect. A few things to note here:

  • All of these percentages seem amazingly good compared to other markets. Think about the 2% of the casual downloadable game market that pays, or a 3-5% that a lot of “penny gap” free trial web startups get.
  • The relative percentages-to-arpu ratio start to suggest how you might shape a product to match your goals, but we’d need a few more samples to start to see real patterns. Throw up your numbers if you got ’em.
  • One reason why Club Penguin probably gets such a high relative percentage paying is that you hit the content wall very quickly in CP when you are a non-paying user. Habbo, by contrast, has a much longer shelf life of exploring before you really need to pay up. The real interesting comparison that would help everyone build better products would be to see this comparison after a 90-day cohort. I imagine Habbo’s percentage at that point would be quite similar or possibly better than CP. If any folks want to share cohort numbers we’d be happy to share as well (you know, as soon as we got being around for 90 days).

Note that some of the figures say “uniques” and some say “players” — this is not by accident. One thing I noticed looking through the numbers was that some were counting uniques as “active players”, and then others were using numbers – which are “total uniques”. The difference between these two can be anywhere from 20-80%, depending whether the site requires registration to play and what the bounce rate is (% of folks who hit the first page and never go further). If anyone had bounce rates for CP then we could normalize, but lacking that we’ll just have to ballpark it.



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