English-language free-to-play market to grow to $2B by 2015 - Study

DFC Intelligence report indicates better broadband, acceptance of digital content will lead to explosive growth in online, microtransaction-based gaming.

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Online role-playing games in the East have for some years now embraced the free-to-play, microtransaction-supported business model. Within the past couple of years, Western game developers have also begun to recognize the system's benefits, as top online RPGs such as Everquest II, Dungeons and Dragons Online, and Lord of the Rings Online have all made overtures toward the free-to-play model.

Everquest II is the latest major Western online RPG to experiment with free-to-play gaming.
Everquest II is the latest major Western online RPG to experiment with free-to-play gaming.

According to a new report by market research firm DFC Intelligence, the free-to-play model is poised for explosive growth over the next five years in the West. By DFC's accounting, the market for English language, client-based free-to-play games on the PC stood at roughly $250 million in 2009, and the firm believes that figure will grow to $2 billion by 2015.

DFC believes a primary cause for this projected exponential growth is a proliferation of broadband Internet connections in North America and Europe. Currently, downloading large clients from which to run the game can be a lengthy and unwieldy process that many Western consumers are unwilling to undertake, DFC said.

Notably, the market research firm's report indicates that the fastest download speeds can be found in South Korea, Romania, Japan, and Sweden. South Korea, which is home to online game companies such as Nexon, is particularly well suited to online gaming, as eight of the top 12 download-speed cities are located in the Asian nation.

"For many Korean companies, the market in North America has not taken off nearly as fast as they expected," commented DFC analyst Insun Yoon. "Much of this can be attributed to the immature infrastructure and a lack of established payment and service mechanisms. The good news is that this is starting to change and consumers are starting to realize that the game play of top high-end [free-to-play] games can be quite sophisticated."

One other factor leading to increased revenue from the English-language free-to-play segment is consumers' increasing acceptance of purchasing digital content, especially with the use of prepaid retail cards. DFC notes that by the end of 2010, English-language free-to-play games will have a combined total of 128 million registered users.

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