Report: Free-to-play MMO spending jumped 24% in 2011

Nathan Grayson

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DCUO F2P

You thought you knew the score. You thought you had a pitch-perfect plan for precisely how this was going to go down. "I'll play for free, get bored, and move on. Nice and simple. No muss, no fuss," you explained to nobody in particular. And then: whammo! Your lunch money's gone. Now you're residing in a cardboard box and competing with large wildcats (or your local large wildcat equivalent) for sustenance.

But on the bright side, free-to-play MMOs had a fantastic year.

So said a report from market analysis firm NewZoo (via Gamasutra ). Specifically, US gamers have hopped aboard the free-to-play MMO bandwagon to the tune of $1.2 billion - up 24 percent from 2010. Free-to-play now accounts for 47 percent of all MMO spending in the US, and it's pretty easy to see why. 2011 - with a couple exceptions - has been one giant F2P success story. Most recently, DC Universe added that particular superpower to its repertoire, and now it's very nearly drowning in demand .

In other countries F2P's wolfing down an even bigger slice of the pie, with Europe rocketing to 53 percent, Asia to 51, and emerging countries climbing highest of all at 59 percent. That said, if your MMO's looking a bit green around the gills from the lack of green around its wallet, don't expect F2P to magically make it good as new.

"Recent news about Lego Universe and several titles from Gameforge underscore that it is not enough to call a game 'free-to-play' and expect to generate revenue," said analysis and consulting firm iQu. "Simply put, publishers must use social and mobile platforms to communicate with gamers, because that is where they socialize and how they stay connected, thanks to the rise of smartphones and tablets."

Regardless, it looks like free-to-play is here to stay - at least, so long as these numbers hold up and other numbers, er, don't . Which is, of course, a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, who doesn't like free things? But on the other, I heard those wildcats stole your girlfriend. So, um, sorry about that.

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