SuperData and the Free and Mobile Future

SuperData Research put out their 2018 Year in Review report last week. [Edit: Link removed, SuperData has been shut down.]  You can’t just look at it on their web site.  Instead, it is available in .pdf format and, while it is free, you do have to go through all the motions of “buying” it, save for providing a credit card.  They did the same thing last year.  The effort isn’t huge if you want to see some data.

One of the things they want you to know right away in the report is that they were acquired by Nielsen back in September.  So there is that, though I am not sure that has meant any changes in the short term.

Last year’s report was interesting for a few reasons, but what topped my list was the fact that World of Warcraft was missing from the report entirely.  Logic seemed to dictate that games that made their year in review charts, yet were consistently below WoW in revenue… and I speak specifically of World of Tanks… seemed to at least bring into question either the validity of the annual summary or the monthly charts… though there is no reason that both cannot be suspect.

So I was keen to see the report for 2018 to see if there was a repeat performance on that front.  And there is… sort of.

The problem is that SuperData chose a different way to slice and dice the game market, dividing the market into free to play and premium across all platforms.  That isn’t necessarily bad, but it does leave out any sort of “apples to apples” comparison with 2017. Still, numbers are number and lists are lists and I have long expressed a love of both, so here they are.

SuperData 2018 Year in Review – Free to Play digital revenue

The footnotes indicate that this chart was made with preliminary data for December and that Honour of Kings is known as Arena of Valor in the west.

The first thing to note, and the report goes into detail on this, is how much Fortnite dominated.  That number is across all platforms, but is huge all the same.  It is no wonder that Epic Games felt they could step up and challenge Steam.  They have a big enough world-wide audience, and no doubt enough money in the bank, to make it a pretty viable alternative.

The second is how much of that list is made up of mobile titles.  Pokemon Go is not all that far behind League of Legends, perennial list topper on the PC end of the monthly charts.  And while LoL has been down this year, I keep hearing people say that Pokemon Go was just a fad that peaked back in 2016.  That doesn’t seem to be the case. (Though, if you go look at various reported revenue numbers for Pokemon Go, they seem to be all over the map, so while it is doing well, I don’t know if it is doing as well as this chart indicates.)

Then there is the premium game chart.

SuperData 2018 Year in Review – Premium digital revenue

The footnotes again note that this includes preliminary data from December and that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds revenue does not include anything from mobile versions of the game.  This chart is limited to PC and consoles.

Probably the first thing that pops up when comparing the premium chart versus the free to play is that, save for PUBG, nothing on the premium chart made enough money to make it onto the free chart were they combined.

And then there is the question of where World of Warcraft lays in this mix.  It appeared on the PC charts from January through October (though it fell off in November) and topped League of Legends back when Battle for Azeroth shipped, but it doesn’t make the cut for premium.  But somehow Overwatch, which barely made the charts over the course of 2018, did.

Unlike in 2017, I cannot even use World of Tanks, which WoW scored ahead of for ten months running, as a signpost, since WoT didn’t make the cut either.

Of course, if I were to subscribe to SuperData’s Arcade report, I would likely have access to data that would clear this up.  However, that costs money, much more that I would like to spend, so I am left looking for clues in the incomplete data.

I think there is a hint in another slide.  SuperData breaks out the overall digital market, which raked in an estimated $109.7 billion dollars in 2018, into various groups.

  • Mobile – $61.3 billion (56%)
  • F2P PC – $17 billion (15%)
  • Premium console – $10.7 billion (10%)
  • Social – $7.3 billion (7%)
  • Premium PC – $7.2 billion (7%)
  • Pay to Play PC – $4.2 billion (4%)
  • F2P console – $2 billion (2%)

Mobile runs away with the market here, with 56% of the take.  But it is an all digital environment too.  Nobody is going to GameStop or Target or Amazon for a mobile game in a box.  And almost 70% of that came from Asia.  Of the remainder, the North America spends nearly double the amount that Europe does on mobile games.

According to SuperData, F2P makes up $87.7 billion of the market and, again, Asia consumes most of that, with more than 60% spent there.  Europe spends more than the NA on F2P PC games, but about half as much when it comes to F2P console titles.

As one might expect, premium on PC and consoles is strongest in the west.  Europe and NA spend about the same total, but Europe is split about even between PC and console while in NA about three quarters of premium dollars are spent on console titles.

And hanging about along the way is “Social,” which I assume is some subset of F2P, and “Pay to Play” which sounds a lot like the subscription model, which I think is where they stuck World of Warcraft.  It is in an awkward position now when it comes to categories as the game itself has no up front costs… you can download the client and start playing up to level 20 without a subscription and up to level 110 with one… so isn’t really a premium game, which implies buying a box.  But it also isn’t really F2P… though even if they threw it into the F2P bucket, I doubt it earned enough in 2018 to make that chart.  WoW earning a billion dollars in a year stopped being a thing quite a while back.

The “Pay to Play” category probably also includes things like the Xbox and PlayStation subscription models as well, which probably make up the lion’s share of that category.  So don’t get your hopes up on MMORPGs.  WoW, and maybe FFXIV, are probably the only two games in the genre big enough to even register on that front.

And so it goes.

I read the comments over at Massively OP where every time a mobile MMO comes up the crowd holds their nose like somebody passed gas and cash shops and lock boxes are viewed with opprobrium.  I read those sorts of things and I agree, because I am in that crowd.  But the joke is on us.  Mobile is big enough to dwarf our favored genre and free to play makes up such a big market segment that you can barely see the little corner of pay to play where our favorite games live.

So if you want to know what Blizzard will be showing mobile games at BlizzCon again this year, why even Daybreak is in that strange NantG Mobile deal, there it is.  Mobile is where the money is and free is anything but.

Then there is Fortnite, which made about double what WoW ever made at its peak.

The SuperData’s report has more to offer, including projections for the future of digital, looks into streaming, and some numbers about VR.  If you are interested you can sign up to download it from their site.

10 thoughts on “SuperData and the Free and Mobile Future

  1. bhagpuss

    A while back, when SuperData reports were less widely accepted than they are now, you speculated about how they obtained their information. I think you said that one key source would be the companies themselves feeding the numbers to SuperData because they wanted to be included. I wonder if the reverse is also true? Perhaps, when it wouldn’t look so good to see the games sliding down the charts and falling off the bottom, that information feed might get throttled back or switched off entirely? Perhaps Blizzard is keeping WoW’s numbers to itself these days?


  2. SynCaine

    This post and its numbers really hammer home how terrible the data they collect is. I mean in the past you could at least look at the trend of the data, and assuming they didn’t butcher it month-to-month, it was something. Not ‘good’, but something.

    But now with this? Sorry but its now 99% garbage, on both an individual level (Fortnite is as likely to have made the reported 2b as it is 1b or 5b) and in overall trending (like you point out, not including some of the known biggest titles makes it hard to take anything else seriously).


  3. Asmiroth

    I can still buy vinyl records and bicycles, when clearly there are more “profitable on volume” options present for manufacturers. It’s when you go to a hipster convention to show off your new xtra super duty truck that the entire thing goes off the rails.

    Still, it does reinforce the point that a company primarily motivated by profits will focus on the most profitable ventures. The idea of Blizzard being a “make good games for gamers” company died in 2018, and folks are having a hard time letting that one go.

    I do take notice on Monster Hunter, which has so few microtransactions, and RDR2 which didn’t have a cash stop until only a few weeks ago. Holy moley they shipped a lot of “boxes”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – As part of the report intro they briefly cover where they get their data, and directly from companies is on the list.

    As I have said in the past, there is a big incentive for public companies to be included in coverage by analysts. Likewise, any company that would like to go public needs to get some attention on that front, and that means sharing data. The flip side is that those companies need to be careful with the data they provide. Public companies lying about numbers to an analyst can get them sued. But they can withhold data whenever they want, or slice it up if they think it is beneficial. I believe we saw the latter when WoW was split into East and West on the charts for a couple of months in 2017.

    @SynCaine – Bloomberg was calling Fortnite revenue at more than $2 billion on its own data back in December, so I am not quite ready to call it garbage. And, like Riot, Epic is owned by Tencent, so both LoL and Fortnite numbers are likely from the same source.

    This report, like the monthly reports, are a tease. That they lumped mobile, PC, and console free to play into one chart hides some data, but doesn’t make it invalid. You can find out how good or garbage any bit of data on this report is if you’re willing to spend the money on the reports or their service option. That they’re still in business, and deemed valuable enough to be scooped up by Nielsen argues against the 99% garbage theory.

    And, in the end, the bigger trends are still visible whether you like the line item numbers of not. Mobile rules, especially in Asia, while free to play and cash shops and lock boxes pay a lot of bills. Old school buy the box and subscription models are there, but aren’t selling like they used to.


  5. Azuriel

    WoW is tanking, but I find it difficult to believe it’s tanking that badly. Even 3 million subs is $540 million a year. “Pay to Play” is likely where it resides, as you note. Given how tiny of a percentage P2P is of the overall market – and the possibly related truth that very few games are viable with that model – it makes sense that SuperData would drop everyone in that category off the sheet. Who would pay for that information, when 71% of the entire market is at least 4x more profitable?


  6. zaphod6502

    Fortnite reigns supreme at the moment but that is mostly the young teens and sub 12 year old market. Every single friend of mine that has kids are all playing Fortnite and if their not playing it then they are all talking about it. Plus most of them have bought items in the cash shop with their parents permission. Fortnite is the new Cabbage Patch doll for this current young generation.

    But it is a fickle market and kids interests change very quickly so we will see how long it can sustain its success.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. SynCaine

    The Nielson buyout always looked to me like an outdated company that is losing relevance grasping at something to stay alive, and in that grasp doing something pretty foolish. I don’t see that as suddenly Superdata become a ‘verified’ source of true information, especially not when for so long, they are putting out charts that we know are incorrect and/or incomplete.

    Even doing a cross-reference between the Steam data leak (which we know was 100% accurate since it was a leak) vs what SuperCell has been reporting will show how highly flawed it was.


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