Which do you think is a bigger deal, Avengers: Endgame or Fortnite? Okay, sure, for 2019, the superheroes made a killing globally, pulling in $ 2.8 billion in box office grosses. But Fortnite—a game that is “free-to-play” for anyone, on any platform, managed to make $ 1.8 billion. And it is far from alone. The top 5 free-to-play games each made over $ 1.5 billion in 2019, according to SuperData.
The Statista chart above shows the other big names in the top five: Dungeon Fighter Online, Honour of Kings (a.k.a. Arena of Valor), League of Legends, and old stalwart Candy Crush Saga. The rest of the top ten include Pokemon Go, Crossfire, Fate/Grand Order, Game for Peace, and Last Shelter: Survival. All had over $ 1.1 billion in revenue last year.
Compare that number two “free” game (Dungeon Figher Online at $ 1.6 billion in revenue) to the second biggest movie of the year, The Lion King, which didn’t even crack a billion, at $ 968 million. It’s obvious: The gaming industry is (candy) crushing it.
Break it down by platform, and you’ll be even more astonished. The free-to-play games are racking in cash like a thresher pulls in hay, to the tune of $ 87.1 billion total. Mobile “free” games alone made $ 64.4 billion; on the low end, console games had a mere $ 1.5 billion in revenue from free games.
If you’re not up on what the “freemium” model is all about, it means anyone can download the games for nothing and play them. But to get additional content—new levels, virtual equipment, looks for characters, and so on—people tend to pay. And handsomely. The revenue increase from 2018 to 2019 for free-to-play games is 6 percent.
Of course, comparing movie box-office to in-app purchases isn’t exactly apples to apples. For movies, the equivalent is probably ancillary things, like tie-in merchandising. But chances are slim that Disney is going to release a future Avengers or Star Wars movie for free in hope that some Happy Meal toys will make up for it.
To keep it in perspective, SuperData’s report (entitled 2019 Year In Review: Digital Games and Interactive Media) says that in 2019, all games and interactive media— including things like Twitch and Mixer streaming channels, and virtual reality on headsets like Oculus Quest—earned $ 120.1 billion worldwide. There was a dip in premium paid game revenue from 2018, which had a lot of big name releases such as Marvel’s Spider-Man. It’s almost at the point where charging at all for a game probably isn’t worth it for developers when they can make so much “giving it away free.” TANSTAAFL.