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[Gamesbriefers] Are there some markets that just don’t ‘get’ free to play?

By on October 19, 2012


I will shortly be writing a piece for MCV, the UK games industry magazine that is heavily read by retailers, about free-to-play. I was told that the journalists at MCV are often told that the UK just doesn’t get F2P.

I think this is nonsense, and that there isn’t a market in the world where companies aren’t gaining market share and generating revenues by going free-to-play. Do you agree? Is the UK a good F2P market? And are there any territories in the world where it’s tough to make money or attract an audience with a free-to-play game?


Harry Holmwood Consultant at Heldhand

Retail’s still relatively strong in UK, and MCV has to pay lip service to them because promoting retail products to retail buyers is the main reason people buy advertising in it.

I’ve met loads of people over the last 12 years or so in the retail/distribution (and, frankly, publishing/format holders) who have scoffed at digital distribution. Now, having finally accepted it’s here, and it’s big, they are scoffing at F2P.  You can understand why. If F2P and digital dominate, these people have no role to play in the industry any more, and that’s terrifying. Their world is one of inventory, mark downs, warehouses, shelf space and ‘co-op marketing spends’, and these are not part of the future.  What started as lack of foresight is now just fear and denial.

There’s no doubt that UK has lagged behind F2P markets like Japan, Korea and Germany, but one look at the top grossing games on the UK App Store confirms that F2P is here, and is here in a big way. F2P happened quicker in Germany, I suspect, because of the relative strength of PC as a games platform there, and the popularity of games which lend themselves well to F2P mechanics – whereas we have typically been more console-centric.

Retail’s still going to be around for a while – the current gen consoles are still pretty healthy and people want software for them.  If they’re still around in 5 years, I suspect they’ll be limited to selling hardware, points cards and accessories – and hopefully making a decent business out of that.

Lance Priebe Creator of Club Penguin

Wow, that’s crazy.

Our second largest market outside of the United States for Club Penguin is the UK! I am baffled how many developers continue to ignore the fact that in less than 5 years, the 150 million Club Penguin players become teenagers. Not to mention Moshi Monsters. An entire generation of players that expect their games to be free with regular, weekly content updates.

Ella Romanos CEO at Remode

I think that for some reason there is still a feeling amongst some people in the UK industry that free to play means lower quality games which are just ripping off users. I don’t see that this is as widespread elsewhere, for example in the rest of Europe.

That may be because we do still have a lot of retail and areas such as browser games aren’t as prolific amongst our developers are our European counterparts.

It is changing though, and most successful developers have already realised the potential and we’re producing great free to play games and have been doing so for as long as other countries – we just need to get over this very strange attitude that still exists as an industry as a whole.

Melissa Clark-Reynolds Founder of miniMonos

90% of our revenue (miniMonos) currently comes from the UK, and our business model is Freemium. I don’t have enough experience in other markets to say that it won’t work there, but it seems to work here.


Stuart Dredge Journalist at The Guardian

I think the UK has a very tight-knit games retail industry, and thus a lot of outspoken people saying F2P is shit. And this probably doesn’t correspond with what consumers are doing, but I understand why they feel they have to say it


Oscar Clark Evangelist at Applifier

The crux for me is that MCV is a great mag for the traditional distribution model industry.  Its target audience is not really those of us in mobile or online distribution.

Don’t get me wrong they are a great bunch of guys, but the trouble is that their advertising base don’t really have much to offer in the F2P model.

Andy Payne Founder of Mastertronic

I agree with Nicholas. F2P is the fastest growing games business model, and F2P games are gaining share everywhere. In my experience of national and international retail vs digital download (we sell games by both methods directly), it is only countries where credit cards are not used, such as Saudi Arabia, where F2P and digital download are slow to take on.

Interestingly enough, the UK is the most competitive traditional retail market there is, not just in games but across every sector. That is why it is so tough to be a specialist. Supermarkets and Onliners such as Amazon cannot be stopped for different reasons. Add to that the fact that Google judge the UK to be the most advanced e-commerce country there is and all signs point to F2P moving at a stellar pace.

F2P started in South Korea, where there were no packaged games and thus no game retail business. It was made possible by their incredible broadband capability. What happened there, happens everywhere, eventually.

Teut Weidemann Online Specialist at Ubisoft

“It is only countries where credit cards are not used , such as Saudi Arabia, where F2P and digital download are slow to take on.”

Are you aware of how big the audience and revenue over there is for Travian and Bigpoint etc? Slow? Its already there and huge.

Andy Payne Founder of Mastertronic

*stands corrected* salutations!

Saudi Arabia is rubbish for downloads though.



Simon Oliver Designer at HandCircus

F2P dominance on iOS is pretty much a global phenomenon – just looking at cross-country highest-grossing rank comparison on App Annie for leading F2P titles:

Teut Weidemann Online Specialist at Ubisoft

Ok, can we agree that f2p is a global thing now. There is no such thing as a non free-to-play market.



Charles Chapman Director and Owner of First Touch Games

It’s definitely global, but there are obviously countries that perform better than others with F2P.

South Korea gets mentioned a lot, but the data backs it up – before we had a F2P game we’d done virtually nothing there, but now it’s a significant territory for us.

Will Luton Consultant

It’s worth considering a potential bias: As most of us are UK-based we’re exposed to wider community of the games industry, whereas our contact with those outside the UK is possible more limited to those in our sector.

This is likely inverted for MCV: They see their local industry as retail (what they write about all day), whereas the wider industry is all talking F2P.

However, I think there are a combination of factors in the UK. We have few aggressive VC-back ventures and a stronger interest in cultural significance of text over it’s financial success. We’re a culture of bards rather than prospectors.

Felicity Foxx Herst Product Manager at GREE

That the UK is the 3rd largest mobile market (after the US and Japan) and that the ratio of F2P:paid products on the iOS UK Top Grossing charts is identical to those other countries (ie. hardly any paid) would indicate that the UK market, at least, has embraced free to play.

One thing I’ve noticed – and some of you have also mentioned this – is the hesitance of developers in this country to embrace the model as strongly as the market has. I’m afraid my only evidence is anecdotal, but I’ve worked in North America and Japan and you simply do not get the same hand-wringing discussions about the ethics of IAP anywhere outside of the the UK.

Maybe it’s the result of an industry still heavily invested in retail, or moving into F2P later on the curve – straight from console vs. entering the space via Facebook(US)/feature phones(JP) – or perhaps even a lack of faith in F2P content – common from hardcore gamers who maybe don’t respect that there is a different type of user enjoying and willing to pay for a casual-social experience.

Regardless, it’s an interesting space to be in, and if all this concern about predatory game mechanics results in better game design, then hurrah!

Martin Darby CCO at Remode

I think Will raises some good points, similar to my thoughts. There is no UK equivalent to Gree or Bigpoint, and there is more pontificating about games as an artform. Brits also rely on an established PC development and gaming process:  lots of UK indies think they know what PC gaming is and what it should be (get on Steam etc). By contrast, we are currently talking to another party about the international marketing of one of our browser titles, where they tell us that the UK performs poorly for browser F2P on a global stage.

Oscar Clark Evangelist at Applifier

Hey Martin – we have great examples world leading F2P companies with Jagex, Mind Candy and Natural Motion so I don’t buy that argument. and of course the PlayStation Home team has been doing F2P for 4 years now (I know I can’t help myself but talk about my old colleagues).

Yes we have more pontificating… but that’s just noise from the companies who won’t last ;0)  I think we have had as much noise about F2P too – I like to think that both Nicholas and I have contributed to the pro-F2P noise over the last couple of years.

The issue for MCV is simply (as Will and I have already said) that their audience just happens to be from the retail channel side of the industry. F2P isn’t part of their agenda as a result. Its nothing to do with the actual state of the UK F2P.

Of course it is also true that we are very close to the digital channel. However, I don’t believe that we are overemphasising the importance of F2P. We are simply ahead of the curve that will affect the console market. Indeed it already has which is the real reason I mentioned PSHome; as that product is the tip of Sony’s spear checking out the possibilities.

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