The latest incarnation of the World of Warcraft video game is released Thursday. The PC-based online multi-player game is among the most popular with more than seven million subscribers, who pay a fee up-front to join the game.
But the subscriber base is down from a peak of 12.3 million in 2010. That decline is opposite the rest of the video gaming industry, which has seen rapid growth—four times that of the rest of the U.S. economy, according to industry data.
A lot of the growth has been in free mobile game apps—so-called freemium apps, which mobile consumers can download for free, but which entice players to pay for extras inside the game.
“The question of whether or not free to play is evil, is of course a fair question,” says Joost van Dreunen, who heads SuperData Research, a firm that tracks the video game industry. Van Dreunen says a lot of game designers themselves refer to “freemium” apps as “evil.”
But despite any misgivings or criticisms, growth of mobile has changed video games, says van Dreunen, to the point that “only 20 to 25 percent of games in the app stores are charging people up front.”
And Brian Blau, research director at the technology-focused firm Gartner, says the free-to-play model is expanding.
“There are many games across all platforms that are looking at the free-to-play monetization model as their ticket for the future,” says Blau.
That may mean a lot more freemium games, and certainly a continued growth in the mobile market, as the global video games industry is forecast to hit the $100 billion mark by 2017.