A new report from media research company Screen Digest suggests that the Western market for massively multiplayer online games surpassed $1 billion dollars for the first time in 2006, thanks in no small part to the continuing success of Blizzard's MMORPG powerhouse World of Warcraft as well as the introduction of more casual MMOGs.
Altogether, the subscription market accounted for 87 percent of the total massively multiplayer online market last year, and was dominated by North American subscriptions totaling $576 million compared to $299 million in Europe. In addition, other sources of revenue such as virtual item sales and in-game advertising also contributed to the market's growth over the past year.
During 2006, the report found World of Warcraft to be the most popular subscription game "by far," with Blizzard's role-playing opus accounting for 54 percent of the annual subscription market with revenue of $471 billion. UK developer/publisher Jagex's Runescape was the game's nearest competitor.
The success of traditional MMOGs has also spurred growth in social networking sites and casual online games, which have been to adopt similar business models as those exhibited by more traditional MMO titles.
Looking ahead, Screen Digest anticipates that the MMOG market will include over 10 million MMOG user subscriptions and will generate $1.5 billion by 2011. However, the research firm predicts that the European segment is poised to grow substantially over this period of time, with the region exhibiting stronger growth compared to that of North America. "Over the five year period, Germany will remain the largest subscription market in Europe, followed by the UK," writes the report.
"During the past few years the Western landscape for massively multiplayer online games has become increasingly fragmented following the introduction of new genres of games including social networking, virtual pet rearing and virtual world building titles," wrote the report's author Piers Harding-Rolls. "These new games and platforms have brought with them many new gamers and also new business models that are generating revenue that is largely incremental to the incumbent subscription business."