A new report from market analysis firm NewZoo shows that U.S. gamers are spending 24 percent more on free-to-play MMOs than they were in 2010, with a total of $1.2 billion expected to be spent during 2011.
According to the 2011 MMO Games Market Report, money spent on F2P MMOs currently makes up 47 percent of all MMO spending in the U.S., compared to 39 percent in 2010.
However, F2P MMO spending in other regions makes up a larger share of overall MMO spending, with 53 percent in Europe, 51 percent in Asia and 59 percent in emerging countries of MMO spending going towards free-to-play titles.
NewZoo CEO Peter Warman explained that individual games and publishers in Western MMO markets are "struggling to grow," and that Asian online games companies that are looking to expand to regions outside of Asia will play a key role in the MMO market during 2012.
The report also noted that gamers in the U.S. spend 26 million hours every day playing MMOs, while total consumer spending on MMOs in the U.S. grew 3 percent compared to last year, from $2.5 billion to $2.6 billion.
Overall, 84 percent of U.S. MMO gamers play browser-based MMOs, while half of these gamers also play client-based MMOs.
Warman explained, "The MMO games market is rapidly turning global. It has become increasingly important for MMO developers and publishers to think carefully about which titles to publish in what territories and how to adapt the games according to local preferences, including monetization models that work best."
"Recent lay-offs and the sudden death of Lego Universe
are serious warnings for the MMO games industry. Success will also strongly depend on how MMO companies extend their unique gameplay and IP across other game platforms, specifically mobile."
Online game analysis and consulting firm iQu, which contributed to the report, added that a free-to-play model does not guarantee the kind of player retention necessary to sustain an MMO.
"Recent news about Lego Universe and several titles from Gameforge underscore that it is not enough to call a game 'free-to-play' and expect to generate revenue," the company said in a statement.
"Simply put, publishers must use social and mobile platforms to communicate with gamers, because that is where they socialize and how they stay connected, thanks to the rise of smartphones and tablets."
iQu's analysis of over 80 million gamer profiles found that Riot Games' League of Legends
, Wargamingâ€™s World of Tanks
, and Aeria Games' Shaiya
were the fastest-growing MMOs in North America, Europe and Latin America, respectively.