The government may spend a close to $9 million on every M1 Abrams tank it buys. Gamers in World of Tanks can sorta relate.
The online multiplayer game, which has teams of players in tanks fighting against one another, has the highest average revenue per user (ARPU) out of any free-to-play PC games, according to a report form industry intelligence firm SuperData Research. Of course, World of Tanks fans aren’t dropping millions on their digital vehicles. Instead, the average player spends $4.51. That puts it ahead of games like online shooter Team Fortress 2 and online strategy game Dota 2 — at least in this one metric. ARPU is an important factor in the multibillion dollar F2P game industry. It measures the health of a game that relies on microtransactions, but it doesn’t tell the full story. For example, games with more players and a lower ARPU can still bring in more money, which is how League of Legends (ARPU $1.32) generates more revenue than its competitor Dota 2 (ARPU $1.54).
“People vote with their dollars,” SuperData researcher Joost van Dreunen wrote in a blog post. “In the traditional retail market, this meant that the game with most boxed copies sold, generally speaking, was the most popular one. But now that free-to-play games are a standard in the market, the underlying economics are a lot less obvious.”
That is to say the old model of looking at sales numbers doesn’t work when looking at games people can try for free. This means you need to look at things like how many active players a game has as well as things like ARPU.
While World of Tanks makes a lot from its players, it also has over 9.1 million monthly active users (MAU). That means that developer WarGaming.net isn’t necessarily choosing between targeting a hardcore gamer or a mass audience. At the same time, League of Legends, which has an ARPU of $1.32, has an MAU of 58.5 million.
“That’s five times the audience but less than a third of the earnings per player,” van Dreunen wrote.
Here’s the full top 10 free-to-play games by ARPU:
- World of Tanks: $4.51
- Team Fortress 2: $4.36
- Guild Wars 2: $3.88 (only considering its microtransactions and not its retail price)
- War Thunder: $3.26
- Planetside 2: $2.86
- Combat Arms: $2.81
- Crossfire: $1.58
- Dota 2: $1.54
- Heroes of Newerth: $1.48
- League of Legends: $1.32
For comparison, here is SuperData’s chart from earlier this year that shows the PC games that made the most from microtranscactions in 2013:
- Crossfire: $957 million
- League of Legends: $624 million
- Dungeon Fighter Online: $426 million
- World of Tanks: $372 million
- MapleStory: $326 million
- Lineage I: $257 million
- World of Warcraft: $213 million
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: $139 million
- Team Fortress 2: $139 million
- Counter-Strike Online: $121 million
Many of these games aren’t even in the ARPU chart, which likely means that have a huge number of active users. Team Fortress 2, which makes $4.36 per player, barely even makes the earnings chart. So why maximizing revenue per player is important, it’s clear that a game doesn’t need a $3 or $4 ARPU to succeed.