The Business and Design of Free-To-Play Games


Virtual Worlds Stats From Jessica Mulligan of Cyber Sports

Tech Digest has a writeup from a panel discussion at Virtual Worlds Forum Europe. In it, Jessica Mulligan, Executive Director of Player Relations at Cyber Sports, provides several interesting-but-unattributed stats and a couple quotes that support what is about.


  • Just 10% crossover between online games and social spaces (e.g. World of Warcraft vs Second Life)
  • 60 million active players of virtual world games (people who are paying money on a monthly basis).
  • Virtual worlds generated $4.5 billion in revenues last year. WoW, Westward Journey and Runescape are in this group.
  • Social spaces (Habbo, Webkinz, Club Penguin, etc) generated $400M last year.
  • Asia accounts for 50% of all virtual world revenues.


We're going to see more games under that business model [f2p, vis] than under the premium model.

In social spaces, web-based worlds are growing, while those that rely on you downloading a client are "stagnating".

Interesting stuff, but without any sources to back up the stats or quotes, it's tough to view this as anything more than cheerleading for the sector. For instance, I believe browser-based is a smarter choice than downloadable client, but I've heard little evidence to support Jessica's notion that downloadable client games are stagnating.

Virtual Worlds Forum Europe is on now in London, England until tomorrow.

Editors Note: Since this article was posted, Jessica has been kind enough to reply (in the comments of this post) with the source for her stats and observations. Thanks, Jessica!

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Comments (8) Trackbacks (0)
  1. “only” 10% might not be so insignificant if you consider virtual worlds and web-platforms as the same category. What is the cross-over between WoW and SL, for instance?

  2. Actually, my source for many of the numbers was the report ”Online Game Market Forecasts 2007” by DFC Intelligence, May 2007. The presentation is up at:

    Other numbers or assertions were based on experience or extrapolation of obvious trends. For example, the trend of browser-based social worlds growing and client/server stagnating: Browser-based Habbo Hotel, a browser-based social world, has 7.5 million active users, Webkinz has about 4 million and Club Penguin has 12 million, with 700k premium subscribers. Compared this to client/server worlds Second Life, which has 400k-500k, even though Linden claims 12 million people have tried it, and, which has about the same. This shows an obvious trend of browser-based social spaces having greater take-up than client/server social spaces.

    In the virtual world game space, however, client/server still rules, but there is a trend developing toward browser-based. Runescape, with 6 million active customers, is a good example. With its much easier accessibility for most people, we’re starting to see more browser-based MMOs going into development.


  3. That’s great, Jessica. Thanks for taking the time to explain the rationale for your observations in London.

    I retract my comment about your data being unattributed.

  4. If you could be so kind to name the source of the data on customers of most popular client-based games, esp. Perfect World, that would be really useful :) Couldn’t find a single word about ‘em in the abovenamed report.

  5. Hi Maxim,

    I assume you’re directing your question to Jessica. Hopefully she can answer it.


  6. The numbers not included in the DFC report came from publicly available sources, such as annual company reports, press releases, we site news posts, conference reports, et al, or from inside sources at the companies involved. In the case of Perfect World, a number came from inside the company, then I filtered downward to edge out the “PR Effect”.

    In a general sense, all company provided numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, as generally no attempt is made to filter out free trial accounts, inactive accounts, etc. In some cases, such as Second Life, anyone who ever tried the game is considered a “resident”, whether they ever came back for a second session or not. I try to do some filtering, based on my experience, but who knows how accurate it is? I’m comfortable that the numbers I posted are Plus/Minus 10% of the actual numbers, but one or more might be off by more.


  7. Thanks for the reply, Jessica,

    To be explicit, this question arised right after the failure of my attempt to establish more or less exact numbers of active users in top Asian f2p-based projects. It is a simple procedure when we’re speaking about subscription model – the number of active subscribers is an open info usually – but the common number for f2p operators is the number of concurrent users (accu or pccu). Speaking of PW I couldn’t find the [any +/- proofable] number of active users even in the IPO statement of Beijing Perfect World. So I’m really happy that you were luckier than me and were so kind to publish that number in an open source. Thanks again!


    P.S. Keep up the good work, Adrian! It is always a pleasure to read you posts :)

  8. Thanks, Max. And thank you to Jess for letting us know where the numbers came from.


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