According to a new report from DFC Intelligence the worldwide online game market is forecasted to grow from $3.4 billion in 2005 to over $13 billion in 2011. This increase is being driven by the increase in broadband households, higher PC penetration and more connected console video game systems. This is leading to a growing number of consumer subscription services, the emergence of online digital distribution and increasing acceptance of games as an advertising mechanism. During this time period North America is expected to challenge current market leader Asia as the leading region for online games.
Despite the strong growth, the leading online game category is expected to remain high-end massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) that appeal to a fairly small portion of the total user base. "MMOGs have a sophisticated online business model that drives a great deal of revenue for the top products," says DFC analyst David Cole. Other popular game genres like sports, racing and action still derive most of their revenue from retail sales with online game play as a free value add. According to Cole this is gradually changing as more of these products go online.
One of the issues is that the PC has been the dominant platform for online games while some of the most popular game genres are for the dedicated video game console systems. As console systems go online in increasing numbers they are expected to be a key driver of growth. Unlike past video game systems, the new console systems from Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony all will have a major focus on online connectivity right from the start. The Xbox Live online game service is a central part of the Microsoft Xbox 360, the Sony PlayStation 3 is expected to have an increased focus on online games and the Nintendo Wii will feature the online enabled Virtual Console concept that will allow for some significant online digital distribution.
The report forecasts that digital distribution will become a very big part of online connectivity. This is more of a retail model more about paying for, not necessarily playing, games online. Furthermore, it can work with the existing retail structure via such mechanisms as consumers buying retail cards that allow for online digital distribution. "Digital distribution and virtual item sales have started to do very well in certain Asian markets and these distribution models are expected to start having increased success on an international basis," says DFC analyst Alexis Madrigal.
In North America and Europe the casual game category is already benefiting from digital distribution. "Casual games have been the best at attracting advertisers, but they are now finding a great deal of growth from subscription and digital distribution models. Asian markets with products like Kart Rider, and Western products, like Habbo Hotel, are showing how a virtual item purchase model can work for games that have traditionally been advertising or subscription supported," says Madrigal.
On the downside, even with market growth many companies are likely to struggle to become profitable. A big problem is that the market is becoming more fragmented among different companies, types of products and markets. The top online games have tended to do very well in one market like Korea, China, or the U.S., but have generally struggled in trying to expand to other markets. Furthermore, traditional video game publishers have not done well in the online game business and this has allowed for the rise of several online-only game companies that are making the marketplace more competitive for established players.
Nevertheless, major markets like South Korea, China, Japan and the U.S. are all now able to support individual games that do over $100 million a year in just one country. The first big international success in online games, World of Warcraft, from Vivendi Universal's Blizzard Entertainment, will do over $100 million in each of several different markets in its first year alone.
The new report, The Online Game Market, is over 750 pages and contains company profiles, trend analysis, case studies of individual products and complete forecasts to 2011 broken down by region, game genre, consumer type, platform and business model. DFC Intelligence (www.dfcint.com) is a market research firm focused on video games, PC games, online games and interactive entertainment. They offer free monthly research briefs to anyone signing up at http://www.dfcint.com/mailing_signup.html.