WebMediaBrands has announced the release of a study on user spending patterns of virtual items in social and mobile games, entitled “Inside Virtual Goods: Spending and Usage Patterns of the Social and Mobile Gaming Audience 2012.” The key point of their study is that they expect the market for virtual items – the currencies and items that users buy with in-app purchases on iOS, Android, and Facebook games – will expand to $500 million in 2012 from $350 million in 2011.
Those are big bucks, but it may also indicate that this year will not be explosive like the past couple of years. It may take an additional burst of players, perhaps through new markets opening up either through new hardware (the consoles embracing free to play, perhaps?), or through new markets opening up globally.
Interestingly, what the report seems to mention is that there’s an increasing degree of difficulty in getting noticed. This has typically been a problem for the many indie developers out there, but as many bigger players in the industry begin to jump in, figuring out how to both get these players, and to get them to spend in consistent ways is part of the challenge.
At Game Developers Conference, which has in the past been a bastion of ‘traditional’ gaming, startups and established companies were all over the place promoting monetization, from trying to make money off of under-18 users, and even online payment processing behemoth PayPal trying to get the ear of developers. This market is still increasing in importance, and players from outside the gaming space are still trying to get in.
What needs to be reminded is that in order to get players to spend money and care about a game enough to spend money on it, it needs to actually be an enjoyable experience. A lot of talk about monetization seemed to neglect this fact. And remember that two of the biggest games in 2011, Tiny Tower and Temple Run neglected traditional monetization strategies, and this may have been key to their popularity, not purposely aiming for optimized monetization. Fun is still the key – finding ways to make money off of them is second.