Money from MMO subs begins to decline

For the first time in recent memory.

Money made by subscriptions to European and American MMOs has, for the very first time, fallen.

In 2010, MMO subscriptions amassed $1.58 billion. Very good. But not as good as the year before - five per cent less.

Compare that to growth of 10 per cent in 2009, and growth of 21.6 per cent in 2008, and you can appreciate why Screen Digest believes 2010 to be a pivotal year.

From here, Screen Digest predicts, the hill will slope downwards. By 2015, we're told that the annual MMO subscription haul will diminish to $1.33 billion.

The report found that money made by micro-transaction games had, on the other hand, increased sharply. In 2010, micro-transaction MMOs made $1.13 billion - 24 per cent more than in 2009.

Money made by all MMOs, therefore, rose only 5 per cent to $2.7 billion in 2010.

None of which is surprising, considering the fleet of MMOs turning free-to-play and opting to recoup their money via micro-transactions.

Turbine proved the model with Dungeons and Dragons Online and then Lord of the Rings Online, before Champions Online and Age of Conan followed suit. And now there's talk of Star Trek Online doing the same.

What the Screen Digest report doesn't mean, however, is that individual subscription MMOs like World of Warcraft are losing money. World of Warcraft may actually go on to make even more money as lucrative new regions welcome the game.

The report does sensibly suggest, though, that subscription MMOS will slowly become the exception rather than the norm.

"The 2010 decline in subscription revenue - the first annual contraction experienced by the market since our coverage of this segment started in 2002 - represents an inflection point for the industry," commented Screen Digest analyst Piers Harding-Rolls.

"The focus of many PC game operators has clearly shifted to micro-transaction‐based models - in part due to competition in the subscription market especially in the high‐end MMOG segment, but also because of the flexibility micro-transactions offer operators in monetising gamers."

Rift is still a subscription-based MMO.

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