According to this report, Riot Games, owned by Chinese parent company Tencent Holdings, generated more revenue on the PC than Activision Blizzard in 2011. While the numbers are still being tabulated, this means that for the first time in a long time Blizzard’s insanely popular MMO World of Warcraft might not make it to the #1 spot. I guess Blizzard can take solace in the fact that they started all of this. Riot Games’ League of Legends was inspired by DOTA, which was made on Blizzard’s robust Warcraft 3 map editor almost ten years ago. Without that map editor, it isn’t a stretch to think that DOTA and LoL would never have existed.
This is interesting on many levels. First, WoW is subscription based with roughly ten million active users and League of Legends is free-to-play with optional aesthetic purchases, yet somehow Riot Games generates more revenue. Even more surprising, it appears as though these figures count for the companies as a whole. So while Activision Blizzard has WoW, Starcraft, and a bunch of other games, Riot pretty much just has League of Legends, yet they still farmed more gold.
This gives us some insight as to why Blizzard’s unannounced game “Project Titan” is going use the free-to-play model. Players are paying more voluntarily with League of Legends than they are in WoW subscriptions, so why not join the party. If anyone has the capital and the resources to experiment with monetization, it’s Blizzard.
With success like this it is almost certain that more free-to-play games are in our future. This might hint at some trouble for Valve though, specifically regarding Dota 2, which looks as if it will not be free to play. Regardless, the free-to-play model is here to stay, and is most likely going to become one of the more popular ways to monetize a game in the 21st century.