Even gamers can only spend their holiday money once

The holidays are a hot time for game and console sales. The week following Black Friday saw 750,000 Xboxes and 700,000 Wii Us and original Wiis sold. The last six weeks have also seen releases of big-name retail titles like Pokemon Black/White 2, Borderlands 2, Assassin’s Creed III, and Black Ops II. But with consumers’ dollars and attention focused elsewhere, online games experience a performance dip.  

In many ways the holiday season F2P lull makes sense. From a gift-giving perspective it’s significantly harder to buy someone a leveled-up battle axe than a physical copy of Black Ops. Sequels of popular franchises get released, new consoles launch and old ones get marked down. Despite months of strong growth, the audience for digital games makes a temporary holiday shift into the retail and boxed world. 

A 10-week analysis of the hours of gameplay for top MMO titles shows the trend. Following several weeks averaging strong growth, all the F2P titles saw a drop in gameplay hours. League of Legends, which holds 87% of the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) audience, went from seeing weekly gameplay gains of 20%–40% to a 10% loss following the release of some big retail titles. Overall, the top F2P titles experienced an average drop of 7.2% each week.

We expect Q4 2012 to be the strongest quarter of the year for F2P titles. But for games that generate their revenues from engaged players, these top titles may see less fantastic numbers due to an audience focused on their new boxed titles and consoles.

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