New Data From Pando Offers A Glimpse Into The Massive Global Growth Of Freemium Gaming

Well, it looks like hardcore gamers would like to have a word with you, social and casual gamers. Yes, the stories in the media of late have been all about Rovio’s Angry Birds skyrocketing past half a billion downloads, or Zynga and its ilk overtaking social games. Both casual and social games have been growing like gangbusters, but the latest data from Pando Networks reveals some fairly serious growth in the free-to-play gaming industry across the globe.

Free-to-play games, just another way of saying “freemium games” are, to clear up any confusion, any game that is free to download and monetized by in-game purchases. Today, in mobile and web apps (and really the consumer web), we are seeing the coming of age of the freemium model and, as a result, advertisers and developers are being forced to find new ways to create revenue and monetize their games, whether that be by way of mobile advertising, virtual goods, avatars, in-game rewards, or incentivized installs.

Today’s data from Pando Networks, a game delivery network for free-to play massively-multiplayer-online (MMO) games, is showing that free-to-play games are growing exponentially, right alongside their casual and social game bretheren. For example, the company’s data shows that the number of gamers downloading free games has grown 450 percent from 2009 to 2011, as more than 38 million people will download an online game using Pando in 2011 — and over 70 million people have downloaded free games since 2009. (And that’s not including the 11+ million playing Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.)

Again, this hockey-stick growth has resulted from an industry-wide transition from a paid to freemium model, as can be seen in online gaming by the likes of both Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online and WoW, which have both taken to the land of the free — along with newer, popular games like League of Legends (by Riot).

And, in case it still needs hammering home, the explosive growth in free-to-play games is far from an American-only phenomenon. According to Pando, from October 2009 to October 2011, downloads in the U.S. have grown from 4.8 million to 12.6 million (an increase of 162 percent), while Latin America has seen downloads increase by 595 percent, compared to the U.K., where growth has shot up by a whopping 1025 percent.

Furthermore, developing nations like Turkey are gobbling up an increasingly significant share of downloads, considering over the last year, the number of gamers in Turkey downloading free-to-play games today sits over 5 million — an increase of 534 percent since 2010 (and more than 14 percent of the country’s total population).

As Turkey’s infrastructure and connectivity continues to expand, the country’s freemium gaming market has exploded right in tandem, and currently shows no sign of slowing down. Surely, this is a great sign for freemium games and the international gaming market, but it does make on worry about Turkey’s overall productivity. Here’s to hoping GDP doesn’t slip at the hands of widespread MMO gaming adoption.

Compared to the size of population, Turkey certainly has one of the fastest growing freemium gaming markets, compared to, say, France, which has seen its freemium gamers grow from 139K in 2009 to 2.6 million in 2011, and Poland, which grew from 145L to 1.5 million over the same period. While it’s been clear for some time now the extent to which mobile and online platforms are being used by the ever-increasing gaming population in Asia, there hasn’t yet been such a clear picture of the extent to which the freemium model is being adopted in other global regions.

And, again, turning to other sources, Pando’s data also seems to be clearly in support of PopCap’s November study (via Informations Solutions Group) of the growing social gaming market in the U.S. and the U.K., which found that more than 118 million people now play social games once per week, and 81 million people play at least once a day (which is 68 percent of all social gamers). Of course, that’s nice, but what’s really important is that today 31 million players have purchase in-game currency, up 86 percent from the previous year.

Not only that, but Flurry blogged back in September that freemium games are leading all of the app revenue models in the iOS and Android app economies, as they now account for more than 65 percent of app revenue.

So, to sum up, in the event that you’ve missed out on the last two years of gaming trends, it seems that freemium has not only fully arrived, but it’s here to stay, it’s taken over your home, and it’s raising your kids.

For more, check out Pando’s data dump here.