The free-to-play market is widespread, lucrative, and ruled by women.
From Facebook to the MMO scene, free-to-play games are everywhere. In fact, statistically speaking, if you're an American, there's a 38% chance that you've played one - and if you're female, you've probably stuck with it for a while. While so-called "freemium" games don't seem to be making a huge impression on the traditional young male gamer audience, this likely makes very little difference to the free-to-play developers, who can count on an average of 40% of players to make at least one in-game payment.
In a survey of over 6000 children and adults, the ubiquitous market-analyzing NPD Group discovered some edifying statistics about free-to-play gaming habits among a number of demographics. In addition to measuring the penetration of and payment rate for freemium games in the American market, the NPD Group determined that women are "significantly more likely" to play these games. 84% of those who play freemium games come back after their initial foray, while 15% abandon them entirely. While men are more likely to pay up than their female counterparts, especially within the first month of play, the coveted 13-34 male demographic generally does not show much interest in freemium games. According to Anita Frazier, an NPD analyst, this is because the demographic includes many core gamers, who are used to a very different kind of experience than what free-to-play games generally offer. "At a minimum," said Frazier, "for these gamers a freemium game would provide a different experience, like a snack versus a full meal."
With the proliferation of more traditional core games, like Age of Empires Online and Firefall, the same survey could yield very different results a few years down the road. However, while the survey does not necessarily represent every gamer or developer's experience, 6000 participants is a strong sample size. Even if the data doesn't reveal anything shocking, the message is suggestive: There's a lot of money to be made in free-to-play games by capitalizing on a female demographic, but since men seem to have deeper pockets where freemium games are concerned, the core gamer market could be an untapped goldmine. All it will take is the right developer with the right game.