Infographic: The 50 Biggest Video Game Franchises by Total Revenue
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The 50 Biggest Video Game Franchises by Total Revenue

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The 50 Biggest Video Game Franchises by Total Revenue

The 50 Biggest Video Game Franchises by Total Revenue

When the world’s first video game, Tennis for Two, was revealed at a science fair in 1958, people were fascinated—there was clearly something special.

Since these humble beginnings, video games have rode waves of technological advancements to burgeon into a $100+ billion industry. To visualize this success, today’s infographic from TitleMax lists the top 50 highest-grossing video games franchises.

While this feat is impressive on its own, the way many of these franchises generate their revenue may come as a shock.

How Do Video Games Generate Billions?

Video games first saw large-scale commercial success in the 1980s, in what some describe as the “golden age of arcade games”. As arcades popped up across America, renowned classics like Pac-man and Space Invaders raked in large sums of money, one coin at a time.

Today, there are two revenue models generally followed by video game publishers—the traditional pay-to-play (P2P) model, and the newer free-to-play (F2P) model.

For much of the industry’s modern history, P2P models have been the default option. A developer incurs costs to produce its games, so it sells them to consumers to recover costs and make a profit.

Under a F2P model, however, the developer essentially distributes its games for free. Players don’t have to pay anything if they don’t want to, and the developer runs the risk that it may never recoup its costs.

So why would a developer ever choose a F2P model? Let’s look at industry data from 2019:

PlatformFree-to-play (F2P) RevenuePay-to-play (P2P) Revenue
Mobile$64.4B--
PC$21.1B$5.2B
Console$1.6B$13.8B
Total$87.1B$19.0B

Source: SuperData

Those aren’t typos. F2P games accounted for a whopping 82% of industry revenue in 2019. What’s more, is that this gap continues to grow: since the previous year, F2P revenue grew 6%, while P2P revenue fell by 5%.

The Power of Discretionary Spending

There’s a number of F2P franchises listed in today’s graphic which have grossed well over a billion dollars in total revenue.

RankFranchiseDeveloperPlatformGross Revenue
#15League of LegendsRiot Games¹PC$8.4B
#21Arena of ValorTencentMobile$6.4B
#23Clash of ClansSupercell²Mobile$6.0B
#27Candy Crush SagaKing³Mobile$4.9B
#40Maple StoryNexonPC$3.0B
#46FortniteEpic Games⁴Console, Mobile, PC$2.5B
#47Clash RoyaleSupercell²Mobile$2.0B

¹wholly-owned subsidiary of Tencent, ²majority-owned subsidiary of Tencent, ³wholly-owned subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, ⁴Tencent owns a 40% stake.

Because these types of games are often published for PC or mobile phone (most people have at least one of these), their accessibility becomes a key advantage. This is especially true in China, where video game consoles like Xbox have been banned in the past.

Yet, simply amassing a large player base isn’t enough. With no money being paid upfront, developers must create compelling incentives for players to willingly part with their cash.

League of Legends

League of Legends, one of the world’s most popular video games, is widely considered a successful pioneer in this regard.

When developer Riot Games chose a F2P model for its game, it took a gamble. The model was largely unproven for titles of its genre, and it’s main source of revenue was set to be the sale of purely cosmetic items called “character skins”.

Nobody would have tried Legends if we put a price point in front of it because the game is tough to sell

—Marc Merrill, Co-founder of Riot Games

Part of the game’s incentive to spend comes from its longevity—League of Legends has just entered its 11th year. Rather than release a new title, the developer makes continuous improvements to the existing game, with each iteration dubbed as a new “season”.

If a traditional P2P game represents a movie, League of Legends could then be considered a long-running TV show. For example, while there’s been one League of Legends since 2009, there’s been 11 Call of Duty titles over that same time frame.

Joining the Party

Some of the world’s most successful video game franchises, which have historically published games under the P2P model, are also expanding into free games with great success.

For Pokémon (#1 in gross revenue), product diversification is nothing new. While the franchise manages a universe of offerings from physical merchandise to movies, its free mobile augmented reality (AR) game, Pokémon Go, may be one of its most successful endeavors.

The game, which leads players out into the real world to catch virtual monsters, was a massive sensation when it launched in 2016. In fact, it was so popular (and distracting) it’s been estimated to have contributed to more than 100,000 car accidents.

Four years since its release, Pokémon Go is a shining example of what the F2P model can achieve—the game has racked up over 1 billion downloads and generated an incredible $3 billion in revenues.

YearGross Revenue % Change 
2016$832M-
2017$589M-29%
2018$816M+38%
2019$894M+10%
Total$3,131M-

Source: Sensor Tower Store Intelligence

Part of Pokémon Go’s incentive to spend comes from its incredibly unique social experience—it
turns real world landmarks into hubs where players can gather. By simply leveraging the capabilities of existing smartphones, it’s also extremely accessible.

Is Free the New Norm?

As more and more franchises successfully expand into free games, it’s clear that the F2P model will be the primary driver of future growth. The relatively higher accessibility of F2P games is also crucial to tap into the quickly growing esports industry.

However, traditional P2P games, which are now being called “premium games”, still have some merit to them. These games are often associated with a higher level of quality which people are happy to pay for.

Yet, as the legitimacy and success of the F2P model continues to develop, this quality gap could also shrink in the future.

Editor’s note: The revenue figures in today’s infographic include merchandise and other related products.

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Infographic: 11 Tech Trends to Watch in 2023

This infographic highlights eleven exciting areas within the world of technology worth keeping an eye on in 2023.

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11 Tech Trends

Infographic: 11 Tech Trends to Watch in 2023

It can be tough to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation.

Each new year delivers the full spectrum of progress from game-changing breakthroughs to incremental advancements in a wide variety of fields.

In a noisy media landscape fueled by hype and speculation, it can be tough to know where true value is being created. The infographic above, which draws from CB Insights’ recent report on 11 Tech Trends To Watch Closely in 2023, helps narrow down some areas of focus:

  1. Immortality-as-a-service
  2. The secret invasion of super apps
  3. Fintech’s rapid regeneration
  4. Bots in the house
  5. Virtual power plants
  6. Healthcare’s invisibility trick
  7. Smell goes digital
  8. Femtech turns to menopause
  9. The bio-based materials boom
  10. India’s tech ascent
  11. Regenerative agtech takes root

The report draws information from earnings transcripts, media mentions, investment activity, patents, and more to arrive at the trends listed.

We’ll examine three of these trends below in a bit more detail.

Setting the Stage: Clash of the Super Apps

The concept of a super app⁠—an all-in-one smartphone application that integrates a wide range of services⁠—is far from new. In fact, for years now, WeChat has been the go-to app for many Chinese citizens to chat, order services, pay bills, and more.

A natural question comes to mind: why doesn’t an app like that exist in Western countries yet? Well, there are a couple of key reasons:

  1. Consumers and regulators alike are wary of providers holding so much personal information and power. In China, WeChat actually had government support, integrating public services into the app. As well, expectations of personal privacy are completely different in China than in Western countries
  2. Unlike China, which rapidly adopted digital payments, North America and Europe had preexisting near-ubiquitous financial networks in place. Super apps were a game changer for millions of unbanked consumers in China and beyond.

The situation is changing rapidly though, and 2023 could be the year that the foundations are laid for a clash of various Big Tech incarnations of the super app.

In late 2022, Microsoft was rumored to be building a super app using Bing as the foundation, and recent investment into ChatGPT adds fuel to that fire. Even Elon Musk hinted at his ambitions to turn Twitter into a one-stop-shop for just about everything.

There are still significant barriers to bundling a plethora of services into a single app, but that isn’t stopping companies from racing to be the one to do it. To the victor go the spoils.

The Resiliency of Life Extension

The concepts of immortality and age reversal have been a preoccupation of mankind since the dawn of time, so it stands to reason that technology that promises extra lifespan and quality of life continues to be compelling for individuals and investors alike.

Players in this space can approach life extension and anti-aging from a number of different angles, from supplements to tinkering at the cellular level.

Two high-profile examples in this space are Calico, which is a subsidiary of Alphabet, and the Jeff Bezos-backed Altos Labs. Other billionaires have expressed an interest in life extension as well, including Peter Thiel, who has definitive views on mortality.

I believe if we could enable people to live forever, we should do that. […] I think it is against human nature not to fight death. – Peter Thiel

In 2023, look for more investment and news from startups focused on gene therapy, genome analysis, regenerative medicine, or “longevity in a pill”.

Beyond Plastic: The Bio-Based Materials Boom

Public pressure is mounting for producers of consumer goods to change the way they manufacture their products.

The good news is that many of the largest producers of consumer packaged goods and apparel have some kind of plan in place to use more post-consumer recycled plastic in their products. The bad news is that not enough plastic is recycled globally for companies to source enough material to produce their products more sustainably. As a result, many companies are exploring the option of ditching plastic entirely.

For example, materials derived from seaweed are an active area of innovation right now. Mushrooms and algae are also commonly-used materials from nature that are being used to create biodegradable products. In one particularly interesting example, a company called MycoWorks recently began working with GM Ventures to explore the use of mycelium-based leather alternatives in GM’s vehicles.

While researchers and companies are just scratching the surface of what’s possible, consumers are likely to see more tangible examples of bio-based materials popping up in stores. After all, brands will be very eager to talk about their increasingly plastic-free product lines.

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