I recently concluded that good MMOGs can expect $1-2 per user per month from a free to play model, with Second Life as an outlier at almost $10 per user per month.
This relatively tight band of monetization masks some fairly high variability in the ratio of paying users across games and virtual worlds. From the highest to lowest, here is some data available on the web:
Second Life reports 860k residents logged in over the last 30 days, and 383k customers spending money in world in May. As you can only spend Linden dollars if you have Linden dollars, and you can only get Linden dollars by buying them or becoming a premium members, this suggests a 45% paying ratio. (Likely the ratio is lower than this as some Second Life residents may buy dollars one month but spend it over several months)
3Rings’ Puzzle Pirates has been reported to have 30k paying users out of its 200k unique monthly users, for a 15% paying ratio.
Frankly, all of these public numbers are on the high side of the industry. An NPD survey found that:
… 91 percent of online gaming among kids ages 2 to 17 is free; of the 9 percent that pay to play, these kids are more likely to hail from higher income households. In addition, the likelihood of a child to pay for games increases along with the child’s age and time spent on gaming.
Monetizing kids is more difficult than monetizing adults since kids have more limited access to payment mechanisms (e.g. credit cards), so the overall industry ratio of paying gamers is likely higher than 9%.
Most MMOG publishers do not publish their monetization statistics, but private conversations with many publishers suggest that getting to a 10-12% monetization ratio of active users is a stretch but achievable target.
Do readers have other data that they can share?