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Don't Try to Copy League of Legends Model, Advises Game Consultant

Don't have tens of millions of players every month? Move along.

League of Legends / Riot Games

In the current pantheon of free-to-play (or whatever Europe wants to call them) videogames, Riot Games’ League of Legends is one of the most frequently invoked. The five-year-old game grossed $624 million in 2013 and attracts 67 million players every month.

Just don’t try to imitate it, says free-to-play monetization consultant Teut Weidemann. Speaking at the Casual Connect USA conference in San Francisco yesterday, Weidemann said League of Legends is structured in ways that only work for League of Legends — with weaknesses that might sink an up-and-coming game in the same genre, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.

“If you don’t have their reach, do not adopt their monetization system,” Weidemann said.

For the uninitiated: MOBAs are an eSports-friendly type of competitive game in which teams of human “heroes” lead armies of computer-controlled minions to destroy remote structures controlled by their enemies. The current best-known MOBAs are League of Legends, Valve’s Dota 2 and Blizzard’s in-beta Heroes of the Storm. A mobile MOBA (try saying that 10 times fast), Hammer and Chisel’s Fates Forever, also recently premiered, and will soon be joined on tablets by Super Evil Megacorp’s Vainglory.

Riot Games, Weidemann said, has a key advantage that others don’t: The scale of its former investor-turned-parent company, Tencent. Its huge number of monthly players (by contrast, Dota 2 claims about nine million players per month) masks the fact that the free-to-start game makes $1.32 per user, according to SuperData. Weidemann guesstimated based on industry trends — and said he was able to confirm with sources inside of Riot — that the game converts fewer than five percent of its players into payers.

The context of this talk was noteworthy. For many in attendance at Casual Connect, that number wouldn’t sound too bad, given that even successful free-to-play mobile games may convert as few as 1.5 percent of all users. Weidemann said other “client-based games” — as opposed to mobile or browser-based online games — typically convert between 15 percent and 25 percent of players.

He theorized that the $1.32 average revenue number indicates that League of Legends “gives away too much for free,” while games like Wargaming’s World of Tanks make $4.51 per user, again according to SuperData. The problem with that argument, though, is that World of Tanks is a different genre of game and about a fifth of the size of League.

In any case, Juniper Research expects MOBAs to still be a leading game genre in five years’ time, so as long as it doesn’t start bleeding users to other games, Riot probably doesn’t have to sweat Weidemann’s criticisms.

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