Along with the bottomless pit of social media, YouTube, and obscure Google searches, online gaming is another activity that captures the imagination — and money — of smartphone users everywhere.
The particularly enticing 'free to play' market is, despite what you may expect, a massive money-making industry for smartphones, tablets, PC and Mac platforms. All it takes is one popular game to hook people in, encourage them to make in-game purchases, and make developers insanely wealthy overnight. For example, Blizzard's new and surprisingly popular online card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is projected to generate $30 million in revenue in its first year alone. The developers of the game make their huge profits by offering the option to pay for extra card packs and passes for their “Arena Mode”. The high profits are nothing compared to other free-to-play games like League of Legends, that earned more than $600 million in 2013, but given how new it is, Hearthstone has proven a stunning success.
These PC and Mac games use an airtight business model to rake in high revenue despite being ostensibly free to play. They introduce upgrades, packages and other incentives that players can buy with real money. Gaming apps for Mac or Android devices take on the same model, some making millions every day. Here, we've gathered a list of the highest-grossing free to play gaming apps according to Think Gaming, and multiplied their daily revenue for an annual figure.
WARNING: If you already have a bone to pick with Kim Kardashian, you’re about hate her even more.
10 Big Fish Casino - $40M
Big Fish Casino is owned by Big Fish Games Inc. It’s one of the most popular free casino apps in the world. The game lets you play with friends in popular casino attractions like slots, blackjack, craps, roulette and more. Every new player receives 100 thousand free bonus chips but don't expect that to last very long. Once they're all gone, it’s up to the player to put up real money to buy premium upgrades, jewels and gold. The highest costing in-app purchase is $99.99.
9 Boom Beach - $44M
Boom Beach is a strategy game owned by the gaming giant Supercell Limited. Players have to fight a war on a beach while battling the evil villain Blackguard. The payoff is that players “harness the powers of the island” by defeating enemies and protecting “Beachheads”. The game is free to play, but there are multiple in-app purchases that can be bought with real money to give players strategic advantages. And a lot of people do buy them, contributing to profits adding up to almost $45 million a year for Supercell.
8 The Simpsons: Tapped Out - $54M
The Simpsons animated series is already an unstoppable cash cow and their game, The Simpsons: Tapped Out, is doing its part in making the franchise a profit powerhouse. The story tells of a meltdown in Springfield. The player has to slowly rebuild the city (similar to a farming or civilization strategy game). Players control characters and build roads, houses and more. When the free fun stops, it’s up to the player to keep their own Springfield alive with in-app purchases like donuts and gold scratchers.
7 Farm Heroes Saga - $58M
Farm Heroes Saga is owned by King.com, the makers of Candy Crush Saga. The object of the game is to collect, switch and match items called “cropsies”. Players also have to stop a pesky raccoon from spoiling the farmlands. The game features hundreds of levels and challenges. It can also be played with online friends. If players are stuck, they can rely on rechargeable boosters, extra moves and special power-ups. If players are really in a pickle, they can purchase extra moves and lives for up $99.99.
6 Slotomania: Free Video Slot Games - $73M
Playtika is cashing in big with the hit Slotomania, a game similar to Big Fish Casino where players can spend hours hitting digital Las Vegas-style slot machines. It’s the number one video slots game on the internet and has over 70 different versions of slots. It’s free to play and the game offers free gifts and other incentives to keep players happy. Players can also win free coins or purchase them directly in the app, contributing to Playtika's $73 million annual profit.
5 Hay Day - $84M
Hay Day, owned by Supercell Limited, markets itself as a farming utopia. It’s the player’s job to grow and maintain farms, trade crops and deliver food orders. Players can also build and customize their own town. The game has more than 20 thousand new daily users who can purchase a number of in-app items to either enhance game play or increase their rank and score. Gamezebo says that the game “is a gem and a steal for being available in the App Store for free.” But with an annual profit of more than $80 million, Hay Day isn’t going broke any time soon.
4 Kim Kardashian: Hollywood - $200M
Everyone knows Kim Kardashian as a Hollywood socialite married to the hip-hop star Kanye West. But do most people know that she’s also an online gaming entrepreneur? She certainly did lend her name and notoriety to the game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood where players can create a rising Hollywood star and take over L.A. On their way to being Hollywood superstars, players can buy in-app Star Packs and Cash Specials to make themselves more 'popular' and move from the E list to the A list, including the XL Star Pack for $39.99. Kim Kardashian can now add $200 million to her actual real-life Hollywood empire.
3 Game of War - Fire Age - $220M
Game of War: Fire Age claims to be the most addictive and interactive action gaming app. Players can join others online to build and customize their own empire with personalized armies and weapons. To help attack and conquer the King, players can make in-app purchases for up $99.99. That kind of money will get you 28000 Gold pieces to help sustain your digital armies. It adds up to a staggering $220 million in annual revenue for the developer Machine Zone Inc.
2 Candy Crush Saga - $330M
Candy Crush Saga is King.com’s money maker. Players join Tiffi and Mr. Toffee through the candy kingdom to enter the Dreamland and join forces with an owl named Odus. Through hundreds of levels, players solve puzzles with different degrees of difficulty. Prices for in-app purchases are relatively low compared to other games on this list — the most expensive one is $1.99 for a Bomb Cooler. The game has captured the attention of more than 46 thousand new users a day, putting it second-to-last on this list of top grossing games.
1 Clash of Clans - $365M
Supercell Limited's games makes this list again—this time at number one with Clash of Clans. Players raise armies of wizards, barbarians, dragons and other characters in an online war. Players can also join other clans or create one of their own. It’s completely free to download and play by building villages and fighting other clans. But — surprise, surprise— there are a few in-app purchases available that makes Clash of Clans almost a billion dollars a year. The purchases, like a Pile or Chest of Gems, range from $4.99 to $99.99. The highest costs may seem steep, but for players who are enraptured by the levels and features of the game, it’s worth it to keep playing.