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Popular Games’ In-app Purchases Declining: Return Path Analysis

Game of War, Clash of Clans, Candy Crush among titles shedding paying iTunes users in 2015

NEW YORK – June 16, 2015 – Data solutions provider Return Path today announced new market analysis revealing that popular games such as Machine Zone’s Game of War, Supercell’s Clash of Clans, and King Digital Entertainment’s Candy Crush games are seeing the number of in-app purchases steadily decline. The drop in paying users and orders through the iTunes Store by consumers in Return Path’s panel of 4 million email users in 2015 signals a potential struggle among top game makers to maintain the levels of in-app purchase activity they drove in 2014.

After peaking in January, in-app Game of War purchases by Return Path’s panelists showed a 21% decline as of March despite the game’s extensive advertising campaign featuring the model Kate Upton. Compared to January, the number of in-app orders dropped 3% in February and another 18% in March. Fewer panelists made iTunes in-app purchases after January, too, as the number of users placing orders initially rose by 3% in February, but then declined by 10% in March.

Rival online game Clash of Clans also saw a 27% falloff in order volume between January and March, with 12% fewer panelists making in-app purchases through iTunes. Candy Crush continued its decline as well, with a 30% drop in in-app orders and 15% fewer panelists placing them in March compared to January.

Despite Declines, Game of War Posts In-app Revenue Gains in Q1

Although in-app order volumes in Game of War dropped considerably after peaking in January, panelists’ collective total monthly spend did not. Altogether they increased their total in-app spend through iTunes by 5% in February and then remained nearly constant, decreasing their total spend by only 1% in March. This reflects Game of War’s rising average order value, which climbed 9% to $67.28 in February and then an additional 21% to $81.10 in March, which means that users offset volume declines by placing significantly bigger orders.

While Clash of Clans’ total sales to panelists dipped in Q1-2015, the cumulative amount spent on in-app purchases was down only 3% compared to Q4-2014. Candy Crush games saw March in-app sales from Return Path panelists climb to their highest monthly total since November 2014. Their total quarterly sales still dipped nearly 10% compared to Q4-2014, but that decline was less severe than the games’ drop in order volume. As with Game of War, users placed bigger orders within Candy Crush in 2015. Other games included in this analysis, Farm Heroes, Hay Day, and Pet Rescue, all generated significantly less in-app revenue in Q1-2015 than in Q4-2014 from Return Path panelists, but all saw increases in average order values.

Average Spending Patterns Mask Gap Between Big Spenders and Typical Users

Game of War, the top-grossing game by total in-app sales in Q1-2015 among those studied, collected an average of $511.76 from panelists who ordered through iTunes during the quarter–but typical users spent far less. In fact 62% of all players who placed orders between Q1-2014 and Q1-2015 spent less than $100 on Game of War during the entire 15-month span. A small group of players represented the bulk of Game of War’s in-app revenue from the panel.

Bigger orders appear to have buoyed games’ in-app purchase revenues during recent declines. This may reflect game companies’ strategic shifts to focus on their most engaged players for their in-app revenue, or a broader trend among users as dedicated gamers invest in their passion while more casual players lose interest and spend less. The trend is clear, though: Games’ in-app purchases, after a sustained period of growth during 2014, are now seeing a significant change in user behavior that may alter the landscape in 2015.


These findings are based on in-app purchases from Apple’s iTunes Store for a selection of online games between January 2014 and March 2015 by approximately 18,000 US consumers in Return Path’s panel of 4 million email users. To eliminate the influence of new additions and subtractions from the panel, this analysis included only purchases from panelists who were active email users during the entire span from Q1-2014 through Q1-2015. The games included were: Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, Farm Heroes, Game of War, Hay Day, Pet Rescue.

Return Path’s panelists explicitly permit Return Path to analyze their commercial email messages on an anonymous and aggregated basis to help brands better understand consumer preferences and trends.

Learn more about the the data and analysis available through Return Path Consumer Insight.

About Return Path

Return Path is a global data solutions provider. We help companies build more secure, meaningful, and profitable relationships with consumers. Our analytics make email more effective and safer for senders, subscribers, and mailbox providers. Brands rely on Return Path Email Optimization to increase campaign performance and ROI, and on Return Path Email Fraud Protection to detect and prevent cyber-attacks. Return Path’s Consumer Insight reveals ecommerce and offline purchase trends, buyer preferences, and market changes by analyzing commercial email data. Find out more about Return Path solutions at