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MMO Market: Investment or Bubble?

Posted by lordaltay1 Friday May 30 2008 at 3:24PM
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There's no denying that the MMO market is growing by leaps and bounds. Analysts have shown that the MMORPG market is growing at over 30% a year. It seems that almost every week several new games are either announced or enter public beta. With formerly poor Asian countries becoming wealthier, there are literally millions of Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese players entering the potential customer base every year. Even in America, broadband access is only now starting to spread rapidly.

But even with the growing demand, are the number of games being announced grounded in market realities or simply on hype? "Bubble" is an unofficial term commonly used in the financial world to indicate any asset or industry who's price rapidly inflates beyond fundamental justifications. Take for example the recent housing bubble that popped in America. For years it was too easy to borrow money which led to lots of people borrowing to buy homes, home prices went up and lending standards went down. It came to a point where someone could get a mortgage with no money down and no visible form of income. By the time the banks figured this out, things had begun to collapse. People who could not pay their mortgages walked away from their homes, leaving the banks with a glut of bad loans and empty houses who's prices began to plummet. To sum it up, over investment based on hype, not on customer demand

You may be asking yourself what any of this has to do with MMMORPGs. I get the feeling that while there is strong demand for online games, the current number of products being developed is far more than the market can handle. Every major success breeds imitators and since World of Warcraft's huge success worldwide, there have been many new MMORPGs announced. Currently there are at least 100 free to play MMORPGs and more are announced every week. All these games are chasing the same general audience, and all their strategies are based on the assumption that enough players will purchase items from "cash shops" to cover all their expenses. No one expects all these games to succeed but I'm predicting a very hard landing. Most of the current batch of games will never make a profit, though they may take a long time to die off. They'll be sold from one publisher to the next at ever decreasing value. Take for example Deco Online which just entered public beta by JoyMax, the folks behind Silkroad Online. Deco is not a new game. It failed and was shut down in Asia. That's when JoyMax bought the license and decided to bring it to North America. In order to protect themselves from lemons, investors like those at JoyMax are starting to offer multiple games at once, so that the successful games can counterbalance the flops. Expect to see more of this. Sites like IJJI, Aeria, IGG, gPotatoe, Game&Game and Nexon that currently offer multiple games will soon offer dozens. New sites with the same business plan will soon follow.

So what do you think? Are there too many MMORPGs being released for the current audience? Is the market really growing fast enough to accommodate all of these games? Share your thoughts below.

Does Story Matter?

Posted by lordaltay1 Thursday May 29 2008 at 12:26AM
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Most Asian single player RPGs are story driven while almost all Asian MMORPGs are completely void of any semblance of plot. I've never been able to fully understand this contradiction. Unlike Western MMORPGs, Asian ones are usually free to play and instead supported through cash item shops. This certainly goes some way in explaining this phenomena. "Lore" is regarded as a luxury that developers can do without. We gamers are expected to accept this compromise -- free game play but no lore.

To get into this matter a bit deeper, lets take a look at two very successful games with vastly different approaches to story. World of Warcraft has mountains of in game text. Each of the thousands of quests is attached to lengthy dialogue and players can go out of their way to read books placed throughout the world. Entire novels have been written set in the Warcraft universe. On the other end of the spectrum we have Maple Story. With something like 50 million users worldwide, there is no doubting Maple Story's success. Yet Maple Story doesn't even give players the pretense of a story.
 
Obviously there are many factors that go into making a good game, but I would really like to see a game like Fly For Fun or Dream of Mirror Online that has the same dynamic back story that we see in single player Asian RPGs. Story might not be a top concern, but why not develop it as time goes by? For example, for the first year or so Maple Story had very few quests but as time went by more and more were added. Couldn't story elements be added the same way? Start with basic stuff then add more as the game develops.

What are your thoughts on back stories in MMORPGs? Are they needless or do they help enrich the experience and immerse the player in the game world? Share your views through the comments below.