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Runes of Magic Column: Recent Items of Interest

By Richard Aihoshi on January 24, 2011

As the MMOG category continues to grow, both here in North America and even more so in other regions of the world, keeping up with the news becomes increasingly difficult.  Back 10 years ago, it was more than a full-time job; I shudder to think how many people it would take now.

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One result is that a lot of news gets little or no play as publications understandably focus most of their attention on a fraction of what's happening in the market and the industry.  With that in mind, I thought I'd use today's column to comment on some of the stories that piqued my interest in the past week or so despite relatively limited overall visibility.

Wakfu North American closed beta about to begin

Dofus is a European success story, especially in France, that tends to fly pretty low on the radar here in North America.  Created by Ankama and launched back in 2004, it's a freemium Flash-based tactical MMORPG that has surpassed 10 million accounts.  It has also spawned two continuations.  The tournament-themed Dofus Arena debuted in 2004, followed by a sequel, Wakfu.  Set in the same mythos but centuries later, it entered service in its home market in 2009.  Last week, regional publisher Square-Enix announced that it will start beta here on January 31.

This property has always interested me for various reasons.  A major one was that it helped pioneer a direction that has become increasingly prominent, namely MMOG development for very widely accessible platforms.  Also very intriguing is the way it is being extended into other media including comics as well as a planned movie.  This makes me wonder about similar possibilities for other franchises.  In the meantime, I'll be watching to see if Wakfu can achieve more visibility here than its illustrious predecessor.

An MMOG with permadeath and the return of Dreamlords

At an event in New York last week, publisher Paradox Interactive unveiled Salem, a title in development at Swedish studio Seatribe, that will apparently include open PvP with the always interesting and controversial permadeath.  There isn't much information available yet, but according to scattered reports, it will also offer a quasi-colonial North American setting and a crafting-oriented play experience.

Paradox also showed the other F2P MMOG in its portfolio.  As announced a few months back, it's Dreamlords: Resurrection (sometimes known as Dreamlords: The Reawakening), the returning version of the MMORTS created by Lockpick Entertainment and launched in 2007.  As some may recall, it didn't fare well as a subscription release, which led to the decision to change business models.  It was picked up by gamigo in Germany and Aeria for North America, both of which have apparently severed their involvement.

Runes of Magic database hacked 

Publisher Frogster admitted last week that a hacker managed to access customer and company information related to its successful title.  The statement did not specify the nature of the data, but unconfirmed reports say it may have included more than three million account names, e-mail addresses and passwords.  As proof, the individual in question revealed login details from 2007 for about 2,000 players.

Frogster said it has taken steps to ensure its servers are completely secure.  It has also mentioned seeking recourse through the legal system, although understandably without details.  I hope the company is able to identify the person, and that he or she is brought to justice.  Unfortunately, I can't help but feel that even if this happens, the industry will continue to be a target.  While I know very little about security and thus am commenting on this basis, it's hard to see the problem getting smaller, never mind being solved.

Facebook valued at $50 billion

Last time, I commented about a few game publishers with market valuations higher than EA's, one of them being Zynga.  As something of a timely footnote, Facebook announced on Friday that it has closed a new round of funding that brought in $1 billion via the sale of stock.  The offering, which was only open to non-US investors, put the entire company's value at a sweet $50 billion.  It was over-subscribed, which means the amount raised could have been even more.    

Still privately held, Facebook's value has quintupled since 2009.  I would certainly anticipate the projected figure for a public offering - a date has yet to be announced - to be considerably higher.  While the company obviously isn't a game publisher, this news caught my attention because it may impact the value of social game firm Zynga, which was estimated to be as much as $5.5 billion as of late last year (about $0.5 billion more than EA).  As a footnote to a footnote, Zynga revealed on the same day that it has expanded by acquiring a former competitor, Area/Code for an undisclosed price. 

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The Free Zone
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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