As I try to track the expanding global MMOG space from day to day and week-to-week, I look not just individual games, but also at news and information about the industry and the markets it serves. In the latter realm, I pretty much constantly find myself asking questions about what various stories, facts, opinions and even rumors might indicate or mean. Among the dozens of potential topics that have come up during recent weeks, here are two I've chosen to comment on in this edition of The Free Zone.
Can Dragon's Prophet follow in Runes of Magic's footsteps?
I've had relatively little occasion to discuss Runes of Magic with either people in the industry or MMOG fans for a while now. As a result, I'm curious as to how much my impression of what has happened to its profile over the past couple of years is shared by others. My sense is that its visibility has fallen more than “normal” during this period, the release of the Chapter 5: Fires of Shadowforge update this summer notwithstanding.
While I'm not of the opinion that the game has fallen off the proverbial cliff, I do feel it has dropped considerably from the kind of market stature it once had. There was a time when, within the North American audience, it may have had the highest awareness of any F2P title. I don't sense it's a contender for this rank any more. So it's clear, I am not suggesting that it's failing, merely that it isn't as relatively prominent as it once was.
This former status, has contributed to my interest in Dragon's Prophet. The IP is new and thus unrelated, but it's from the same developer, Taiwan-based Runewaker. So, I wonder if the studio can follow up with a second success. As well, there's a personal factor. I simply happen to like the concept, which is based on taming the great creatures to accompany and aid you on your adventures. So, any title featuring this element tends to grab a bit more of my attention than average.
This project definitely hasn't had the same smooth flight to our market. It is currently slated to launch here in the first part of 2013. When it does, it will be with a different publisher. Frogster was purchased by Gameforge, which had signed Dragon's Prophet. It was dropped as part of a consolidation seemingly due to financial pressures caused having expanded too quickly, including more than just this acquisition. I've seen nothing to suggest there were major problems with the game or its development. In any case, it will now be handled in this region by SOE, an agreement that was announced in mid-October. More recently, it was picked up for Europe by Infernum: a new company led (interestingly enough) by the former head of Frogster.
As for the question above, I'm reserving judgment as to the chances of Dragon's Prophet becoming a significant release in this hemisphere's F2P landscape. It's a much tougher call now than it was for Runes of Magic. Among the main reasons, one is simply because I knew considerably more about the latter at the same stage. Another is that the market has gotten far more competitive. It's not a sure indicator of the game's prospects by any means, but I'll be watching with interest to see how much effort SOE puts forth to promote it between now and launch.
How rapidly will the Chinese market continue to grow?
As I've said before, I try to keep up with related goings-on in the world's most populous nation because it's the single largest MMOG market in both number of players and dollar value. Accordingly, a decent case can be made that it's also the most important. So, when I saw a VentureBeat article a couple of weeks ago that said a single e-commerce company, Taobao, had reported reaching $3 billion in sales on one day, Nov. 11 which is something like Valentine's Day here, it definitely caught my attention.
To put this figure in perspective, the estimated US total for all e-commerce sites on Black Friday was somewhere around $1 billion. Yes, China has a significantly larger population. But Internet penetration is far lower, so if we only look at actual users, we're talking about roughly 540 million Chinese (40 percent of 1.35 billion) versus 252 million Americans (80 percent of 315 million). We can also factor in that the average household income is about one-sixth. And let's not forget that the $3 billion figure is just for one company.
What does this have to do with MMOGs? The main thing is that it indicates the average Chinese online consumer may actually spends more than his or her US counterpart despite having far less disposable income. It's not exactly a huge leap to think gamers might also have a similar willingness. And on this basis, it's hard to project any scenario except the one in which China not only remains the largest market but also pulls even farther ahead. It's already arguably the world's most important market. Within a few more years, there may be little or no basis for any such dispute.