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The Free Zone: Coming Our Way From Korea

Column By Richard Aihoshi on August 19, 2014

While it's arguably not as difficult as it once was, staying reasonably informed as to what's happening in the Korean MMOG development industry remains far from easy. As a result, few western observers are truly up to date. I'm not. However, I've recently spent some time trying to catch up a bit. So, here are some thoughts on a trio of projects that seem positioned to raise their visibility on this side of the globe over the coming months.

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Tree of Savior

This project is often described as the spiritual successor to Ragnarok Online, which was helmed by developer IMG Games' principal Hakkyu Kim. It's an character-driven open world fantasy MMORPG with an anime-style look that some gamers in this part of the world will find appealing while others consider it banal. Tree of Savior's single most interesting element is probably its class system, which will reportedly incorporate some 80 possibilities plus flexible skill choices.

The team has had an English-language blog since May, so we can pretty safely assume it intends to make the game available here. However, I've yet to see anything about a potential regional publisher. Indeed, it appears there isn't one for Korea at the moment. The studio had a contract with Hangame, but the companies parted ways late last year. This decision may have been reached by mutual consent. The possibility has also been mentioned that IMC Games may offer a global service rather than seeking out regional partners.


Outlook. Whatever happened in the publisher situation, it's hard to be completely optimistic about Tree of Savior's prospects even though there's no indication development has been affected. I've yet to be convinced that operating an English-language service from Korea can be done well enough to accommodate the highly demanding nature of our market. The domestic closed beta was recently pushed back, so I doubt the game will launch very soon. This suggests our version won't be live until at least mid-2015, and quite possibly later.

Black Desert

The focus of considerable attention at G-STAR late last year, Pearl Abyss' sandbox MMORPG has an intriguing list of key features including realistic art and physics, an expansive world with seamless areas, a movement system with parkour-style moves, large-scale castle sieges and combat requiring active participation to aim, dodge, use combos, etc. There was some talk a while back suggesting that the studio was considering the viability of porting to either or both of the PS4 and Xbox One.

Daum Communications is a major Korean Internet company that is working to carve out a place for itself among the country's leading game publishers. Apparently, it's also willing to look farther afield, having recently signed Black Desert for both North America and the EU. There is already an English-language client. The third and perhaps final stage of the domestic closed beta seems likely to start quite soon, but so far, I haven't seen any credible dates for testing here in the west.

Outlook. The track record for Korean publishers that set up operations in this hemisphere has been pretty spotty. So, how well Daum will fare in terms of building interest in a title that has generated much less buzz here than at home is questionable. As for the game, it seems to be on the hardcore side. This will help to attract a certain segment of the MMOG audience, but it will also mean Black Desert mainly has to compete within a relatively crowded niche. At the moment, my best guess is that it won't begin testing here for a while yet. Launch looks to be at least a year off, maybe more.

Peria Chronicles

Another project that elicited solid positive reactions at G-STAR 2013, Peria Chronicles also bears the dual blessing / curse that comes with an anime look. Developer ThingSoft has also gone even farther in the double-edged sword vein by adopting a cel-shaded art style. However, the colorful sandbox MMORPG's most noteworthy and thought-provoking element is the ability for players to change the gameworld, albeit little is known about how much we'll be able to modify, build or destroy things. Also of interest is the team's plan to incorporate user-created content; here too, details are sparse so far.

Having acquired the studio last year, Nexon is the publisher. As we know, it's a lot stronger in and thus much more focused on its home market and China. Accordingly, although Peria Chronicles seems likely to make its way here, it may do so quite some time later. I've yet to see a solid date for domestic testing to begin, but some observers are suggesting within the next few months, leading to launch sometime in 2015. Even if this happens, I'm guessing that the earliest the game will enter service here is the second half of 2016.

Outlook. Arguably the most ambitious and interesting of the three games, Peria Chronicles is also the farthest away. As a result, it carries the largest question marks. Accordingly, even more so than for the other two, I'm hoping to get a better feel for how development is progressing in late November when G-STAR 2014 takes place.

Closing queries

  • What particularly interests you about any or all of these MMORPGs?
  • What are the chances that any of them will become a hit in the west?  
  • To what degree does employing an anime art style impact an MMOG's prospects of success in our market?
  • What other Korean titles in development seem like candidates to improve their visibility here?

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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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