As always, the past week brought quite a few topics and stories of interest, including but definitely not limited to these:
The9 begins its first western closed beta
As noted here previously, the increasing presence of major Chinese publishers in the western hemisphere is a trend I've been watching with interest for quite a while. Albeit with very little publicity or other fanfare, last Thursday brought a visible step in this direction when the US subsidiary of The9 launched its first closed beta. Scheduled to run until March 14, it's for Three Kingdoms Brawler.
As the name suggests, it takes place in the same period of Chinese history as quite a few others. Although it only lasted from 220 to 280 AD, the power struggle among the Wei, Shu and Wu kingdoms following the demise of the Han Dynasty has also inspired countless books, movies, etc. Of course, the facts are usually highly fictionalized. That's certainly the case in this game, which is described as an updated side-scrolling arcade-like beat 'em up involving various hero classes seeking to shape the fate of the land.
The9 is shot to prominence as the original regional publisher of World of Warcraft. While it had that distinction, which now rests with Netease, the company leveraged that title's huge audience into a lot of cash via the domestic stock market and NASDAQ. So, despite losing the most popular MMOG in the world's largest market, it's still an important player, with a portfolio that includes Atlantica Online, Granado Espada, FIFA Online 2, Soul of The Ultimate Nation, Kingdom Heroes 2 Online and a few others I don't remember at the moment, including at least two or three in-house projects.
Notably, all the releases listed above are licensed. Since The9 has yet to prove conclusively that it can develop its own domestic hits, I'm curious to see what more it has planned for the west. In this respect, an intriguing factor is that since about a year ago, it owns Red 5, the studio founded a few years ago by some senior Blizzard / WoW developers. Its only announced title is a futuristic online shooter, Firefall, but might there be an MMOG in the pipeline there as well?
Browser MMOGs? Really?
Last Friday, this site posted a report by Industry Relations Manager Garrett Fuller about the increased presence of browser-based MMOGs at the Game Developers Conference. I was pleased to see this since it's another trend that has been building up for a while now but hasn't gained, in my opinion at least, a level of visibility anywhere close matching its importance within the overall MMOG space.
I'm sure some people don't care. They want to see and read what they want to see and read. Anything else is a waste of their time. Well, they're entitled to their opinion, however narrow it might be. However, anyone who thinks the MMOG space won't continue to shift / expand in this direction is spitting into the proverbial wind. It's happening, and barring something completely out of the blue, it's not going to stop or even slow down.
Like it or not, the browser-based MMOG sector appears certain to grow in prominence. And this will happen across revenue models. To those who voice what may be the most common knee-jerk complaint, that the choice of platform means the games will lack depth, if you're right, don't play them. The most likely scenario is that some will find their own audiences and survive or even prosper. Those that don't will falter, and thus won't be a problem.
But what if your blanket assessment is wrong? What if even a few are worthwhile? Even one? As long as their actions don't affect others, people do have the right to choose to dismiss browser releases as a category. It's still unfortunate when they do; I'm reminded of the adage about cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.
Yes, online poker can mean money for nothing
Both in the forum and privately, a few people have expressed doubt about my statement last week that it's possible to make thousands of dollars playing online poker without ever risking a cent. I stand by what I said. It's mainly done by playing promotional "freeroll" tournaments that cost nothing to enter but pay cash prizes.
There are dozens if not hundreds of these every day. The amounts available are usually small, often a few dollars or even just a few cents. Over time however, they add up, even with a tiny average win rate per hour. Occasionally, substantially larger opportunities arise. In one case I remember, the prize pool was a cool $1 million. And just to be explicit, I'm not referring to those freerolls that require frequent player points or having played for real money in order to be eligible.