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The Free Zone: More Mid-Year Musing

Column By Richard Aihoshi on July 31, 2012

Once again, the past couple of weeks have seen quite a few things come across my desk that could have made their way into today's column. I chose to comment on the two below since they managed to intrigue me somewhat more than the rest.

Will China continue to out-grow the rest of the world?

This year's edition of the China Digital Entertainment Expo & Conference wrapped up on Sunday. More often called ChinaJoy, it didn't exactly generate a lot of news.  Well, not in this hemisphere anyway. This seems at least partially due to a kind of chicken and egg situation. I suspect there would be greater interest among western consumers if the show got more coverage, but it's not easy for publications to justify the cost of sending writers based on the probable immediate level of readership. So, we only get dribbles of news and information from the main industry event in the world's largest and in some ways most important market.

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Still, I did spot some new data released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The first notable item was the value of the country's online game sector in the first half of this year, $3.89 billion. This presumably includes all types, so if we peg the MMOG category at 75% like various researchers and observers do, it pulled in about $2.9 billion.  If we make the seemingly very safe assumption of ongoing growth, it looks like 2012 will come in over $6 billion; indeed, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see it approach $6.5 billion.  To put this projection into a broader perspective, even the lower figure appears likely to represent at least half the entire global market. And of course, the vast majority of this revenue is from free to play offerings.

What's more, the Ministry also said that the country's online gaming community more than doubled since the end of 2011, jumping from 160 to 330 million in only six months. Although this rate doesn't seem sustainable for long, even with China's huge population base and rapidly expanding infrastructure, there's still ample room for further growth. Consequently, it doesn't take much of a leap to think the country will pull even farther ahead before the rest of the world starts to catch up.

As for individual games that appeared at ChinaJoy, I've only seen basics such as what was shown by some of the major publishers. Here's a very incomplete list:

Tencent: Asura

Shanda: Age of Dawn, World Zero

NetEase: Dragon Sword

Perfect World: Legend of the Condor Heroes, Saint Seiya Online, Swordsman Online

Snail Game: Age of Wulin

Is cloud gaming the future of MMOGs?

The volume of talk about cloud gaming got a boost recently when it was announced that Sony is acquiring Gaikai for a reported $340 million. Even prior to this, there has been speculation as to how well this type of technology fits with MMOGs. The most enthusiastic have gone so far as to say it's the future of our favorite genre, and even that this will happen within only a few years.

Personally, such views seem rather optimistic. I'll readily admit that I'm not technically-oriented enough to have more than a basic understanding of how cloud gaming works. That said, when I think from a business perspective, I can't help but wonder if bandwidth will be a significant hurdle. Frankly, I've yet to see anything that makes me feel comfortable it won't. 

Not so many years ago, Internet accounts typically had no usage restrictions. They probably didn't need to since the programs, videos and anything else we might download weren't nearly as large as they are now. So how much bandwidth could anyone use? These days, it's not particularly difficult to consume 30, 40, even 50 gigs or more in a month. That's why ISPs are moving way from all you can eat plans by adding caps. If we go over, we get charged for the incremental amount.

If I stream a game's assets to my PC every time I play something, won't that rapidly eat up my bandwidth allowance? Naturally, I wonder about the graphics most of all. Even if we're only talking about the things I see in the locations I travel to, it seems like multiple sessions - like, for example, the common pattern of an hour or two most weekdays and longer on the weekends - will add up to a large amount of usage.   

It may well not be an appropriate comparison, but let's say an average hour-long HD video comes in at a bit under a gig. Does this suggest I can expect MMOGs to be in the same ballpark? At 15 hours per week, that would put me right at my ISP's cap of 60 gigs per month... without doing anything else. If this is how cloud gaming MMOGs will work, my initial feeling is that I'd rather stick with installing the clients.

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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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