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The Free Zone: More Questions Than Answers

Column By Richard Aihoshi on March 27, 2013

It happens that I'm a naturally pretty inquisitive. The way my mind works is that if I'm not completely oblivious to something, I tend to process information by wondering what more remains unsaid. It doesn't really matter whether I know that my questions are likely or even certain to go unanswered. I ask them anyway, if only silently. So, when I see game news, I generally react in this manner. Here are a few examples from the past couple of weeks. Believe me, there were more.

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TERA: Rising seems to be, well, rising

Last Wednesday, North American publisher En Masse issued a press release that suggests TERA's recent shift to F2P has been favorably received. As usual with such announcements, the numbers aren't as hard as I and probably all of you would like them to be. However, even after allowing for some degree of spin-doctoring, they do help the company to indicate that the transition, which took place earlier this year, has generated positive initial results.

For example, it's not clear to me why the headline says the game has topped a million players here while the body copy says the number of accounts has gone over the 1.4 million mark. It's also not very difficult to come up with different possible interpretations for the statement that “Player participation has jumped sharply, with a massive 10-fold increase of maximum concurrent users compared to before TERA’s subscription-free evolution.” Going from 10 users to 100 would be a 10-fold increase. So would jumping from 25,000 to 250,000. These are only sample numbers, but if you were the publisher, wouldn't you consider the latter to be a great deal more desirable? I sure would.

A VentureBeat article on the same day serves up another interesting and ostensibly positive but not fully quantified piece of information, En Masse CEO Chris Lee is quoted as saying Bluehole's MMORPG now has “significantly higher subscribers on the Elite tier than when it had a mandatory subscription”. As above, the actual figures would be much more telling. I'd be shocked if the publishing industry started being anywhere near so transparent. But wouldn't it be great?

On the other side of the world, it was announced two weeks ago that the game will finally enter the Chinese market under the aegis of publisher Kunlun, which operates KoramGame here. This flies against the far more common practice; I'd expect most Korean MMOGs to go or at least look there first, before here. So, I'm curious as to the full story behind how and why TERA took a very different route. Of course, I'm also interested to see how it will fare.

SWTOR's turn

A day later, the latest State of the Game piece for BioWare's opus did pretty much the same thing when Executive Producer Jeff Hickman stated that “Our new, high capacity servers are teeming with people. Since launch of the Free-to-Play option we have had over 2 million new accounts created and have thousands of new players jumping in every single day.”

That's a large number of new accounts in about four months since this game shifted revenue models. There are times when I wish I could read thing like this without automatically wondering what I'm not being told. But only rarely am I able to do so. In this case, I can't help but wonder how many new players have not only registered but also actually stuck around for a while and played at least semi-regularly rather than merely trying the game for a session or two, never to return.

Sevencore isn't secure

Another thing I was curious about involved Webzen's recent purchase of Gala-Net, including its North American and European gPotato portals. My silent query as to how soon we'd start seeing changes was answered last Tuesday with the announcement the Sevencore, a sci-fi MMORPG from by Korean studio Noria, will close at the end of April. In service here since the second half of last year, the title never generated any real buzz, and obviously didn't gain much of a following. So, few will miss it after it's gone.

What's not clear this time is whether it is only shutting down in this part of the world or also in its home market. Since the announcement says “the developer is no longer able to support the game”, I tend to think it could be the latter. But I believe there are bigger questions on this side of the pond relating to the direction Webzen will take with  gPotato. Specifically, can the latter resist the possible temptation of placing more emphasis on and support behind its new parent's offerings?

I know I'm not the only one who naturally has questions for which I'll never know the answers but that I'm curious about anyway. What on your mind these days in this vein? 


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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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