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The Free Zone: Three Interesting Closures

Column By Richard Aihoshi on April 09, 2013

Some people think things come in threes. I'm not usually one of them, but by coincidence, these were among the items that caught my attention in the past couple of weeks.

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Nexon to close Dungeon Fighter Online

Last Tuesday, Nexon let it be known that DFO will close in June, a few days after the fourth anniversary of its North American launch. The reason given was pretty straightforward; it “has not attracted enough player interest to properly service the game.” The news didn't exactly cause major ripples here. Indeed, there wasn't much response at all, and of what I saw, quite a bit was in the general vein of “Ho-hum” or “So what?”

Personally, I won't mourn its loss. It's not that I have anything against it. Basically, although I enjoy hack and slash dungeon crawling when I'm in an appropriate mood, it's simply not the kind of gameplay I tend to enjoy on a daily or regular basis. Indeed, I opt for it somewhat less often now than in years past. As a result, while DFO is among the hundreds of MMOGs I've glanced at over the years, I'd estimate that the actual amount of time I've spent in it is no more than 10 to 15 hours.

Professionally however, I find the game's fate here to be rather interesting, primarily because I can't easily reconcile its failure to build and retain a viable player base in this part of the world with the tremendous popularity it has in Asia, especially in China where it's known as Dungeon & Fighter. As noted in this column before, its success in the world's largest market, where it has topped two million concurrent players, has been the primary driver of Nexon's ascent to the top rung among Korean publishers. On a global scale, it probably brings in more money than all but two other MMOGs, WoW and Crossfire.

What this situation has highlighted is a much larger question, one that I've been struggling to grasp at least a little better for years. Why is there such a huge difference between player preferences in the two hemispheres? It's easy to say “cultural differences”, but frankly, when I see this put forward a the answer, I pretty much always find it too general and simplistic. That's because nothing more is said – as if these two words carry some form of deep, universal meaning, thus eliminating any need whatsoever for explanation or clarification.

Being of oriental extraction myself, albeit born and raised in Canada, I think I have some sensitivity in this area. Even so, I've never been able to put my finger solidly on what the relevant differences are or how they lead to the huge gaps in popularity that exist for various titles, of which DFO and Crossfire are the two major examples. If anyone cares to take a shot at explaining these things in the comments, I'd certainly welcome any new insights.

What's in store for Otherland?

The other piece of news was less clear. It appears that around a month ago, Singaporean RealU, the developer of the MMOG based on Tad Williams' popular four-tome literary property, laid off most of its staff. The studio is an arm of German game company dtp, which was insolvent the last I saw. Meanwhile, it looks like publisher Gamigo is still running its beta. So, I'd guess the title isn't dead, although it's hard to imagine that its progress toward launch hasn't been slowed considerably if not completely halted.

I hope we'll still see this title make it into service. The idea of an MMO based on a series about an advanced form of virtual reality intrigues me. But what are the odds? Right now, your guess is as good as mine. So I'll just keep my fingers crossed.

An interesting aside is that Tad Williams is no stranger to the world of MMOG development. Back in the late 1990s, he was the Creative Consultant on an interesting project some grognards may still remember. Called Dark Zion, it was to be a highly driven and controlled by the players, who would not only build their characters, but could also creates businesses, towns, armies and more, all of which would factor into the fate of the world. Unfortunately, developer Wombat Games never found funding, and shut its doors in 2000. 

The Digimon Battle has been lost

This is another game we North Americans won't be able to play anymore. Once again, it's not one I'll miss. In this case, I never even tried it. What's curious to me is that I never saw much effort made to promote it despite the popularity of the underlying franchise. As I recall, it had been out in parts of Asia for a few years before making its debut here. Oh well, I suppose if I ever get the urge, there's still Digimon Masters. 


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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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