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The Free Zone: G-STAR 2013: Some Long-Distance Impressions

Column By Richard Aihoshi on December 03, 2013

It's no secret that among western writers who cover the MMOG landscape, I focus considerably more attention than most on the key Asian countries, Korea and China. As a result, I always look forward to seeing what I can learn each November, which is when G-STAR, the former's showcase game industry event, takes place. This year's version ran the normal four days for the consumer exhibition, ending on Sunday the 17th, and the B2B area was open Thursday through Saturday, also as usual.

It's understandable but nonetheless disappointing that G-STAR gets far less attention from game publications here than comparable shows in the US and Europe. So, aside from the three times I've been fortunate enough to attend, I end up scrounging for information, collecting whatever bits I can from the media and from contacts who were there. So, be warned that my impressions of the 2013 edition are both long-distance and second-hand.

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One thing worth pointing out up front is that this year's show took place under an ominous cloud, the possibility of further government intervention in the industry. This time, there has been a move afoot for the past several months to get playing games declared an addiction so that it can be regulated like alcohol, drugs and gambling. It looks as if parliament won't go this far, at least not in the short term, but whether the interests behind this can push some form of less stringent legislation through remains questionable.

As for the show itself, the amount of game-specific news and announcements appears to have been on the light side, especially in the “traditional” MMOG sector. For example, Nexon apparently featured Legion of Heroes, a mobile MMORPG that will reportedly incorporate social and trading card elements. It's party- and turn-based, which is not surprising considering the developer is nDoors, best known for Atlantica Online. It looks like this title will debut in Korea, with unspecified export versions to follow, so we may see it here, although probably not very soon.

Nexon did show one “true” MMORPG, Peria Chronicles, known as Project NT until a few weeks ago. Details are sketchy, but this one has an anime-style look and seems to emphasize its crafting system, which will let players build and change structures and other parts of the world. The developer is Thingsoft, which the publisher purchased in September. I haven't seen any word on whether this game is likely to be headed our way. Notable by its absence was Mabinogi 2, which was highlighted at the show last year.

It appears the other major domestic publishers flew lower on or even under under the radar. For instance, I haven't  seen anything so far to indicate what kind of presence NCsoft had, if any. I'd been hoping for although not expecting some word on the status of Lineage Eternal, which was introduced at the 2011 show, or possibly an announcement of something new.

As for other Korean companies, IMC Games may have attracted the most attention. It debuted Tree of Savior, which was quickly pegged by some as a spiritual successor to Ragnarok Online. This is due to sharing the same “father”, Hakkyu Kim. The studio also had Wolfknights, which has been described as a mix of MOBA and RPG.

Another intriguing non-MMOG revealed at the show was Fighting Star, described as an online arena fighter. While I have little interest in this category as a player, it's by Smilegate, the developer of the enormously popular CrossFire, which has surpassed 4.2 million concurrent users. Duplicating such success seem highly unlikely, but I can't help wondering if the studio will be able to show it isn't a one-hit wonder.

Second-ranked Chinese publisher Netease introduced an oriental-themed MMORPG called Revelation in the B2B area. Almost no details were released, but what may be more notable than the game itself is that simply showing it may indicate a rising interest in expanding into other markets. Like its major rivals, the company has an enormous war chest, so I can't help but wonder how intently it's looking toward building its presence in North America.

In an industry vein, G-STAR always serves as the backdrop for Korean companies to announce export contracts. The total announced this time was a record $185.5 million, up 25.4 percent from last year. Again, few details are readily available, but I suspect that, as usual, most of these don't involve our region since China remains the primary target market. That said, I'll be watching for news of which games are now headed our way.

If you get the feeling from all this that 2013 was quite a down year for G-STAR, you're certainly not alone. I expect to learn more from a few other sources, but am not anticipating anything major that would even begin to reverse my impression. That said, the Korean development industry is still a force in the global MMOG landscape, so I wouldn't be surprised if the 2014 show rebounds significantly.


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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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