Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. He has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres. This column runs each Monday.
Last week, while announcing that Need for Speed World, Battlefield Heroes, Battlefield Play4Free and FIFA World will all be shut down in July, an EA exec stated that some of its F2P releases have declined in popularity. No ****, Sherlock. Upon seeing this news, I couldn't help wondering how the company feels about its strategy in this rapidly growing and thus increasingly important area. And earlier this month, Wargaming brought a smile to my face.
During the last few weeks, the most thought-provoking MMOG-related thing that came to my attention may have been this post by veteran developer Gordon Walton about the role he played in the memorable (for most, not in a good way) Star Wars Galaxies New Game Enhancements (NGE). What he wrote led me to think again about what I stated late last year when I listed the SOE / LucasArts title among 5 MMOGs That Seriously Disappointed Me.
As I write this on Sunday, March has already brought quite a bit of interesting news, information, rumors et al. Right off the top, we had the latest iteration of the Game Developers Conference, which overlapped with the first day of PAX East. Other notable happenings included researcher SuperData's release of some thought-provoking new tidbits of market data, and more F2P conversions from NCsoft.
The MMOG category is large and diverse enough to be a consistent source of interesting news and food for thought. Last month, as usual, there was no shortage of news about individual MMOGs. February was also rather interesting for those among us, myself included, who track what's going on in the industry and the market. During the past few weeks, we had the chance to learn at least a couple of notable lessons... if we didn't know them already.
Due to this column's biweekly schedule, I've had a couple of weeks to think about the news that SOE was purchased by venture capitalist / technology investment firm Columbus Nova. During this fairly short span, we've already seen that the new owner isn't hesitant to make significant personnel cuts at the newly renamed Daybreak Games. As is my wont, I can't help wondering how this situation fits within and reflects the overall state of the MMOG genre.
As often happens, I'm writing this column on Sunday. It's slated to appear on Tuesday, which will be the last day for Massively. If you primarily see this as the closure of a key MMORPG.com competitor, it may not seem particularly unfortunate. From a broader picture point of view, however, I'm saddened because I want to believe the growing and deepening interest in the MMOG genre is sufficient to support more sites like it and this one, not fewer.
These days, it doesn't seem to take much at all to start another round of speculation that World of Warcraft is about to implement some form of free to play. I've felt for some time that this will eventually happen, at least on a regional basis, with China most likely. The inevitable counter-argument is that the venerable game brings in too much money via subscriptions to change. However, is this assumption as solid as those who make it would like to be?
What a difference 12 months can make. Although the MMOG category did see some notable occurrences in 2014, I don't know many people who felt it lived up to the potential it seemed to have at this time a year ago. I wouldn't call it a disaster by any means, but neither did it knock my socks off. Entering 2015, I'm quietly optimistic. That said, I have questions about the what lies ahead, involving Landmark, The Elder Scrolls Online, EverQuest Next and more.
It has been many years since I last sat on Santa's knee or wrote a letter to make sure he'd know what gifts I wanted him to bring. Although I'm not inclined to do either ever again, I haven't forgotten the seasonal tradition of listing my wishes. This year, as usual, I can enumerate quite a few things I'd like to see within the MMOG category. There are far too many to consider discussing them all, so I decided to limit myself to a manageable selection.
This being my final Free Zone column for 2014, my first inclination was to choose a topic in the looking back vein. When I started considering possibilities, I immediately dismissed the idea of doing something “me too” like best of awards, which the site does far more prominently than I could anyway. Instead, I decided to discuss a few ways I'd like to see the MMOG development and publishing industry change, however unlikely they may be.
Unless you've been hiding from the world, it should be clear that for the past few years now, the major Asian game publishers have outstripped their western counterparts in terms of increasing annual revenue. The recent weeks have brought interesting information on two of them, Nexon and Tencent. In addition, some new market data came out last month about the most-played PC games in North America and Europe.
Unbeknownst to many in this part of the world, the latest iteration of G-STAR wrapped up its usual four-day run on Sunday. For observers in this hemisphere, Korea's trade and consumer game industry event has never even remotely approached the levels of visibility and hype that its western counterparts typically generate. Accordingly, it's seldom held in the same regard. Nonetheless, this year's version drew my attention for various reasons.
While I won't go as far as to say it usually happens, neither is it uncommon that when I look back at the recent past in order to decide what to write about, I end up with unanswered or unanswerable questions. This is at least partly due to how my mind works in relation to the MMOG space; I seldom take what I see or hear at face value. Some of the titles I've had cause to wonder about lately are Overwatch, Dawngate, WildStar and Otherland.
“Overall, the total MMO category is on track to generate $11 billion in annual revenues by the end of this year...” This is one of the infobits released by research company SuperData to help promote its latest annual report on the category. While I don't envision myself ponying up the current sale price of $2,000 in order to read the whole thing, this projection caught my interest, as did the 2014 YTD top 10 title list and more.
What role should governments have in the online game industry? This question was brought back to mind recently by news about a bill in Singapore that may have substantial potential to impact how the free to play revenue model can operate there. I also had renewed reason to wonder about the future of World of Warcraft in our planet's largest market, China.