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The Free Zone: Looking Back At 2010

By Richard Aihoshi on January 03, 2011 | Columns | Comments

Looking Back At 2010

As we enter a new year, it seems only natural to take a look back at what happened in the one that just ended. So, for today's column, it wasn't difficult to arrive at said theme. It was odd, however, that when I started to think about what stood out for me, relatively little sprang immediately to mind in the way of games, trends, stories, etc. Thus my first impression was that 2010 was rather uneventful. What's more, this feeling didn't really change very much when I thought about it more.

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New games

Quick - name every MMOG launched in 2010 that you played and consider an outstanding addition to the category. For this purpose, disregard business models and only think about the games themselves. I imagine your list is pretty short. As is mine.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to suggest the year was completely devoid of titles worth playing. What I am saying is that although there were some pretty decent ones plus others that caught my attention with specific interesting elements, none reached or even closely approached the level where I'd deem them great. To be fair, this may constitute setting a bar that's not only high, but also increasingly difficult to reach as the market becomes increasingly crowded and competitive over time. But with so many games to choose from, why should I settle for anything less than exceptional?

So in retrospect, nothing that came out in the 2010 MMOG crop thrilled me. Of course, this is only my subjective opinion, and limited to the games I actually tried. I hope your experience was different, and that you found something you really enjoy. At least in theory, it's possible I passed over something I would have loved. And I did spot a couple with sufficient potential for improvement that I plan to check them out again this year to see how well they mature.

I'll also add that 2011 looks brighter regardless of your business model preferences. So, as usual, I'm entering this year with new optimism.

Industry and market trends

While there were definitely some important ones last year, none stood out as new or surprising. Instead, they continued or built on what was already happening. For example, the hybridization of revenue models started some time ago. In 2010, what we saw was a substantial increase in its prominence and visibility, with more movement away from the basic subscription model.

Whether the titles that changed their approaches went free to play is arguable depending how you define this term. What's not open to question is that they chose to offer options other than fixed, mandatory monthly fees, including ways to play as long as one wants without ever spending a cent - although not necessarily with access to all the game content.

Despite this column's primary focus, I'm pleased to see the line blurring. The market situation hasn't been binary for quite some time anyway, so differentiating on the basis of F2P versus subscription has become less clear-cut. My hope is that this trend will continue, and that eventually, it will mean we don't let how we pay for a game obfuscate how much fun it is or isn't.

Diversification is another trend that continued to strengthen last year. While some observers are wont to ignore anything they don't regard as a classic or traditional MMOG, other sectors are growing in importance. For instance, if you look around enough, you can find multiple analyses that say client-based MMOs now represent less than half of the market. It's true they do use a wide definition that includes browser and social, but whether we care about them or not, they are out there, they're huge, and they're gaining share.

It's important to state clearly that this doesn't mean the traditional, client-based MMOG segment is shrinking. This simply isn't so; it's growing, just not as quickly as the more broadly defined market.

Globalization marched on as well. I've talked quite a bit about China and Korea, so they're not new in that regard. However, I haven't said much about Russia / CIS, which has become a very important market while flying below a lot of people's radars. On the publishing side, it looks like this region's revenues grew over 40 percent last year to more than $300 million. As for development, we haven't seen much aside from Allods Online, but there's growth happening. I can't help but think we'll start to hear about a few more Russian projects before very much longer.

The Free Zone The Free Zone Editorials
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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