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The Free Zone: Miscellaneous Mid-March Musings

Columns By Richard Aihoshi on March 24, 2015

Miscellaneous Mid-March Musings

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.

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GDC seemed very quiet news-wise

It was never a major reason I went to the show for nearly a decade, but had I been hoping this year's would occasion a burst of significant MMOG news and announcements, I'd have been disappointed. There was some, of course, but as you can probably surmise just from the relative brevity of MMORPG.com's recap, considerably less than we've typically seen in recent years.

For me, GDC was both more enjoyable and a better learning experience back in the day. There was an exhibit area, but it was populated by tech vendors. Very few companies showed their games. It's obviously not up to me, but if I could cast a magic scroll of transformation, I'd change the show back to the way it was in an instant. That said, if I put my gamer hat on, I certainly understand the reaction of those people who were underwhelmed by what they read about individual projects at this year's event. 

At the risk of reading too much into what might simply be a random one-time blip, I do wonder why it happened. It's not as if there's a dearth of MMOGs projected to launch this year. If we make the seemingly reasonable assumption that such titles want to ramp up their visibility over a period of several months as they approach release, it's at least a little curious that, apparently, relatively few chose to have any presence at the show.

PAX East was better but...

I seems as if quite a few more MMOGs were on display at this show, which isn't surprising since it's a more consumer-oriented event. However, the coverage I've read didn't contain anything that really grabbed my attention. Indeed, only a week later, I don't remember anything standing out as meaningfully new, not off the top of my head anyway. So, even though I wasn't expecting a lot, I still feel the show fell short.

Obviously, GDC and PAX East are just two shows, and I wasn't at either one. That said, from the reports I've read, it seems pretty safe to say neither was stellar. As such, they certainly didn't kick off this year's spring season on a high note. I hope this isn't a harbinger of what's to come.

Recent research tidbits

In its latest blog, SuperData dropped a couple of interesting morsels. One was a chart of the “East/West revenue breakdown for top subscription-based MMOs”. It shows estimated January revenue including that from micro-transactions, for five prominent titles that are P2P in Asia. As we'd all expect, World of Warcraft is far ahead with $117 million, of which $90.3 million (77%) is from this side of the world.

TERA comes in at $19.9 million and has the most balanced split with $11.5 million (58%) generated in the West. Readers who don't watch the world market might be surprised to see what's listed next. It's Lineage at $16.8 million, all generated in the East. We're also told that Aion brought in $10.2 million (90% East) and EVE $6.5 million (85% West).

SuperData also noted data confirming that Nexon's and Ncsoft's revenues remain very heavily tilted toward Asia. According to the former's latest financials, North America and Europe together accounted for a mere 7% of its Q4 global business. The latter company was almost as unbalanced, deriving just 12% of its total from the West.

NCsoft going F2P in Japan

At the beginning of this month, the Japanese version of Blade & Soul transitioned to F2P. Given it launched there last May, it didn't last long as a P2P offering. This reportedly leaves Korea as the only market where the game is still P2P. Apparently, this isn't going over well within the title's domestic player base, although it's impossible to know how deep and widespread the discontent is.

While I haven't seen anything official, it looks like NCsoft's other offerings in Japan will follow suit over the coming months. This raises the question as to whether the company is thinking about completely moving away from P2P in its home market too. In addition, I suspect that if and when Blade & Soul goes live here, it's now more likely than ever to be F2P.

Closing queries

  • What was your impression of GDC 2015? Do you think we'll go back to seeing more game-specific news and announcements in the future?
  • What was your impression of PAX East 2015? What if anything did you learn that you found truly interesting?
  • Are you surprised by any of the research tidbits discussed above? How likely is it that either Nexon or NCsoft will become substantially stronger in the West any time soon?
  • What are the chances NCsoft will fully embrace F2P in Korea? Is there any chance Blade & Soul won't be F2P here?
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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