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The Free Zone: Not In My Back Yard

By Richard Aihoshi on October 18, 2010 | Columns | Comments

Not In My Back Yard

It's often convenient to focus on what's right around us rather than similar things we can't as easily and immediately see. I'm certainly not immune to this way of thinking. "Out of sight, out of mind" does apply. Indeed, it most likely happens to me multiple times per day. Usually, there's little if any impact on anyone but myself. But professionally, when I only look at what's in front of me, there are occasions when I miss opportunities to learn, to consider and appreciate different points of view, to see broader pictures, etc.

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With this in mind, I decided to devote today's column to two things that have caught my attention, piqued my curiosity or both fairly recently even though they haven't been or aren't in my back yard.

ChinaJoy

The eighth China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference took place in Shanghai over four days at the end of July and the beginning of August. As I've said before, I consider this event to be definitely worth watching due to the huge and still rapidly escalating significance of both the market there - which had an estimated value of more than $3 billion in 2009 - and the development industry that is also growing very quickly. As always, the main exhibit portion was open to the public. Counting both consumer and trade visitors, the reported attendance was just under 170,000.

From the NIMBY perspective, it's easy enough not to care that a lot of Chinese gamers went, or that hundreds of domestic game media outlets did as well. But for me, even though I wasn't there and thus only got relative snippets of information - quite a few via comments that are still trickling in - ChinaJoy 2010 provided an opportunity to update my all too limited knowledge of what's going on over there.

In this regard, a few things stood out for me. One is that among international publishers, the interest level in acquiring Chinese-made games still appears to be rising. We see a fair number of imports here, but there's even more activity among companies from outside North America. As an admittedly anecdotal and unscientific example, I know more people who went from Eastern Europe, mainly Russia.


I also got a stronger sense than before that we can expect to see more presence from Chinese companies in this hemisphere. A number of them have very substantial war chests available to spend on creating western operations, beefing up existing ones, acquisitions or a combination. Within the past year or less, we've seen a few purchases totalling perhaps half a billion dollars. They may just be the initial ripples fronting a far larger wave.

The last point I'll mention is the increasing significance of non-traditional MMOGs. As a whole, the Chinese publishing and development industry has figured out that serious gamers represent only a small portion of the potential market. Consequently, while MMORPGs still dominate, they are putting more effort and attention into other genres, the casual sector, web-based titles with much wider accessibility. This reflects a global trend, but China seems at or near the forefront - ahead of North America.

Prime World

Nival Network announced earlier today that the first public showing of its project will take place at the IgroMir game show in Moscow next month. I know very little about this game, which the company website describes as "the first-ever multi-player online strategy game based on the synergistic actions by players of both sexes. While male players fight on the front line, female players act as guardians and healers, inspiring them to great deeds."

Among all the titles currently in development, this one has captured more of my interest than most despite my lack of knowledge. The reason may seem a bit circuitous. In short, Nival Interactive created the Allods property, and a sister company, Nival Online, started development of Allods Online. The studio was then merged into another publisher, becoming Nival Astrum, which was subsequently acquired in two stages by its current owner, Mail.Ru.

The last of these steps involved buying out Sergey Orlovskiy, the founder of Nival, and the man who has been called the father of Allods. He retained ownership of the rest of the Nival group, the main company being Nival Network, which is a leading publisher in the Russia / CIS region and also has multiple development studios working on... Prime World.

So basically, this is the current focus of the person most responsible for bringing us Allods Online. I've had the good fortune to know him for over a decade, since his very first game was in development (Allods aka Rage of Mages in the west). As a result, I know him to be someone who looks and thinks beyond his own back yard, and I'm especially eager to see what he has been working on under wraps the past while.