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One World of MMOs?

Richard Aihoshi Posted:
Columns The Free Zone 0

Pretty much as soon as MMOGs started to gain significant traction a decade and a half ago, we began to see talk of the capability to accommodate a global audience, allowing players from every corner of the planet to play together.  The technology to do so was available, albeit not everyone would have the same connection quality and speed. And it was pleasant, even bit romantic to think it might happen. 

It was also rather naïve. I'll admit that I thought we'd have moved somewhat farther in this direction than we have by now. However, it was never completely realistic to believe that national and regional concerns, language differences, publisher territoriality and other barriers would drop enough to create a single worldwide market.

There was also the multifaceted matter of human nature. To cite just one key aspect, who would most of us usually choose to play with, our real-life friends or our virtual ones? Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting anything negative about online relationships. They can be great.  I've even had a number of business partners I worked with for years but never met in person. What I am saying is that knowing someone face to face is different, and generally preferable.

This relates to a primary reason I've always been interested in watching and learning about more regional MMOG markets than only North America and Western Europe. The first of these to catch my attention was Korea. From time to time, I visit a ranking site called Gametrics, where we can find a list that seems to rank the current 10 most popular online games in that country's PC cafes.  I don't read the language, so specifics such as what the rating criteria are or how the market share figures are calculated remain unclear.  In addition, the scope extends beyond just MMOGs. That said, it's still pretty interesting to see what the leading titles are and how they stack up. 

  • Aion                             14.38% 
  • League of Legends       12.31%
  • Sudden Attack               9.97%
  • StarCraft                       5.70%
  • FIFA Online 2                5.51%
  • Warcraft 3                    4.44%
  • Lineage                        3.58%
  • World of Warcraft         2.85%
  • Lineage 2                     2.64%
  • Tera                             2.51%

Finding Aion atop the rankings is completely expected.  It's the current marquee offering from NCsoft, which has long been the leading domestic publisher in the MMORPG category, witness the fact both Lineage games are also on the list.  The original, while no longer available in the west, is still a domestic market leader as it approaches its 15th anniversary.  The prequel is still going strong as it nears 10. How many of their contemporaries can claim similar health? 

League of Legends is something of a surprise, not so much seeing it listed, but ranked so highly and so close to Aion.  We know how popular Starcraft has been and still is among Korean gamers, so I can't help but wonder if this popular MOBA is addressing the same market segment or one with a high degree of overlap. The title is still fairly new there, so I'm interested to see if it will rise to the top, and also to watch how it will fare in terms of longevity.

For what it's worth, my guess is that since LoL will take over the top slot and stay on the list for some time. It's on the upswing while Aion has leveled off, and the current gap isn't huge.  What's more, it's still in the very early stage of entering the professional gaming circuit, so we can expect it to gain a lot more visibility and credibility over the coming months. Publisher Tencent is a China-based giant with a huge warchest available to promote the title in both its home market and Korea.

Those not familiar with Korea may be surprised to see Sudden Attack in third place since it doesn't have much visibility here.  Released in 2004, it's a squad-based multiplayer online shooter that became very popular domestically, even ranking as the most popular title there for a year or two.  I'm not really sure how or why it managed to achieve such distinction. Perhaps some of our readers can provide more insight.

The last thing I'll mention is Blizzard's colossus. It's especially intriguing to see the gap between Aion's market share and World of Warcraft's. Granted it's possible that the latter is played far more from home, I have no strong reason to think this is so.  That said, I don't want to read too much into this either.  WoW may have peaked, both in Korea and in our part of the world.  However, it isn't about to go away any time soon. That said, it remains the best example of a global hit, although not with everyone playing together. When and if that will ever truly happen remains to be seen.


Richard Aihoshi

Richard Aihoshi / Richard Aihoshi has been writing about the MMOG industry 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.