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The Free Zone: The Return of Miscellany

By Richard Aihoshi on April 18, 2011 | Columns | Comments

The Return of Miscellany

As anyone who reads The Free Zone at least semi-regularly can attest, there are times when my mind focuses in on a single topic, and others when my attention wanders around more.  The past week has been one of the latter, but upon a bit of reflection, these three things did stand out at least a little above the rest.

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The Chinese online games market hit $5 billion in 2010

Last week, Pearl Research announced that the latest version of its Online Games in China report is now available for sale.  It’s priced for publishers’ budgets, not those of individuals, even highly interested ones like me, so I don’t expect to see much at all of what it says.  However, the company did release a few interesting teaser findings, most likely in the hope of helping to move some more copies out the door.

The biggest one is that the world’s most valuable market hit the $5 billion mark.  This doesn’t surprise me at all because it’s right in line with other information I’ve seen, such as the forecast I mentioned last week, which was put out during the year by a Korean government agency.  This impressive figure is stated as representing a 25 percent increase.  What’s more, the report forecasts continued strong growth, reaching $8 billion in 2014.

One thing I find hard to shake is that North America and Europe together may not have totalled $5 billion last year.  As a gamer, I don’t play on Chinese servers, so the size of the market there is unimportant, even irrelevant.  However, when I switch to my industry observer hat, which is the one I wear to put out this column, my perspective changes to a global one; that’s one of the key reasons why I write so much about what’s happening in other parts of the world.  

Getting back to the report, China’s top five operators are also named.  Their numbers add up to $3.53 billion, representing 70 percent combined market share.  Tencent held a clear lead with $1.4 billion in game revenue, well ahead of Netease and Shanda Games, which racked up $749 million and $680 million respectively.  After them, there’s another sizable gap to Perfect World ($374 million) and Changyou ($327 million).

Another bit of gold-farming news

Another interesting China-connected thing that caught my eye recently is news about some of the gold-farming operators out there having gone into the pre-order business.  If you look around a bit – even just by googling – you’ll see that you can already purchase in-game currency for Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I checked on one site, and it was quite pricey; $1 per gold.  However, the whole gold-farming phenomenon exists largely because people place different relative values on their time and money.

This doesn’t mean there will be a large currency pre-order market, but neither do I think there won’t be one at all.  I’m curious to see if it will be possible to get any credible indications as to its actual size as we continue moving toward the launch of BioWare’s highly anticipated entry into the MMO space, and also to see what EA will do, if anything.

Will social game portals fly?

While social games are at most quasi-MMOs, I’ve been watching this sector of the industry to try to get a feel for possible influences.  What I saw last week that has me thinking is the launch of Playdom.com, a portal created by one of the major companies in the space.  What’s intriguing is that you can play a couple of its games there without going through Facebook et al.  It’s a standalone scenario, which means non-native accounts from other platforms are excluded.

One site with only two games when I looked won’t give us a definitive answer, but I wonder how feasible it will be to drive the bus kind of in reverse.  The underlying popularity of social networks has allowed for games to be added as a new and obviously very broadly appealing layer to complement the basic experience.   But to what extent will people flock to or even try out portals where those games are the core attraction?  And when they’re the starting point, how well is the social side likely to develop?

In a number of situations over the years, I’ve managed to guess the directions in which things ended up going with very little hard information to go on.  But this time, even good old gut feel has gone MIA.  This is not something I’m used to; while I certainly don’t make all my opinions available for public consumption, not having one at all is quite unusual.  I just don’t know.  So if you have any thoughts, I especially welcome your comments.

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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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