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Can A:IR and Bless Revitalize the AAA MMORPG?

William Murphy Posted:
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It seems like a long shot, since traditionally Eastern MMORPGs are played but niche here in the states. But I think there’s good reason to believe that on the heels of successful games like Black Desert Online, Ascent: Infinite Realm and Bless Online could make publishers think twice about investing in AAA MMORPGs. Of course, this is purely me spitballing on a slow news Friday, so let’s play shall we?

Both games are due out this year, from largely successful South Korean game developers looking to be successful in the west. A:IR is from the team behind TERA at Bluehole Studios while Bless is from Neowiz, who make hugely successful games in Korea like DJMax, Crossfire, and Ironsight. Both studios are laser-focused on bringing all of their games to the West, seeing immense potential for their products to latch onto and grow big with PC and console gamers here. The power of PUBG and the huge popularity of consoles in the West is immensely alluring to the Korean game makers.

More so, seeing a title like Black Desert Online, a very unwieldy game with a steep difficulty curve, march to the top of Steam charts says to both Bluehole and Neowiz - who needs a western publisher? We can hire western help and bring our games to Steam and cut out the middleman.

Kakao is publishing AIR, but it’s worth noting that Kakao is itself a Korean company. They’re also lean, from what I understand. They’re not a massive AAA publisher like say, EA, and they don’t have the sort of taint an NCSOFT or Nexon carry in the west. They’re new, they’re successful, and they’re hungry for more.

Neowiz is cutting out the idea of a publisher altogether for Bless. Essentially, the deal with Gamigo fell through because Neowiz wanted to take longer to get the game to Steam, and so they agreed to part ways. Neowiz is still on track to launch Bless into Early Access (read: Soft Launch) soon, with a full launch by the end of 2018. And to do it, they don’t need to adhere to any timeline except their own.

Both A:IR and Bless are strikingly different games, with similarities in some aspects. AIR seems to focus more on the sandbox systems, with housing, farming, crafting and the like taking center stage. Meanwhile Bless seems to focus more on the cinematic FFXIV-esque story, where dungeons, raids, and large scale PVP make up the endgame. Both games actually focus a great deal on large scale PVP, though - with the airships and mechs making A:IR stand out a bit more than the traditional Lineage 2-styled sieges of Bless.

Both games will undoubtedly have some systems people kvetch over. There’s a strong contingent of folks that think questing is boring, and others who worry a game will be too grindy or reliant on gear. But these are problems that face the genre entirely. They’re part of the genre, it can be argued. Content that must be part of the game, cannot be avoided but can be improved. I’d argue that a lot of traditional systems (questing, dungeons, etc) don’t need to be “fixed”, just embellished in smart ways to make them more interesting for new games.

I digress. My point is this: in Bless and A:IR we have two very big AAA MMORPGs being released in 2018. They’re eschewing typical publisher deals to do it themselves with the help of western teams and marketers to get things like message, tone, localization, and monetization right. If they’re successful (read: make profits and hit high Steam numbers for a prolonged period), I think there’s a good reason to believe that AAA MMOs could make a comeback.

Bless, A:IR, and Black Desert before it all try some very unique things after the world was done aping World of Warcraft. Western-made games like Crowfall, Camelot, Shroud, Ashes, Pantheon, and Elyria are all trying their own ideas as well. Indeed it seems to me that a sort of MMO renaissance is just around the corner. But I sure am getting sick of being patient.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.