Online Worlds Roundtable #15 – Part 1
An international panel of experts talks about paying attention to global markets and trends within the category
September 04, 2007 – During the past decade, RPG Vault has had the pleasure of watching the massively multiplayer category grow from a tiny niche to what some now regard as an entirely new entertainment medium. We still remember when the entire genre encompassed a mere handful of titles in development and hoping to find a receptive audience. Of course, we know what happened, that every single day, millions log into their favorite online worlds. Naturally, the assortment from which they can choose has expanded greatly; there are hundreds in live service, perhaps more, and no shortage of projects on the way. Qualitatively, there’s also a far wider selection, including casual and quasi-games that reach out to non-traditional users. This is especially true in the Far East, primarily Korea and China. As a consequence, that region as a whole represents the world’s largest market.
To investigate the interesting, sometimes contentious questions, issues and differences of opinion that accompany such diversity, we created a series of Online Worlds Roundtables in which we ask game makers and those associated with them to share their respective knowledge and points of view via a panel format. The members aren’t the same from one session to the next as we attempt to solicit input from as broad a range of sources as possible, and from individuals we know to be particularly close to each subject. As for the nature of the topics, the idea is to address a different one each time. This time, we followed our usual procedure of extending invitations to a number of our friends and acquaintances within the development community. The initial segment of our latest discussion consists of the five contributions that appear below.
Topic: Global markets and trends: are we paying enough attention?
A question of substantial and still increasing significance in the online worlds sector is whether western publishers, developers, gaming media and gamers sufficiently aware of what’s happening in the global massively multiplayer space. This topic includes but isn’t limited to whether “we” need to be more conscious of international markets, and of segments and trends ranging from advanced casual to social network and web-based games, and of the major barriers to success in unfamiliar regions and how to overcome them.
2Moons, 9Dragons et al (Publisher: Acclaim)
I always have my long-range scanner on, trying to detect influences on the path our industry will take. When I left Atari / Shiny in Feb. 2006, I’d been watching the Asian scene closely. An old friend, Howard Marks, invited me on a trip there that really opened my eyes. We were treated like developers, so instead of just boardrooms, we got to go behind the scenes and hang out with the teams. Seeing the talent and passion blossoming there, Acclaim decided to bet the company on the MMO free to play future that has proven so popular.
Seeing EA already make smart investments in companies like Neowiz in Korea and The9 in China is like waving a red flag at the other publishers… “Watch this space!” Most foreign software is seen as “odd” and not compatible with our main US and European markets. The reason is because it’s true. Hey, we focus on our markets too, like the British making new cricket games every year. The more foreign something is, the easier it is to dismiss. However, you just have to look to Japan to show how Asian games, done right, can influence us. With directors like Miyamoto, Kojima and Sakaguchi, they know how to win over our audiences on our home turf. When will we have a Kojima of China or Korea? Never? Well if you want to believe that, go ahead… I certainly don’t.
Some argue there’s no interest in these games, so we tried an experiment with a very Korean game called Dekaron. We started making changes, like re-writing the story for the west. Called 2Moons, it’s already a hit in open beta, with over 500,000 downloads so far. People seem interested.
So is the USA behind? No, but we do need to experiment even more. Nintendo reminds us of that with every new game it delivers. It also means that when the best Chinese and Korean developers build their games with an eye on the world market, you can expect them to be much more popular here.
Mass market is all about regular people. We need to find out what they like and address that need. When given choices they like, people will take them. When skateboarders found out Tony Hawk was out, they flocked to it, as it gave them a real choice of a skateboarding game. When girls who love puppies saw Nintendogs, they couldn’t wait to try it, even if they’d never played games before. Say there’s a great fly-fishing MMO. You might think that idea sucks for a game, but if fly-fishing is your thing, you can bet they’ll be firing it up and telling their fisherman friends. So, after my trips to Asia and seeing them making the rods to fish with for their MMOs, you can expect an EXPLOSION of new ideas, and people taking more and more risks as they embrace the mass market.
Some people think mass market means you have to dumb games down. I see it as people who just haven’t found something specific to them that’s attractive enough to step into this expensive hobby. I think that’s going to change with the new waves of free to play games, and that at the same time, we ‘ll remove the second barrier, price.