In many respects, watching the MMO industry in Asia is a litmus test of sorts for the western markets. While the preferred game mechanics of your average Korean MMO, for instance, differ markedly from what a North American MMO gamer expects from a title, the broader ideas -- in terms of business models -- represent what may yet be for those of us in North America, Europe, and Australia. So when industry leaders aren't doing well in their primary market, it may not bode well for their smaller titles running in other regions of the world.
We've come across an interesting piece in The Korea Times about some sea changes in Korea's MMO industry, focusing on NCsoft as well as its competitors -- Nexon, Webzen, and Hanbitsoft. We've previously reported that the Aion: The Tower of Eternity beta has, thus far, been quite a success in Korea and is perhaps a ray of hope for NCsoft in some troubled times. NCsoft's fiscal health is a big issue for fans of City of Heroes, Guild Wars, Tabula Rasa, and Lineage II, among others. So it comes as good news that NCsoft has nearly 200,000 concurrent users playing Aion: The Tower of Eternity in beta. The Korea Times, however, describes the country's MMO industry as being in a state of flux.
While NCsoft's Aion ascends, Nexon's ZerA has fallen from grace, but that hasn't stopped the company from doing something surprisingly... noble. "The company will yank ZerA, a role-playing game that took three years and 10 billion won (about $7.5 million) to develop, at the end of January and is preparing to repay users who own paid items," Kim Tong-hyung writes for The Korea Times.
Despite going out with class, ZerA's demise is significant to the Korean MMO industry, the title having been hailed in the past as one of the 'big three' titles in the market, according to Kim. So what will fill the vacuum? "With the paucity of excitement becoming alarmingly evident on the local gaming scene, all eyes, and prayers, are on Aion, which NCsoft has declared the heir apparent to its iconic role-playing series,"Lineage,'' Kim adds.
In news that may be worrying to Tabula Rasa players, Kim writes that NCsoft "is now reluctantly discussing whether to pull the plug on "Tabula Rasa,'' developed by famed game developer Richard Garriott and the product of a seven-year, 100 billion won investment. Tabula Rasa is now looking more and more like a monumental bust, earning less than four billion won in the first-half of this year. NCsoft can ill-afford having another expensive project blow up in its face."
The question remains: Will Aion: The Tower of Eternity revitalize NCsoft's fortunes by injecting something fresh into the industry's current array of titles, and will gamers worldwide view Aion in as positive a light as NCsoft is presenting it?