Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Can NCSoft gain more of a following in the West?

NCSoft released their financial records a couple weeks ago and there were a couple of surprising things contained within. The number one bit of data most discussed was that revenue wise Tabula Rasa only brought in 5.4 million dollars. City of Heroes/Villains brought in the same amount of money which either speaks highly of that game or poorly of Tabula Rasa. At the moment I'm kind of mad that I paid 45$ before Christmas for TR only to find a collector's edition on sale for 15$ this month. The game is a lot of fun but I detect the note of desperation starting to permeate the servers. I try not to think about the words "Auto Assault" when I'm playing but they do tend to echo in my head.

It’s hard to believe the last two new games released by NCSoft have fallen flat on their faces. Only the excellent expansions for Guild Wars have given NCSoft any real penetration into the North American market. The two Lineage games remain popular in Korea but haven't been widely played in Europe or North America. Both games only contain a small fraction of players from the west despite heavy marketing when Lineage 2 first came out. City of Heroes maintains a decent base over 100,000 judging by their revenue but it’s a ticking time bomb. Cryptic Studios has already announced Champions Online and thanks to Marvel/Microsoft dropping out of the picture they now have the power to really go wild with the development.

The one big release planned by NCSoft for this year is Aion the aerial combat MMO. In this game players assume the role of angel like creatures who are at war with dragons. Sounds interesting and different from almost every other North American MMO being released this year. Unfortunately, you can't ignore that fact that Tabula Rasa and Auto Assault were both hyped as unique experiences also. Apparently while NCSoft is very good at thinking outside the box they aren't that good at developing depth of play. Still the art looks very good, like most of their games, and the widespread use of flying mounts in World of Warcraft might have interested some players in aerial combat.

Despite Aion I still think NCSoft's best bet is to concentrate on developing Guilds Wars 2 for the North American market. A lot of gamers are still against paying subscriptions and that’s a prime target for a box sale only game. Instead though I bet they'll focus on a couple more free to play games like Dungeon Runners with alternative methods of payment. North America has been pretty resistant to non subscription games and most free to play models fail since western gamers just tend to ignore the premium accounts and micro-transaction parts of the game. In fact only Maplestory and Runescape have made strides into the U.S. and constant debates are waged on how much money they actually make and their true popularity.

Guild Wars 2 is just a good decision since it's as far as I know one of the only games that follows the box only payment method which means it has an audience which isn't being attracted to other games this year. Also one of the big complaints about Guild Wars was its lack of a persistent world and overuse of instances. ArenaNet is planning on changing these issues and a few other things in Guild Wars 2 to make it more like a MMO. I don't know why but I swear NCSoft games always tend to concentrate too much on instancing and are constantly making me keep track of zone names and numbers. Despite making me hate instances I like NCSoft since they are obviously willing to try other genres besides fantasy. However, if Aion fails spectacularly with all the big name games rolling out this year it could be a very bleak future for NCSoft in the west.


Cow Nose the 50 Pound Cat said...

I am an Aion fanboy so take what I say with a grain of salt.

Aion looks to be a amazing game, simply because of its new looks at PvP. Hopefully it will be like Lineage 2 with flying. Lineage 2 is a great PvP game, and actually is one of the few games with absolutely no instances!

The main reason why Aion's instances probably won't be as much of an issue, is because in order to facilitate PvP many areas will have the two combat sides facing eachother. They have talked about small groups of player being able to ambush another group and things like that, ie: limited pvp in "regular" combat zones (not the hardcore Abyss area, which should be hardly instanced at all)

We'll have to see, but I'm definitly excited about Aion. Main reason is because its a total Korean MMO and despite its sucess in North America it should still be a great game, caus' I got a thing for the good Kroean MMOs and their art style.

Relmstein said...

If NCSoft's strongest charteristic its that they don't do bad artwork. Aion does look beautiful but this year is already crowded with some very big MMO releases. Combine this with TR and AA both getting less then stellar reviews it could negatively affect how many people try Aion.

At least Aion is set in a more traditional fantasy world which the market seems more comfortable with then science fiction.