Aion, NCsoft’s online game
By Kim Tong-hyung
The iconic role-playing series, Lineage, pushed NCsoft into the club of the world's top-tier computer game companies. The company is now hoping that its new massive multiplayer online (MMO) game, ``Aion,'' will allow it to stay there.
Despite all the success the company has had over the past decade, industry watchers have questioned whether NCsoft could continue to produce games that are truly transcendent among both Asian and Western gamers.
Although titles such as Lineage allowed NCsoft to garner a massive following in China and other Asian markets, the company has never managed to duplicate that level of success in North America and Europe, markets where it has been a visible player but not quite a dominant one.
However, the early sales figures in the U.S. suggest that Aion may give NCsoft its best shot yet to shake the hierarchy of the Western gaming industry and cement its status as a heavyweight.
Since going live in North America and Europe in September, Aion has been the top personal computer (PC) game based on retail sales in the U.S., edging global hits such as Electronic Arts' The Sims 3, Atari's Champions Online and Blizzard's World of Warcraft, according to U.S. market researcher NPD.
Although exact figures weren't available, NCsoft executives estimate that Aion has surpassed 700,000 in sales in the U.S. and Europe, and will touch the 1 million mark by the end of the year.
The company started with 12 servers each in the U.S. and Europe at the start of Aion's commercial service last month, but was operating 14 servers in the U.S. and 16 servers in Europe a week later. This indicates that the game was getting as much as 150,000 concurrent users in those markets.
``We have just begun expanding Aion to global markets, and we are encouraged by the early performances in each market. The consumer response in North America and Europe is particularly meaningful,'' said an NCsoft official.
``Online games are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., where console games have previously ruled, but computer games are beginning to crave out their own place. In terms of game quality, including graphic, sound, game play and plot, we believe we set the industry bar.''
Aion's success was considered critical for NCsoft's reputation among Western gamers, as the company has been looking to recover from the 100 billion-won (about $83 million) flop that was Richard Garriott's ``Tabula Rasa.''
It took the company seven years to put Tabula Rasa on the market, but only 15 months to pull the plug, which it did earlier this year while cutting ties with Garriott as well.
Garriott, the renowned game developer and recent space tourist, has since sued his former employer for fraud to the tune of $24 million.
The $24 million is a little more than the 25 billion won (about $21 million) NCsoft invested to create Aion, which unlike Tabula Rasa, is clearly punching above its weight.
Establishing a stronger presence in the North American and European markets would be important for NCsoft due to growing uncertainties in China, where network security issues and a protectionist government, which is looking to foster a local game industry at the expense of foreign players, could be a problem down the road.
Should Aion continue to build on its early momentum, this will help NCsoft generate buzz for its next big role-playing release, ``Blade and Soul,'' which is expected to be unveiled sometime during the later part of next year.