The main characters in NCsoft’s massive multiplayer online role-playing game Blade & Soul are seen in this photo. The new game is quickly catching up with Blizzard’s Diablo 3 in popularity since it started its open beta test on Thursday. / Courtesy of NCsoft
By Cho Mu-hyun
NCsoft’s new massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Blade & Soul started an open beta test Thursday and was virtually level with Blizzard’s Diablo 3 in popularity over the weekend.
According to game research firm Gametrics, as of Sunday morning, Blade & Soul held 17.38 percent for Internet cafe user time, only just behind Diablo 3’s 18.42 percent.
On the opening day of the beta test, Blade & Soul held 17.93 to be in second place in the domestic arena. The number rose to 18.04 percent as of Saturday morning.
Diablo 3, which has held the top spot for five consecutive weeks since its launch on May 15, has lost more than 3 percentage points in just three days to 18.42 percent on Sunday from 22.14 percent on Thursday.
Prior to the release of Blade & Soul, user time at Internet cafes for the American game has been in the 30 percent range giving it an undisputed lead despite complaints and a government agency investigation over its product return policy and poor server management.
NCsoft’s new game marked 150,000 simultaneous users for the opening day of the test, and the firm increased the number of servers from 15 to the current 30 to accommodate the traffic. As each server can manage up to 10,000 subscribers, at least 200,000 are speculated to be online at the same time. The previous company record for opening day users was 100,000 by the firm’s Aion launched in 2008.
Blade & Soul takes place in a martial-arts-themed fantasy world where characters fight each other and in-game monsters and has four playable races and six classes. According to company CEO Kim Taek-jin, it has a distinctive “Korean characteristic” compared to other Western culture-themed role-playing games currently out there. The firm plans to open servers overseas as well, starting with China in August.
NCsoft has invested over 55 billion won ($46.9 million) for five years on the new game and is betting hard on its success to end its current decline in revenue for the past 40 months, according to the company. Over 100 voice actors participated to create some 800 fictional in-game characters, with 330,000 people applying for the three closed beta tests prior to the open one.
Industry sources say the current performance of the game is also nullifying the numerous controversies surrounding NCsoft. Its chief executive sold most of his shares to domestic rival Nexon below market price and is yet to provide a concrete motive for the move.
The firm also announced Wednesday plans to get rid of money-losing departments, instigating rumors that new majority shareholder Nexen is speeding up the process of a complete takeover.
NCsoft’s stock price was in the 400,000 won range earlier in the year, which declined steeply to around 200,000 won following the revelation of its first quarter operating profits, which dropped 64 percent year-to-year. Experts expect the price to rise again.
“MMORPGs which charge monthly usually start commercialization within one to two weeks after launching an open beta test,” said Kim Chang-kwan, an analyst at Daewoo Securities. “Blade & Soul will likely hit the revenue record of (an annual) 240 billion won that Aion reaped.”
NH Securities Kim Jin-goo predicted a similar outcome saying, “though the (company’s performance for the) second quarter was lackluster, due to the release of the new game, it will see a substantial improvement in numbers for the second half.”
The much-hyped Diablo 3 recorded user occupancy in Internet cafes of over 40 percent when it launched in May and recorded over 430,000 simultaneous users on June. 1, according to Blizzard Korea, but is suffering from decline in popularity due to impending lawsuits and the rise of Blade & Soul.