29 December 2012

And so, the Age of the West declines & the Age of the East dawns

Mists of Pandaria character at WoW event
Sorry, indulge me. I'm headlining in portentous MMO gamespeak!

I've been reading the 2013 predictions for the online MMO game industry in 2013 from Massively staff, and it highlights a trend that I've been aware off for some time.

In the 20th century, America was the hub of English language culture through Hollywood, TV and the media, and from its dominant position, it's been the hub for much of the non-English speaking world too, particularly in Europe.

But two things, of varying importance, have changed: China (+ neighbours) is on the rise and Generation Z are upon us.

My son, 17 this month, is Generation Z. As I write, he is sitting on the sofa in a non-stop Skype conversation with his friends while they play FIFA 13 football together on the Xbox and simultaneously share posts & videos on Facebook (on his laptop) and SMS messages (on his iPhone).

The big TV in front of him (I rarely get to use it) is not for TV. He doesn't watch TV.

It has long been argued that online games are overtaking movies (Ars Technica 2007, The Guardian 2009), although maybe not as quickly as predicted (MVC 2012). I don't think traditional TV & movies will be entirely usurped (although trends such as Bollywood & Scandinavian Noir are steadily chipping away at American hegemony), but, quickly or slowly, the online game world is becoming more and more significant to people with a pulse.

... and the online games world appears to be shifting to the East.

Massive Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) may have started in the developer/design studios of California, but the industry quickly spread out. In the early days, Korea in particular, with its fibre-optic network (when in the UK we had woad on our faces and 58k dial-up modems!), created a huge MMO culture with games like Lineage, even though most people in the 'West' think that World of Warcraft (WoW) is the king of MMOs.

WoW subscriptions peaked somewhere over 12 million a couple of years ago, they are now around 10m players and trickling away. The content of its fourth and latest (Sep 2012) expansion is very revealing. The Mists of Pandaria introduces yet another continent and race to the World of Warcraft - Panda bears with martial arts skills.



A little odd for American & European players whose cultural references are Nordic poems, Arthurian legends, Grimm's fairytales and Tolkein's sagas all resulting in a world of wizards & warriors, elves, humans, dwarves and orcs... not kung fu pandas! The reason of course, is that Blizzard (WoW's maker) wants to attract more Chinese and Korean players.

That same re-alignment of MMO gaming focus to the Far East is what struck me in the 2013 predictions from Massively. The one major game title all the predictions mention is ArcheAge, due for release next summer. Its Chinese parentage is unmistakable.



Don't get me wrong. I welcome it. I like the cultural transition. It's exotic and exciting (well, apart from the pandas!), but what I'm noting is that; what before was the whiff of a trend, is now firming up into a clear cultural transition.

Even the mighty World of Tanks with its 40+ million players* (Americans, East Europeans and Russians love it) has just introduced Chinese tanks!


Image: Flickr/andytb

* The business model of MMOs is also changing. Traditionally they charged a subscription to play. Now many/most are free to play (F2P) but charge for in-game equipment, resources, or other premium services/abilities. So the 'number of players' (some may have tried it once) can't easily be compared to current subscribers.

No comments: