Blade & Soul Comes West

The Blade & Soul logo in Chinese.

The Blade & Soul logo in Chinese.

MAY 20, 2015 • Three years after Blade & Soul appeared in South Korea, NCsoft Corp.’s martial arts MMO will migrate to Europe and North America. NCsoft West will operate the title in the new markets. The game has not only been successful within its home market but also phenomenally successful in China since 2013 in partnership with local publisher Tencent Holdings Limited. Blade & Soul was released in Japan and Taiwan in 2014. During a financial conference call on May 13, NCsoft chief financial officer Yoon Jae-soo said Blade & Soul is the company’s primary revenue driver and is anticipated to remain so until its action strategy MOBA, MXM, is released later this year in Korea, and tested in China. NCsoft also is working on mobile versions of Blade & Soul and Aion for Asia.  For the quarter ending March 31, NCsoft reported 188.1 billion won ($171.8 million) in sales revenue, up from 178.1 billion won ($162.6 million) for the same period last year.

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Impact: Blade & Soul is a huge title in Asia. As NCsoft’s standard-bearer it is understandable that there would be interest in bringing the MMO west. Yet Blade & Soul is a title that relies heavily on Asian mythology and cultural cues. It is one thing to localize the game in Mandarin with an audience that already relates to those elements, yet quite another to get traction with Western gamers. Square Enix, Namco, Tecmo, Konami and other Japanese firms have been successful at bringing Asian-themed console games to the U.S. and Europe, but the Japan market has never strongly embraced PC games and core computer players in the West never got a taste for Asian content on the platform until Korean titles were brought over. Unfortunately for NCsoft, the Aion and Lineage franchises never really took off in Europe or North America. To be fair, the cause runs deeper than culture. Korean MMO gamers are more accustomed to intense grinding during gameplay than their Western counterparts and that mechanic is difficult to change during localization. What could tip the scales for Blade & Soul is the title is a martial arts fighting/MMO hybrid, which puts it much closer to those Japanese console fighting games that have proven popular in the past. Blade & Soul also has excellent name recognition in the west, which will lead many gamers to have a look when the title becomes available.

MXM-SFor us, however, the title we are more interested in is the upcoming MXM, which stands for Master X Master. So far no contender has yet broken the lock League of Legends and Dota 2 have on the MOBA category. The genre is huge in Asia, and MXM’s use of heroes and monsters from NCsoft’s past franchises will add familiarity with consumers in the East. If MXM can make a dent in MOBA market share in Asia it will be a significant accomplishment. The game is not a true MOBA in that it will bring some PvE gameplay in addition to the standard PvP matchups, but this one still bears watching.