DEC. 6, 2013 • After 18 months of release in South Korea NCsoft’s Blade & Soul entered open beta in China to great success with more than 150 million users registered. The martial arts-themed MMO was heavily localized for the Chinese market by Tencent Holdings Limited, with ambitious voice acting in Mandarin and art changes in order to soften the 18-plus rating the game carries in Korea. During the recent closed beta Tencent had increased the number of servers from 19 to 33, and for open beta had secured 100 servers. That number proved insufficient to meet demand and in the first week capacity was increased to 170 servers. Unlike in Korea where Blade and Soul requires a subscription, in China the MMO is free to play with primary monetization coming from a cash shop. Membership subscriptions are also available for seven days, 30 days, and 90 days. Those who subscribe receive benefits such as enhanced character stats, special avatars and unique titles.
Impact: There is no shortage of ambitious fantasy MMOs made in China these days, but consumers there have shown quite a fondness for Korean titles over the years. Korea remains a politically safe conduit for the latest Asian popular culture – a role Japan used to fulfill until relations between Beijing and Tokyo soured in recent years. And in many ways Korean MMOs still set the bar for quality – all from a complementary Asian culture. Efforts taken to localize Blade and Soul for the China market may have been major but really not much needs to be done because there are few downsides with rank-and-file gamers to playing a Korean MMO. Blade and Soul is a perfect fit for the Chinese market given the martial arts subject matter. Another NCsoft MMO, Aion, also went to China first through Shanda Interactive Entertainment in 2009. Back then there was some local griping that the CryEngine-based MMO required beefier computer resources to run than many of the systems owned by Chinese gamers. We suspect that’s not such an issue at the end of 2013, despite the fact that Blade and Sword was built on Unreal engine technology that can also require robust computer resources to run well. Aion also started out hot, but Chinese gamers soon cooled on the MMO after the closed beta when it was no longer free to play and they were forced to pay by the hour. Not wanting to repeat that result with Blade and Soul, Tencent wisely made the game free to play with subscription as an option. Interestingly, when Tencent detailed how it would monetize Blade and Soul mid-year, there was a vocal outcry in South Korea calling on NCsoft to take the MMO free to play there. We suspect one reason why we have heard little about the Western release of Blade and Soul comes from the question of whether the title should appear with the F2P model or not. Whether it is Asia, North America, or Europe, the subscription-only model has struggled.