Not only is the existing model too boring, the ideas on what the genre is - or could be - are frustratingly limited. "There's the phrase 'massively multiplayer online role-playing game and sometimes the word persistent thrown in there. If you add all that up, that really narrows the interpretation of what online games can be." That definition is "way too narrow." Rather than thinking of "online" as a particular genre, like sports or shooters, "online" should be "a technology. It is the technology to, instead of having AI characters in there to deal with, you have other real people to deal with, and whether you're doing it socially, or you're doing it on the same team, or you're doing it competitively, that's a tool by which you can now provide entertainment."

In the future, Richard thinks designers will finally take the step of saying, "Let's not worry about the model that UO, EQ and WoW have repeated and solidified and refined. How can we now provide these experiences that people will really appreciate and enjoy more?" Is finding those models difficult? "I really don't think they're that hard," he answers, "I just think people haven't had a chance to turn to them yet."

While Richard is "Lord British," the game designer, his brother Robert is the business-focused President of NCsoft-North America. Robert puts it succinctly, "He talks about changing the future in terms of game design. My standpoint is when I look at it in terms of, you know, genre and business model, and where I think companies are going to be taking this.

"Two things. One is, the only successful online game anywhere in the world was roleplaying, but the other is that until recently, there were no companies with more than one online roleplaying game that were successful. Our belief was that: One, we have to really expand the genres to grow the market. The other is that there's a value to having multiple products within one portfolio.

"And so you might ask how is that going to change things," he says, beating the question and continuing on. "That's sort of the impetus behind what we've been doing, in terms of trying to develop a whole portfolio of supporting and different products. A long time ago, we looked at the business, and we said churn is the biggest expense for our business, just like a telephone business." Churn is industry lingo for turnover rate, the number of people who leave a game each month. "If you switch your [phone] carrier, it's a giant cost and lots of people churn very rapidly. And in the online game space, basically, people churn every ten months.

"So you play it, you like it, you stay for ten months, and then you leave," he says. Rather than fighting what they saw as an obvious industry trend, NCsoft decided to go a different way and embrace it. "As games become more casual, churn rates go up. So, we knew the churn rates were going up, so we started saying, well, how can we make churn our friend? Because there's nothing we can really do to stop the fact that churn is going up. Interestingly, if you're a single product company, you can never make churn your friend," because people leaving your one cash cow undermines your entire company.

NCsoft's strategy of diversification not only made the detrimental force of churn into a friend, it also allows them to think of the 800 pound gorilla of the industry as a friend. As Robert said when the name came up, "We view World of Warcraft as a great product for us, and the reason is, they bring a lot of people into this game space, and every ten months, they're going to churn onto something else. In fact, every subscriber that they have today is probably different, for the most part, than the ones they had originally." Departing players may leave the genre entirely if the experience was bad, or they may stick around in the online gaming space if they had a good experience. Robert sums up NCsoft's dilemma as, "We know that churn to Blizzard is bad, because if they lose somebody, they lose somebody. And if that rate goes up, they lose more people. How can we change that?"

RELATED CONTENT
Comments on