NCSoft’s journey to the West

Alex Calvin
NCSoft’s journey to the West

In its native Korea, NCSoft is one of the top three games publishers alongside rivals, Nexon and SmileGate.

The firm has long had a presence in the West, and has been behind MMO titles such as Guild Wars and WildStar.

But now the company is looking to accelerate its growth in the West by expanding the products it'll have on offer. The firm is making a considerable investment in mobile and tablet gaming with two game developers: the Canadian ThisGameStudio and a new currently-unnamed outfit in San Mateo, California.

Mobile is a natural evolution of what we are doing as a company,” NCSoft West SVP of publishing and business services John Burns says.

If we're are going to look to grow and be more successful in the West, then mobile is a space we need to be active in. One of the core components is the desire to bring premium, high-quality games to mobile.”

NCSoft is also working on bringing one of its Korean MMO properties, Blade and Soul, to the West. But there have been a few high profile failures in the MMO market. Even the genre's poster child World of Warcraft has lost large numbers of subscribers. So how does Burns view the health of MMO gaming?

"If we are going to look to grow and be
more successful in the West, then mobile
is a space we need to be active in."

John Burns, NCSoft West

You have to look at it through the lens of the PC market, and that's growing,” Burns says. It's a very engaging platform. And we see it as a continued part of our portfolio. It depends on the products you focus on, but really across the platform and across the product portfolio, there are successes out there and a lot of opportunities in that market.”

Blade and Soul is being released as a free-to-play product. It's not NCSoft's first free-to-play title. In fact, WildStar went from subscription fees to free earlier this year. Some media state this was due to disappointing sales of WildStar, but Burns refutes this.

WildStar has done very well. We're very happy with its performance,” he says. In January, we started to talk about what WildStar's next step would be. We listen to our player base and make changes and requests based on what they are asking us for. One of the top requests we had was to change the business model. The transition to free-to-play is a reply to that.

If you look at the film industry, as a movie transitions through its lifecycle, it ends up on cable or on download and that's just seen as a natural expansion to a larger audience. That's what the games industry is doing with a lot of different initiatives. Even in mobile, where it used to be paid, and now is mostly free-to-play. That's what we're seeing with WildStar.”

Burns says that Blade and Soul will be one of many brands that will make the leap from Korea to the West – but doing so is not without its own set of challenges.

Part of our strategy will be bringing more IP from Korea to the West,” Burns says. Lineage Eternal – one of our biggest IP – will also launch in the West. There'll be more of that.

When bringing games to the West, you've got the translation challenges, but then you also have to make the content local. You need to make some changes that means you stay true to the core parts of the game and what makes the game fun, but give Western audiences a bit more of what they may like. Then you have the whole positioning and marketing effort. But frankly what you need is a great game. If you have that, then those other elements become easier to deal with.”

What's more, NCSoft is hoping to bring Korean hits from rival publishers to the West.

As part of our acceleration that expanding our product flow is going to be important,” Burn explains. We have ThisGameStudio, and you can expect that we'll have more of that. We are also going to look to partner, invest and help bring other developers globally and launch their products in the West.”

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