The League of Legends is increasing its popularity in the Korean market to pose concerns to local online game developers.
According to research firm Gametrics, the League of Legends, developed by US-based Riot Games, has ranked first for 31 consecutive weeks in terms of the number of users playing games in local Internet cafes. Though the market share declined a little bit earlier this year due to local game studios’ release of new games, it has been over 30% for three weeks in a row this month, continuing its dominance in the Korean market.
It is online games developed by Korean companies, at a cost of dozens of billions of won in some cases, which have taken a direct hit. For example, XLGames’ ArchaeAge, which made its debut on the second day of this year, is currently ranked fifth in the market while MGame’s Yulhyulgangho, whose open beta service was released on January 10, is out of top 10. NCsoft’s Blade & Soul and the Aion are found on the top 10 list but the market share of the League of Legends alone is higher than the combined share of all online games developed by Korean studios.
Established back in 2006, Riot Games launched the game in the United States in October 2009 as its first product. Upon the release, it won rave reviews from a great number of game fans to emerge as a dark horse in the global market in the blink of an eye.
It topped the Korean market in just four months after its debut here in December 2011, too. Since then, it has been way ahead of all other online games here though it missed the top spot for a very short while right after the launch of large-scale games like the Blade & Soul and Diablo 3. At present, more than 12 million users are logging onto the game worldwide every day and the number of concurrent users has surpassed the three million mark recently.
The towering popularity is mainly because it is provided free of charge. Also, it arouses users’ interest by adding new game characters, called champions, whereas existing online games do so by means of regular large-scale updates. Some of the champions and their costume items are charged but users still can enjoy the game even without having to pay their money because the paid items have nothing to do with winning or losing but are just to add to users’ individuality. The number of champions has increased from 88 to 110 since its release.
In the meantime, the League of Legends’ smash hit is causing some change in the way local companies service their games. These days, an increasing number of users are resisting the monthly regular membership fees that have been their major profit model. NHN Hangame, in this vein, removed the fee for the Terra from 19,800 won per month earlier this year and CJ E&M Netmarble made the Rift a free service in November last year, six months after its release. NCsoft, on its part, made some of the characters in the Blade & Soul and the Aion free of charge as well. The trend of replacing the monthly fee with free access and certain paid items is spreading at a fast pace nowadays.
Industry experts are saying the popularity of the League of Legends will continue for a while with more and more Korean users are logging onto it and Riot Games coming up with more region-specific services for them considering Korea as the barometer of the global market. The US company has already presented the Ahri, a Korean-style character that borrowed its concept from the traditional fairy tale of Gumiho (nine-tailed fox), and the Shaco skin using the design of a Hahoe mask. Such localization efforts have brought it the Most Popular Online Game prize at Korea Game Award 2012 held by the Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism in 2012, which was quite unprecedented for non-Korean game studios.
“Local firms are trying to make a breakthrough by means of new games and various special events but things are unfavorable for them,” said a market watcher, adding, “Korean game companies, which are already suffering enough from the government’s strict regulations and the market slowdown, are getting more and more worried under the circumstances.”