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Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Sorry, for not keeping up with the post, I do have a regular job and it gets pretty busy lately.
First, some old information:
The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) said July 17, 2009 that its content checks into NTES's MMORPG World of Warcarft (WoW) is almost complete. GAPP said that GAPP has found some violent content which needs to be revised but that this should prove no difficulty for game companies.
My guess is this will only be 2 to 3 weeks of more work before it is approved by GAPP.
But GAPP is not the only government agencies that NTES needs to get approval. Ministry of Culture's approval is also required. Today, 7/21/2009, NTES obtained this approval. See the following article:
The following picture is the image from the web site of Ministry of Culture:
At this point, it is pretty clear that NTES will start operating WOW within 2 to 3 weeks. This delay had nothing to do with what NCTY's law suit. This is what I predicted from my last post.
Finally, my last post had a couple of comments that disagree with my prediction. First, thank to the commenter for your opinion, even if you are disagreeing with me. As long as you don't resort to personal insult, your comments are welcome. Viewers are especially encouraged to view the comments section to get other points of views.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Previously, NTES and Blizzard had a joint statement saying that they will start to operate WOW at the end of June. Clearly, they are not able to do it.
NTES issued a public apology to Chinese users:
In it, NTES didn’t specify the reason for the delay. It also didn’t say when WOW will be re-opened.
President of Blizzard said it (the interruption) is not a big deal:
But the unknown is not good. Finally, the portals got hold of the relevant government department and interviewed the person who is in charge of the approval process:
According to the person (a mid level bureaucrat) in charge of the approval process, government has up to 20 days to approve the application. But it also has up to 60 days to inspect the content of the game.
I believe there was a misunderstanding between NTES/Blizzard with the Chinese government. NTES probably thought since WOW had already been approved for NCTY, government no longer need time to inspect its content.
Therefore, NTES thought it only has to wait for up to 20 days before it got government approval. Thus, it and Blizzard made the announcement for restarting the game by the end of June.
But now, it is clear that the (up to) 60 working days of inspection is needed. Maybe the government thought there are a lot of new content being added for WOW between now and the time NCTY first submitted a few years ago, that a new review is warranted.
What does this mean? It has to be good news to SNDA’s AION. NTES’s TX2 will probably benefit from it also.
But overall, it is a temporary bad news for NTES. But does this have long term negative effect on the popularity of WOW in China? No, not at all. As long as WOW is the number 1 game in the west, its place in China is secured.
But it does means NTES will have to forgo a part of the summer season to make money from WOW.
Two other observations can be made here. First, this delay has nothing to do with the suits filed by NCTY against Blizzard. This explains the complete silence of NTES over the conflict between NCTY and Blizzard. That conflict doesn’t affect NTES at all.
The second observation is that it is clear now that if any foreign game companies want to change Chinese partner, even if it is perfectly legal under contract, he will have a high price to pay. Chinese government made certain of that.
Finally, will the full approval process last another 60 working days? I seriously doubt it. WOW had already been approved and people of playing it for long time already. If the government disapproves it, that means it disapproves something it already approved before. It is a slap on its own face. It also won’t take close to 60 days to approve it. It looks bad on them for being so inefficient. Finally, they really don’t need that long to inspect something they already inspected already.
Monday, June 29, 2009
First, it is going to forbid the exchange of in-game currency to the real currency. This has to be a bad news to Tencents game and SNDA. Both of these companies have very active in-game currency.
But there is a silver lining. This regulation might help to crack down on pirate servers and bots.
I will describe the main point of the above article. Many bots companies use in-game bots to get in-game items and experience points. It then converts them to in-game currency. They then convert the in-game currency to the real money.
I don’t know how effective this regulation will help cracking down on the pirate servers and bots. But if it can largely eliminate the bots, it will help out many games greatly. Many games are destroyed because of the proliferation of the bots. Many games are barely surviving because of the infestation of the bots.
Another important new regulation is that the lottery box might be outlawed.
The lottery box might be considered as a form of gambling and gambling is illegal in China. I will describe the working of lottery box using an example. Player A wants a very precious sword. He can buy that sword with $100 through the in-game store. Or he can spend $1 to buy a lottery box. When he opens that lottery box, there is a 1% chance that the precious sword is in the box.
Therefore, the theory behind it is very similar to lottery in the US. I have no idea if this shall be considered as a form of gambling or not. But I do know this effect can’t be neglected.
GA is the first company that uses this concept. It caught fire right away. Now everybody does it.
This regulation will affect every company that use free-to-play item-based model. That means every company except NTES.
It is a good thing that this regulation comes at this time. If it comes 1 year ago, it could really devastate a lot of companies. But as players get more and more used to the concept of lottery box, they are being used less and less. It is becoming less of a feature for the game companies. As a matter of fact, GA just announced that they will stop using lottery box altogether (to meet this regulation):
Now, I will summarize the effects of these regulations. The stoppage of in-game currency to real currency will negatively affect Tencent and SNDA games. Outlawing the lottery box will negatively affect all item-based games. Therefore, all Chinese gaming companies (except NTES) will be negatively affected. Most of NTES’s games revenues come from time-based games that are not affected. Finally, if the regulation can contribute to the elimination of the bots and pirate servers, it will greatly benefit all game companies.
Monday, June 15, 2009
One can find my previous article on WOW here:
On 6/7/2009, the operation of WOW in China was officially transferred from NCTY to NTES. NTES then start to submit to Chinese government for the approval to operate WOW.
It is required to get approval from four levels of government agencies, the Culture Department, the local level News Department, the provincial level News Department, and the National News Department.
NTES announced that it will start to operate WOW starting at the end of July, see the following:
Some Wall Street analysts doubted that it would happen that fast.
From the following article:
NTES had already received the approval from the first three departments (Beijing city News department counts as two levels of departments). It only needs one more department to go. In a period of one week, it had already gone through ¾ of the way.
It is looking more and more likely that NTES is going to start operating WOW by the latter part of June. This is definitely a good news.
Finally, for one who wants to see the official government questions and answers regard to this subject, go to the following (the link might not be there for long though):
Sunday, June 14, 2009
I am still going to go through every NTES’s new game development, as some of you requested. But in the last few days there are two very important news stories that I shall address.
First, from the following two articles:
CEO of NTES sold 2 million shares of stocks. It corresponds to 1.6% of the outstanding share capital and just about one day's worth of trading volume. It definitely is a lot of money. But the CEO still have a lot of shares in NTES, he held 46.3% of the company as of March 2008.
This is definitely not good news. This could be neutral in that he just needed the money now. Maybe he needs the money to start his pig farm. Maybe he needs the money to bride some Chinese government department. It could be many reasons why he just need the money now.
It is also equally possible that he felt NTES’s price represents a top (either short term or long term) and he is trying to cash out before the stock goes down.
I don’t know which case it is. But both represent legitimate cases.
In another development, NTES is currently embroiled in an ugly rumor. A blog reports that a disgruntled NTES employee is accusing NTES of neglect XYQ in favor of its hot new game, Blizzard’s WOW. See the following article:
Of course, it makes no sense. NTES got majority of its revenue from XYQ. Even with the addition of WOW, NTES will get more revenue from XYQ than from WOW. NTES is definitely not going to throw away its cash cow in XYQ.
In China, different game companies sling outrageous accusations against each other (through anonymous sources). This is no different. This accusation is so outrageous that it is not going to stick. But it does require announcement from NTES to dispel the rumor. Sure enough, the CEO of NTES made an official announcement the next day, on 6/11/2009. The following is the announcement from the CEO of NTES:
The announcement said that the rumor is completely false. It turns out that this employee doesn’t even exist. So the story ends there. It has no effect on the stock what so ever. So why am I mentioning about this story. Well, I found gold nugget in the most unlikely places. I just found one. In the second paragraph of his announcement, in order to emphasize how ridiculous the accusation is, he said the following:
“…..I want to tell everybody, at this point in time, every products of our gaming department are at their peak. Our old products are growing stably. In addition, our new products are beyond our expectation. ….”
I find the above statement extremely significant. The CEO of NTES is very media shy. Every statements he had made regards NTES had proven to be true. He would have never make statement like this except for this exceptional case. NTES made $114 millions in 1st quarter 2009. The analysts’ estimate for the 2nd quarter is $120 millions. Therefore, analyst’s estimates only reflect the stable growth of the old games. It doesn’t capture the unexpected strong growth of the new games.
On the surface, this contradicts with the first story (the selling of NTES’s CEO stocks represents a temporary top). Actually, it doesn’t have to be.
I know exactly what the NTES’s CEO means about their new product(s) is(are) beyond expectation. TX2 and XYW are growing fine. But the game he is talking about is the new FF.
I talked about this game in my last three articles. The popularity of this game definitely caught NTES by surprise (Interestingly, I was not surprised). As I mentioned in my previous articles, NTES provided very little marketing prior to the commercialization of the game. After the game goes commercial, as the game becoming more and more popular, NTES is doing major marketing for this game right now.
Starting this week, NTES is putting ads on all major game verticals for new FF. It is sending all its ground sales teams to internet cafes to promote this game.
This represents major expenditure that was not expected. Since new FF is an item-based game. It is not going to starting to make major money until the third quarter. The net effect is in the second quarter, there will be more expense for NTES. On top of that, the majority of WOW’s expense will probably occur in the second quarter.
The net result is there will be big expenses in the second quarter. At this point, no Wall Street analyst mentioned anything about the new FF. The great success of new FF is completely under everybody’s radar screen. Thus, nobody is going to know about this extra expense.
In the intermediate term (starting 3rd quarter 2009) and long term, NTES is going to surprise everybody on the upside. But in the short term, there might be negative surprise in that there might be more expenses than expected for the 2nd quarter.
In a nutshell, by combining the two stories, we can make the following conclusions. If the CEO of NTES just wants some money now, the stock of NTES will have great upside surprise in the intermediate and long term. If the CEO of NTES sold his stock because he is worry about expenses in the 2nd quarter, the stock of NTES will have temporary top in the short term but have great upside surprise in the intermediate and long term.
Thus, in the short term, it is either neutral or negative. But in the long term, this stock is tremendously undervalued.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Now, I want to talk about the progress of this game. New FF went into Open Beta on 5/15/2009. Because it is an item-based free-to-play game, Open Beta means commercialization.
In keeping with NTES’s curious tradition, there is virtually no marketing effort for this game at all. About one week before the Open Beta, NTES began put some advertisement on 5 or 6 2nd tier game portals. As a result, new FF had an extremely underwhelming Open Beta. On the date of Open Beta, new FF only opened 4 new servers.
In comparison, SNDA started advertising for AION almost a year before the game went into commercialization. It had a terrific marketing campaign. On the date of its commercialization, it opened 80 new servers!
An example of how little marketing NTES is willing to spend for new FF, it won’t even put big banner ad on its own portal (www.163.com). What is even more interesting is that after the Open Beta, when it is clear that new FF is going to be a hit, NTES starts to put big banner ads in prominent locations on its portal.
This is got to be some kind of record. Maybe ABC should start marketing for NBA Finals after the games have finished, or maybe Toyota should market its 2010 Prius car in 2011.
One can find the promotional video for the new FF below:
, and the game is being advertised as the game for the 90’s new women.
I consider that as a brilliant marketing strategy. This game is pushed as a game for young women. It will have a lot of 18 to 25 years old young women. That will in turn attracts loads of 20 to 30 years old young men spending money like mad to please these young women.
At this point, there are three major in-game tournaments. The first is the fashion show tournament. The second is a tournament to find the best in-game photo/graphics. The third is the group warfare tournament. As one can see, two is catered to young women and one is catered to young men.
The following table provides the number of servers with respect to the date:
Number of Servers
From my previous articles, players had been playing the old FF for free for almost 4 years. The 20 servers are there to support the legacy players. On 4/26/2009, NTES announced that new FF will have Open Beta on 5/15/2009.
Due to the lack of marketing, only 4 servers are added on the date of Open Beta. But the game is adding players extremely quickly. Barely three weeks into the Open Beta, new FF had already required the use of 50 game servers. If won’t surprise me if it had already achieved a PCU of 120k to 140k.
From the above table, this is a game that gathers popularity not based on marketing or hype, but based on words of mouth. This is what a game with extremely long run time looks like.
In comparison, NTES’s TX2 had been in unlimited Closed Beta for 1 year, it has 37 servers. NTES’s XYW had been in unlimited Closed Beta for 9 months, it has 31 servers. Both are reasonably successful mid-level games. But new FF will eventually be many times more popular than these two.
While SNDA’s AION exploded right off the gate, new FF is like a wild fire that is burning stronger and stronger. Its growth is limitless. While I have great expectation for AION, I predict new FF will be even more successful in the long run.
Now, a few pictures of the new FF’s development team members (not all of the members are in the following photos):
Notice how many women are on the team.
Finally, more in-game pictures:
Monday, June 8, 2009
In part 1, I gave the background of this game. One can find it here:
Right now, everybody is concentrated on WOW. WOW is a great game. It achieved a PCU of 1.02 million in 4Q2008. That is definitely a great achievement.
But guess what, there is another title under NTES that is even more popular. That game is XYQ and it had a PCU of 2.32 million!
If one compares XYQ with WOW, one can’t help but wonder how can XYQ, with its outdated graphics and juvenile cartoonish play style, be twice as popular as WOW. But that is just what Chinese players like.
Similarly, the two latest most popular titles, SNDA’s AION and NTES’s new FF occupies similar category as WOW and XYQ. AION is Korea’s answer to WOW. The new FF has the same cartoon like graphics and Q style playing feature. AION emphasizes combat while new FF is heavy into relationships.
New FF has a lot of similarity to XYQ. But there are also significant differences. New FF has western theme while XYQ is based on Chinese mythology. New FF is real time game while XYQ is turn based game. XYQ is 2D while new FF is a 3D game.
Don’t want to talk too much about in game features of this game. I am not into game like this. But I am more interested in how Chinese gamers like this game. Anyway, I don’t have much experience in playing this game. Let me just hit some major points.
Graphically, what can I say about this game. This game looks just like cartoon. It is much prettier than XYQ. That is to be expected since it is a much newer game. Graphically, this game can’t be compared to games like AION, WOW, or TX2. But that is to be expected because it is not suppose to be realistic looking.
It is a full-fledged 3D game. But because it is cartoon looking (a Q style game), it is very easy on game players’ computer. This game is playable on every computer. The camera angle can be either free floating or fixed. There are still a lot of gamers in China that are not used to play 3D games. Therefore, an option to allow user to fix the camera angle is very useful.
The control is pretty standard, use left hand W, A, S, D to control the movement and use the mouse to control the attack or action.
One unique feature for this game is the 3D combat. AION has 3D combat also. But players in AION can’t fly indefinitely; the character will start to drop to the ground after certain time. For new FF, there is no such limitation. I believe it is the first game in China that has unlimited flying feature. 3D combat is certainly interesting. A lot of time, you don’t even realize who had hit you as they come from players where your camera can’t see. It definitely takes a lot of practice to be good at 3D combat. At the beginning, you wish you have 4 hands, one hand controls the movement, one hand controls the camera angle, one hand control the attack and action, and one hand controls the skills. Eventually, one get better at it. This feature would definitely draw players in and keep them here once they got better at it.
But the biggest features are the romance and relationship related features. There are so many of those relationship-related features in this game. AION can’t touch new FF in this area at all. I am not big into relationship features so I am not going to elaborate on them. But one mischievous feature is that a player can just put another player (of the opposite sex) on his/her lover list. Therefore, it creates some interesting cases where a girl is married (in-game) to one guy while is on the lovers list of several other guys.
Similar to XYQ, new FF is a relationship based game. New FF is very similar to XYQ. XYQ has very interesting combat element thank to its turn-based feature. New FF has very interesting combat element thanks to its unlimited 3D combat. But in their cores, both games are relationship games.
In the next article, I am going to talk about the progress of this game. Now, some in-game pictures: