As smaller companies look for ways to compete with MMO giants like Activision Blizzard, many turn to the burgeoning free-to-play business model. But in the U.S., the space is becoming increasingly crowded, according to J. Mark Hood, co-founder of free-to-play MMO company Reality Gap.
"I think it is saturated here, and I think there's a real simple reason why most people [release free-to-play games]," he told Gamasutra
. "The basic reason is -- how do you compete with [the massive budgets] that Activision Blizzard and EA are doing right now? Unless you have a huge company and a huge amount of capital, there are not a lot of ways to do that."
Today, a lot of companies vying for their share of the online market enter the casual space, social gaming, lower-budget online games, or taking Asian MMOs and porting them over for Western audiences.
But porting, Hood said, poses problems. "One is just to get titles over here. That doesn't work anymore. In fact, I'm not sure that it ever really did, except in a few cases. But what you're really trying to do is look for a particular type of title, a really unique, cool title. They do exist, but it takes a lot of looking. A lot of looking."
Free-to-play MMO saturation isn't exclusive to the U.S., Hood said. "...The Korean market is super-saturated right now. It's just crazy...Over here, it's a little different... Good titles do really good, and bad titles don't do very good. I know there's been a lot of schlock where it's just sort of come over here."
"It's not just schlock," he said. "There are some good games that have come over here, but they weren't good necessarily for the U.S. market. A lot of things we've found, [like games based around] vanity items and things that are very, very popular in Asia...aren't necessarily as popular here."
"Things that are more important here are actually how the game plays, getting yourself more advancement and skill. So, it is really different."
For more about Hood's background in the games industry, the founding of Reality Gap with Nolan Bushnell, and the concept of running a virtual economy in an MMO with no item stores, read the full Gamasutra feature interview