Almost all eyes in the games industry have turned to Asia in recent years. China is catching much of the world’s attention, but Japan and South Korea are also highly lucrative mobile markets.
South Korean developer Gravity, owned by Puzzle & Dragons publisher GungHo Entertainment, itself tried to make it big in China with the release of Ragnarok M: Eternal Love back in January 2017. The title is based on the original PC MMORPG Ragnarok Online, first released on PC in 2002.
But here, in one of the hottest games markets in the world, an MMORPG did not meet expectations. While it brought in a steady stream of revenue, it wasn't until nearly two years later, on October 31st 2018, that Ragnarok M saw a sudden and very significant boost in sales.
And that was thanks to its launch in Southeast Asia - a market that includes countries such as Indonesia and Thailand.
Southeast Asia boom
In Q3 2018, Gravity posted revenue of ₩44.2 million ($36.9m). In Q4, when Ragnarok M launched in Southeast Asia, sales rocketed to ₩113.2m ($94.5m).
Then in Q1 2019, upon adding North and South America to its list of territories, revenue hit ₩133.6m ($111.5m). That’s a three-times increase on Q3 2018 levels. (Note that the USD values are from current exchange rates as of September 5th 2019).
During this peak, Gravity claims the title was making as much as $50 million in monthly revenue in Southeast Asia alone.
While Southeast Asia has clearly been the top market for the game to date - it’s also available in South Korea and more recently in Japan - Gravity also says it’s been a number one ranking game in 30 countries, picking up 24 million downloads.
You can check out the charts below to get an indication of the scale of the company’s success in Southeast Asia and on mobile - which can be attributed to Ragnarok M. While the company claims to be multi-platform, it’s clear the majority of its business now lies in mobile - a fact reinforced but its upcoming lineup of various mobile launches and no new PC releases.
The success of the game has also been a huge boon for Gravity’s parent company GungHo (which owns a 59 per cent stake), a company that had long had declining revenues as Puzzle & Dragons faded over time (though it recently had its own sales surge).
Speaking to PocketGamer.biz at Gamescom, Gravity COO Yoshinori Kitamura said Ragnarok M has proven popular in Asia, given its low specification requirements and its integration with the BlueStacks Gaming Platform.
Despite the fact it’s a mobile title, it’s been optimised for PC as well. In Southeast Asia, 30 to 35 per cent of users are said to play using a keyboard and mouse, thanks to the BlueStacks integration.
Kitamura also said the mobile title has brought back lapsed players who have since grown up and out of the PC version.
“They have a nostalgic feeling and would like to come back to play the game,” said Kitamura.
“And since we made our entrance in the Southeast Asian market from a very early time, Ragnarok has established its recognition in the region.”
Despite riding high in Q4 2018 and Q1 2019, Gravity’s sales in Q2 have dropped considerably to ₩78.1m ($65.2m) in Q2 2019.
Kitamura says while the number of users had not changed, it’s typical for MMORPGs like Ragnarok M to experience large sales during their first three months, before dropping to a more steady, sustainable rate.
Since we made our entrance in the Southeast Asian market from a very early time, Ragnarok has established its recognition in the region.Yoshinori Kitamura
The title is no longer raking in as much as $50 million a month, though Kitamura believes the European launch - due this quarter - will result in a rise in revenue. It may not be that simple however, given the struggles of some other wildly popular Asian MMORPGs in the West.
Lineage’s entrance to the mobile realm has resulted in two billion-dollar hits, Netmarble’s Lineage 2 Revolution and NCSoft’s Lineage M. Another title, Lineage 2 M, is also set to make its release by the end of the year, and will likely be another blockbuster hit in South Korea when it launches.
But these titles have not found the same success internationally. And Ragnarok M could have a similar story, given the IP’s deep history with Southeast Asian markets that it doesn’t have in the West.
Elsewhere Gravity has plans to extend the Ragnarok IP to HTML5 and consoles, while it’s also looking into merchandising and bringing the game into new genres.
“We will use the Ragnarok IP and expand our business as a one-source, multi-usage business,” states Kitamura.
Discover more about Asia markets on the East Meets West track at Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki on October 1st and 2nd.