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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

AeriaGames buys IJJI (What does that REALLY mean?)

I only just heard about this today (I know, I'm about a month late) and honestly, I've got mixed feelings. For those of you who don't know either company let me give a brief history.

Ijji, or NHN usa, is a direct subsidiary of NHN Corporation, a Korean company that owns Naver and Hangame.
For those of you unaware, naver would be korea's version of MSN or Yahoo in terms of popularity and various services. While it may have originated as a search engine, its services expanded greatly to provide blogs, and newsfeeds and more or less has now become a web portal. Many well known web comics will most likely have their origins from naver comics and you'll find many korean blogs to have come from naver.

Hangame is a Korean game portal that competes with Nexon Korea and used to compete against Netmarble (It used to be big but failed to hold many games with long lifetimes and didn't get enough new ones to replace the ones that died out). 

IJJI only really started gaining a foothold when it decided to host Maiet's GunZ and bought NA rights to Gunbound (which it later sold). Being a direct subsidiary has its advantages, particularly in licensing rights and the difficult of acquiring them, or rather lack thereof, since the parent company can simply extend its license into NA territory. Server maintenance, as well as bug fixes are also much more easily addressable and it shows in IJJI's games. Their most popular games generally had a two week gap between general maintenance and security checks. It's quality has waned substantially and admittedly their more recent investments were worrisome but I'll get to that later.

As for presence, their customer support was fairly solid but their forums needed work. Simply put, they may have had some infrastructure issues in terms of staff assignment because there were always not enough moderators, and it was quite obvious where the company's focus was based on the number of moderators and their activity in the respective game's forum. GM presence was average. Nothing spectacular but at least the player base could recognize them and name them without the help of a cheat sheet.

Aeria Games is a subsidiary of Aeria Inc. Japan. It was started by two entrepreneurs who had a bit of investment capital....That's about it.....
They're a developing company that's been picking a handful of Japanese and Chinese MMOs.

I heard about this company when they held only one game: Shaiya. How did it do? Honestly, I have no idea but clearly they had enough money and zealous marketing plaster ads everywhere. They are still picking up games and while I don't know of the status of each game, this constant slow growth should still indicate something.

They are dipping into a pool that's been fairly untouched which gives them the advantage I guess. A lot of these games are also actual MMOs involving worlds instead of instanced Peer-2-Peer dungeons or Peer-2-Peer action games which means that they are also buying out servers to support these games. There's also the problem that many of these games are quite bot friendly point and clicks but that's enough about that. I'm talking about the company and not the games.

Aeria games for certain knows how to support a game. They don't have the strict maintenance that IJJI used to have when it was about as hold as Aeria is now but that isn't to say they're bad. Important patches are done in a timely fashion and bug fixes are just slightly delayed.

They make up for this in a significantly stronger community presence. GMs are very vocal and are also fairly open. It may be because the community itself may be slightly smaller but it's very obvious that Aeria Games is well staffed. They're also very transparent which seems to help the company hold such a strong bond with its consumers. I can recall for a game that was fairly new, a GM was late in enabling an event by 30 minutes (I'm assuming server sided auto execution scripts weren't ready yet) and admitted his mistake and extended the event by an hour. Should this mistake have happened? Probably not, but its handling was surprisingly well done.

So let's get to the meat. What does Aeria Games buying IJJI mean?

The immediate effects:
Gunz, Soldier Front and AVA (Arguably IJJI's biggest games so far) are going to shift over which will mean there'll be an explosion in the size of the community over at aeria games. This may place a strain on the aforementioned community presence that aeria games has established.

There's going to be a community clash for sure. Every game forum has its established "VIPs" and trolls and merging two groups only places additional strain on the community that's moving. Especially considering the lax moderation IJJI has had, aeria games might be in for a bit of extra work.

NHN may be straight up dropping out of the NA market. The previously mentioned games will probably be updating more slowly than it's community is used to. Though most of the games have already dropped to once a month now....

Screenname hell is going to occur. I know for a fact my name was taken in aeria games resulting in me having to pick a different screen name to login with. It's a minor irritation but an irritation nonetheless especially since I could log in as "zerreth" over at IJJI.

The current games may see a large player base, which is always good. Consolidation also makes accounts much more easier to manage player-wise. 

The long term effects:
As I said before, maintenance, bug fixing and immediate game issues will take longer to fix. There's a "middle man" to go through which only delays communication.

Any NHN game that you may have had sights on has an even lesser chance of making it to NA shores. I was particularly looking forward to Fighter's Club but I may have to rely on Ntreev USA to pick it up now. Any games under NHN korea is going to have to require an additional cost to license rather than a extra small investment to hand down the territory license to a child company. Companies that buy games under NHN will have to turn profit quickly which means that there's a higher chance for more "pay-2-win" games appearing and an abuse in development to get micro-transaction systems up faster than the actual game foundation...

"New Toy" effects wear off and transferred games return to their old player base.

There's also a reduced chance of seeing more "creative" events. Since the company isn't in direct contact with the developer regarding content, seeing user based content appear in game will be much harder.

How the hell did this happen?
I don't know the specifics, but I have a good guess. About 1 or 2 years ago, IJJI licensed a bunch games that weren't under NHN korea to see how they would do in NA as an attempt to expand. The problem all the games IJJI had licensed already flopped in korea. One game I hadn't even heard of. Perhaps it was completely new. The point is, those games never made it past a 2nd closed beta, and one game went over to Aeria.

Then there are the handful of games that flopped on IJJI, which is, needless to say, NEVER a good sign. With a declining user base, and lack of new games that could increase cash flow, the parent company must've just decided to drop it. Guess that's the problem with every company once it hits peak and starts to decline.

Other things:
This is not a merger, this is one company swallowing another. Buy-outs/mergers have always indicated through history that the combined product is worse than either input on their own. In this case, you're seeing IJJI products now under Aeria Games management, which has its benefits and drawbacks.

As per contract, NHN is supposed to put a bit of investment into Aeria (probably to help the purchase of new servers and staff) but they're completely wiping their hands clean from the looks of it.

It's kind of sad. I was always hoping that IJJI would find some way to abuse it's position as a direct subsidiary to try and be able to compete with nexon like the korean version is doing. I despise Nexon with a hateful, hellish passion. The mere thought that they intend to continue operations in NA just sets a terrible example for other companies.