A new force is emerging in the world of MMOs - created from veterans of Blizzard, Bungie, NCsoft and more giants of gaming.
En Masse Entertainment is focused on 'selecting high quality online games and adapting, refining, and positioning them so they are perfectly suited for audiences in Western markets'.
But can it really do battle with the big boys? Its first big hope is PC title TERA - dubbed 'the world's first action MMO'.
We caught up with En Masse's COO Patrick Wyatt, who doesn't exactly have a bad track record.
As well as being involved in the creation of Warcraft and Starcraft, the Ex-Blizzard man wrote Diablo's multiplayer code, scaled up Battle.net, founded ArenaNet, developed Guild Wars and served as CTO of NCsoft.
He should know what he's talking about, then. Words now...
En Masse's aims seem smart; capitalising on the phenomenon of Korean/Far East MMO popularity for a Western audience. But what makes you think that these games will appeal to a Western audience? Aren't cultural tastes completely different?
Cultural tastes vary, but great game experiences can be universal. I actually think Western audiences are pretty receptive to a broad range of game "flavours," and our job at En Masse is to make sure that we refine and enhance the parts that Western players like, and de-emphasize anything that doesn't work well here.
For example, story-as told both in-game and in the lore-doesn't tend to translate well. Even great translators can't correct for different cultural referents. So what you really have to do is identify and use the parts of the story that work, and entirely rewrite other parts, so it doesn't leave you with that "did I miss something here?" sensation.
In regards to TERA specifically, it also helps that the development team [Bluehole] has had an eye on the Western market for a long time. Their last game to ship in the West was moderately successful, but nothing like its immense popularity in Asia. So they've been thinking about how to do better here for a while.
If you've seen the artwork in TERA, you know it's gorgeous. But more than that, it also has quite a Western flavour for a Korean-developed game, with more athletic, masculine-looking male characters, more exciting early level monsters-no rodent and rabbit combat-and a less-grindy, more quest-driven game progression.
Finally, Bluehole and En Masse are working together on a series of Focus Group Tests (our first was in December, with about 300 players) to identify what additional changes need to be made. Unlike a Beta test, where the game is largely finished and most of the effort focuses on game balance and hardware compatibility, the FGT tells us about areas that need reworking. There's still plenty to do, but we have the time and the commitment necessary to make TERA rock.
What criteria will you look for when choosing an MMO that you can repackage for the West?
I think the critical factors for choosing an MMO that can succeed in the West are the level of ambition of the project, the fun factor and the willingness of the dev team to make changes for the Western market.
We want to be in the position of publishing games that are going to make people want to line up at stores, which incidentally is not a factor for PC games in Asia, because there's no retail presence to speak of.
We'd like to find games that are bold, innovative, and fun, and we'll work with their dev teams and help them hear the voices of Western gamers. That means we probably won't be publishing too many titles, but the titles we do publish will be worth playing.