“Hate the game developer, not the game.” This slightly tweaked version of the timeless maxim applies to the two well-known massively multiplayer online role-playing games: Lineage and Diablo 2.
Both have been touted as the undisputed pioneering games that set the stage for the rapid growth of the MMORPG genre in the past decades. Lineage, released by NCSoft in September 1998, reshaped the Korean gaming scene; Diablo 2, put out by Blizzard Entertainment in June 2000, was a landmark PC game title that had a global impact.
Both NCSoft and Blizzard have fallen into destructive traps they created themselves. NCSoft treated many of its core players as a tool to squeeze profits out of, and misled mainstream game players with a series of disingenuous comments about its game; Blizzard lost its once lofty reputation as a global gaming powerhouse in the aftermath of a scandal over its toxic “frat boy” culture.
Both companies tend to depend on the brand power of their old game titles to appeal to traditional MMORPG fans, rather than trying out something new. NCSoft started with PC-based original Lineage and then expanded its franchise with Lineage 2 and mobile clones like Lineage M and Lineage 2M.
Blizzard similarly prefers resurrecting old game titles, demonstrated by the launches of World of Warcraft Classic, StarCraft: Remastered and Warcraft 3: Reforged. Diablo 2: Resurrected is the latest remastered edition of the past megahit title that Blizzard hopes will inject some much-needed fresh energy into its game business.
In hindsight, I am lucky that I have not played any of the Lineage franchise games. After all, I am not rich enough to follow the extreme “pay-to-win” gameplay rules set by NCSoft. The embattled game developer regularly introduces ostensibly “promotional packages” of character-empowering cash items that force Lineage players to fork over 1 million won ($840) or more per month so as not to be left behind in the fierce competition in the supposedly free-to-play game.
In a capitalist society, nobody can blame a gaming business model that is designed to make money, pay for production costs and reinvest in future projects. But the problem with Lineage, or more specifically NCSoft, is unique. Simply put, it has gone too far, for too long.
In the initial period of the Lineage franchise, NCSoft was not so greedy. Now, it is demanding too much money from gamers to enjoy its otherwise highly addictive MMORPG titles. Can you imagine paying most of what you earn to build up your online game character, which is bound to depreciate in value when you stop purchasing expensive cash items on a weekly basis?
Another problem with NCSoft is its strange communication style that drags down its share price as well as its brand image. NCSoft’s stock hit a peak of 1.05 million won in February this year. It is now hovering below 600,000 won after its Blade & Soul 2, released on Aug. 26, sparked a firestorm of public criticism. The main reason is NCSoft’s own deceptive posturing. Ahead of the release, the company publicly announced Blade & Soul 2 would not adopt some of the notorious Lineage elements such as loot boxes and the in-game “blessing” system. But Blade & Soul 2 turned out be a shamelessly self-copied Lineage disguised as a martial arts mobile game, with all the notorious cash-based systems installed.
But even before NCSoft’s stock plunged in the wake of Blade & Soul 2’s release, its reputation had long been tarnished among local game players. NCSoft, alarmed by the free-falling stock and surging hostility from players, belatedly rushed to make some changes to its disputed Lineage titles, hoping that its forthcoming Lineage W would help recover its damaged brand image and shore up its stock price.
Meanwhile, Diablo 2: Resurrected is being well received here, despite Blizzard’s bruised brand image. As of Oct. 3, the remastered title ranked second with a 7.44 percent share in the usage ranking of PC bang -- or cyber cafes -- after the long-running No. 1 title League of Legends, according to game tracking firm Gametrics.
Those in their 30s and 40s, who enjoyed the original Diablo 2 in dimly lit PC bangs to avoid the surveillance of their strict parents, reportedly played the new edition with fervor, partly to revive fond memories about the sheer fun of navigating dungeons and building up their virtual characters. One big advantage of the remastered Diablo 2 is that it costs just 48,000 won to play the online title endlessly, which is far cheaper than the Lineage series and its clones.
I did not play the original Diablo 2, but played Diablo 3 for a while. Out of curiosity, I downloaded the new edition of Diablo 2 and jumped into the dark realm to check out the resurrected evil. My impression is that Diablo 2 is a well-made game. The not-so-greedy original Lineage also had a good reputation as a pioneer in the MMORPG genre. The famous maxim is still valid: Love the well-made game, hate the scandal-laden game developer. I hope only the good ones are resurrected.
By Yang Sung-jin (firstname.lastname@example.org
--------Yang Sung-jin is a senior writer at The Korea Herald. -- Ed.