WOW Builds Worldwide Audience

Posted on September 11, 2006

U.S. products don't always seem to receive as warm of a reception internationally as they used to. One big exception to that are online games. The popular World of Warcraft MMORPG has had a massive impact internationally, especially in China and Korea, as a New York Times story explains.

Less than two years after its introduction, World of Warcraft, made by Blizzard Entertainment, based in Irvine, Calif., is on pace to generate more than $1 billion in revenue this year with almost seven million paying subscribers, who can log into the game and interact with other players. That makes it one of the most lucrative entertainment media properties of any kind. Almost every other subscription online game, including EverQuest II and Star Wars: Galaxies, measures its customers in hundreds of thousands or even just tens of thousands.

And while games stamped "Made in the U.S.A." have often struggled abroad, especially in Asia, World of Warcraft has become the first truly global video-game hit since Pac-Man in the early 1980's.

The game has more players in China, where it has engaged in co-promotions with major brands like Coca-Cola, than in the United States. (There are more than three million players in China, and slightly fewer than two million in the United States. And as with most video games, a clear majority of players worldwide are male.)

There is a rabid legion of fans here in South Korea, which has the world's most fervent gaming culture, and more than a million people play in Europe. Most World of Warcraft players pay around $14 a month for access.

The reason for the game's popularity may be 33-year-old Jason Pinsky's explanation to the Times: "Instead of watching 'The Lord of the Rings' as a three-hour experience, I am now participating in the epic adventure."

The article also says Asian WOW gamers are more likely to meet other players in person than U.S. gamers. That fact reminds us of this cyberanthropology study about how cultural differences influence how people approach multiplayer online games. It sounds like the thesis is currently being written but from the Times article it is very clear that different cultures do and will game differently.

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