This article is based on the following article on the Korean news portal https://www.mk.co.kr/news/it/view/2021/08/834236/ as well as some comments to said article.
Why did NCSoft stock plunged so hard in the last few days? In order to try to answer this question, we need to go back to the first signs of deeper problems in January 2021 during the boycott.
At this time, NCSoft was doing extremely well with more than 2 trillions wons in turnover, the first time it happened. However, after the update of the Glyph System in Lineage M (a mobile game based on Lineage 1) which allows the player to improve its character, a wave of indignation started.
With this new system, both high spending players (whales) and regular spending players could strengthen their characters. However, due to the complexity and money cost of reaching the maximum improvement possible, and that the bonuses were extremely strong even at the first stages of upgrades, said “Whales” started to complain about the system itself. Despite spending tens or hundreds of millions Wons in this system, the bonuses they got compared to regular spenders were too similar.
Following this wave of indignation, NCSoft simply rolled back (removed) the system. An action which triggered, what we call in Lineage 2, hard-workere low wage players.
Those players complained that NCSoft only listened for whales’ opinion and this resentment turned into a boycott. Players tried to make a refund of the money spent in the removed Rune system, however, the company answer was limited to refunding only half the amount paid or by giving the answer “we can not do it because of internal processes in the company.” / (회사 내규상 환불을 해줄 수가 없다).
Interesting detail, the boycott used the same visual identity than a previous boycott against all Japanese things which went extremely viral.
This outrage was also mixed with an overall resentment about lootboxes and the growing trend of their widespread use in domestic Korean games. In order to make their voice heard, players bought advertising at the NCSoft office in Seoul and mobile advertising at the NCDinos Stadium in Changwon.
Parallels to those actions, the development of new projects was delayed and releases were postponed – due to remote work during Covid-19 according to NCSoft . The new Trickster M mobile project for NCSoft, which was due out in March, was released in May and was received rather coldly. Blade & Soul 2, which was to be released in the first half of the year, appeared only in late August.
This negative outlook for NCSoft did not end there: the company lost its leadership in the mobile market i’ their home region, which seemed solid and unwavering. Odin: Valhalla Rising from Kakao Games and Lionheart Studios took the first place in ranking. Even after the release of the ambitious Blade & Soul 2, the reaction of the gaming community was very critical. Blade & Soul 2 was a project on which CEO Kim Taek-jin personally participated as the Chief Creative Officer (CCO). Despite this, problems began immediately after launch. The game featured a system similar to a paid season pass, only with this “subscription” players could get items that could be sold at auction. Without such a season ticket, items were tied to the character. In addition, all purchases at the auction can be made only with the help of an intermediate currency of “blue crystals”, which can be bought only for real money. However, this is not something new for mobile games.
Blue crystal prices in Blade & Soul 2
Many pointed that the strategy chosen by NCSoft could lead to a crisis. In one day, its stock went down by 26% and it didn’t recover during the following week.
The pay to win mechanics, which usms up to players having to spend real money to win ingame, revealed a fundamental flaw in Korean games, including NCSoft games. However, some analysts say that quickly changing this approach will be difficult, and could lead to a downturn in the gaming industry itself. Another point to take into consideration is that for Korean players, projects of other companies are often also compared, in a negative way, with the “glory” of Lineage games. Someone even refers to this genre as Lineage-like. For example, the Odin: Valhalla Rising project I mentioned was nicknamed “Nordic Lineage” (북유럽 리니지), and the popular Netmarble: The Seven Deadly Sins: Grand Cross and Seven Knights projects were nicknamed “Gibli Lineage” (지브리 리니지) because of their similar visual style with works of Ghibli Studio. Finally, we can summarize in the words of Wee Chon Hyun, President of KIO (Korean Gaming Society): “Gaming companies have no choice but to rely on a small number of users who make large purchases. If the replicated projects on existing gaming IPs run out, then such companies could face a serious crisis. ”
P.S. Special thanks to 888jambo888 and Laby.