NetEase Open First North American Studio
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the studio behind MMOs like City of Heroes or DC Universe Online had limitless funding, and infinite time to invest into something to truly take the genre to a whole nother level?
Because.. in news that… was genuinely unexpected, NetEase have confirmed they’re opening a brand new studio within North America – a studio that is going to specifically, in their words, “create engaging online universes for gamers worldwide.”
And stop right there – I know what you’re thinking. “Stix, NetEase are a terrible company – with an even worse selection of games.” And that isn’t untrue. The newly opened studio, Jackalope Games, however, has openly stated that they are going to operate 100% independently from NetEase, and will maintain full creative autonomy.
This studio is going to be the very first internal studio based within North America, and will have be focusing on creating online multiplayer games for both PC and console platforms. There was confirmation that mobile is not of any interest to the new developers. Thank god. The last thing we need is more mobile games.
Now they did note something very important – that their focus will be on “online multiplayer games,” as opposed to specifically MMOs – but in this day and age, online multiplayer games are just as good, if not even higher quality than the vast majority of MMO-titles out there.
What we don’t know is the scale of the multiplayer. Are we looking at 2-player games? 20-player? Something like Lost Ark or Tower of Fantasy, which both classify themselves as “Online RPGs” even though they’re the very definition of the term “MMO.”
Jackalope Games’ first project – which is unconfirmed at this time, is going to be fully funded by NetEase. This isn’t an indie company we’re dealing with.
On the contrary, the studio is led by Jack Emmert, a veteran within the industry. Emmert spent 15 years at Cryptic Studios, working as a designer on MMOs like City of Heroes, Neverwinter and Star Trek Online, before slowly moving up to CEO of the company. He was responsible for helping transition the company over to a fully free-to-play business model.
After selling Cryptic to Perfect World, and remaining there for approximately five months, he moved to Daybreak, working on DC Universe Online. He then moved to Dimensional Ink Games, where he remained working on DC Universe Online until March of this year.
Jackalope Games is going to be based within Austin, Texas. Interestingly enough, the studio is going to allow employees to work remotely from anywhere in the world. Which means we might get a lot more international talent – something this genre desperately needs.
Emmert went on to state “NetEase Games is the best possible place for me and my team to thrive, we share the same passion — to create engaging online universes for gamers worldwide. NetEase Games is providing the support and resources needed to build a great studio and great games.”
Notice his use of the word “games,” plural. Meaning they’re not working on a single title. Rather, they have plans for multiple titles. Whether they’re going to work on a single title first, expanding later, or their studio will be divided into several smaller studios remains to be seen.
This is pretty massive news. Typically, we have publishers like Gameforge, Nexon, Gamigo licensing already existing MMOs from over in the East for distribution in the West.
NetEase, however, are choosing to instead acquire talented programmers and build an entirely new studio, targeting Western players as opposed to Eastern. Which also likely means the business models will be very different to those we’re accustomed to getting from Asian games.
NetEase aren’t the only Chinese company interested in pursuing this route, however.
On the contrary, their largest rival, Tencent, has also invested into acquiring and setting up studios to develop games within North America: TiMi, with a focus on mobile games, Team Kaiju, with a focus on first person shooters, and Inflexion, with a focus on creating AAA PC and console games.
Now what did we learn from this? NetEase have established a brand new studio in Texas with a focus on free-to-play “online games,” likely an MMO, but not guaranteed. It’s going to have a Western business model, and will be targeting the Western market.
And that’s it. Honestly? It’s an interesting time to be not only a fan of MMOs, but the greater gaming genre overall. We have a lot of great looking games coming over the next couple years, and this studio could be responsible for some of them.