It Pays To Play (online gaming with Level Up! & Ragnarok)

How do you sell a service that basically asks its customers to spend their time and money in exchange for something completely intangible? Although paying for our entertainment is far from a new concept, online gaming takes the business of pleasure to a whole new level. It’s up-to-the-minute by-the-minute fun, thrills by the byte load. It’s this steady stream of gratification that can make addicted subscribers of the unwary, and earn big money for the savvy.

Official Ragnarok Online Icon

Official Ragnarok Online Icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Level Up!’s popular online game Ragnarok was the local industry’s first killer app. Amassing four million registered users and counting over the past three years. Main man Ben Colayco shares with us some insights as to what it takes to score in the gaming biz.

“In online gaming, 60-70% of the business is content,” states Ben. “Ok content can do great because of marketing. Great content can do terribly if you don’t market it properly. But crappy content never gets a market. So it all comes down to quality and if the local market really likes what you’re offering.”

In Ragnarok’s case, Level Up! exploited the popularity of anime to draw interest to their product. Then they priced their service well within the range of their target market, and made payment accessible and non-intimidating through the prepaid card scheme. Ragnarok established a foothold and gained ground quickly because of the ease of entry it offered. All this sounds logical in retrospect, but it was a groundbreaking paradigm at the time. “When we started the company four years ago, I knew that the only way to make money from video games legitimately was to make them affordable. Everybody thought we were crazy to give away CDs for free. But even piracy helped spread the word about our product,” Ben reveals.

Once the customers have fallen for the bait, the next challenge is to get them to keep coming back for more. “The experience should be so compelling that it makes you give up spending time doing other things. Then you should keep developing new content, new experiences for your subscribers. Tempt them with things they haven’t seen before so that they give you another chance” Ben advises. “We don’t just look at blockbusters, but for gems nobody has even heard of yet. We don’t rely on hype, but we look at the context of the local market.”

Because of Level Up!’s success, the Philippines is actually giving tech expertise to other countries as opposed to the other way around. The growth potential for online gaming in developing markets like the Philippines, India, and Brazil, all countries where Level Up! operates, is huge. Ben believes that online games have greatly improved and helped the growth of broadband infrastructure here and elsewhere. And they’re very optimistic about the expansion and evolution of their company’s services. There are plans to tap into the high-end hardcore market, in addition to their “pang-masa” products like Ragnarok, and their latest offering, Freestyle, an online street basketball game.

With Freestyle, Level Up hopes to dominate the online casual game market, targeting not just those who are into computer games, but the much larger market of basketball fans in this country where the sport is a significant part of popular culture. As Ben has pointed out, this is another example of knowing your market and tailoring your content to fit the context. “Filipinos like to play with Filipinos. And even if we Filipinos speak English and the games are in English, everyone speaks Tagalog when they start chatting.”

At the Freestyle launch, Ben realized that online gaming has started to gear up for more mainstream acceptance. “For the first time here, we had sportswriters covering the launch of a computer game. It really felt like we’re crossing over. And I believe that in a few years online gaming will be a legitimate sport. Today all teenagers play games, whether they’re into sports or science. And eventually, so will everybody”

– text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manual magazine, 2006

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