Online game subscriptions up 43 percent in 2005

World of Warcraft's popularity helps boost MMO and casual gaming to a $2 billion international payday; console games to take 29 percent of OL market by 2011.

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Whatever you think of World of Warcraft, there's no denying that it has reshaped the gaming landscape. As of last month, Blizzard Entertainment's massively multiplayer online role-playing game had over 6 million subscribers, making the population of its virtual world larger than many European countries.

The latest evidence of WOW's influence comes in the form of a report from DFC Intelligence. The San Diego-based game-industry research company has just issued a report which says that "subscription revenue from online games was $2 billion in 2005." WOW came out in November 2004 and has been among the top three games in DFC-rival NPD Group's weekly PC-bestseller list since it hit the market.

DFC cited WOW's publisher, Vivendi Universal-owned Blizzard Entertainment, as being a major factor behind the rise of MMORPG revenue in the US. That said, it correctly pointed out that currently "over 50 percent of online-game-subscription revenue in 2005 came from Asian countries outside Japan, most notably South Korea, China, and Taiwan."

In particular, it heaped praise on one of Blizzard's most bitter foes. "The Asian market has created some significant new players, led by South Korean company NCsoft, which had over $300 million in online-game revenue in 2005," read the report. Over the past few years, NCsoft has been waging an aggressive campaign to court US MMORPG players with titles such as City of Heroes and Guild Wars.

Despite its initial Asia-boosting, DFC said that the Western hemisphere is catching up. "North America is expected to pass Asia in subscription revenue, accounting for 35 percent of online-game-subscription revenue in 2011," read the report. At that point, the company estimates the worldwide-online-gaming pie as being worth $6.8 billion--$3.06 billion of which will be produced by the US and Canada.

However, DFC concedes that MMOGs aren't the only factor behind the rise of online gaming. It also said online casual gaming was a major factor and singled out Electronic Arts' Pogo games subsidiary--which topped 1 million subscribers last November--as a successful example.

Though online gaming is currently a mostly PC domain, DFC's report says that won't last. "In 2011, it is forecasted that 29 percent of worldwide subscription revenue will be from console systems," it predicted.

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