2 years ago, Chinese MMO publisher The9 was on the brink of closure after World of Wacraft China shifted hands to NetEase. Determined not to repeat the same mistakes, several development studios were being setup, and Three Kingdoms Brawler was 1 of the few products which came out. Heck, the game even made a short-lived appearance in the English market last year, before the company’s presence dissolved overnight. The game has just announced its closure in China a few days back.
I am not sure how The9 suddenly got massive funding again, but the company suddenly seem to abandon the strategy last year, and started buying up development studios instead in China, rather than setting up. The purchase of American developer, Red 5 Studios, is another investment in which funds seemingly flowed out of nowhere. Subsequently, The9 got the publishing rights for Sony Online Entertainment’s Free Realms and PlanetSide 2 for the world’s biggest MMO market.
During this period, the CEO of The9 also bought a local football club, paying massive amounts to sign international players such as Didier Drogba and Nicholas Anelka. Where did all these money come from? I can’t imagine they managed to attract enough sponsors to cover their salary, as that is the official story out there.
The investment in Red 5 Studios did not stop at just the purchase, but over the years, I am estimating several millions more with Firefall’s extravagant marketing campaign, 1 million dollar status, big booths and presence in all major gaming exhibitions, hiring professional cosplayers with customized actual armors and a futuristic Firefall coach. Remember, Firefall is Red 5 Studio’s maiden title and has yet to earn any revenue. The studio just recently hired a group of new staff from the now-defunct 38 Studios as well.
I am really just a puzzled outside and avid observer of the MMO business, and The9’s sudden turn in fortunes really surprised me. Currently, there is only 1 self-developed title in the works, MUX, which was announced in 2010 and yet to have any solid release news since then. From what I heard, much of the work shifted to a Korean core team rather than the founding one. The9 is an intriguing MMO company to say the least, and 1 worth observing for the long term.