Lineage 2: Revolution has become one of the world’s most successful mobile games. Licensed by NCSoft and built by Netmarble, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) game has more than 30 million players on iOS and Android.

It debuted in December 2016 in South Korea, and it went worldwide in November 2017. The game is also a big deal because the players spend a lot of money. The title generated $176 million in its first month, and it hit $924 million in its first 11 months.

A year after the global launch, Lineage 2: Revolution continues to be one of the most popular mobile MMORPGs. The company has been able to draw players to the massive open world with lots of new characters, large-scale player-versus-player (PvP) battles, and Unreal 4 Engine graphics.

Netmarble gave the game a big head start as it launched advertising campaigns and recruited influencers — including Conan O’Brien — on platforms like YouTube and Twitch to promote the game.

I spoke with Simon Sim, president of Netmarble US, about the growth of Lineage 2: Revolution in the West.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Above: Simon Sim is president of Netmarble US.

Image Credit: Netmarble

GamesBeat: That’s a lot of people playing Lineage 2: Revolution. You have 30 million players?

Simon Sim: Worldwide, accumulated players are 30 million, yes.

GamesBeat: How do you look at that number? Do you have some context for that? How is it a big milestone for you?

Sim: As you know, Lineage 2: Revolution is the first true MMORPG to enter the mobile space. We expected there would be a lot of challenges when we launched this game, even in South Korea. But the results have been great. We think 30 million users is a pretty big number, considering this is a true MMORPG.

GamesBeat: When you launched, you weren’t sure if this would be embraced on a large scale, right?

Sim: Yes, that was the big challenge. But we believed that mobile gamers were coming to expect high-fidelity games with much more in-depth content. We believed that this market was coming in the very near future. We launched in South Korea, then Southeast Asia, then Japan, and then globally. Each market we launched into, it became a hit. We were very surprised and very excited.

GamesBeat: Which markets did better than you would have expected? Did the U.S. or other territories do particularly well?

Sim: It’s a strange situation. We launched Lineage 2: Revolution in South Korea in December 2016, but at that time, what were very popular in the Korean market were action-RPGs, not MMORPGs. There were some MMO games but not this kind of high-fidelity title. It was a challenge even in Korea. In Japan, Asian-style MMORPGs have never been very popular, so that was another challenge. Also, as a non-Japanese studio, it’s harder to break into the top-grossing charts in Japan. But Lineage 2: Revolution hit number one on the Japanese iOS charts when it launched. In the West, what we saw as the big challenges were making our growth system and massive-scale real time battles happen on a smartphone.

Above: Netmarble.

Image Credit: Netmarble

Each market is different. It’s hard to say that one market or another was especially above our expectations. In each market, we faced different challenges. That’s why we separated out our builds for each market and tried to overcome them one at a time, developing them to fit each market’s audience. That strategy worked out well.

GamesBeat: Were there markets where you were worried that the game and its graphics were too high-end? Did that turn out to be not as big a barrier as you thought?

Sim: As you know, the device specs are quite different in different geos. In Southeast Asia and Latin America, the average device spec is lower than in other territories. When we launched in Southeast Asia, we did a lot of optimization and [offered] different options for levels of visual quality. Users can change the quality level, the rendering level. That experience helped a lot in turn when we launched in Latin America, which has a similar situation to Southeast Asia. Providing that functionality and optimizing for lower-end devices was a big part of our success there. In Latin America, when we launched there, we hit the top-grossing charts on both iOS and Android right away.

GamesBeat: Did you see any interesting reaction from fans when the game came out? The comparison I might make to Blizzard, where they had their BlizzCon event and told their fans to expect a Diablo game. Everybody assumed it would be on PC, and then, they showed a mobile game, and everyone was unhappy about it. Did you have any similar reactions around Lineage 2?

Sim: I can’t offer very much comment on Diablo or Blizzard, but there’s a couple of interesting phenomena we’ve been observing about Lineage 2: Revolution. One is around user play times. The average play time for the Western version of Lineage 2: Revolution is more than four hours a day. That’s huge, right? It was well above our expectation. It was my understanding that Western gamers, even hardcore mobile RPG players, rarely play more than two hours a day.

Many users play on their smartphones on the go, or when they’re sitting at home and then at their PC, they’ll play through an emulator. We’ve seen this kind of pattern in Asian players before, but we didn’t expect it from Western gamers. For some people, though, if their smartphone doesn’t run the game as well, they can play it through an emulator on their PC. As you know, Lineage 2: Revolution runs on Unreal Engine 4, so if you play it on your PC, it looks like a PC game. That’s been an interesting phenomenon. We’re very surprised by that and very [excited].

Second, the growth system. Lineage 2: Revolution has a somewhat original growth system. We tried to make it easier for players to grow their characters. But some players have spent so much time that they’ve grown faster than our expectation. We’ve adjusted the growth system to be more acceptable and deliver more content. The content consumption speed has been faster than we expected, so we’ve had to rush to provide more patches.

Above: Lineage 2: Revolution.

Image Credit: Netmarble

GamesBeat: As far as monetization, have you noticed any differences in monetization across different territories?

Sim: As far as monetization goes, the basic mechanics are similar in each territory, but Western gamers are less accepting of the enhancement failure. Many Asian MMORPGs, even on PC, have an enhancement system where there’s a ratio where you either have a success or a failure. We’ve observed that a lot of Western gamers are less accepting of that aspect of the growth system. We tried to rebuild that model and remove that barrier. We’ll keep doing that. We keep learning from user behavior and keep analyzing user play patterns to revise our business model.

GamesBeat: As far as what keeps people coming back, is it clan activity or other things?

Sim: It’s more than a year since the game launched, so many players have already reached a very high level. When new users come in, it’s hard to catch up to the content for high-end users. That’s why we provide the Orc character option, which starts at level 180. When users make a new character, they can go straight to a higher level of rank to join in high-level content more easily. That’s one way we’re trying to appeal to new users and bring them in. Our collaboration with DC Comics is another way of appealing to new users.

Above: Lineage 2: Revolution is a huge hit.

Image Credit: Netmarble

Clans are also very important. There are many very strong clans, and they encourage new players to join and get involved. That’s another trigger that keeps bringing in new users. A couple of months ago, by the way, we did a user survey of top clan members. We brought some of them to our offices and shared our future plans to get their feedback. It was quite exciting, and they shared a lot of valuable opinions about our future improvements.

GamesBeat: As far as your roadmap for this game, what do you foresee? What do you think players want?

Sim: We’ll keep adding new content in 2019. When we have more formal plans, we’ll be sharing that, especially when we have additional collaborations to talk about. We also plan to increase our efforts to communicate more closely with our users and clans. We’ll be doing more events like I was talking about to encourage players to give us feedback,

The game is getting a lot of interest in Europe, beyond just the United States and Latin America. We’ll keep sharing our update plans around the world. We’re planning more Western expansion in the future.

GamesBeat: What’s your feeling about mobile games in general? What have you learned about the broader mobile industry through your experience with Lineage 2?

Sim: I’ve observed several different trends. The casual genre is still very popular in the Western market. But casual genre users are expecting something a little different now. A lot of games are putting more RPG features on top of their existing genre, even casual games or builder games — like character-collection or character-growth systems or skill-based systems. We’re seeing many casual to mid-core users accept more RPG features.

Lineage 2: Revolution, meanwhile — there’s already a pool of MMORPG users that exists on PC and console. They’ve played hardcore RPG games before. They’re turning out to accept playing MMORPGs on mobile as well, and we think that trend will continue. PC and console gamers are willing to play RPGs on mobile if you provide high fidelity and gameplay that’s very sophisticated. At the same time, new RPG gamers will keep appearing because, as I said, RPG features are becoming more popular with casual and mid-core gamers.

Above: Lineage 2: Revolution.

Image Credit: Netmarble

At Netmarble, we’re one of the powerhouses in the RPG genre. That’s what we’re aiming for. We see that there’s a lot of opportunity around RPGs in the Western market. We believe that Lineage 2: Revolution is the frontier for mobile MMORPGs, and we’ll launch more MMORPG games in the future. At the same, we also want to launch more games in other genres that are driven in part by RPG features, to appeal to user demand and expectations.

GamesBeat: This seems like kind of a dumb question, but it seems like it’s important sometimes. How do you avoid making your users angry at you?

Sim: [Laughs] These days — I mentioned our user survey. We’ve been working closely with our users. They want to talk with us at the studio and share their opinions. They want to understand why our mechanics are the way they are. That’s why we opened up our office and ran that user survey a couple of months ago. User communication is getting more and more important.

The way we avoid user complaints — we need to put more effort in communicating transparently with users. I believe that if we explain our actions properly, users will understand why we’ve developed our mechanics the way we have. As developers, we always have our reasons. As part of our user summit, we brought in our developers for Q&A sessions to explain why we design the way we do and listen to user feedback. They had some great ideas, and we might change our features in future updates as a result.

That kind of transparent communication is very important. That’s what we believe. At Netmarble, we’ll keep trying to do that.

GamesBeat: It seems like a fine line you have to walk, to make sure you do things that are good for the game … and good for the fans as well.

Sim: Our most important goal is to meet user expectations. Listening to the users’ voices is very important for us, and we’ll keep trying to listen to more and more.

GamesBeat: Do you have a philosophy on user acquisition and how to bring more users into Lineage 2? What has worked the best so far?

Sim: We’ve developed a lot of optimization technology on our back end side. We’ve been using AI technology and so have many other publishers. At Netmarble, we think that’s very important. We set up our internal AI team two years ago, and we’ve done a lot of research into optimizing user acquisition and learning more about user behavior. We’ll keep going with that.

A big part of the strategy for Lineage 2: Revolution is that we believe PC and console MMORPG players will enjoy it. We’ll keep trying to reach out to that audience through live streaming. Influencers are also an important part of our strategy, so we’ll keep managing our relationship with influencers.

Above: Marvel Future Fight.

Image Credit: Netmarble

GamesBeat: What’s your outlook for the future and the industry in general?

Sim: At Netmarble, we’re planning to launch more and more advanced games in the future — in 2019 and beyond. We’re launching a game called BTS World soon. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with BTS, the K-pop idol group, but these days, they’re becoming very popular around the world. Not only in Asia but also in Europe, the U.S., and Latin America. It’s a simulation and story-based game, a different genre from what we’ve done in the past.

We’re also building around new IP in real-time competitive games in the next year. We’re preparing to launch a King of Fighters game, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. We’re launching King of Fighters All Stars in 2019. We also have a real-time casual board game in development. We’ll have more details around all of this in the future.

We’re launching new games in many different genres, but almost all of these games still have some kind of RPG features. They have collection features or character growth systems. We’re trying to add more advanced ways to have fun. At Netmarble, we want to diversify our genres and broaden our fan base, from casual games to MMORPGs.