Videogame Makers Duke It Out Arena Style

Originally published March 16, 2014

By Ian Sherr

Videogame makers have been grappling with many changes in the past few years, from new living-room consoles to the rise of smartphones. Now they face another challenge: arena-style games like “League of Legends.”

Gamers have flocked by the millions to play the Riot Games Inc. title, which typically pits two teams of five players in battles involving mystical characters called champions. The action is viewed from above—more like a simulated board game than the familiar first-person shooter perspective—and typically played online using PCs rather than consoles.

Gamers can play without paying, in contrast to traditional videogames, which sell for as much as $60 each. Under the so-called freemium business model, Riot Games charges only for extras, like the ability to play as a specific champion or to change the look of their characters.

“League of Legends” is tapping into growing communities of customers who prefer to play in a less-solitary style.

“A lot of the reason people play games is that their friends are playing,” said Dennis Fong, a former competitive gamer and now chief executive of Raptr Inc., a service that helps gamers performance-tune their PCs.

“League of Legends” is just one example in a game genre that industry executives call “multiplayer online battle arenas.” It has become one of the hottest segments in a largely stagnating videogame market—and it is taking market share from traditional videogames.


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(Published March 16, 2014, in The Wall Street Journal.)