For millions of East Asians, online gaming is not so much a hobby as a way of life. “Massively multiplayer” online games such as “Legend of Mir 3” and “MapleStory” have legions of devoted fans who spend an alarming proportion of their waking hours sitting in front of their PCs, at home or in internet cafés, doing battle with elves, wizards and mythological beasts. Some players take their parallel gaming lives very seriously: one man murdered a friend in a dispute over a stolen virtual sword.
Many of these games rely on a business model that is different from the way the video-games industry works in the West. Rather than selling games as shrink-wrapped retail products which can then be played on a PC or games console, the Asian industry often gives away the software as a free download and lets users play for nothing.
Revenue comes instead from small payments made by more avid players to buy extras for their in-game characters, from weapons to haircuts. In this way, a minority of paying customers subsidise the game for everyone else.