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UK online market is one of the hardest in Europe - Bidaux

But unique opportunities mean it also has the biggest potential says ICO Partners founder

Thomas Bidaux, founder of online consultancy company ICO Partners has told that he believes the UK is one of the hardest online gaming markets to succeed in, although its unique audience and opportunities also make it potentially the most rewarding.

Speaking in the first part of a two-part interview conducted at Nordic Game last month, Bidaux argued that the UK represents a difficult prospect for many companies looking at the European online market from the US or Asia, because of cultural misconceptions and the use of English as a European working language.

"It's one of the most difficult territories in Europe for online games," said Bidaux of the UK. "In many ways it's more difficult to do business in the UK than it is in the US. The UK is very focused on console - I'm not talking about the industry, I'm talking about the audience. Online is actually bigger in the US, strangely enough.

In many ways it's more difficult to do business in the UK than it is in the US. The UK is very focused on consoles.

Thomas Bidaux

"I think that there's lots to be done, but I think the only people who've cracked it are Jagex and Moshi Monsters, people who are local. All our clients have found that the UK has been one of their most challenging territories. One of the reasons is that there are very few media which are UK specific. Because of that it's very difficult to target the UK.

"But also because of that it has one of the biggest potentials."

Julian Wera, head of marketing at ICO Partners, pointed out that most participants on English speaking servers may well be from other countries, making it hard to differentiate and target UK users specifically.

"I think also what we hear a lot is a misconception about the UK, from American or Asian clients who want to get into Europe with an English version [of a game]," said Wera.

"Traditionally the UK is not going to represent the majority of players on English speaking servers. That's going to be Scandanavian, Dutch, Eastern European, places where there's no localised version. The UK's going to be a significant part, but not the majority." He continued: "Many clients who don't know the market that well think that having an office in the UK and launching a game in English in Europe means 60 per cent UK players. But as online, and especially browser-based aren't that big in the UK yet, it's usually not the case.

"There's a lot of education to do there. I'm very curious to see the evolution of the UK consumer market, where there's going to be more MMOs and free-to-play games on console, because the UK market is very focused on console."

Asked whether he thought that consoles and the free-to-play model were mutually exclusive, Bidaux said that it was possible, but that Sony were much more likely to innovate on that front than Microsoft.

"I think I heard that Microsoft are actually pushing for free-to-play on XBLA next year or something like that," Bidaux stated. "For me that would be a miracle, that would be awesome. Free-to-play can happen on the console more than the MMO. MMO RPG's require too much communication - you need to chat. Voice chat doesn't work for them. Session based games, smaller online experiences, with RPG elements - free-to-play to make it accessible for everybody - that's obvious. It could work pretty well on the consoles.

"Back when I was at NCsoft, my team and I signed an exclusive deal with Sony. The reason we signed with Sony was that it was impossible to sign with Microsoft. We couldn't have done what we wanted to do. We wanted a free-to-play game, we wanted to run our own servers. We wanted to run our own games. Sony was like, okay, whatever - you're NCsoft, you know your online stuff, you can do it.

"Microsoft was blocking at every possible stage. Not because they didn't want it - I had the best meetings with Microsoft people. They were saying 'it could be awesome if you could do this, this and this, but it doesn't fit into the form, we have to tick the boxes.'"

For the full first part of the in-depth interview with ICO Partners, head over to the features pages now.

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