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DEC. 4, 2005
 Cover Story
 BT Special
 Back of the Book

Interview With Giovanni Bisignani
After taking over the reigns at IATA, Giovanni Bisignani is in the cockpit directing many changes. His experience in handling the crisis after 9/11 crisis is invaluable. During his recent visit to India, Bisignani met BT's Amanpreet Singh and spoke about the challenges facing the aviation industry and how to fly safe. Excerpts.

"We Try To Create
A Joyful Work"
K Subrahmaniam, Covansys President and CEO, spoke to BT's Nitya Varadarajan.
More Net Specials
Business Today,  November 20, 2005
Ragnarok Redux
In which and his alter ego Grey Drako get acquainted first-hand with India's first Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game.
Role-players all: Defending their castles in fantasyland

Nariman Point, Mumbai
Rune Midgard

Grey Drako explores the wilderness of Pontera in Rune Midgard carefully. He is looking for friends and allies, or people who would like to hire him for his skills. He may just be a novice, but he is training to be an assassin and that counts for something in this world. Still, with no Zenys to his name, he knows he had better find someone or something soon, even if it is some hapless individual he can steal from.

Now, Business Today hasn't diversified into the science fiction and fantasy (SFF) genre, although the business models of some companies that we do not write about would be a good source of inspiration should it decide to do so. Rune Midgard is the setting for an online fantasy quest (a game, in other words, but more than a game as you shall soon see, Constant Reader) called Ragnarok (no, although the term is widely used in Mike Mignola's Hellboy comics, it actually comes from Norse myth and is, as the phonetics strangely enough seem to suggest, the day of reckoning) and Grey Drako (actually Grey_Drako) is this writer's online avatar.

Ragnarok is one of the world's most popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs). It is a Korean game (at least, the company that started it off, Gravity Games is Korean) that is played by a few million people in some 20 countries across the world. Like in other MMORPGs, players dedicate a few hours of their lives every day to Ragnarok, so we are speaking about some serious manpower here. The game has been around in India for a year, having been launched by Level-Up India, the Indian arm of a Philippines-based games publisher, and, according to Venkat Mallik, the company's Managing Director, already boasts a few thousand players.

RPGs (Role-Playing Games) or MMORPGs are a global phenomenon. Unlike computer or console games where the maximum number of players is restricted to eight, these can accommodate thousands, even millions of players, playing together, collaborating sometimes, competing against each other at times. They are not as violent as multi-player shooters and do not have as much sexual content (they do have some) as some stand alone console games, and each player has an online avatar, with some pre-defined powers. MMORPGs are the craze in some markets. In Korea, for instance, an estimated 10 million people, a fifth of the country's population, play them everyday, half of this number playing Lineage: The Blood Pledge, the world's most successful MMORPG. And in China, internet penetration has been driven by a home-grown role-playing game, The World of Warcraft, which has some 3.5 million players.

Virtual reality: Level-Up India's Mallik hopes to go pay successfully

The world over, role-playing games make their money from subscriptions that range from $7-20 (Rs 315-900) a month. Ragnarok India ( is free right now, but Mallik says, "We will eventually have to go paid; while we are prepared to take a hit in numbers we are sure that the game will continue to attract players (even after that)."

All this time, Drako has been progressing through Midgard; he is now in Geffen (classified netherland), and is heading for a marketplace, but this writer has to know just who plays Ragnarok and why, so he heads off to a Reliance WebWorld in Bandra.

Reliance WebWorld, Bandra, Mumbai

Every Wednesday and Saturday, between six and eight (p.m.) we have something called a castle siege," says Mallik. That's when guilds, essentially teams of players who have 'captured' castles, defend them against attacks from other guilds that try to capture them.

The cybercafe is full of 10 to 18-year olds, all part of a guild calling itself DeathRow (15 of the 20 terminals at the café have been taken over by the guild). An employee of the café claims that some of these kids are regulars, there at anytime between 10.00 a.m. and 8.00 p.m., the café's working hours, and playing the game. It's worse in WebWorlds in Pune, he adds. "There, the entire store is taken over by these Ragnarok guys all day."

The café is noisy: super-charged adolescents are hollering out instructions, all the while typing madly (all RPGs require players to type instructions on how their characters should respond).

"Do your parents know you are here?" I ask a random sub-teen.

"Are you mad?" he shoots back. "They'll kill me if they know I am here."

"How much do you spend at the cybercafe?"

"Me, I'm not that regular, I spend around Rs 1,000 a month (the café charges 50-90 paise a minute for high-speed internet access for gaming); but that's not as much as he (points to a 10-year-old sitting before another terminal and lost, for all practical purposes, in Rune Midgard) does; he spends Rs 3,000 a month."

"So, why don't you play this from home?"

"Most of us have only dial-up connections; then, there are parents; damn it, the TCS are attacking..."

And he goes back to a world where a guild called the ThunderCats (TCS) is attacking a castle controlled by DeathRow.

Level-Up has alliances with Reliance WebWorld and Sify iWay and the game is pre-installed on most machines at these cafés, allowing players to simply log-on to the fantasy world. Mallik claims some of the players are older and that around 30 per cent are women. He adds that most players do not have great inter-personal skills in the real world and use their online avatars to make friends and build relationships, one reason why he thinks the marriage patch, Level-Up will soon introduce in Ragnarok (It will, he says "help people have virtual relationships".) will be a hit. Hey, maybe Drako can get lucky at least in the virtual world.




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