A Look Back at Level Up! Games: The Gaming Company That Pioneered Online Gaming in the Philippines

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During the year 2000, multiplayer PC games in the Philippines were primarily played in the form of LAN games, including real-time strategy games like StarCraft and Red Alert, and first-person shooter games like Counter-Strike and Half-life. Single-player role-playing games, like Diablo, were also popular at the time. As internet access became more widespread in the Philippines, many people turned to the internet to play web games and more. However, it wasn’t until 2002 that a new company called Level Up! Games introduced the very first massively multiplayer online (MMO) game in the Philippines: Oz World. The following year, Level Up! released a game that would change the landscape of online gaming in the Philippines: Ragnarok Online.

Ragnarok Online (RoK), a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). At the time, players had 30 hours of free play upon registration. Once that time ran out, players had to pay to continue playing the game. This was typically done through the purchase of a scratchable cards, which came in various denominations: PHP 10 for 1 hour, PHP 20 for 2 hours, PHP 50 for 8 hours, PHP 75 for 3 days, PHP 100 for 7 days, and PHP 350 for 31 days. Despite the cost, many high school students, including myself, saved up money just to play the game on top of the PHP 25 per hour fee to rent a computer in the internet cafe. Playing the game was also not easy at the time, as players often had to wait to patch the game before they could play, a process that could take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. With its MMORPG became a huge hit in the Philippines, they’ve also released several titles such as ROSE Online and RF Online.

In 2005, the Ragnarok Film Festival was held at the World Trade Center, showcasing award-winning, Ragnarok-inspired short films such as Hack You by Paolo Alvarez (Unfortunately, we cannot find this short film on the internet). The festival was followed by the Ragnarok Philippine Championships 2005, which took place at the World Trade Center on July 25-26, 2005. The Hatred guild of Lydia took home the P1 million championship prize. These events further cemented the popularity of eSports and cultural impact of video games in the Philippines.

In addition to publishing games, Level Up! Games also partnered with various brands to offer promotions and prizes to players. One such partnership was with Coca-Cola, where players could win free game credits for popular Level Up! games like Ragnarok, ROSE, RF Online, Hyper Relay, and Freestyle as part of the Coke Buksan ang Summer Promo in 2006, which was designed to help players cool down during the hot summer months. This partnership further demonstrates the strong presence and popularity of Level Up! Games in the Philippines. Also in 2006, Level Up! Philippines was acquired by ePLDT, the digital entertainment division of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), and their portfolios of online games were merged.

Level Up! continued to release new games in the years following the launch of Level Up! Games 2.0 where it revamped their website. Some of the games they released include Crazy Kart, Be There, Perfect World, Flyff, and many more.

Two years after, the Ragnarok World Championships (RWC) took place in the Philippines for the first time. The RWC was organized by Gravity Inc., the developers of Ragnarok Online, and Level Up! Inc., and took place at Level Up! Live on Oct. 18 & 19, 2008 at the World Trade Center exhibit halls in Pasay City. The event featured the grand finals of Rising Force Online, Perfect World, Flyff, and Freestyle, in addition to the RWC. Two weeks earlier, Ragnarok Philippine Championships 2008 was also held, and the winner represented the country at the RWC, where Thailand took home the first-place prize, South Korea came in second, and Indonesia placed third. This marked the first time that the prestigious international gaming tournament had gone in the Philippines and probably the first international eSports.

In 2010, Level Up! Games Brazil expanded its partnership with Korean developer Nexon. The company also launched a Level Up! Store featuring products related to its distributed games, which was closed one year after.

In 2012, Level Up! Games merged with E-Games, creating the largest online game publishing operation in the Philippines. The company was also acquired by Tencent, China’s leading internet service provider, for nearly 27 million dollars, and expanded into Latin America.

In 2014, Level Up! Games was acquired by Asiasoft for 2.9 million dollars.

Today, when accessing the original domain name website of Level Up! Games Philippines (levelupgames.ph), they are no longer exist and currently available for sale. However, it is worth noting that Level Up! Games was last acquired by Asiasoft, and its portfolio of games has since been published in Asia under the brand PlayPark. It is possible that the Level Up! Games brand is still active under the ownership of Asiasoft, even if the original website is no longer in operation.

Level Up! Games played a significant role in the development and growth of online gaming in the Philippines. As one of the first online game publishing companies in the country, they introduced the first massively multiplayer online game (MMO) and massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) in the Philippines, which sparked a new era of gaming in the country especially in the eSports scene.

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