Phantasy Star Online 2 hits 1 million players, a significant success in Sega’s dour 2012

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With more than a decade past since the original and the series diluted by some subpar entries on the PlayStation 2, PSP, and Nintendo DS, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Sega’s Phantasy Star Online 2 fail to find an audience. The old Dreamcast game might have been an online role-playing trailblazer, but the MMO genre has evolved many times in the intervening years. The appeal of adventuring in space with a bunch of armored anime girls apparently hasn’t faded though, as Sega’s free-to-play role-playing game has racked up 1 million registered users in just a couple of months of opening for business.

Sega (via Siliconera) announced the membership milestone on Tuesday and announced a bunch of giveaways—including Alienware laptops, t-shirts, and Phantasy Star 25th Anniversary concert tickets—for lucky fans of the game.

The 1 million player mark means more than just a robust domestic community for Sega’s MMO. That figure is significant in light of Sega’s troubled, transforming business.

Sega has had a harsh 2012 to date. In March, the company announced that its earnings in the last fiscal year were so catastrophically low that it would be forced to cancel most console game development, focusing instead on just a few core brands like Total War and Sonic the Hedgehog. Later in June, Sega began laying off the majority of its staff across Europe as well as employees in the US. Its relationship with independent console game developers like Platinum Games became troubled, as Sega refused to release games like Anarchy Reigns worldwide as planned. The strategy going forward: Re-release classic properties like NiGHTS and Jet Set Radio in HD and focus new development on mobile and social games that are free-to-play.

Enter Phantasy Star Online 2, a game very much rooted in Sega’s plans to make free-to-play gaming a central pillar of its business. “We are seeking to create a business model that functions while still allowing PSO2 to remain as much of an enjoyable experience as possible,” said producer Staoshi Sakai in April, “I honestly think Sega is the only maker that is willing to go this far [with free-to-play]. Even if we fail, if we can get people to say, ‘They were five years ahead of their time.’ Then I’ll have no regrets.”

With 1 million players already, a PS Vita release planned for the spring followed closely by an American release, Phantasy Star Online 2 looks to be worth the gamble.