With the rise of microtransactions and MapleStory
, South Korean gaming has been growing in respect and relevance in the west.
There's a lot to learn from this rich, constantly evolving market, which grew up along lines so different from the U.S., Japan and Europe that it's difficult to compare -- and compete with.
To that end, Gamasutra has compiled five complete interviews
with a variety of members of top companies in the market, conducted principally at the annual Gstar trade show, to offer their perspective on the industry in 2007 and going forward.
This time, Gamasutra speaks to Dae Hwan Lim, marketing coordinator in the Entertainment & Device Division at Microsoft Korea about the company's foray into a market colonized by Sony a year ahead of them, from supporting a new development community to the possibility of building internal studios there.
How long has Microsoft had Xbox operations in Korea?
Dae Hwan Lim: Version one? They launched the Xbox in 2001, in December. The 360 was launched in 2006 everywhere.
Sony was launched a lot earlier. Why did Microsoft decide to take the approach to jump into Korea?
DL: The PlayStation 2 was launched one year before the Xbox version one. At that time, people were aware of video games but not many were in the userbase then. With the PlayStation, they could see the possibilities of the market. Microsoft saw the prospect in the market, so they decided to come to Korea. After the launching of version one, we had a competitive relationship with the PS2, and in 2006, we launched the 360 and started forward.
How many 360s have been sold in Korea so far? I think I saw a number at the Gstar presentation -- like 150,000, maybe?
DL: 100,000, here.
That's about what I thought. It's not a secret that the Korean and the Japanese markets are very small for the 360 still.
DL: It's a market with a huge possibility, because 80 percent of people are aware of games and understand playing.
What do you think it's going to take for Microsoft to have a big success in Korea?
DL: There are some games for the Korean market, like the games developed in Asian territories. So there are some anticipated games, like games developed in Japan and Korea. They're making games preparing for the holiday season.
It seems that most Korean companies in the past made Sony games, but currently, they're targeting PC and 360. What is Microsoft doing in Korea to support them, or give them incentive to make games for Microsoft platforms?
DL: They need some tools to get Korean developers to make Xbox games, so they have a special person who is in charge of that kind of stuff. They have a third-party manager, so that they can give regard to the developers and help them. The online game market in Korea is huge, so there is a lot of convergence going on from online to Xbox. They are doing a lot.
Are you doing any funding of games that are created in Korea?
DL: We don't do the funding with money, but we support development of the software. We have our own R&D team, and when third-parties import those games, they support the localized version.
How much is done in localization? Do you do voice as well as text and the manual and all that?
DL: Our goal is to localize the games with 80 percent of text, or sometimes voice. But sometimes there are games that don't really need localization, like racing games and shooting games.
So those are usually in English language, right?
DL: English and sometimes Japanese.
Microsoft in the U.S. has internal game developers in the Xbox division, and in Japan, they have Microsoft Game Studios. Will there ever be similar internal development at Microsoft Korea?
DL: We don't have any development studios.
Yeah, but is there any plan to do anything like that in the future?
DL: There are a lot of start-up development companies here we'll support first. Still, I think there's a possibility if the market gets huge and gets bigger, because it's a very good environment for game development.
Some companies I've spoken with have said that Korean game developers now don't have enough experience making full, complete products. Is that something you can help with?
DL: Because we support development companies, developing for the Xbox in that environment is very similar to the PC game environment. We provide support, and I think they're already equipped with the skills to develop the games.
Pretty much everyone I've talked to so far does not feel that way. They feel like they need a lot more project management and quality control, and experience with making finished projects. Pretty much everyone said that they needed a lot more help to finish these projects.
DL: They say they don't have experience, but I think they have the ability to develop these games. It was a good investment in console games, where there hasn't been any big success. That's the problem. It's not a problem with them. By giving them good prospects of success by making the Xbox successful here, they can get that good environment they need for their success.
If Microsoft in Korea set up a division to assist these companies with creating end products... if you could assist them, and give them the idea that they could release that in the west, they would be much more likely to create a finished 360 project. Then if that game gets released here, more people would want to buy it. I think that's how it...
DL: We're planning that, but I think the market base is not really established yet. We're in the process of doing that first, with that kind of assistance.
So what are you doing to make the install base larger?
DL: I can't think of a basic answer, because the console games market is not really successful here. We want to establish the base first for the Xbox 360 by releasing games more fit for Korean gamers. The company itself will make an investment for that. We're trying to establish the fact that games can be played by anyone, not just by adults.
So more casual-oriented games?
DL: There a casual game coming developed by a Korean company, and an RPG game that Koreans really like, all developed by Koreans. There is an edutainment game as well.
Oh really? There's been no edutainment-type game in the U.S. so far for the 360. Is that going to be first in Korea?
DL: It's an English game.
Like teaching English?
DL: [In English] Yeah. My English is very small, so it's for me, in this case. (laughs)
How many games are in development right now for the Xbox 360 in Korea, that you know of?
DL: Six are in development. There will be more eventually.
Can you say which companies? I know some of them.
DL: Studio Nine is developing a game. Also Phantagram, from Kingdom Under Fire
. Nexon's Mabinogi
. I can't say more than that.
Do you think that Mabinogi is going to make a big difference in the market?
was a really successful game in Korea, and I'm expecting getting users from online games, and it will give them new experience in video games.
Do you know if there is a plan to release it in the west?
DL: It's up to Nexon.
Are there some Live Arcade games being developed here as well?
DL: Some companies are thinking about it, but we're not exactly planning on it. Many people have interest in it, and have requested that.
When companies are coming to you to release a game on the 360, do they expect that it will do really well in Korea, or are they usually hoping that it's going to go over to other markets?
DL: They want success in both sides. In Phantagram's case, they suggested they may be more successful than that.
How many people are working in Microsoft Korea on the Xbox division?
DL: Xbox division? Ten.
So it's still very small. Do you think the company needs to grow in order to make the market grow, or the other way around?
DL: We keep hiring people.
Ah, okay. That's good. Why do you think a lot of people have been reluctant to move into the console space so far in Korea?
DL: Console game development is what Korean developers desire. Why they couldn't move into console game development is because there aren't that many companies doing that. And it's really hard to get a job overseas to do that, because of English.
So what are you doing to make them feel better about developing on console?
DL: I can't make my own company, but... (laughs) Instead, I'll make the Xbox a big success, to show that console games can be successful here.
It's easy to say, but hard to do!
DL: Sony should try too!
What's more successful in Korea right now? Xbox 360 or PS3?
DL: Xbox is doing much better. There is a huge gap in market sales.
When I talked to Blueside, they said that in the past, Kingdom Under Fire sold more than Halo. Do you think Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom will sell more than Halo 3?
DL: Any game can get over Halo 3
if it's well-made. But Halo 3
is a really well-made game, so to sell more than that, they should try to make better games.
They're not sure if they can beat it this time, but they're trying! There are other companies out there that have made games for PlayStation platforms in the past, but have not done much more console development. Are you trying to get them to come to Microsoft's side, like T3 or Sonori, or other smaller companies like this?
DL: There is a company like that. The company who made Magna Carta
DL: Yeah, Softmax. Officially, there is nothing else. But we're planning on talking.
So Softmax is discussing with you, or talking to people in general? Or they keep saying it?
DL: Softmax already did a 360 game, and other than that, there's nothing officially there. The next Magna Carta
being made is for the 360. We're still discussing with other companies.
Do you think that Korean 360 sales will be able to surpass Japanese 360 sales?
DL: The number of people will surpass it, I guess. It's already a success. The physical number of the sales is not impossible.
When do you think that might happen?
DL: You should talk to the PR manager first! (laughs)
Marketing and PR are very close!
DL: Talk to them first, then talk to me. I kind of mentioned it, about the other markets.
You know, if you say that Korea will beat Japan and Korean people hear it, they'll probably make that happen!
DL: Maybe! (laughs)
What do you think is next for the 360 in Korea, after the holiday season?
DL: Christmas is very important. With the holiday season, we'll focus first on our own marketing, and on all games developed by Korean and Japanese developers. We think this season can be a really important opportunity, and we can try to make a big market for us.
It seems like a good time to take advantage of your lead over PlayStation 3.
DL: Actually, the PlayStation marketing managers are envying us, because we have a lot of various content lined up.
That's true. In terms of what kind of marketing you're doing... well, what kind of marketing are you doing? Walking around [in Seoul], I see Nintendo DS advertisements everywhere, and commercials and stuff. What kind of initiatives are you putting forth?
DL: We're going to have TV commercials for specified cable TV channels. It has a specific target base. Nintendo's for kids and teenagers, and... we will be in a lot of communities that can play the Xbox.
I see. So will you set up kiosks in malls and things like that?
DL: Yes. We're already doing it, and we will increase the presence. Especially in winter.
Do you think that price is a factor in people not buying it? Have you considered any further price cuts?
DL: I don't think price is the main factor. Because it's the holiday season, there will be a lot of packages, so that will have the same effect as a price cut. Still, even if people think it's kind of expensive, it will persuade them by showing how fun it is, by experiencing the opportunities.
So it's like pack-in software and stuff like that?
Which games are you going to be putting in?
DL: There will be an Xbox 360 Arcade. It will include arcade games, and HDMI ports newly installed, and other stuff, so they can buy it at a cheap price.
So kind of the same as the Arcade console pack release in the U.S.?
Right. Is there anything else you want to say about the Xbox initiatives in Korea and what you're doing?
DL: In Korea, there are not that many console games, the type where the main game is too big, so we want to share how fun console games are, and how it can be successful for the holiday season.
For many more insights into this vibrant and unique territory for gaming, the full transcripts of these interviews
are now available on Gamasutra.