Q&A: Pentavision's Lee Kyu Seok On Moving Beyond Rhythm Games
For several years, Korean developer Pentavision has been making rhythm games - and its core staff can claim experience in the genre going back even farther, when they created the arcade rhythm game EZ2DJ
for Amuse World.
Pentavision, which was acquired by Korean online giant Neowiz in 2006, is best known for its DJMAX
series, which it brought to PSP as well as online via PC, but the studio is branching out into other genres such as third-person shooting with S4 League
and action/strategy with DuelGate
Gamasutra sat down with Pentavision's Lee Kyu Seok for a chat about the company's history, its growth, and its future plans.
Can you explain Pentavision's history?
Lee Kyu Seok: The workforce in Pentavision, including the president, are the first generation of the Korean development industry, so we are leading the industry so far. It's been about 13 years since we established the company. From that time, we started with PC games and arcades, and nowadays, we're doing online games and console games. We're doing all of the games from all of the platforms.
What kind of arcade games did Pentavision make in the past?
LKS: It wasn't Pentavision back then. It was the main developers who worked at other companies [such as Amuse World], but who are now working for Pentavision. The main game they made was EZ2DJ
, the music arcade game.
So when did Pentavision itself get established as a company?
LKS: In 2004.
Yes, I thought it was recent. Are you both developing and publishing, as a company?
LKS: As for the online games, Neowiz is a big online game publisher in Korea. They are our mother company, so they are publishing our games. With our console games, we're doing it by ourselves.
But Pentavision has development staff, right?
How many people?
Does Neowiz own Pentavision completely, or is it just the main shareholder?
LKS: They have 100 percent of shares.
Why did Pentavision decide to enter the console market in Korea?
LKS: Our main developers who have worked for about 13 years for Pentavision really want to try all of the platforms, as many different kinds of platforms as possible, so that's why they are trying console games, arcade games, and online games.
I was wondering, because the console market is really difficult in Korea. When we spoke to T3, the company said it only sold 10,000 copies of Audition for PSP. Have you had similar trouble, or has it been easier than that?
LKS: When we started, it was about the same. People said it was really hard to sell 10,000 copies, and we were doing good if we could sell like 7,000. It was the same bad condition as we talked about, but we have a lot of know-how and experience in music games, and had an interest to do that.
When we saw that the PSP platform had a lot of multi-functions - like it lets you listen to music and play a game like that - we thought it was the right platform for that game, so we started to develop digital DJ games for PSP.
When they first started to distribute the PSP, people had a lot of the handhelds, but they didn't really have any software they could play. They were just using it to listen to music, instead of games. So we thought we could provide some game that they could really enjoy, and when we did marketing, they emphasized that part. Also, we had a stern belief in the developers we had, because they are experienced in music games.
Do you worry about piracy on PSP and consoles?
LKS: The first thing we have to worry about is piracy. It's really much worse than we expected. It's not a thing that you can regulate or something by law, so we just try to appeal to the users that the game is really worth having. I think...
Like with the limited edition? [The DJ Max limited editions are notoriously large, with soundtrack CDs, art cards/postcards, posters, and even a jigsaw puzzle.]
LKS: Yeah. It was with the limited edition. And the users also have to believe in the developers, like, if they develop it, it's worth buying it. It's the factor in the success of the games we've made.
I was wondering if the limited edition was inspired by the piracy, because it's got things that you can't get otherwise in a big box.
LKS: It's not only for piracy, the limited edition. We're just doing it as a service for the real fans of the games, and to show that the game is worthy of a limited edition. The limited edition's price is about the same as its production cost, so we can't get any profit from that, really.
There's no profit from the limited ones?
LKS: Not really. It's worth the money to increase the visibility of the game, and it's a service for the game fans.
After you released the first one in a very difficult market, why did you decide to release the second one? Did it do better?
LKS: Before the development of the second version, the development director did an interview where he said that if he could sell a certain amount of copies, he would release a second version. They reached that goal, so they had to! (laughs)
And there are many things that we thought we could do better. We were running out of time when we made the first version. But before there was DJ Max Portable
, there was DJ Max Online
, and we just made all the music the same as Portable
. So we wanted to change it.
The first one was really difficult. Did you adjust the difficulty level of the second one at all?
LKS: We improved the difficulty levels. We have easy mode for beginners, and we have those for the hard level players.
How did you wind up hooking up with the music and animation teams? It seems like a lot of work went into the music and animation side. Or was that internal?
LKS: Our goal is to make a game based on that strong multimedia personality, so we're hiring specialized persons for many areas, like animation and music. The game has to be really good to see and to hear.
Was it difficult to get all of those people together? Were some of them in-house sound design people, or did you have to hire all external?
LKS: Some are in-house development team, and some are from external sources. Since the oldest staff knew each other really well, they had really good connections.
Will you bring it to other consoles as well, more than the PSP?
LKS: We're thinking about Nintendo or Microsoft, and eventually will have discussions between them. Maybe soon they will give you news.
It seems like Live Arcade would be a very natural thing, because you could download new music packs and things like that.
LKS: I'm thinking about it.
(Online third-person shooter) S4 League, what is that like, the new game? It's online and consoles, right?
LKS: It's originally based on the online program. We are considering the consoles, but haven't really started on them.
Okay. I saw the video that was on a PSP, so I thought it was actually coming to the PSP.
LKS: It's online. We're just considering the PSP.
So how does the game actually play? What's the style?
LKS: As you can see from the video, it will be a very stylish game. So far, we've developed two moves - shooting moves. It's like football. You can carry the ball in for a touchdown. You have two moves, and we're making it as a really exciting action game.
In terms of DJ Max, if you were to license it for the U.S., would it be difficult to license the music and the animation and stuff, or do you own all the rights to that?
LKS: We own all the properties of animation and music. Even though we are outsourcing them, we just buy the copyright.
I see. So you don't license all the music? It's all original?
LKS: Yeah. It's all original.
I was wondering if it's difficult to get music licenses in Korea.
LKS: It's quite expensive to license music. Eventually, we did try to port normal Korean pop songs into DJ Max
, but the reaction of the users wasn't very good. They liked the original music more, so we just decided to go with the original ones.
How long has the online version of DJ Max been going?
LKS: Over three years.
Had the people at Pentavision worked on online games before that, or was this the first one?
LKS: DJ Max
is the first one.
Was it difficult to get into the online market?
LKS: Because they thought we had no experience, it was difficult to get a publisher.
Did users pick it up quickly, or was it a struggle to get people to be interested in a new online property?
LKS: Because it was our first time, we had difficulties in getting the users. We failed to make the game playable for all ages and generations, and based on that experience of failure, we wanted to make S4
Is DJ Max still being serviced in Korea, if you say it was kind of failing?
LKS: We didn't get a great number of users, but it's still in service.
Do you think it would do better if it was licensed in other countries as well?
LKS:I think it depends on the culture in other countries.
What do you think of the state of the portable market, and who is going to come out on top?
LKS: It doesn't matter who will come out on top. It's really hard to say. I think they have their own advantages, the PSP and Nintendo DS. Our goal is to make games adaptable for each platform. I notice, though, that casual games for Nintendo have more rapidly advanced titles, where the PSP does not.
Some people I've spoken to here (in Korea) have been concerned that with the DS, only Nintendo games are selling. Are you worried about that at all?
LKS: I'm not worried about only the Nintendo software selling. The console market is getting bigger by whatever platforms there are. Instead, I'm worrying about piracy with Nintendo.
On the train, I've been seeing a lot of people with the flash cartridges, so they can just download games.
LKS: It's not a good situation.
What do you think is going to be better for Pentavision in the future? Online or console?
LKS: We're going to do great in both markets. Our goal is to make games. Whatever game we make, we want to get a reputation where people think like, "Oh, they made it. It will be the best game." Like that.
Is S4 that being developed internally or externally?
Do you have one team or two?
LKS: For S4
, we have a team with a piece of many studios, so we had graphic artists and programmers from one team. We're doing another game called DuelGate
, too. We have another team for that game - DuelGate
team and S4
team, like that.
What kind of game is DuelGate?
LKS: It's an online multigenre game, with strategy and RTS and action.
Do you believe in console games, going forward? Do you think that's going to be a good market in Korea, or do you hope that your games will come out in the West?
LKS: For the Korean market, I think it will get bigger and better. Nintendo's been really successful, and the users' minds are changing and being improved about piracy, too, compared to ten years before. I think it's promising. Of course, we are thinking about going overseas, too.