The world of console gaming in Korea may be massively dwarfed by the country's ever-booming PC sector, but don't be fooled -- it's come a very long way in recent years. Back in 2001, when the Korean government had barely begun to lift its long-held ban on domestic sales of Japanese game systems, Korea's console industry virtually didn't exist at all.
It was, up until that time, something that had remained extremely underground, the obsession of a small but dedicated and resilient group of hardcore fanatics. Then, in December of 2001, PlayStation 2 was given an official Korean launch, and things took off. Slowly.
Though Xbox and GameCube launched in Korea shortly after PS2, Microsoft and Nintendo didn't push their products nearly as heavily as Sony did, and as a result, didn't see a fraction of the success that Sony saw. Still, Microsoft's efforts with Xbox, while not exactly successful, did reap some positive fruitage -- the Xbox name became known as an identifying mark of the hardcore crowd, paving the way for 360's more successful launch years later.
Nintendo's GameCube, however, was a complete flop, a fact almost entirely attributable to Nintendo and local distributor Daiwon's reluctance to adapt in any way to the Korean market. The system basically appeared to have been 'thrown' into Korea, the only adaptation being the necessary change in voltage. Heavy-hitters (and potential Korean hits) such as The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and Metroid Prime, for instance, were released without translation, making them virtually inaccessible for all but the hardcore willing to trudge through foreign games with a dictionary at their side.
Game Boy Advance (the SP model, in particular) was quite a different story. Though Nintendo/Daiwon did virtually nothing to push the handheld, it still became a very coveted schoolyard item in no time flat. Unfortunately, it was very expensive here, as were its games, making it out of reach for the average kid.
On the other hand, most kids I knew from wealthy families in Seoul were proud to sport their GBA SPs (and now their DS lites) everywhere they went. Games may have been in Japanese or English, but as the really popular titles here weren't text-heavy, that didn't matter much. Also, as in other regions, GBA had no major competitor for the majority of its lifespan, making it an easier sell.
The one fact that cannot be overstated is just how big a role Sony has played since 2001 in the growth of the Korean home console market. The company's unwavering, full-fledged determination to break into PC-dominated Korea is what paved the way for virtually all of the progress, competitors' included, that has been seen since.
Other industry heads -- including former NCL head Hiroshi Yamauchi, who reportedly believed there was no real potential for the console industry in Korea -- were extremely wary on entrance into Korea, seeing it at a small and rather insignificant market, and hence tried to minimize investment. In contrast to this, Sony went to great lengths to push PS2 and make it seen everywhere, helping it to become the clear winner of the last generation, even if the numbers it did are rather unimpressive when compared with its performance in other territories.
Another thing that helped PlayStation 2 to gain ground in Korea was (and continues to be) the PlayStation Baang, the console equivalent of a PC internet cafe. While nowhere near as rampant as PC baangs, the 'Pul-seu Baang' is still a popular destination for game-loving youth. (Note: PlayStation isn't referred to as 'PS' here, but rather, as 'P+L+S' pronounced in Korean, which sounds like 'Pull' plus 'Seu'. Not easy to get used to for the Westerner.) Rates are quite a bit steeper than those of their PC counterparts, but most customers don't mind, as they offer a great venue for multiplayer matches in FIFA, Winning Eleven, and more.