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Piracy in Korea: R4 Triumphant

June 19, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[Game piracy may be somewhat stymied in the West, but in this case study, Seoul-based writer Rumas looks at the Nintendo DS piracy problem in Korea, discussing the cultural and practical problems of game copying.]

Korea has long had the reputation of being an epicenter of piracy in the games industry, but the greater-than-expected domestic success of Nintendo's DS has thrust things further out into the open than ever before. While no reliable figures exist at this point in time, all it takes is a pair of eyes to see just how widespread the practice is.

The recent report claiming ninety-percent R4 (or other DS storage device) ownership among DS users in North America was proven to be a misattribution, of course, but the statement would be more applicable - if still not completely true - in Korea. Over here, piracy is nothing if not absolutely and completely normal.

Not Limited to the Hardcore

To get an idea of what things are like, consider some random personal experiences I've had in the last few weeks. Anecdotal, to be sure, but very much representative of the situation that exists throughout the country at present.

I recently met up with a friend. His son came along, a game-obsessed third-grader who, unlike any other Korean kid I've ever known, insists on speaking only English with me, despite the fact that he knows very little of the language.

Aware that I'm a gamer, he proudly proclaimed to me that he was the owner of a brand new R4 card for his DS. Just to mess with him, I faked a scold and told him that the R4 was bad. He emphatically replied to me the following, complete with gestures to try and pull the words out of his mouth:

"I... R4... bad think is NO!"

The 'NO' was accompanied by an X-shaped cross of the hands. Laughing, I asked him how he got a hold of it. His uncle bought it for him, he said.

A week before that, my wife and I were at the local Lotte Mart one night doing some shopping. A middle-aged woman was there with her twenty-something daughter, and they were examining the DS section, debating what games to buy for a younger sibling along with a new DS Lite.

Price was obviously an issue, and though it was clear that they both possessed an extremely minimal knowledge of the subject at hand, the decision they came to in the end was very revealing: just buy the DS, and then get one of those special cards that have all the games on them already. Money saved, problem solved.

There are countless similar stories I could share, but these two illustrate the situation well enough. In Korea, piracy of video games isn't limited to the hardcore crowd; it's everywhere, prevalent in every age group and economic class that exists.

And beyond being a matter of money - of not wanting to spend money, that is - piracy for Koreans is, perhaps even foremost, a matter of convenience.

As illustrated above, R4 owners aren't necessarily tech-savvy. In fact, a decent number of those who venture to Seoul's Yongsan Electronics Market seeking to buy one aren't even aware that they can pick and choose the games that they want to download from the comfort of their own computer at home.

Rather, the vendor shows them a list of games, transferring the titles they select to the flash card.

The going rate at present is around 90,000 Korean Won, or about $87 USD, for the whole shebang. It should also be noted that the vast majority of those you see consulting Yongsan vendors about the R4 with hushed voices are parents and young women.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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