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 presents five complete interviews with a variety of members of top companies in the market, conducted principally at the annual Seoul-based consumer games show GStar, to offer their perspective on the industry in 2007.
Nexon's manager of international business development, Stephen Lee, points out that "We think that the U.S. market, as a market, it's big enough for gaming, but mainly until now, it was focused on the console game side. I think it has a lot of potential and still has to grow." But he cautions that "Considering the market size and the existing number of gamers, I think we have a long way to go. We think in a couple of years, the situation will dramatically change." Despite relying on microtransactions for much of its revenue, Lee "can't rule out the merits of the subscription model."
Webzen's development strategy manager of global studios, Sang Woon Yoon, points out the company has one game in development in China -- as do some of the other participants -- given the rise of that market. He observes that though the Korean market is lucrative due to its high number of online users, the packaged software market in the U.S. allows Webzen to "...calculate ROI easier than online games. Also the next-generation consoles like the 360 shows great graphics, and a lot of CPU power... We have no choice but to go for those," noting, "We can't really push for the Korean way. In America, it just doesn't work."
Yoo-Ra Kim, CMO and director of T3, the company behind the massively popular Audition, speaks on the role of traditional media in promoting the casual-focused MMO. "So now, we have a regular TV show, where we invite celebrities on TV, so they're talking about gossip things and their current views and they are bringing their new album, if they are singers. So they just introduce, and with Audition users, they play the game, on TV." The company, however, is taking a different tack for the game in Europe, where it's struggling to find a foothold. "We will make Audition packaging that looks like a DVD case, which will have the client and some special item like clothes, and some special present inside. We'll make it very fancy, so it looks like a console game..."
The interviewees, which also include mobile developer Com2Us's president Ji Young Park and Dae Hwan Lim, Microsoft's marketing coordinator of the Entertainment & Devices (i.e. Xbox 360), were universally interested in vaulting into the console and handheld markets, and growing audiences both inside and outside Korea with these projects.
The groundwork is still being laid, however -- Nexon is working with Nintendo on MapleStory DS, but others are still evaluating the market. Lim sees the Xbox 360 market as presently laying the groundwork for consoles catching on in Korea -- "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."
For many more insights into this vibrant and unique territory for gaming, the full transcripts of these interviews follow.