Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Piracy in Korea: R4 Triumphant
View All     RSS
October 31, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 31, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

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

Related Jobs

Activision Publishing
Activision Publishing — Santa Monica, California, United States

Tools Programmer-Central Team
Vicarious Visions / Activision
Vicarious Visions / Activision — Albany, New York, United States

VFX Artist-Vicarious Visions
Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Level Designer
Amazon — Seattle, Washington, United States

Sr. Software Development Engineer - Game Publishing


Peter Park
profile image
This shows why Korea started flourishing in online game market. If it's not online, nothing makes money.

This is really pathetic... Hope Korea's economy gets better and people start paying for what they're getting.

James King
profile image
This is why Korea is awesome. Not only do they love e-sports and have the best Starcraft players in the world, but they have also realized how stupid the idea of intellectual property is. Copyright and patent laws need to be reformed.

Roberto Alfonso
profile image
In Argentina, piracy is widely accepted as the "current" way of obtaining music, videos and games. According to Sony Argentina, there are around 500,000 PlayStation 2 in the country (ref. "Playstation 2 is Xbox 360's biggest challenger in South America", The Inquirer, 2006-12-04). A pirated game costs between $5 and $10 (a bit less than USD 2 and a little more than USD 3, respectively), while an original game usually retails for $150 (around USD 50). The average income here is $1840 (ref. "Los mineros tienen los mejores sueldos y el campo, los peores",, 2008-02-21), that would be around USD 600, although over half the population can be considered poor (obtaining around $1200 per month, or USD 400). In any case, an eighth or a twelfth of the income for a single game is just too much to ask.

Consoles are pretty expensive too. I bought mine for around USD 480 at our local eBay-partner "Mercado Libre" (after considering shipping costs, the current US console mark up and the time, I realized it was a good offer). However, specialized stores have it at over $2500 (around USD 800). The PlayStation 3 was being sold in a known supermarket for $5999 (that would be virtually USD 2000, ref. "Selling Sony's PS3 is "illegal in Argentina"", The Inquirer, 2007-08-01). With these prices, one realizes it is very hard to go the legal route.

It is common to see people selling MP3 "CDs" for $5 (less than USD 2), or CDs with five recently launched movies for $10 (just above USD 3) on train, buses or even on street. There has been a boom with the release of MP3-able phones (in 2006 there were over 30 million mobile phones with just around 40 million inhabitants, ref. "Ya hay más de treinta millones de celulares",, 2006-01-07), which only incremented the trading of MP3s and videos.

Personally, I buy my games from Amazon. I have considered buying a R4 (and in fact, still consider it). But I am able to afford them. However, I can understand when someone tells me they cannot spend an eighth of their income to buy a single game when they could buy ten for a tenth.

South America is not a big market in terms of current console usage, and will never be with the current prices. I always say that US has the lowest price compared with Asia and Europe (in plain dollars), but even then it is too expensive for us. And since there would never be a market paying less than US, piracy will always exist here. For a game to be affordable here, it should cost no more than $50 (USD 17), which is simple impossible.

Eric Diepeveen
profile image
Here in The Netherlands it is legal to download and copy (for private use) music & movies. That fact makes it more accessible for the higher tech (people who can use a SD card/DVDburner) to download games as well. There is so much unclarity about what is and isn't legal to download in Holland that alot of gamers asume that if downloading music/movies is legal downloading software/games are too. I'm not lying when I say that 75% of all the DS owners I know have a flash card. Heck almost everyone I know at my Game Design course has a flash card. One of my classmates told me the following: "The games I download help me design better games in the future". I just couldn't argue that :)

profile image
Pretty dumb for Nintendo to fight this because these people and the majority of people that pirate anywhere would not buy the games that they are pirating. If you stop them it isn't a question of will they go elsewhere? They will definitely go elsewhere where it is possible to pirate. I pirate nearly everything and I don't feel bad about it one bit for various deep reasons/beliefs that I won't get into. There are minor things like if companies are going to release game pictures and themes and more models/clothes etc for games for money then I'm going to pirate. That extra content they push on people takes no time to create and most of it is throw away stuff from development. So if they pull that I pull pirating. Not to mention the low quality of about 95% of the games released.

Mats Persson
profile image
B N : If 95% of the games are bad, perhaps you should simply stop playing them?

You mean it's OK to steal "all the bad" games, as you wouldn't buy them anyway? And just pay for the 5% that are good? Oh, but you don't pay for those either, do you?

profile image
Eric Diepeveen>

Looks like you want to work in our industry. And the industry is small. Don't forget that you and your classmates are biting the hand(s) that may feed you in the future. By pirating games, you are depriving people of income. It's not a victimless crime. Nothing's free.

James King>

IP laws stupid? How do you propose to "reform" patent and copyright laws? Make everything free and open source?

Did it ever occur to you that without copyright and patent laws, there would be no e-sports and "the best Starcraft players in the world"? Whether its the CPU or GPU in the or the (pirated) OS running the (pirated) copy of Starcraft, all of those products exist because they are afforded protections under intellectual property laws. Without those protections and the right to exploit the fruits of your hard labor, do you think that individuals or companies will invest years of R&D to make those products?

B N>

At the height of the Napster craze, people said the same thing about people paying money for mp3's. Apple and iTunes has shown that people are willing to pay for downloadable content if it's priced right.

And why don't you want to talk about your "various deep reasons/beliefs?" You obviously have an interesting take on this piracy topic- why don't you explain to us how you justify your parasitic existence?

Eric/James/BN, if you actually made a living making video games, you would have a different attitude than your apologist's views on piracy.

Eric Diepeveen
profile image
Anonymous: I completely agree. I was just posting facts, nothing more.

Maurício Gomes
profile image
Hello, as some may know, I am from Brazil, here the situation is similar to Argentina, the income is low (in fact here the income is lower than in argentina) and the prices are high (there was a table somewhere on wikipedia with the prices of XBOX360, Brazil had the highest price, easily beating the second place...), so the piracy here obviously will go rampant...

I have some games, some original, those that after playing a pirate version I felt that the dev should get some money, and some are pirate and I will not buy a original version of them anytime soon... Why? It is because my salary as Game Designer and Programmer do not pay them... Yes, exacly, the game price is higher than my ENTIRE month of work...

Happily I am managing to get rid of most pirated software o/ I for example use OpenOffice instead of MSOffice, and in fact I prefer it... I also use Blender instead of Max or Maya, and that goes on... Unfortunally several companies demands Max or Maya, and universities for some obscure reason insist in refusing to use or allow the use of OpenSource software, result: On my university for example, instead of all students knowing Blender, all students know Max and Maya and have pirate versions of them... (I also have too, mainly because the university does not have structure to serve all students at same time and asks works done on those software... So we have pirated versions or we do not make our homework and get blasted...)

profile image
It should be noted that such devices are even used in some game developer studios for both internal QA and/or "play-days" or "focus testing", as it's a bit of a waste of money to provide every single tester with a full IS Nitro DevKit.

profile image
Actually I don't pirate that 5% of games that I believe are good. I just bought MGS4 because I think it deserves it, but that is the only game in about 2 years that deserves it to me.

Piracy is a victimless crime because pirates wouldn't buy the stuff under normal circumstances.

I do make a living in the video game industry as a programmer and my view is the same as it always has been on piracy. The games wouldn't have been sold anyway to the pirates so no one is being hurt. Someone is however getting some fun out of the game that normally wouldn't, and how can you argue with a little more fun in the world? You can't so stop being so serious.

The great thing about our digital age is that people from all walks of life can experience the same things and have the same fun no matter their financial situation because the digital age doesn't take physical resources to make duplicates. It is all bytes and bits and code that someone created at one time, but can be infinitely reproduced. To me that is very exciting. It is a win win situation. The companies get sell their stuff while people that normally wouldn't experience or be able to experience something can pirate it and take up no resources in the process. The companies are happy with what they sold (they wouldn't sell any more if piracy didn't exist), and others are happy as well. It seems just as wrong to me to be able to continue to take money from people for something forever that is infinitely reproducible and requires no resources (especially regarding digital downloads since no CD/Casing/Manuals/etc).

I fail to see how you can argue with more joy in the world. You enjoy crime? You would like your mom to robbed and then shot on a street corner so a drug addict could get their fix? Imagine if drugs didn't require actual resources and could be downloaded over the internet. Your mom lives and the drug addict is happy. Sure, I took it to an extreme, but the idea is the same when something is resourceless and infinitely reproducible all you're doing by allowing people to get their hands on this stuff is making the world a better place so the developers should be proud no matter how their creation is distributed.

Andy F
profile image
In Bangladesh it's the same situation with piracy and with income. However you can buy books from many major publishers here (legally) at a considerably reduced price; the books are only allowed to be sold in a select region that includes Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal and a few others I think. The other day I bought a reference book that goes for USD 100 on Amazon for about USD 14.

I would be interested in seeing that approach adopted by game publishers. I can't see any major arguments against this, given that illegal games for USD 1 are already available and ubiquitous.

Jeremy Dore
profile image

Sorry, but pretending to work for the very industry that you pirate from shows nothing other than your inherent lack of understanding of how it effects this industry and how it will later effect it. You think games are expensive now? You have not see ANYTHING yet. Maybe when digital distribution takes hold these parasites will finally be weeded out since in order to get games (or to even run them) you will have to be tied to the network of the provider of the hardware. I know there will eventually be a work around but making it tougher to pirate will make it much more difficult for even the semi-tech conscious individual.

Raymond Grier
profile image
I've worked in China several times and am pretty sure it is the supreme capital of Copyright infringement, it's so bad that console makers don't put much effort into marketing or distributing products there. Almost every block in Nanjing has multiple stores that solely exist to sell pirated CDs/DVDs at reasonable prices and therein lies the source of all pirating....people steal what they can't afford to buy. Ultimately this is just another one of many serious problems in our society that start with major corporation greed, the more profit a corporation insists on earning each year, the higher the cost of goods no matter what they are (remember profits are after expenses are paid). As I am working on my first commercial game as an independent I am planning on keeping my products affordable, not everyone thinks that way.

John Kwag
profile image
I work in the games industry in Korea. I have also worked in the web industry as well.

There is no ethical battle over IP infringement or price gouging...etc.

It's all besides the point. Koreans are not very much into the abstract question of wheter it is right to do so but rather "Can I do it? What is stopping me?"

Watch how people drive here and you'll understand what I mean.

So our industry, instead of suing our customers. Instead of driving away customers with DRM which will be broken anyways took the most practical routes:

1) A way to authenticate that is unseen and unfelt by the normal customer.

2) Distribute free but charge for convenience/aesthetic features.

The practical way to make money when completely self-contained standalone products will somehow in someway be free is to not make it self contained. TO require connection.

To make that requirement a plus.

TO play with the practical limits of human perception. We can easily calculate and evaluate lump sums/batch prices. Judgements arise easier when you can evaluate a dozen brown eggs at a singular price to your budget. However, buying candy everytime your sweet tooth feels itchy...? A lollipop there, a caramel corn here. Not so easy to budget.

So we skip the entire scaring our customer base away, suing them (which essentially scares them away too) or complicating the process to just playing the game. We skip the moralizing. We skip the lawsuits. We skip the rootkits.

If you want to make money. Adjust to your customers. Do not expect them to adjust to you. That's the future, present, and the past of any freaking retail industry.

This is nothing new. The philosophical arguments are those between dinosaurs debating how they will either starve, freeze, or burn to death because none of the conditions are able to sustain their girth, their appetite, and optimal temps.

While the primates simply try to eat no matter what the conditions and thus evolve.

profile image
If piracy is so high it's because the retail prices for the games are too high. Game companies need to lower prices to find a happy point where people will buy games rather than pirate to maximise their profit.

profile image
Jeremy Dore

Game prices really haven't gone up much over the years (compared to lots of other things) I remember Nintendo games costing 40-50. Anyway piracy has nothing to do with rising costs. It is about how much the game costs to make and as technology gets better and graphics become as good as they can get games as we know them today (controller/tv) will start to cost less to make in turn lowering game prices if anything. So future price raises are the least of our worries in the game industry.

jerome cukier
profile image
if anything the R4 proves that the DS without hardware modification can store and play downloaded content.

the only way to fight piracy is to switch to 100% online distribution. Nintendo could market a storage device equivalent to the linkers but without amovible cards or PC interface, that could download content using the Wi-Fi service.

once manufacturing, logistic and retailer costs are out of the picture the end-user price of games can plunder. if a legit service is cheap and convenient then piracy loses its raison d'etre. +, if games were dematerialized N could explore alternative pricing models (ex. get game for a couple of days for cheap, subscribe for recurring fee, sell micro-content for games...). IMO this will be a win-win-win for consumers, developers and nintendo.

The current situation is not bad for nintendo though who is effectively using linkers to build a user base.

Jupiter Chan
profile image
We as players don't want penalties like floating prices on hot titles or regional restrictions, if this is how publishers "encourage" us for respecting that we called intellectual property.

profile image

Sorry but you're just plain wrong. About 1/3 of the DS and PSP owners I know pirate every single title they want to play, regardless of whether they think it might be great or crap; they simply do not want to pay for games. As another anonymous poster said, this is only hurting the people (such as myself) trying to make a living within the industry. It is hard enough for developers to keep their doors open, and piracy issues only make things more difficult. It might be tough on your brain, but do the math:

Potential sales - piracy = less revenue = less games being made = your "crappy game" situation getting worse.

Eventually, you will have nothing to play. Kudos.

Diego Araujo
profile image
Just my personal opinion, but I think most people on the 1st world have no idea of what the video-game market is on developing countries (although many think they do). The money spent on a PS3 game by legal means is enough to pay all your food in a month. Buying original games through importers is logically wrong to a common person. You can't expect every citizen in a developing country to be a virtuous paladin and do it the right way:

"I cannot afford it, therefore I shall not play it. For the glory of the industry, i will sacrifice my fun!"

The guy is a gamer. He wants to play, but still has to pay his bills. If he can pay them and still play Mario Galaxy through a pirated copy, he'll do it.

If games where at least officially distributed, the prices would drop by half or more.

Online distribution? If, for instance, someone wants to buy a game in Wiiware, the person will need an international credit card or she'll have to buy a wii points card on an eBay-like site (mostly untrustable).

The music industry tried to keep it's old ways in an ever-changing world and look at them. Are we heading the same way?

profile image
To Anonymous:

I own a PSP and I pirate nearly every game like the people you said you know. Thing is if I couldn't have pirated I would have never bought a PSP therefore I would have never bought a PSP game. So again, piracy doesn't hurt the companies because the people pirating wouldn't buy the stuff if they couldn't pirate.

profile image
Stone Bytes:

To be honest I really haven't spent much time playing my pirated games. I have tons of them, but I still don't play them often because most of them just aren't good games. Some of them I have never played. This is the beauty of the digital age things can be infinitely reproduced for no physical resource cost so it shouldn't cost me to reproduce it myself. Great, someone made game A at one time in history, and now they want to tell me I can't reproduce it when it costs no one anything and it is just 0's and 1's. They can sit back and make infinite copies of this for no cost and basically they have their own money mint. That right there is wrong and like using a cheat code in life for infinite ammo.

Also your little saying here:

"Hey, I bought the console and pirated only a hundred games. It's all positive for Sony, since I wouldn't buy their games anyway haha!"

is true it is all positive for Sony since I wouldn't have bought the system in the first place if pirating didn't exist thereby not helping Sony at all. At least with the existence of piracy I'm helping them a little bit. So the company's situation either gets better by a little or stays the same. I think we know which they would prefer.

Anyway, it is pathetic to defend multi-billion dollar companies with everything else going on in the world, give me a break. I'm not heart broken for not helping Sony Exec 033 pay for their third yaught, I won't lose sleep over that. Being a good business man is 90% knowing how to steal so don't get all preachy on me at how I'm wrong and Mr. Big Business is right.

profile image
Again, you just don't get it. I'm not participating in the death of any companies because the goods would never have been bought in the first place. I'm not copying these to sell on the street corner they are for personal use, and would under no circumstances be bought by me at any time if I couldn't pirate them. I'm a very disciplined consumer and I am not persuaded by commercials so I'm not going to be some impulse buyer ever. I research things before I buy them, and I know which games deserve my money and which don't. Whether I can pirate or not is not factored into my decision. If I deem a game not worthy I will pirate it for possible personal use later or if not that just to have a collection down the road when the games probably won't even be able to be found anymore. There's no reason to not have a personal collection of games throughout history good or bad if they can be infinitely reproduced for nothing. So unless you have something new to say besides "you're hurting these companies" just keep quiet because that just isn't true. In other words what are your thoughts on piracy for personal use only in the way that I described because you keep steering off into another direction with your arguments that doesn't apply to me.

Andy F
profile image
Stone Bytes wrote:

Consider that by doing so, they'd be shifting the issue: customers of country A would get their consoles from country B which is in the same local region.

If you lower the price of _legal_ games in a country like Argentina, you're still increasing the price of games there in general. Where before games were available for USD 1, they're now (after massive anti-piracy drive coupled with Eastern Economy Edition legal prices) available legally for USD 5 (or whatever).

I reckon that anyone who would travel the distance to buy the cheap and legal USD 5 versions would've been buying the illegal USD 1 versions before that anyway. Not that I think that many people would travel real distances to buy games. I think the bigger fear for the publishers would be middlemen buying in bulk in a cheap country and selling them on for the normal price in an expensive country. But as I mentioned, book publishers are doing it on the Indian sub-continent; dunno if they're having any problems with it.

profile image
Bill Boggess,

Look it really comes down to our class alignment. You say you spend thousands in this industry per year so of course you look negatively on pirates. Not many people can spend that much per year on an entertainment industry, you are lucky. You must have a good job and good life and I bet you had a good childhood as well. It all starts with family, and some people can't be fortunate enough to be born with a silver spoon of love in their mouth. Love equals success and a different view of the world. I can't magically make you understand people so different from your life, but you should be smart enough and aware enough to realize that some things transcend simply wrong or right. So basically what am I trying to say? That neither I am wrong or you are wrong its just our view of the world and our own reality there really is no end all be all view because all angles can be debated from several other angles and it could go on forever into infinite layers of complexity. So I'll leave it at just be open minded and try to understand other people's views instead trying to skew their views into your own.

Jeremy Dore
profile image
There is nothing "right" in being a thief B N... it is clear that you just... don't... get it.