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Gaming rapidly became a favorite pastime in the PC rooms, and still are today, Song said, though PC ownership has risen considerably over the years. Going to a bahng is familiar and convenient, he said, though he acknowledged that many gaming, sitting elbow-to-elbow in front of PC desks, spend long hours playing – and smoking – with one hand on the mouse and a cigarette between two fingers of the other hand. “Not very healthy,” Song said, after hand-motioning how a player might bring a cigarette to his lips if he needed to type, then retrieving the cigarette between two fingers again. And in Lineage, a character can be moved and directed with mouse alone.
South Korea's gaming community doesn't have the history of the United States or Japan, Song said, acknowledging that there are differences in the way Koreans play from the way Americans play. However, he said, the differences aren't so great that gamers from both countries can't enjoy the same game, citing Blizzard's success with Starcraft in South Korea. “I'd say that 70 percent of the playstyles are the same, from Korea to America,” Song said. “My point is, it's more than half.”
But even with success in his home country, Song still had his dream of success in America. He'd sent resumes to Electronic Arts “three or four times,” he said, and in 1998, for his first trip ever to America, he went to the Electronic Entertainment Expo, E3. There, he went to the EA booth, which was showcasing, among other things, Ultima Online. At the time, Song said, he had only a vague idea that EA was based in Los Angeles, the site of the expo, but not that Origin Systems, the EA subsidiary founded by Garriott that developed UO – was in Austin, Texas.
It was at EA's E3 booth where Song met Starr Long, UO's producer. “I worked up my courage,” Song said, “And I went over to ask him ... something like, 'Have you ever seen my application?'” Long was polite in his reply, Song recalled, but it was awkward at best, and left with Long excusing himself. When he got back to Seoul, a postcard was waiting for Song – EA had declined to hire him.
It wouldn't be the last time Song would see Starr Long, though. In 2000, Long would join Richard and Robert Garriott to form Destination Games, an Austin studio including several ex-Origin employees. In March 2001, EA announced it was laying off 250 employees and canceling, among other projects, UO's sequel, sending even more Origin developers to Destination.
Meanwhile, Song remained at NCSoft. By 2000, the company had made attempts to push Lineage into neighboring countries and was thinking seriously about setting a footprint in America. That summer, Song helped set up a small office for NCSoft in Los Angeles, for the purpose of support and marketing NCSoft games in North America. The following spring, Song saw a post to the venerable MUD-Dev-L mailing list by Jeremy Gaffney, announcing that Destination Games was growing rapidly and was looking for business partners. Seeing an opportunity for NCSoft, Song answered the mail. And before long, he was talking to Starr Long again, setting up a meeting time for him to visit the team in Austin. At the time, Song said, he wasn't even aware Richard Garriott was involved.
“They gave us directions,” Song recalled, “We went to the address, and it was Richard's house.”
The deal was made quickly, with the announcement at E3 in May 2001 that Destination Games would be NCSoft's new headquarters in North America. The office in Los Angeles would remain for several years before its services would be moved to Austin, but before then NCSoft would acquire ArenaNet in Seattle and establish studios in Northern California and Great Britain.