This is my third G* in a row, and I’m more amazed than ever by the Korean gaming market – or let’s say the Asian online gaming market, if such a generalisation ever makes sense. Let’s go by the numbers first: according to 2007 figures, there are about 250 game development studios in Korea. Among them, 172 are dedicated to PC and online – but surprisingly, only seven to consoles. These companies, such as NCSoft – which, according to those 2007 statistics had 1,259 employees – Nexon (428 employees), NHN (1,000) or CJ Internet (‘only’ 329) develop dozens of games per year.
The genre of games made by these studios is basically MMO*: MMORPG, MMOFPS, MMO-whatever. Massively played (millions of registered domestic users is not unusual for a Korean MMO), and online, of course. Dancing games are almost a genre in themselves, a religion, played with a keyboard and consiberable fever.
But what struck me the most is the shift we see in the mindset of Korean developers towards the rest of the gaming planet. The Korean market is close to saturation, competition is overwhelming and the new growth axis is becoming… well, the rest of the world. Now they want to export their games, know-how and business models.
So far, strong historical factors, such as forbidden Japanese hardware pushing people to utilise their PCs to play, or the Korean national push for a very high speed internet made Korea a unique gaming space. In fact, it’s unique to a point where the Korean developers I met in the past few years couldn’t understand why we at Allegorithmic were sometimes presenting our technology as a way to shrink down the size of game clients. “Why is that important?” they would ask. Well, because everywhere but in Korea, it takes time to download. So here, no, it’s not a problem; but elsewhere it is.
Turns out, publishers of free-to-play games from outside Korea discovered that there is a direct relationship between the size of that client and the money the game will eventually generate, hence the importance of controlling that size.
So this year, I was particularly amazed when I realised that, after only a year, literally every single Korean online game developer I would meet (not to mention Chinese developers, as well as those based in South East Asia, all loving free-to-play PC online games) were looking for ways to export their games abroad, and adapting these games to these uncharted territories.
So get prepared: free-to-play online games are going to be omnipresent in Europe and in the US soon. This might be the business model of the future, and some big names from the good old retail gaming field have already started to feel the heat, and join forces with Korean masters of F2P: investing in these companies, such as EA investing $105 million in Neowiz in 2007, or by starting joint ventures and the like.
Korean developers have set up a new way to monetise these games, they have superb know-how, and a unique sense of what makes a game attractive to the mass market. Free-to-play is the way. Korea is paving it.
So: start stretching your fingers and get ready to dance.
Dr. Sébastien Deguy is the CEO of Allegorithmic, the company behind the ProFX procedural texture authoring and rendering system. He has a computer science background with a specialization in mathematics, random processes, simulation, computer vision and image synthesis. He is also an award-winning director and producer of traditional and animated short films.