For the last two weeks, we’ve talked about mobile platforms like Kakao and Line, two messaging apps that went on to become highly successful platforms that succeeded through games. This week we take a look at another marketplace in Korea, that despite not being mentioned as much as their more popular peers, are still important retail channels that warrant a look for developers looking for an alternative in Korea.
The Big Three
Korea has three major telecoms to choose from: SK Telecom, KT and LG U Plus. The combined three operators have a subscription base of over 30 million users and a near 108% penetration rate. This makes Korea one of the first connected device markets in the world to achieve saturation. Along with mobile services each of the three provide a variety of other services including internet, phone and TV services. While each of the three companies are among the top grossing and most successful companies in Korea, SK Telecom is the most successful in the mobile market, with nearly 50% of the market share.
These three telecoms, provide mobile services along with other multimedia options for their users such as music, movies and apps. Kakao may have taken the crown as the most popular platform for games and other media, each of the services’ own app stores offer their own intriguing differences and advantages.
The T Store
After launching in 2009, SKT’s T Store set out to offer a place for developers and publishers to have a open mobile marketplace and as a result ended up becoming the first mobile open market in Korea. Calling themselves a “clean open market”, this means that anyone is free to submit a idea proposal and as long as the contents are not deemed illegal or harmful by an outside approval committee such as the Game Rating Board, can move forward with the approval process.
Along with publishing, distributing games on the T Store is also a more open process. Other application stores provide applications for smart phones and mobile devices based on their own platform. Regardless of the type of device or carrier the user has, they are still able to use and access the T Store and all of its 1.5 million contents, which according to Flurry’s 2013 report on South Korea, 96% of which are free. With this in mind, the T Store currently has 22 million subscribers of which 12 million are monthly active users, making it largest app store in Korea.
The T Store also utilizes its own mobile payment system called T Cash. With T Cash, users can be used for app purchases as well as real world transactions like train and taxi fare. Nearly 54% of app purchases from the T Store are made with T Cash.T Store also allows other forms of payment including credit card payment and charging purchases to a existing phone bill.
For developers interested in putting a game on the T Store, they are invited to sign up at the T Store Development Center. Those planning on selling a game on the store have to pay a yearly registration fee, where the money paid for the fee goes towards the assistance of covering the cost of the development and verification of contents. SKT also offers digital rights management to protect developers from piracy. Developers can choose to use drm offered through SK, or any other form they wish to use.
The developers set the price of the game they wish to publish and are allowed to keep 70% of revenue with the remaining 30% going to SKT as a commission for infrastructure upgrades and marketing.
Since May 2010, SKT has opened the T Store to all three wireless carriers in Korea, letting customers interact and download content from the T Store regardless of their carrier. A month after opening the service, the number of LG U + and KT subscribers was around 7,000. This number grew to a reported 300,000 subscribers by September 2011 and crossed the 3 million subscriber milestone in 2013.
By opening its doors, the T Store has become the largest mobile content market in Korea. The store currently has 400,000 contents consisting of games, apps, VOD, e books, music and coupons. The most popular items sold on the T Store are games. According to Flurry’s analysis on the South Korean mobile market, 68% of their revenue comes from games and game related apps. On average, revenue from games generated about ₩5,657 (U.S. $5.27) per user per month compared to an overall average of ₩3,135 (U.S. $2.92) per user per month in revenue across all other forms of digital content for all customers. T Store not only includes games exclusive to their marketplace, but games from LG U +, KT and Kakao as well.
LG U + and KT Application Store: The Soft Launch Stores
Since becoming available with all three carriers, the popularity of LG’s and KT’s app store has diminished with a majority of subscribers using either T Store or platforms like Kakao. For developers looking to publish a title on a marketplace, both LG and KT are inconsequential when it comes to finding a dedicated users base. However, thats not to say that both stores aren’t without their uses. For the savvy developer, both stores can function as a way of soft launching your game allowing developers to beta test and fine tune their games before releasing a revised and perfected version to T Store.
Due to the user base for both of these app stores being much smaller, both stores offer the chance to work with a much smaller audience when publishing a game. Not only does this allow feedback from users in terms of what they like and don’t like about the game, it also offers developers time to fine tune and update their title while still making a profit. In the end this allows developers to find and fix potential problems that games can run into such as network and firmware compatibility issues and gradually revise the game until all the issues are fixed. Having already soft launched their game, developers can now submit a version of their game that through feedback and testing, is perfected and ready for a larger marketplace.
Submitting to the LG U + and KT Olleh App Stores
The LG U+ App Store or LG SmartWorld offers over 4,000 apps ranging from themes to games. As of 2014, users are able to download apps from both their mobile devices and the SmartWorld website as well as sync their purchases on other devices by signing up for a LG Account.
Along with the app store, LG has created the LG Mobile Developer Network, a website designed for third party software developers working on LG mobile devices. The website allows developers to create and share widgets as well as develop and test their games and applications with the Virtual Development Lab (VDL) and Over-the-Air (OTA) downloads.
When submitting an idea, developers can register on the SmartWorld website, allowing developers a wide amount of options and methods in both submitting and distribution. Developers are allowed to register their project through both traditional means by filling out the included form or by attaching a link to the developer’s youtube video. Developers are also allowed to choose the pricing of their app and also choose in which countries they wish to distribute.
Finally, when submitting a proposal, developers have to sign up for a LG SmartWorld CMS membership, which has slightly different specifications depending on whether your app will be free or sold for profit, like the T Store, the developer is allowed to keep 70% of profits with the remaining 30% going to LG.
Developers wishing to publish their apps on Olleh must register at the website Seller Olleh Market to become a KT Web Partner. From here you can register your proposal to be submitted to KT where your proposal will go through two evaluations. If the proposal passes both evaluations, the developers is contacted in order to take the next step in putting their app on the marketplace and where details such as pricing and payment are discussed. Keep in mind however, that the developer website, along with the proposal process is all in Korean, meaning that a translator or guide is needed if one chooses to go forward with the process.
The Changing of the Guard
Before the days of smart phones SK, LG and KT ruled the gaming market. They were the gatekeepers, the ones who ultimately decided which games would be featured on their marketplace and ultimately, which games would be featured on the front page of their respective application stores. Back then games on the front pages were the games that everyone downloaded and played while other games would become lost in the backlog. It came to the point that developers and studios would go out of their way to make friendships with the companies in the hopes of getting their games featured.
This all changed with the release of the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, true open markets where developers no longer needed to go through the three companies just for the chance to put their games on the market. Apple and Google introduced a true open market for anyone who wanted to develop and opening the doors to everyone from small studios to major publishers.
A major shift was brought to the world of Korean mobile gaming. The gatekeepers who ruled the market were no longer necessary. A new age had begun.
Kyle Hovanec is a writer currently living and working in South Korea. He writes for several Korean publications including Latis Global Communications. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org