Mobile Game Trends: Why is BAND Games failing to compete with Kakao?

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There’s no denying that the Korean mobile game market is a market big enough to share. Since the success of Kakao and their own distribution system, other media outlets and competitors have been scrambling to cash in on Kakao’s success, hoping that their own unique spin to the social networking and gaming distribution scene.

BAND from Naver is one of the latest services to attempt to join the increasingly crowded market. BAND strives to deliver service that allows you to create different groups for different kinds of people you want to communicate with. Similar to Google Plus, BAND allows users to curate their followers, giving the user full control over what information is shared their friends. Along with their social media feature, BAND also features a marketplace to distribute chat stickers, coupons and games. While this seems like it could possibly be a interesting and unique alternative to Kakao, in terms of game distribution, BAND unfortunately features several flaws that hold it back and ultimately, keeps it squarely in the second tier spot compared to other services such as Kakao and HIVE.

A New Way to Communicate

On the surface, BAND appears to be on the right path for game distribution. Launching May 12, 2014, BAND launched their service with 10 titles for their game store. Similar to Kakao, while distributed on BAND’s service, the games themselves could also be downloaded through Google Play’s Store or Naver’s N Store.

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One month later, BAND switched to an open platform format, meaning that any game could be offered through the platform, no longer limiting it to just BAND titles. It was shortly after this that the company announced that they would be acquiring more than 250 different developers to make games for BAND with the goal of releasing a new game every three days, giving BAND an average of around 40 games per month.

BAND was also attempting to gain the goodwill of their developers as well. Keys for application programing were sent to 170 different gaming companies in order for developers to quickly and efficiently upload their games to BAND. Along with a starting development kit, making games for BAND also appeared more profitable than other resources since developers could avoid paying the 30 % tax fee that other services offered and could end up keeping 52% of the profits made from each game, slightly more than some competing services.

The Problem with BAND and Games

The problem with BAND isn’t with the service or attempt to gain developers, its the games and target audience. While Kakao Games originally attempted to appeal to women in their 30’s and 40’s, and then expanded to the casual audience, BAND’s target audience is with men in their 30’s and 40’s. While this by itself is fine, its also a limited audience, arguably smaller than any other target group in the Korean mobile gaming market.

The casual audience is massive. The hardcore audience continues to slowly grow. The middle age market men hasn’t exactly moved massive amounts of mobile games nor has it made the meaningful impact outside a few select genres that BAND seems to hope for. A quick look at the top grossing games in Korea has the highest ranking BAND game, Legion of Heroes an MMORPG,  at number 134, the next two are both 148 and 191 respectively. While its not impossible that men in their 30’s and 40’s may want to play an MMORPG on their mobile devices, its not all that likely either. The genre’s target audience: the hardcore gamer would be the most interested, and with several other alternatives on much more popular services, it seems unlikely they have any incentive to switch to BAND anytime soon.

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Missing the Target

 

It’s possible that BAND hopes to start at the middle age men market, and then branch out to a more casual market, similar to what Kakao did, however this provides another problem of being too little, too late. A majority of BAND’s available titles, despite having different titles, look oddly familiar. Puzzle games, endless runners, and other titles similar to their rival service fill the market place. While this is not an entirely bad move, making what you know will sell, in this case it does more harm than good. Nothing about these titles offers any new gimmick or interesting enough twist to the formula in order to entice anyone to play these titles. Instead it comes off as more “me too” games that already exist on more well established services which again, gives very little reason to leave.

The casual market is over-saturated to the point that it’s no longer feasible to make a clone of a successful game and expect success overnight. Knowing who your audience is, knowing what they like and knowing the games they want to play now (and beyond) is the key to success in this quick moving and unforgiving market. Having 250 developers to make games for you is pointless if you’re not exactly confident who to target those games towards.

There’s potential with BAND. The service is steadily gaining more follows daily and there have been signs of success with the overseas markets gaining interest. However, as far as game distribution goes, BAND seems to be thinking more in the now than the later, Mobile game users are more savvy than ever when it comes to downloading games and in order to keep up with the demand, distributors and publishers need to be even smarter.

 

 

profile picKyle 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 khovanec87@gmail.com 

Weekly News Round-Up: May 24th

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1. Rumor: Daum and Kakao to Merge

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The Korean web portal, Daum, is rumored to be talking about a merge with Kakao Talk, the well-known OTT messaging service. Daum, like Naver, offers a number of internet services including a free web-based e-mail and messaging service, forums, shopping, and news. Daum is considered the underdog by some, particularly now as Google and Naver are emerging to dominate the market. The rumors say that no money will change hands in the deal between Kakao and Daum, but will all be done through stock.

 

2. Band Games Launches with 30 Million Users

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Line’s new gaming platform, Band Games, launched with 30 million users last week. It stepped into the gaming platform business earlier than its legacy competitor, Kakao Games, which launched when the Kakao platform had 50 million users.

Band takes the typical chat experience and turns it on its head by focusing on creating small communities. Band takes the chat-room and turns it into a club with a section for announcements and scheduling for events and updates.

 

3. First Glance at Maple Story 2

The sequel to Nexon’s hit, Maple Story, is slated to go into closed beta later this year. The company released their first sneak peak trailer earlier this week.

Weekly News Round Up: May 17th

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The weekly news round up is another new weekly feature here on the Latis Games blog. We’ll be summing up the top 5 news stories in Korea’s mobile sphere to keep you up to date on what’s happening on the peninsula.

 

#1 Line Opens Band Game 

Naver is stepping up competition with Kakao games with their debut of Band Game, a platform that runs on their Line Band service. Line Ban is similar to Facebook and Kakao Story. Users can create “bands” (groups) and share photos, videos, and messages with people in their band. Band Game will open with 10 games, and though everything at this point is speculation, there are great expectations that this will be the next platform to really compete with Kakao.

 

#2 Kakao Releases Bank Wallet Feature

kakao-talk-2Kakao will be releasing a new money transfer service this June. Users of the platform will be able to send up to 100,000 KRW to friends on their list, or use it to buy items for KakaoTalk or the operator’s other services including Kakao Style and Kakao Music. The company will will partner with 15 different banks and the Korea Financial Telecommunications and Clearings Institute (KFTC) to release the service. The Financial Services Commission and The Financial Supervisory Service are currently investigating whether the service has enough data protection and security. Both authorities will have to give their approval before the service can be officially released.

 

#3 Google Held a ‘Play Day’ for Korean Developers

google-play-dayGoogle held the first ‘Play Day’ event for Korean developers earlier this week, the first ever since the Play Store launched in 2012. The company said it expects the Korean market to continue to grow as an important revenue source, with Google’s VP of Digital Content stating that they plan on continuing to support local developers. Last year, Google Korea increased their size dramatically, and it will continue to be a market they focus on as it ranks in the top 5 markets for revenue.

 

 

#4 Has Offers Opens Korea Branch

has-offers-korea-officeHas Offers, the Seattle-based, online advertising attribution software, opened its first Asia-Pacific office this week in Seoul. This is their 3rd international office, and to celebrate they held an opening party with Latis Global on Thursday May, 15th.

 

 

#5 Afreeca TV is holding a pre-release registration event for 통통용병단 (Ton Ton Mercenary Clan)

tontonmercenaryclan-prereleaseThe highly anticipated dungeon/puzzle mix game, Ton Ton Mercenary Clan, is having a pre-release regristration event hosted by Afreeca TV. The game will be released on Kakao and has a familiar card collecting system.