Korea Guide: Apple vs. Google Play

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Google-Play-02

Previously we took a look at the T Store and how it houses the largest number of apps in Korea. We also briefly talked about how the three carriers of SKT, LG U + and KT Olleh used to be the gatekeepers when it came to deciding what games would be featured in their stores. The emergence of the Apple App Store and Google Play Store changed this, creating a new open market where developers could bypass the the gatekeepers.

 

Out of all the platforms and store discussed so far, The Apple App Store and Google Play Store are most likely the most familiar to western developers. This already offers an advantage as the submission process and guidelines for each store are largely the same as their western counterparts. Despite the familiarity of each app store, the mobile game environment in Korea is different than in west and understanding how each store operates in this environment is essential.

 

Apple vs. The Samsung Factor

 

To anyone with an even casual knowledge of mobile devices, it should come as no surprise that Samsung devices reign supreme in Korea. 92% of all mobile phone sales in Korea belonged to the Samsung brand with their market share accounting for 63%. LG comes in second place with 22% leaving Pantech Co. with 7%.

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This leaves Apple in last place with a 6% market share. This has contributed to a smaller Apple presence in Korea, where iPhone release dates are staggered, coming out months after their release in other countries (the first iPhone released in 2009, years after its initial release in the US)  and a lack of official Apple Retail Stores in Korea, with only smaller authorized stores selling Apple products.

 

Apple has had a long, tremulous relationship with both Korea and Google. While there was some speculation that due to stricter regulatory procedures with electromagnetic compatibility and emission levels, many cite Samsung’s presence for being the reason that Apple has trouble in Korea. South Korean regulators stalled the release of the iPhone in Korea long after its release in nearly every other country worldwide. The same regulators held a ban on games being sold on the Korean App Store, blocking them from being distributed until 2011 and requiring a developer’s full name and personal information in 2013.

 

It is entirely possible that Apple sees Korea as less of a priority than other countries due to its smaller user base and strong competition from a country that is a bastion for Android-first development.  When compared to nearby Japan where Apple has a 17% market share, putting it in second place behind  local brand Sony, this makes even more sense.

 

All these factors combined have led to a significantly different app store in Korea compared to the one most developers are familiar with. The number of downloads for games is significantly less than with Google Play and even lesser when compared to the previously mentioned T Store and mobile messaging platforms Kakao and Line. According to the App Annie statistics for September 23rd,  the top ten grossing games on the Apple App Store, seven of the games were for Kakao while two other title was published by publishers Com2Us and Machine Zone Inc. and the highest grossing title being Clash of Clans.

 

While you have exceptions like Kakao whose rule states that publishers must develop for both Android and iOS software, the game market features more non-Korean developed titles than Google Play with publishers like EA and Gameloft being featured in the top 50, where on Google Play, a majority of western developed titles don’t even break the top 100.

Google Play: Home of the Indies

 

The Google Play Store has experienced slow and steady growth since its initial release. It experienced a 6.3% growth of revenue in 2012 that has since continued to remain steady. Throughout its existence, while never reaching the large number of downloads that Kakao achieved, it has remained a dedicated store for apps and games and also allowing smaller developers the chance to have their games published. Google, like Apple has also had difficult time in Korea. Trying to establish its web services has been a losing battle against Naver and while its Google Play store enjoyed a period of success along with the Apple App Store, it has recently begun pushing for game distribution without platforms like Kakao and Line.

 

Google in Korea is divided into four groups: Google Cloud, Google Play, Google Indie and Google Developer Relations Department. Despite being different from one another, all four groups are available to game developers wanting to use their services. Of these four services, the most commonly used service by developers when publishing games is Google Play.

 

Like the Apple App Store, Google Play hosts a selection of games and apps, including games for Kakao. Looking at the App Annie statistics reveals another selection of the ten highest grossing games on Google Play are titles for Kakao, with the highest grossing being a Kakao game, bumping Clash of Clans to the number 2 spot.

 

Despite hosting games from Kakao and Line, Google Play has recently begun making attempts to surpass both of them by contacting individual publishers in Korea and offering them incentives to directly develop and launch through Google Play. This can allow both major and smaller developers the chance to create both localized and foreign versions of games simultaneously.

 

Google Play has a role of a gateway, taking 30% of the total cost of game to publish through its platform, even if the game is meant for another platform. With both Line and Kakao attempting to create their own networks and mobile SNS services attempting to build their own game platforms, this holds the potential to upset the distribution channel of mobile games. While the current environment has most games being downloaded through Google Play, Kakao and Line’s decision to move away from Google means a extreme drop in Google’s profits.

 

While the decision to pursue game companies and developers may seem ineffective in the current Korean market, the opportunities it can provide to developers is increasingly attractive for newcomers in the market. By making this decision, it can be appealing to developers outside of Korea where separate mobile gaming channels outside of Kakao are not yet established. In theory, Google working with publishers to create both local and Korean versions of games at the development stage would allow developers to have a much easier time entering the Korean market.

Buff Knight, a Korean Indie supported by Google.

Buff Knight, a Korean Indie supported by Google.

One example of this is Google Indie, which in early 2014 was able to help smaller developer and indie studios publish and launch their games through their services. According to a report by the Korea Herald, this was considered a shocking blow to major publishers, showing that Google was willing and invested to helping smaller studios find the same level of success as their larger counterparts. By doing this Google has sent a clear message to the Korean market that indie titles are important and that the key to finding success doesn’t always belong to the major publishers and platforms.

 

Publishing for Each Store: What You Already Know

 

Apple and Google opened the door for a more open game market in Korea, giving a level platform for anyone who wished to make a game. Along with having the same submission and publishing procedures as their western stores, this made it easier for developers wanting to break into the Korean market, using a system they were already familiar with. Once Kakao entered the scene, this once again changed the industry. shifting away success from stores to messaging platforms.

 

For western developers, both Apple and Google Play still offer benefits to those not familiar with Korean platforms and the process required to publish on them. While few games ever achieve the level of success Kakao titles do, they are moderate successes in their own right and allow smaller publishers to have their chance to have their games published against the major publishers within the industry.

Korea’s Mobile Game Industry: 4 Things You Need to Know

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In this modern age of globalization, reaching beyond your own market and expanding into a different one makes sense from many different perspectives. Expanding to larger group of users who are interested in playing your titles is an excellent way to increase revenue and brand awareness across a global market.

While there are many large and successful markets within Asia, its impossible to deny the explosive growth and success of the Korean gaming market. With a total worth of over 9 billion dollars that continues to steadily grow, the gaming market, and specifically the mobile gaming market is one success story after the other, with some of the most popular mobile titles making up to $300,000 daily in revenue.

With a heavy saturation of mobile devices, and a population that embraces and plays titles faster than any other country in Asia, now has never been a better time for foreign developers to make the leap into the Korean market.

What Korea Offers

Korea currently has mobile penetration rate of over 100%. Within that 100% nearly 95% of all users use a messaging platform to communicate with their friends and family. While messaging platforms are beginning to pick up steam in North America and Europe, in Korea popular platforms like Kakao have dominated the scene for over several years, and show no signs of slowing down. With over 70 million users in other countries using Kakao and over 90% penetration rate for Korea, Kakao is a platform to connect with all demographics. Whether young or old, rich or poor, everyone uses Kakao to communicate.

 

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If you’re wondering why this matters for games, the answer comes from Kakao’s own distribution service. Along with communication, Kakao also offers users a gateway to download books, coupons and even games through its service. The introduction of games has proven to be a massive success, with a majority of the most popular and highest grossing mobile titles in Korea coming from Kakao. Learning how to publish through Kakao offers a huge advantage when it comes to promotion and distribution with a large network of users who can advertise and share a game with the swipe of a finger.

What About Google Play/iOS?

While western developers are used to prioritizing the iOS market place over Google Play, it’s important to realize that in Korea, the opposite is true. With Android devices making up the majority of hardware sales, Android enjoys over a 90% share of the market. This is largely due to domestic hardware manufacturers like Samsung and LG. As such,  Apple has barely made a foothold in the marketplace and domestic game developers tend to take and Android first approach.

 

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For a developer unfamiliar with the Korean market, it may seem like a daunting task to try and enter the fast paced and demanding market. While there are some barriers to crossing over to this market, understanding the market and having a plan that allows developers to utilize various platforms and market places is the key to success. Messaging platforms are starting to catch on with game distribution, with other similar services to Kakao such as Band, Line, and MyPeople starting to offer games through their services. While Kakao definitely has a strong grip on the messaging and gaming market, success outside of Kakao is not impossible. For example, Clash of Clans, is the number two highest grossing title in Korea as of this writing,  and it is not distributed through Kakao. Success without Kakao is entirely possible, as a well made and popular game will sell regardless of platform. Knowing what Korea likes to play is another big step in confidently breaking into the market.

What Korea Likes to Play

Games in Korea fall into three categories: casual, mid-core, and hard-core. Casual titles being colorful, easy to play titles that all ages and demographics can play. These include games like puzzle games  and endless runners, such as the famous Cookie Run, developed by Devsisters. While these are by far the most popular titles in Korea, they also come from a market that is the most crowded and most competitive and they don’t monetize as well as mid-core and hard-core titles. The genre also suffers from a lot of copy-catting as smaller studios try to get a slice of the pie.

Mid-core games have more advanced game mechanics and require more commitment than casual titles. Examples of this are the hack and slash titles and action RPGs, such as the mobile blockbuster Blade, produced by 4:33 studios.

Hardcore games offer the most complicated and time consuming gameplay, requiring the user to invest the most amount of time and effort in the game. RPG’s and Turn Based RPG’s are most common in the hardcore genre, including titles such as Soul of Legend, a mobile MOBA.

MOBA-Mobile-Korea

Seoul of Legend, a hardcore, MOBA from Korea.

Mid and hard-core offer the most opportunity for western developers. The casual market is saturated and difficult to gain recognition.  Without international momentum to carry into the market, as King had with Candy Crush, developers from abroad are likely to drown in the noise of Korea’s casual market.

Planning for the Future

The best opportunity for western developers lies in the mid and hard-core markets. Not only is it a less saturated  market, but they also tend to monetize better, with users willing to pay more and invest more of their time in their games. While some mid to hard core games have begun to find success, it is no where near the same level of saturation as the casual tiers, this means that the market is ripe for new ideas and new titles.

With a high saturation rate of users, a market that makes millions of dollars daily and a niche that is still waiting to properly explode with popularity; the opportunity for western developers to publish their titles in Korea has never been more advantageous. Researching your demographic, knowing what the audience wants (or what is popular) and most obviously, having a great game are the keys to succeeding in Korea.

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Have a game you’re interested in releasing in Korea? Let us know about it! Leave a comment and a link to your game. Don’t forget to connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for more pro-tips on making hit games for Korea.

 

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 

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.

 BAND-Rankings

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 

Kakao Talk Odds & Ends: How Wooga targeted Korea

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jelly-splash-icon*Update 1*

The title of this post has been changed and some of the information edited. We felt it was misleading from the point we were trying to make. Ultimately, as one of the commentors has pointed out, Wooga probably did not earn much in Korea. They did some good things for people to learn from and  we hope you find it valuable!

*Update 2* Here is a Pocket Gamer presentation that Wooga gave about their experience entering Korea.

Overview

Developer Wooga
Release Date November 2013
Google Play Downloads 500,000 – 1,000,000
Top Grossing Google Play Rank #54 (Nov. 2013)

In November 2013, Wooga launched Jelly Splash for Kakao Talk. They were among a handful of foreign games on the platform at the time. While they didn’t dominate like Clash of Clans or Candy Crush, they made a small impression on the Korean charts and their model is one that developers can look to for valuable lessons.

The Jelly Splash Stats

 

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Top grossing ranks for Jelly Splash on Google Play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within two weeks Jelly Splash hit their peak at #54 in the overall top grossing ranks for Google Play Korea. They remained in the top 100 for a little over a month, with a steady fall off at the beginning of 2014 until now.

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Top downloads for Google Play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They hit the #4 spot in top downloads in under a week of release, but like many games, saw a sharp decline almost immediately. Less than a month after claiming that #4 spot, they were down to #516!

What is important to note here, however, is that although their download numbers jumped off a cliff, their revenue stream remained relatively steady over the course of three months before slowly slipping into irrelevance. This means that whatever they did in that first month earned them a base of loyal, paying users.

 

What they did right

Rapid, viral growth

Just like their statistics show, the first month for Jelly Splash was extremely important. Following that first month, they were getting almost no downloads, but they managed to convert enough of their user base that they had a steadily tapering revenue over the course of a few months. The rapid, viral growth of Jelly Splash can be attributed to a number of marketing strategies that Wooga used to launch the game in Korea.

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A subway advertisement for Jelly Splash in Korea.

First, they knew that offline marketing was important. I can still remember seeing sings for Jelly Splash in Gangnam Station while waiting for the subway. Offline marketing is an integral part of virality in Korea, particularly where subways are concerned as this is where a lot of casual players spend their precious gaming minutes.

On release they made a special emoticon event to pair with the game, helping push their virality even further.

They also tapped into the right marketing and user acquisition networks within Korea, Tapjoy and IGA Works being two of their most significant partners.

These factors combined allowed them to build up a tidal wave of support and ride it out for as long as they could.

*Note* We love different perspectives so I wanted to include the thoughts of one of our commentors. He pointed out that Wooga likely spent a lot to get their initial support – around $100,000, and probably saw a terrible ROI for it. He notes that the top 60 only pulls in ~$5,000 per day and given that they only held top 60 for a few days their investment wasn’t really worth it. He’s right about this aspect of it, so we’d like to thank him for his contribution to the discussion.

 

Optimized and localized

If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say “I don’t need to localize, my game doesn’t have much text,” I’d be a very rich man indeed. A lot of developers still think they can get away with mediocre and sub-par localizations because they think their game is easy enough to figure out.

Wooga made sure that everything from their Google Play store page, to in-game text was in Korean, and made sense for their users. Differences from the iOS version included unique sound recordings, emoticon packs, and new achievements.

Understanding the platforms

Entering the Korean market means that one must have a good understanding of the dynamics of Google Play, Android, and Kakao. Whether or not you choose to go with Kakao (and you can be successful without it), you still need to understand how it operates and how it impacts the game market in Korea.

Wooga ultimately decided to use the Kakao platform, and understood that there is a certain experience that Kakao gamers are used to. For them, that meant optimizing for its UI design and making the game not only fun, but familiar.

The big take-away

Not every game is Candy Crush or Clash of Clans. While both of those games have enjoyed massive success in Korea, they are the exception rather than the rule. Both have managed to sustain their revenue stream at a relatively high peak, but the truth is, a lot of games fizzle out rather quickly in Korea.

Wooga still managed to reach #2 in the top games list, a decent win for a foreign game on the Kakao platform, and managed a small revenue stream the course of a few months. There are likely things they could have done differently to boost their revenue and sustain it over a longer period of time. If anything, they are an example of understanding that your Lifetime Customer Value (LTV) varies in each market, and needs to be one of your top considerations when creating a global strategy.

Tell us your thoughts

What strategies do you think made Wooga so successful in Korea? Do you think they made any critical mistakes? Have you tried launching a game in Korea? Tell us about it! Leave a comment below and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

 

Testing Market Interest: Tips for Entering New Markets on a Budget

mobile game testing

To Test, or Not to Test?

Why are indie developers shy to enter new markets? We’ve heard the same answers from indies all over the world: it will cost a lot of money, success is a gamble, and they just might not have enough knowledge about a particular market to feel comfortable making the investment. Patrick Yip over at the OneSky blog wrote a great piece about how to use crowdfunding and localization to help you test your games. He’s got some great advice that applies to Western markets, but what about Korea and North East Asia?

We often hear of developers eager to take on the opportunities in Korea and China, or conquer the Japanese market and compete with the hall-of-fame IPs of Sega, Nintendo, and Sony. But financial and mental roadblocks always seem to prevent them from taking action. Just like Patrick says, it doesn’t have to be expensive and risky. If you’re looking to enter Korea, it just requires a bit of tweaking to your strategy. In this post, we’ll give you some tips on testing market interest in Korea on shoestring budget.

Test in App Stores, Don’t Try to Crowdfund

While Kickstarter and Indie-GoGo have certainly cemented their value in western markets, in Korea and Japan in particular, crowdfunding indies have a tendency to be viewed as amateur beggars. One look at the Kickstarter projects page for Seoul and you can see that it is a ghost town. Rather than look to crowdfunding, there are three common strategies for testing interest in your games in Korea:

1) Find a partner company and get them to run focus group testing for you. Latis Global provides focus group testing at extremely affordable rates based on the scale our clients need.

2) Run a focus group test through a technical college that focuses on gaming and have students and professors provide feedback.

3) Soft launch in a small app store and see the kind of attention you gather. Some excellent options include:

LG logoAs a carrier store, LG U+ is much less popular than Google Play or Apple, while still providing you with a large enough user base to see what kind of early traction your game can generate.

KT logoAnother carrier store, KT offers the same opportunities as LG U+ while offering a bigger user base.

 

samsung app store logoLaunching in the Samsung store provides the extra bonus that your game will be automatically QA’d for all Samsung devices. This is due to a corporate policy that all games in the store must run on all Samsung devices.

As Patrick noted in his post, it is highly recommended that you localize your app store pages into your target languages if you want to get an accurate gauge of interest in your games.

Find Feedback in the Local Gaming Community

Last, but not least, find feedback in online forums and gaming portals. Their users are often excited about gaming and eager to participate. This is one area where sourcing from the crowd is possible.

Probably the most active app forums in the country, HungryApp and Inven offer a massive user base to tap into for feedback. Once your game has been posted to some of the smaller app stores, you can open a forum on these sites and see what kind of feedback you get. Note that both websites are run in Korean, so it will likely require you to hire a point person to handle it, though this can be done for relatively cheap.

In Summary:

While crowdsourcing is a great tool that can be used to tap into new markets, taking a measure of the Korean market requires a different strategy. If you have to test on a budget, consider soft launching in some small app stores with a localized product page and gauge interest through community forums. The audience you’ll reach are more likely to be game hobbyists that are genuinely interested in providing feedback and evangelize your games.

Tell Us!

Have you tried testing your apps in Korea or Asia? Were your strategies successful? Why or why not? Leave a comment or tweet @CurtisFile. As always, make sure to follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn to learn more about making your games a global success.