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

kakao_talk

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.

 

mobile-games-korea

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.

 

top-games-korea

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 

Building Community: How to run effective events in Korea

Hello-Hero-Midfielder-David-Event

In game events and promotions are a way for publishers and developers to accomplish two things with their game: to keep their current user base interested and to gain new players to expand the game’s numbers. While it may seem like a straightforward way to gain new players and keep your old ones, there is much more that needs to be done in order to keep your existing audience happy and convince newcomers to download your game. Like nearly every other aspect of selling a successful mobile game in Korea, planning, knowing and respecting your audience are key factors to having in game events and promotions that maintain interest or fall flat on their face.

Selling your event

Along with selling the initial game itself, the right kinds of advertising for in game events requires not only a keen understanding of the game’s audience, but the game itself. It goes without saying that if you’re going to promote for an event for Blade, you’re not going to have cutesy animals dancing all over the screen.  Along with having a promotion that matches the tone of your game, there are also some general things to keep in mind.

Successful advertising for game events and promotions always seem to have these key features:

Humor goes a long way with promoting in Korea. Unlike western audiences, Koreans rarely want a bullet point explanation about each event or item give away. Short, funny promotions using characters from the game or real life celebrities (more on that later) can help grab the attention of Korean gamers.

Promotions also have to be exciting and eye catching almost immediately. Flashy banners with lots of colors and big letter fonts will usually catch the people’s attention. For example, the game Chagu Chagu often features ads with large font, action scenes from the game and an excited announcer. People who play the game are already familiar with how the game works, so focusing on getting to the point quickly makes for more effective advertising than a tepid run down of each promotion or event.

Korea-In-Game-Events

Koreans are crazy for celebrities, and love to see them interacting and using the same things that they do, including playing the same games as them. It’s no secret that attractive and famous people sell products. Often you’ll see games with famous K pop stars and actors playing popular mobile games in an attempt to promote new content. A player beginning to become bored with a title may now have a renewed interest if one of their favorite stars is promoting the game, and showing off new content.

Communication with the player

While a majority of western gamers may find the use of pop ups in games cumbersome and annoying, Korean games tend to be more accepting and receptive towards in game pop ups and pre game screens, reminding of them of the latest event. Using various forms of social media are also effective ways of promoting events and also gaining a look at the amount of interest people are showing as well. Using the example of Chagu Chagu again, the game sends messages and updates to a user’s phone to remind them of events and the amount of time they have to participate.

Plus-Friend-Event-Kakao

Message apps like Kakao also have the ability to add Plus Friends related to games that integrate with your friend’s list and send messages about each game event. Through the seamless merging of games with social platforms, publishers have the power to promote and advertise for their game’s events in a way that a majority of Korean gamers find both useful and un-intrusive in their daily lives.

Worth the time

While savvy marketing and smart integration are important to running successful events, the most fundamental factor in separating successful events from failures comes down to one question: Is it worth the time?

Korean gamers care about the games they invest time into. They care about their time and effort spent playing games and are always looking to feel like their hard work and playtime are rewarded. All mobile games, eventually fall to the point of being too repetitive and simplistic to gamers, who then begin to look elsewhere for a new, exciting experience. The most successful mobile games know this and are always trying to offer new events with different kinds of prizes ranging from in game items that are either rare or exclusive, to real life prizes such as cash and Macbooks to keep people interested.

Events that show up around specific days such as holiday or nation-wide events have shown to be successful. Popular games such as FIFA Online 3 ran a variety of World Cup themed events that proved to be very popular among users. Golf game Golf Star has events that happen during the different seasons and offer different items, avatars and discounts for the summer period.

Cookie-Run-Kakao-Event

For more in depth titles such as MMORPGs, having events is important to convincing players to keep playing. One example is Sunkuk: Rule the World, an MMO that has in game events as a main feature, featuring new events with new items and prizes available everyday rewarding players simply for logging in and participating.

It’s important to note that while in game events may differ across different genres and different publishers, the successful games all share the same thing when it comes to events. Events must quickly catch the attention of the player, offer strong incentives to participate and feature events and timing that coincide with the real world. Gamers are much more likely to remember to participate in events related to real life things rather than try and remember specific time periods.

In game events if created with the user in mind, can provide a way to boost interest in a game and allow a game to continue to be successful by offering players new reasons and most importantly, new interest in a game, potentially allowing a game to thrive in an always competitive and always changing mobile market.

 

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: Kakao Games Celebrates 2 Year Anniversary

kakao-talk-anniversary

The team at Latis Global is glad to send Kakao Games a big congratulations on their 2nd anniversary. For the past two years, the mobile gaming platform has gone from a small up-and-comer with just a few games, to one of North East Asia’s most important distribution platforms boasting hundreds of AAA and indie titles. To celebrate, we’ve created an infographic to show just how far they’ve come in such a short time.

kakao-games-birthday

 

As always remember to follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, for more great articles about games in Korea.

 

 

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

Band-Games-LOH

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.

Band-Games-Icon

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: Secrets of success behind CJ’s 차구차구

Kakao-games-chagu-chagu

A good mobile sports game offers above all else two things: ease of accessibility and the ability to pick up and play an entire match in the span of a few moments. It needs to offer the very essence of the sport its emulating and at the same time, make it exciting and sustainable enough to be played more than once and in a relatively short period of time. It’s steep odds for any game to overcome in order to please its often fickle audience, and in regards to a soccer title, even harder to find its place on gamer’s devices no thanks to the abundance of soccer titles available on the market.

Kakao-Talk-차구차구

Chagu Chagu, a soccer game from developer Netmarble and publisher CJ E&M is not just a straightforward soccer game, but rather a collection of game modes built around a single core idea. While it at first appears to be a simple arcade soccer title like so many others on the market, Chagu Chagu separates itself from the crowd by offering a varied selection of gameplay variety while at the same time never allowing itself to become too complex for its own good. It’s a title that tries to be everything at once, and for the most part succeeds in doing so.

 

Arcade Simplicity

The core gameplay of Chagu Chagu is its soccer gameplay. Chagu Chagu (also available on PC as Chagu Chagu World Class Football) is an arcade soccer title which uses touch controls to control the players as you guide them across the field. With only two buttons and movement controlled by utilizing a digital joystick on the screen, players are able to run, kick, shoot and tackle with very simple screen presses. Even a complete novice should be able to immediately grasp the controls and play through the game with relative ease. Despite the simple controls, there were a few instances in which the controls were simple to a fault, as intense matches can often become too fast paced for the simpler controls to keep up. While this is never a large enough issue to break the game, it still causes some frustration on the higher level matches.

Kakao-Chagu-Chagu-Arcade

 

Card and Item Collecting

 

Along with its arcade gameplay, another one of Chagu Chagu’s biggest gameplay features is its card and upgrade based system. At the beginning of the game, players can choose their favorite soccer team complete with each team’s full roster of players and take them through the game’s tournament mode. By performing well on the field and winning matches, individual players level up in their stats similar to an RPG. These stats help the player perform better on the field, making your team more capable of taking on the more aggressive AI later on in the game. Along with stats, items can also be unlocked which allows the player to apply each specific item before the beginning of a match to give their team a boost in areas such as speed or stamina. Other items that can be unlocked include alternate uniforms and novelty items for each player or team.

 Kakao-착구차구-gameplay

Chagu Chagu also offers in game trading card packs, which by using in game or premium currency can buy card packs which contain new players and coaches randomly included. This creates an interesting reward system in which building a dream team harkens back to the days of collecting trading cards, and provides an incentive to keep playing the game rather than just giving the player a ranking system to climb their way to number 1 (although that option is also there as well).

Even if the basic RPG and trading card elements bore the player, the game still offers several more modes that greatly differ from one another. For fans of tactical RPGs, Chagu Chagu offers a mode which allows you to customize your team and send them off to play without player input, letting the team you built yourself lead the way, using your items and stats to dominate the opposing team. For players who crave a more party themed kind of game, a quest mode and a mini game mode lets player experience a more casual way to enjoy the game.

 

Quests and Mini Games

 

The quest mode has the player’s team moving across a map and competing in matches with over the top and cartoony teams. One early match has players playing against a team of bomb players who after a short period of time, explode, temporarily taking out nearby players in the process, while massive bombs rain down on the field during the match, taking out friend and foe alike. Meanwhile, the mini game mode has players shooting goals while tapping the screen to the rhythm, reminiscent of gameplay closer to rhythm titles rather than anything resembling the sport of soccer. While simple, the mode is very addicting and challenging, with later stages requiring split second timing and a keen sense of rhythm in order to keep progressing.

 

When games attempt to be a jack of all trades with its gameplay, they more often than not fall short in each category in their attempt to gain quantity over quality. Chagu Chagu, is one of the rare exceptions, offering a wide and varied amount of gameplay, all of which play well and offers new and exciting experiences for the player. This is a soccer title that isn’t obsessed with players’ stats or realism but rather, providing a fun and colorful soccer experience for all types of gamers. Chagu Chagu is about fun, and in the end, it’s fun that keeps players coming back to a game and most importantly, elevating it from the legions of other soccer titles.

 

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 

Swimming Against the Free-to-Play Current: An exercise in futility

free-to-play-Korea-China
It has been said that the people swimming against the stream are the ones that know the strength of it. Which is why it never fails to surprise me when, at least once a week, I read another tirade against the Free-to-play “plague” that is wiping out all that is good in the industry. 
 
The first shots fired this week came from Chris Pruett, the mind behind Wind-up Knight. He suggested banning in-app purchases from Smart-TV apps for the first year or two in order to establish pricing norms and give premium a chance. 
 
A few weeks ago, Peter Molyneux made his vow to change the industry as well, saying that current free-to-play games “abuse and confuse” customers. Even the folks at Dorkly had something to say about the birth of every awful video game thing.
 
But the naysayers seem to be failing to realize one thing: this plague has no vaccination, at least not one that is coming any time soon. Moreover, the criticisms are coming largely from western developers and publishers who are only looking at the issue through a single lens. 
 

All Free-to-Play is not equal  

The way users approach free games in different markets is as varied as the platforms they choose to play them on. Just as Android rules in China and Korea, and Apple is dominant in the US, so too are there differences in attitudes about in-app purchases and free games. 
 
Korea and China are particularly relevant because they are the patient zero of the free play models. Nexon’s Maple Story, although not the first, was the game that made micro-transactions so popular. The model spread from Korea’s online MMO gaming models into China. Free games are now an expectation in the gaming culture.
 
This is perhaps best demonstrated by statistics from Google’s  Our Mobile Planet, showing that although Koreans have an average of 40 apps on their phones, only 2.7 are paid. China seems to have similar inclinations with an average of 26 apps and only 2.1 of them paid. This is a significant difference from both the US and UK markets, where users have an average of 8 and 7 paid apps on their phones respectively. 
 
our-mobile-planet-paid-apps-asia
This is very likely due to the fact that Korea and China were both relatively late bloomers to the gaming industry, both coming of age in the era of online PC games, where free-to-play has been around since nearly the very beginning. This early exposure helped form consumer expectations. 
 
One manifestation of this was in Korea’s MMO culture, which had a history of gray and black market item trading. Virtual goods have always tended to be viewed much differently than in the west. Namely, in-game items seem to be more ‘real’  to Korean and Chinese gamers than they are by western gamers.
 
Virtual goods and currency trading came to legal battles in both countries. At one point, the use of virtual game currencies to purchase real-world items became so ubiquitous in China that the country had to outlaw the practice. Korea was not immune to these legal battles either. Suffice it to say, not everyone has the same view of free-to-play games and in-app item purchases.   
 

Free content is ubiquitous 

free-content-is-everywhere
While people, particularly gamers, have been pointing the finger at companies like EA for their over aggressive payment schemes (rightfully so), the bigger picture is being ignored. Free-to-play, or rather free-to-use,  is not unique to the game industry. News content, music, and film have all been free, legally or otherwise, since the days of Napster. As opportunities on the internet have grown, so have the expectations of consumers for the way their content will be delivered. 
 
The fact is, the majority of content is free now, and that mindset is not going to die any time soon. Rather than fighting the tide with a broken oar, the free-to-play naysayers might want to start building a better boat to weather the rapids. 

No Girls Allowed: Should women have their own e-sports league?

female-gamers-e-sports

The South Korean based International e-Sports Federation (IeSF) stirred up controversy over gender-equality earlier this week with their announcement that an upcoming Hearthstone competition would be a male-only event.

In a recent announcement on their official facebook page, they have since reversed the statement, saying:

Our reason for maintaining events for women only is that we acknowledge the importance of providing women with ample opportunities to compete in e-Sports,
a currently male-dominated industry. Without efforts to improve female representation in e-Sports events, we can’t achieve true gender equality.

However, we realize that hosting a “male-only” competition is not the right way to go – as we stated, the industry is already male-dominated.
The fact that a female-only competition is being held for the reason stated above doesn’t mean that there is need to define the main competitions as “male-only”.

Therefore, we have decided to remove “male-only” competitions. This means the upcoming IeSF World Championship will host tournaments in 2 sections:
an “open-for-all” section which is open for all genders (replacing men-only competitions), and a female-only tournaments as stated previously.

Though it appears that they have made a 180, some netizens are still unhappy with set-up:

e-sports-gender-south-korea

 

 

 

e-sports-gender-south-korea

 

 

 

e-sports-gender-south-korea

 

 

 

 

 

But amidst the anger at IsEF for their Little Rascals-like thinking, there are some unpopular facts that support may lend support to their decision. Although Jason Schreier over at Kotaku may say,  “there is nothing about games like Hearthstone that would indicate that men and women play at different levels”, that is not entirely true. South Korea has a history of e-sports showing that women have not performed as well in mixed-gender tournaments going all the way back to the early days of Starcraft.

ToSsGirL is an excellent example of this. Until 2012, she was the only active female pro-gamer in the Starcraft scene, and her performance in the mixed gender scene rarely saw her pass the preliminary rounds. On the other hand, she dominated the female competitive scene, never losing a competition that she entered. So what does this mean for girls in e-sports?

Causal conclusions can’t really be drawn from the data. It’s just as likely that a lack of acceptance by the broader community affected her performance as it is that she was truly less skilled than her male counter parts. But whatever the reason, the pro-gaming scene in general has shown this pattern. And the truth is, ToSsGirL was much less likely to get noticed for her skill if there hadn’t been a females-only scene that she was dominating.

Even though women make up roughly 50% of gamers, they represent less than 10% of the professional competitive scene. Though the reasons for this are likely to include the sexist nature of competitive scene among other things, the point remains that until a stronger female scene is fostered, partitioning the competition in genders may very well be the best way to ensure that girl gamers get some of the spotlight.

 Tell us what you think!

Do you agree with having a separate league for female gamers? Why or why not? Leave a comment and let us know what you think. Remember to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for more gaming news out of South Korea!

Pocket Gamer Helsinki: What Asian Game Market is Right for You?

Latis-Global-Helsinki-Pocket-Gamer

Last week Latis was pleased to accept a speaker invitation at Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki to talk about using Korea as your gateway into North East Asia. This week we are happy to be able to share the presentation with you and provide a summary of our key points.

 

Four Take Away Lessons

Point #1: Korea is wrongfully overlooked because of China and Japan

China is like the great whale of the mobile market. It’s a behemoth, high profile market and country in genera, and offers a lot of potential. Problematically, we are not always capable of seeing the total picture of that potential due to extreme market fragmentation. Chasing down China without a well refined strategy is a good way to get swallowed up.

When we think about Japan, at least where the game industry is concerned, the thing that generally comes to mind are the titans of the industry – Nintendo, Capcom, Square Enix, Gungho, etc. Japan is home to some of the most well-known IPs in the world. To compete in Japan and do well is to earn credibility for your talent in the world’s biggest gaming market.

Compounding this is the general perception that the Western world has of Japan due to its cultural exports. There are a lot of silly game shows, manga, and films that are well-known in the west and there is a general appeal to going to Japan because of them.

But what about Korea?

Even though it is the third biggest mobile market, it’s being over looked in favor of China and Japan. It has a strong and thriving mobile game market and, if you are serious about being an international game company, you can’t afford to ignore it. Along with Japan, Korea is a major driver of Google Play revenue and many of its characteristics make it the best of the three major North East Asian markets to enter first.

Point #2: Korea is easier to do business in than China and Japan

The first factor that makes Korea a great entry point is simply ease of business. This includes things like, how many loops do you have to jump through to do business? How easy is it to find an honest partner? How tight are business regulations? Can you expect transparency? The answer to these questions are going to greatly impact your ability to be successful business in any country you go to, but are often forgotten by developer-focused, or younger companies.

Where North East Asia is Concerned, Korea wins the contest hands down.

The world bank does an assessment of ease of business and has created an index to examine these factors. It includes: procedures, time, cost, and minimum capital to open a new business, protection of investors, enforcing contracts, resolving insolvency, strictness of regulations, transparency, entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial activity, good practices and government regulations, and transparency of business regulations.

South Korea ranks 7th on that index, with Japan coming in at 27th, and China lagging way behind at 96th. This ultimately means that South Korea has a more open business environment with less risk. For those that already have a lot of experience and a network in one of the three big markets, it might not mean much. But particularly for first timers or mid-level companies with not a lot of capital to risk, these are

Point # 3: Korea’s market factors mean less investment, less risk

Some of these market factors include:

  • Korea has one of the best mobile networks in the world with ~91% 4G coverage. Japan hovers around 68% and China lags far behind on network infrastructure with 4G only available in major cities.
  • Korea is one of the first smartphone markets to reach near saturation with around 73% of people owning a smartphone. Korea is a great test case for how consumers will act in a near-saturated market.
  • Korean and Japan both far out perform China in buying power. Where Korea and Japan have similar rates for unlimited data plans, Chinese mobile users are looking at $100 USD for 5GB of data.
  • Though CPI data shows Japan is by far the best country for profit margins, those numbers do not include extra marketing budgets such as television spots and subway ads. Those upfront costs are considerably more expensive in Japan than they are in Korea.

Point #4: Korea’s soft power influence is supplanting Japan

For over a decade now, Korea has been taking over the importance of Japan’s cultural exports. Korean dramas became big in China first, then moved to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. They got huge in South East Asia, and now the Korean wave is firmly planted throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and even Myanmar. Music, fashion, television, movies, and games coming from Korea tend to do well in South East Asia, so performing well in Korea may open doors for you there as well.

There is also the soft power and recognition that is slowly building in the West with people like Psy. He represents a slow changing shift in the way that Korea is perceived by the West, and the relationship will only continue to grow. Over time this means both cultures will be more open to new types of content.

 

 

Kakao Talk Odds & Ends: Hitting a mid-core, free-to-play home run

블레이드-Title-Screen

Having skipped much of the console generation, Korea’s gaming culture has always been known for its love of RPGs and MMOs. With games like Lineage, Aion, and League of Legends dominating the scene, it comes as no surprise that surveys have shown even mobile gamers in Korea rank RPG/Adventure games as their favorite.

That might be why Blade, the new action- RPG from 4:33, has been dominating the charts at #1 since its release at the end of April. The game has held tight to that #1 slot for just over a month, making money hand over fist and showing no signs of slowing. But designing successful mid-core games for mobile has been a nagging frustration for the industry over the past year, so it begs the question: what makes for a good mobile RPG?

Korean developers may just have the answer (at least for their respective market). Today we’ll be looking at two games: Blade a huge success, and Mu: The Genesis, a game that barely made it, to figure out what makes a mid-core hit. Before we do that, however, let’s take a look at some key facts about player behavior.

Player Behavior in Korea

Designing for a mid-core hit arguably takes a bit more fine-tuning than puzzlers, which seem to dominate the landscape at the moment. So here are some key points from one particular inMobi survey, I want to lay down before we move on:

  • Korean gamers report preferring easy game play than they do challenging game play
  • Korean gamers are more likely to pay to make a level easier than to unlock something new
  • Korean gamers typically play while waiting for something or while at home, with an average session between 15 and 20 minutes.

Keep these points in mind as we move forward.

Overview of Games:

Blade
Release April 20, 2014
Last Update May 28, 2014
Developer 4:33
Google Play Installs 1,000,000 – 5,000,000
Top Grossing Rank (Google Play) #1

블레이드-Kakao-Top-Grossing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mu: The Genesis
Release December 19, 2013
Last Update April 23, 2014
Developer Webzen
Google Play Installs 500,000 – 1,000,000
Top Grossing Rank (Google Play) #21

뮤-더-제네시스-Top-Grossing-Ranks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gameplay Analysis

Blade

블레이드-for-Kakao

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graphically, Blade is probably one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen on the mobile platform. Powered by the Unreal engine, everything from the cut-scenes to the in-game graphics are at the cutting edge for mobile. This does have one downside: the battery drain is also unprecedented.The core game involves a campaign mode where players slash their way through short stages, each culminating in a boss fight (sometimes multiple boss fights). There are also two PVP modes to challenge other users, and an arena mode where players have to fight wave after wave of enemies as they compete for the best clear times.

블레이드-Kakao-Gameplay

Players fight their way through stages by chaining together skill combos to destroy skeleton minions in Blade.

The average session is roughly two minutes for the campaign and PVP modes, right on par with the amount of time it takes to get from one station to the next on subway.

Retention is encouraged in multiple ways. Gear and loot is dropped at the end of each stage, which can be sold for gold, or combined with other weapons using the upgrade system to make improvements to your character. There is a bit of randomization thrown into the loot drops as players have to choose one of three chests at the end to see what they get (usually either a small amount of gold, a weapon, or some armor).

If a player is unhappy with the selection they end up with, for the price of a few jewels they can make another choice. This kind of randomization is fantastic for monetization, and ultimately doesn’t have to cost the player anything.

The charts in the PVP and arena modes keep the retention game high as players want to return to either keep their place or beat the current high scores. Additionally, as is typical for mobile games anymore, there is a daily log in bonus with items, gold, and jewels, to encourage daily play.

Lastly, the UI design is incredibly well-done for a Korean RPG game, which historically have obtuse, needlessly complex UI. Blade succeeds in using its tutorials to guide you through enough of the relatively simple UI to figure it out.

All of these design features fall into line with the general preferences of Korean gamers. Given the short sessions, players can actually make significant advancements in a 20 minute play session and the game is designed balanced enough that it doesn’t feel too difficult.

 Mu: The Genesis

뮤-더-제네시스-Title-Screen

Like Blade, Mu is a beautiful game graphics wise. In the core game, players also run through short stages, clearing them of enemies and collecting loot along the way. Only here, they have minions that join them for support.

Unlike Blade, skills must be managed more carefully due to the introduction of mana. There is a handy “auto” function that can be set so that characters run through the dungeon and auto-attack on their own while the player only has to interact by hitting the skill buttons.

There are multiple game modes that include the main campaign, a mission mode, a dungeon mode, and ranked play.

뮤-GameplayRetention is encouraged with loot drops of items that can be used to optimize either the main character or helper minions, and with the ranking system that encourages repeated play so that players can compete for the top position. Like Blade, there are also daily deals offered and log-in bonuses.

Where Mu mostly fails is in simplicity. The title is an extension of the popular MMO, and it retains too many of those MMO elements. Even though the auto function helps make game play simpler, the mana management system is almost too complex and difficult.

The UI is needlessly complicated, and the upgrade system is more difficult to understand. Upgrading helper minions is almost as complex as upgrading the main character, which makes the whole game more time consuming. While spell points are easy enough to come by, the in game currency is not and it feels much more like a traditional grinder. This might attract a certain audience, but it doesn’t appeal to the average player.

Monetization

Blade

As mentioned before, one of the most important parts of designing for monetization in Korea is ease of play. Blade has done a great job at monetizing with this in mind. Gems are the main currency, and though they can be earned in-game, they are easily burnable in lives, upgrades, and item purchases.

블레이드-Monetization-PromptThere are purchasable boosts for each level that include earning increased experience, making your skills hit harder, and increasing your HP. Gems can also be used to bring a character back to life after dying (only  once per level).

Players are prompted if they use their one life and still fail and are brought to the item cube screen and encouraged to buy better items. The item cubes, which can be purchased with gems, give players premium accessories, armor, and weapons. Premium weapon cubes, for example, cost 40 gems, with the lowest purchasable amount of gems being 30.

My only criticism being that they are earned in a lottery-type system, so you can never be sure which weapon, accessory, or armor you will get. While this is good for monetization, it’s frustrating as a player.

Mu: The Genesis

As with the gameplay, Mu suffers from the same problems with monetization: it is more complex. There are less obvious monetization prompts, and none at the beginning of each level, which would be the most ideal. Like Blade, items are purchased in a lottery system, and they are more expensive, with the lowest possible amount you can buy at 5,500 won (~$5 USD)

Conclusions

Both of these games are excellent in this writer’s opinion, and both of them push the envelope of what is possible on the mobile platform. Blade improves on what Mu: The Genesis tried to do, but failed at. Mu was simply too complex and tried to do too much to appeal to a general audience. It feels like something that passionate developers made without much consideration for monetization, and lacks the essential pushes that players need to make a game financially successful. The retention game just doesn’t feel as well developed or thought out for a wider audience, making it feel less accessible.

Blade, on the other hand, is a perfect balance of RPG elements and simple game play. The levels are short and relatively easy, while still providing enough of a challenge to push players to pay for boosts. Players can earn enough free gems and gold that they don’t have to make any purchases, but the notifications and prompts are there to help subtly push them.

Tell us what you think

Have you played any great mid-core games? What elements do you think make the best mid-core games?

Leave your comments and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook!

Driving Retention in Free-to-Play: The basics of community management

community-management

Any conversation about free-to-play games inevitably takes a turn down one, if not two, frustrating rabbit holes. The first is how it is evil, destroying the game industry (a conversation I am guilty of myself), or it gets mired in the details of some facet of user acquisition, usually cost or retention.

I’m going to be diving down that second rabbit hole to talk about some basic community building strategies that can help you create a better experience for your users that will make them want to stick around for more.

Understanding the Role of Community

Nicholas Lovell of Games Brief wrote an excellent article about free-to-play game development that everyone should read. He details the business funnel (consisting of acquisition, retention, and monetization) and the game model pyramid (consisting of the core loop, retention game, and superfan game).

Though he doesn’t detail the role of community in his post, understanding where it fits in is an integral part of creating the retention that is so important in both aspects of his model.

So where does community fit then?

Snugly between acquisition and retention, with a bit of overlap in both areas.

business-funnel

 

 

 

 

 

Your community has to find a balance between these two things. It has to be easily accessible so that new users can latch onto it quickly and feel at home, and it has to offer your current players a way to feel connected to the game even when they aren’t playing it – a non-trivial task. To truly leverage the power of your community, you’ll need to have at least one community manager to oversee it.

Community Manager’s Role & Tool Set

The community manager exists in an ambiguous space between customer support and public relations. At times they will be pushing press releases and managing crisis, and other times helping solve customer inquiries. They will also need to provide feedback to the developer or publisher about what changes the community would like to see implemented in the game.

Not every game is going to have the same community needs, but the basic foundation remains relatively similar across the board. You’ll likely want to create a fan site program (a basic kit so fans can create their own sites), a forum, and a social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.).

Keep in mind though, these are merely the distribution channels. You’ll need to fill them with quality content for them to be of any real value, and there-in lies arguably the most difficult task.

Creating Good Community Content

One of the biggest mistakes I see even big studios make in community management, is creating lackluster content for their communities. They are so focused on the in-game world that their community sphere ends up being nothing more than an official forum overloaded with spam, a barren Facebook page, and a deserted attempt at a twitter account.

Rather than waste your time trying to figure out how to force Facebook and Twitter to work for you, focus on the actual content you create and use social media as a distribution channel. While there are no hard and fast rules for what kind of content your community will enjoy, you can start by asking yourself one simple question:

How can my community engage with this?

The best community content is the kind that can be built on and modified by your users. Whether its memes, contests, or forums, allowing space for your users to project their own identity onto the game creates a sense of ownership.

This is particularly important in the free-to-play sphere where purchases are typically for consumable items and users don’t actually own anything they buy. Visual, shareable content, like infographics, memes, art, and videos, are particularly good for driving interest and engagement.

A cautionary note, however: even after you’ve created great content and set up the proper distribution channels, you’ll still need to pull people in to interact with you and your brand. Each piece of content you create should have some kind of ask: participate in the discussion, share, like, etc.

Making Your Content Work for You

As I mentioned at the beginning, community building overlaps between user acquisition and user retention. This means the community activity you foster needs to accomplish different goals at different times. These include:

Helping your users be successful with your game

Tutorials, build guides, item recipes, strategies, and how-to faqs are extremely valuable for helping new users interact with your game. They help overcome the initial bumps in the road that cause users to leave early. Clash of Clans created this content early on in their Japanese release and it helped them turn the region into one of their most profitable markets.

Grow your user base

The kind of easily sharable content that helps spread your brand and bring people into the game. This can also be things like inside-jokes that the established community already understand and reaffirms the brand image and identity of the game community.

Provide feedback for improvement

Discussions and feedback prompts that community managers can relay to publishers or developers to make improvements in the game.

Before spending time creating any piece of content make sure to ask yourself what goal will this help me achieve?

Share Your Ideas

Have you had any experience with community management? What practices did you find most helpful? What are the foundations you found most helpful for building from the ground up? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to receive read more great gaming articles!