No Kakao? No Problem: The Pros and Cons of Korea’s Alternative Game Platforms

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Whenever someone asks me about the Korean market,  the question of Kakao is usually top of their list. But what many don’t know is that the Korean mobile market is more than just Kakao. There are a number of great platforms for releasing your games, each with their own pros and cons. We put together an overview of the top three alternative gaming platforms in Korea. Check it out and share with your friends!

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What Is KakaoTalk? An introduction to Korea’s biggest game platform

Kakao Talk Messenger

Kakao Talk Messenger

The sounds of Kakao notifications going off may now be the most ubiquitous noise in all of Korea. Installed on nearly every smartphone in the country, it’s fair to say that KakaoTalk has dominated the domestic market, both as an OTT/SNS app, and more recently as a gaming platform.

Now that they have announced a merger with the tech titan, Daum, KakaoTalk may be the most powerful app in the entire country. So why do so few outside of Korea have deeper understanding of it? In this article, we’re going to give you a big picture view of the powerful platform, elaborate on its success, and explain how to register your own game onto Kakao.

To start, let’s talk about where the app began.

 

The Origins of Kakao

Kakao Corporation was founded in 2006 by Kim Beom-soo, former CEO of NHN Corporation, with the mission of creating web-based SNS services (NHN is the parent company of Naver, the leading Korean search portal, and LINE, the #1 OTT messaging app globally). In 2009, due partly to its lack of services for the web and the blossoming potential of the mobile market, Kakao pivoted from designing web based projects, and devoted themselves to the mobile market.

When KakaoTalk launched in March 2010, its main competitors were Google Talk, Whatsapp and NateOn. KakaoTalk quickly differentiated itself from all 3 apps with its highly polished user experience and aesthetics. Unlike Google Talk, Kakaotalk understood the significance of a smartphone’s contact book over email contacts, automatically porting a user’s phone contacts to create a Kakao friend list.

 

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This would not only make for a convenient user experience, but would later form a powerful, smartphone-centric social graph that would serve as the bedrock for Kakao’s later ventures into SNS (through KakaoStory) and gaming (KakaoGame). Google and Facebook, encumbered by their own proprietary social graphs based on desktops, would be late in realizing the importance of the smartphone social graph.

Furthermore, Korea’s long history with freemium mechanics (see: Maple Story) helped KakaoTalk embrace a more forward-looking, micro-transaction based model from launch. This business model would guide its future products, especially in the monetization of stickers and in-app-purchases within games on their platform.

Contrast this with Whatsapp, which was organizationally uncomfortable with micro-transactions. Though the two apps are similar in original concept, their paths would soon diverge due to these philosophical differences.

Within two years, nearly 90 percent of all Korean smartphone users were chatting, or “Ka-talking”, achieving the same branding and cultural importance of services such as Google (“Google It”).

 

Enter the Gaming Market

Kakao worked diligently to expand its product line. Through apps such as KakaoStory, a smartphone-centric replacement to SNS sites like Facebook, KakaoTalk grew dramatically more influential. Photos, groups, videos and other apps were also developed, ultimately leading to KakaoGame, the crown jewel of Kakao.

Before KakaoGame, many companies had to bridge the divide between social networking and gaming. Often, this would involve a company creating a new social graph from its customers, usually based off their email. However, most mobile games had a short shelf-life, severely reducing the incentive for users to sign up for the platform. Those that did were hardcore users, not only in their allegiance to the game, but to its respective company. The end results were communities of hardcore gamers with very little reach to the more desirable casual gamers. Common examples of communities like this include EA’s Origin, Glu, Gamevil, Com2us and Openfeint. Even Apple’s Game Center, despite its ubiquity, initially had trouble integrating social elements to the platform.

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KakaoGame made SNS users care about mobile games, and vice versa. The service allowed games to sync with a phone’s contact list, allowing for effective implementation of networking features such as invites and co-op play. Through this platform, the modern Korean mobile gaming market was born. Profits ballooned, as two of the earliest titles, Anipang and Dragon Flight went on to become hugely successful, shooting their popularity to the top of the charts and becoming “national games” after only a month.

The South Korean gaming market increased from $300 million to $1.1 billion in a year thanks to the success of Kakao.

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DragonFlight was one of the first successful games on Kakao, driving millions of downloads across the country.

To put it into perspective further: a year ago, a Korean mobile game was lucky if it hit 1 million game downloads. Games on Kakao have boosted that with 8 games on Kakao generating more than 8 million downloads. The previously mentioned Anipang and Dragon Flight have generated more than 20 million downloads. It’s also worth noting that as of now, eight out of ten of the highest grossing games in Korea are games from Kakao with only Clash of Clans and FIFA being able to slip into the top ten.

 

Can I join too?

While Kakao games were built with smaller publishers and developers in the beginning, larger companies have flocked to the platform since its success. Big names like CJ E&M, WeMade and Com2us have put out numerous popular titles on Kakao.

Western titles, such as Wooga’s Jelly Splash, have also joined the platform, with varying degrees of success. Given that Korea is currently the #3 Google Play market in the world, it’s an opportunity that you can’t afford to miss if you want to be truly global. The best way to achieve this is by building a relationship with an experienced partner in Korea, submitting your game to the Kakao platform is easy enough.

 

How to Submit a Game on Kakao

Even if you can’t speak Korean, the process for submitting your game is very straightforward and easy. Start by going to their website (http://with.kakao.com/game/en/proposal), and filling out the form with the details of your game and some basic information including:

  • Title
  • Genre
  • Whether your game is released yet or not
  • A brief description of your game
  • A place to attach your proposal file (you must explain how your game will integrate with Kakao’s social graph here, as well as how the game will monetize)
  • A download link to your game
  • Your company info

After filling out and submitting the form, Kakao then goes through a process of reviewing your proposal. If it looks interesting to them, they will contact the developer or publisher with the possibility of signing a contract.  It may be necessary to visit Korea personally, or to have a Korean speaker available, to explain some of the more elaborate points of your game. Finally, if Kakao accepts your application, it’s time to move onto SDK integration. But we’ll save that for another time.

 

The Future

WeChat adopted a similar platform for China in 2013 with great fanfare and even greater revenue explosions. LINE has also integrated its popular OTT messenger with its games, most notably in Japan. Even in Korea several alternate platforms are popping up, which will be discussed in future posts.

So, not only are alternate platforms rising up to compete with Kakao, but with so many apps now on the Kakao store, it’s becoming harder for companies to find success even with Kakao’s powerful social graph.

Over the course of the month, we’ll discuss some of these alternate methods for finding success in Korea. But for today, we recognize the juggernaut that is Kakao.

 

Have a question? Contact us!

Please leave a comment if you have any questions, especially if you’re interested in launching in Kakao. We’ll be more than happy to get back to you with all of your questions and concerns. In the meantime, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook so we can connect you with more information about making your games a success in 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 

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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?

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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 

Kakao Talk Odds & Ends: Secrets of success behind CJ’s 차구차구

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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.

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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.

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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 

Mobile Game News: Dark Souls Copy Infringement Case

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The line between infringement and inspiration is often a blurry one, but especially so where the mobile games industry is concerned. Mechanics are borrowed, art styles mimicked, and the pressure of a “fast follow” culture is bound to encourage more than a little unhealthy borrowing.

China’s mobile gaming market is perhaps the most notorious for this, with heavy fragmentation and very little means of going after copyright infringers, piracy is frequently cited as one of the greatest fears for western developers entering the market.

But in truth, the problem is industry-wide, so when Korean developer 4:33 came under fire this week for some not-so-minor advertising infringement,  it prompted us to look at the copy-catting and Korean culture. [Thanks to Kotaku]

Dark Souls Copyright Infringement

It was a netizen on the Korean forum, Today’s Humor, that first noticed the striking resemblances between the mobile blockbuster Blade and the popular console/PC franchise Dark Souls. First, the trailers seemed to have some extremely similar scenes:

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And their subway advertising felt a little borrowed as well:

 

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4:33 blamed the mishap on the advertising agency hired to run the promotions, telling Gamemeca in an interview that “There is a clause in our contract with them saying the agency will fully be responsible if there is any third party copyright violation. We’ve sent the agency a legal note saying they’ve damaged our image.”

Still, some netizens are commenting that it’s the advertising and trailer that are a problem, but that 4:33 tried to ride the coat-tails of Dark Souls with their whole game. But how grievous is their copy catting really?

Aesthetics and Mechanics

When we talk about plagiarism in games, there are really two separate, but related,problems. The first is the copying of art and design, the second is copying the core game mechanics themselves.

The problem in the game industry is that the majority of games all do this to some extent. Even if we agree to not discuss the rampant cloning of Flappy Bird, there are plenty of other examples. Candy Crush, when it comes down to it, is just slightly different version of Bejewelled. Hay Day is Supercell eating Zynga’s lunch. Korean companies have not been shy about doing this either.

Gamevil’s Epic Raiders was a near mechanical clone of Mika Mobile’s Battleheart.

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Mika Mobile’s Battleheart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gamevil’s Epic Raiders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A skim through the Korean Google Play store and you will see it populated with similar match 3s, runners, and sim games that all feel a little similar in one way or another.

But this points to a problem in the industry as a whole, not just with one developer. It’s a symptom of a fast-follow culture where games are created with a “what works” mentality, producing only a narrow band of originality and creativity.

Which is why when artistic styles are copied, it feels like a much more grievous trespassing. The mechanics are already going to be similar by the nature of the industry, so when the aesthetic looks just a little too similar, it seems as though the line is being crossed too far.

So did Blade rip off Dark Souls artistically?

In terms of the game itself, I think not. Skeletons shooting arrows, and knights fighting the undead is a horse carcass this industry has been kicking around since its inception. But there is no denying that the trailer and advertising were copied.

**Update** Below are a couple of game play videos to compare Blade against Dark Souls. As you can see, Blade is a much brighter game, and one that is based primarily on wave clear, with little narrative.  Dark Souls on the other hand, has a darker atmosphere and is much more in depth than Blade.

 

 

I think we might be able to shed a little light on why the advertising campaigns look so similar, and the answer is probably not one you are expecting: movie posters.

A Culture of Copy-Catting

Not too long ago, it was reported that around 30% of Korean film posters may be ripping off from foreign film posters and album covers. Creative agencies site advertisers who become fixated on design concepts inspired by other foreign posters as a major source of the problem, but the problem truly runs a bit deeper than that.

For decades Korea has enjoyed a perfect environment for copying intellectual property. With a relative lack of popularity compared to China and Japan, Korean companies have been able to copy others while staying off the radar. This is partly because there exists a mindset that copying successful companies is, not only normal, but part of what it takes to become successful yourself. Even if a product from the west was being plagiarized, the chances of anyone noticing were pretty small, and the chances of them caring all that much equally so.

But, particularly recently, that is becoming less true. The constant political tensions, influx of foreigners teaching in Korea, the hallyu wave, and efforts by the Korean government to export Korean cultural content have all helped to shine more light on the country.Some people couldn’t help but notice that a lot of things looked… similar. Korean companies have been accused of copying everything from underwear, to electronics, and even restaurants. The similarities are often far too glaring and the problem is one that is going to need to be addressed.

Bad for Mobile Game Industry

Thankfully, 4:33 is taking action in this case and has already sent legal notice to the advertising agency they used to run the campaign.

The extent to which we allow any game to borrow concepts from another, whether its mechanics or aesthetics, may be up for debate, but cases like this have to be acted upon swiftly, particularly in Asia. China has already created a bad reputation for piracy that has caused western developers and publishers to be wary of the markets in Asia in general (though less so with Japan). If Korean companies allow this kind of plagiarism of foreign content to go unpunished, there is a risk in pushing potential investment away.

 

Tell us what you think

Do you think Blade borrowed too much from Dark Souls as a game? Was it just their advertising and trailer that crosses the line? Where do you think the line is on inspiration and infringement? How do we deal with these problems in a fast-follow industry? Leave your comments below and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!

Kakao Talk Odds & Ends: Why CJ E&M Dominates the Charts

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In today’s fast paced environment, Korean gamers are consuming new gaming related content at a rapid pace. Keeping players engaged and also having a title that can remain profitable is one of the biggest challenges that publisher can face. For any publisher, to have any of their games featured among the top selling games in Korea is a sign of success in both marketing and the actual game itself.

So what do you say about a publisher that has not one, but five titles sitting in the top twenty highest grossing games in Korea?

CJ E&M Corp. is currently responsible for five titles sitting in the top twenty. Some of their titles, such as Everymarble, have gone on to surpass some of the biggest games on Kakao, including Anipang and Cookie Run. So how is t CJ E&M able to achieve what very few others can?

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A brand name and a massive bank account is the easy answer, but their secret to success runs far deeper than that.  In order to discover what makes CJ E&M such a dominant force, we need to look at a variety of factors, ranging from the titles they produce to the way each title is distributed to players.

The Things in Common

The five titles currently on the charts hold a sequential position at number three, four and five. The two remaining titles sit towards the end at number eleven and number fifteen respectively. All five of these titles feature different styles of play; however each of these titles has two factors in common:

1. All five games were created by developer Netmarble.

2. Each of the titles is available through KakaoTalk.

With these two factors in mind, we can take a look at where’s CJ E&M’s focus lies and begin to form some understanding behind their secrets of success.

KakaoTalk Distribution

With over a 100 million users worldwide (a number that continues to grow) and a 95% user base in Korea, Kakao is a dominant and ever present factor when it comes to mobile devices. Available on both Android and iOS systems, KakaoTalk has been the primary way for Koreans of all ages to communicate through text. By using KakaoTalk, users can amass a list of friends and family who are instantly available to message at the simple swipe of a finger. With an already massive user base, it should come as no surprise that once KakaoTalk started becoming a game distribution platform, it ended up becoming hugely successful with titles such as Anipang and Dragonflight.

Three Tiers of Gaming

Fast forward to 2014, and the Korean mobile gaming market, and more specifically the Kakao gaming market is overflowing with casual titles. Although some runners and puzzle titles have proven to be hugely successful, the over-saturation has created a wave of  “Me too” titles. This has compounded the, already difficult, issue of discovery, and its easy for good games to become lost in the fray.

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It is with this in mind that the focus comes to the final two tiers of mobile gaming: mid core and hard core titles. While nowhere near as popular as casual titles, these two areas have begun to show signs of increased popularity and a stronger embrace from gamers. When you consider that gaming in Korea isn’t a niche hobby, but rather a national pastime, it is only natural that the gaming market would mature as their users move away from casual content and begin exploring more core based games.

If we look at the five games published by CJ E&M in the top twenty grossing games in Korea, with the exception of one title, we can see a common theme among them:

#3: Monster Taming: A dungeon crawling hack n’ slash RPG

#4: Seven Knights: A side scrolling hack n’ slash title with RPG elements.

#5: Everybody’s Marble:  A board game where players take their characters around the different boards and participate in board game situations.

#11: Dragon Guard: A PvP hack n slash action MMORPG

#15: Chagu Chagu:  An arcade soccer title

Each of the titles, with the exception of Chagu Chagu, are the mid and hard core titles mentioned earlier. All of the titles feature RPG gameplay, arguably the most popular genre of gaming in Korea and combines it with an in depth and robust gaming experience usually found with PC and console titles. Developer Netmarble has successfully called upon the nostalgia and similarity of gameplay to other popular titles such as Diablo II and III while tapping into an area of handheld gaming that is ripe with potential for growth. However, knowing your audience and giving them what they want is only half of what makes these games a huge success. There is one more essential element that CJ E&M has successfully embraced.

Gaming on a social platform

While KakaoTalk began as a way to chat and communicate with friends and family, its this simple design philosophy that is the biggest asset to CJ E&M’s games and one of the most significant reasons behind its successes.

With KakaoTalk, the games you play are integrated with your existing friend’s list, giving each player a more enhanced experience in which their interactions come from, not in-game characters or NPCs, but rather real world people. Your friends, girlfriend/boyfriend, mother, etc. are now part of your gaming experience. Gaming in Korea is primarily a social experience, and by having a active friend’s list where people can play and compete together, it provides all of the social bells and whistles that PC and console gamers have experienced for years, now in a mobile format. There’s no need to download additional software and no need to re-add your friends on yet another social platform. Everyone you have ever communicated with through Kakao is now available to play with you.

A high user network like KakaoTalk also comes with a critical component to the success of any mobile title and the creation of a solid positive feedback cycle: positive word of mouth.

If a player likes a game on KakaoTalk, they can instantly send a game invite to their friends. Nearly all of the games in CJ E&M’s catalog offer the option to share games and invite other players off your Kakao list. They also offer in game rewards and incentives for bringing in other people to play with you. By including options like this CJ E&M have grown their numbers organically and increased their active users, contributing to an overall increase in their ranking and popularity as a brand.

It’s easy to see why CJ E&M has become such a dominant force on the mobile gaming marketplace. Through having foresight to give players options outside the crowded casual tier and allowing them to engage on the largest mobile social platform in Korea, CJ creates a cycle of demand, promotion and sharing that continues to fuel itself and achieve a large market presence that most publisher can only dream of achieving.

 

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: What makes a great Sim game?

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Korean gamers, no matter their tastes or interests all share a common element: the need for pick up and play mobile gaming. They look for gameplay that offers a satisfying and rewarding experience that can be achieved in a matter of minutes. Daily commutes using public transportation may only last a few stops. Breaks at work may only be twenty minutes at most. It is within these short periods that gamers have to use their time wisely. No player wants to waste their limited time on an experience with little to no incentive to keep playing.

Sim and management games have always had a niche in the Korean market, but what separates the great successes from the merely average? Supercell’s Hay Day has seen great success globally, but has only manage to remain a top 50 grossing game. WeMade’s Everytown, however, has managed to make it to the top 20.

Both games offer rewarding gameplay in a short amount of time, so what makes one a bigger hit? In this post, we’ll be examining what separates a major success, from a mediocre one.

Overview of Games

HAY DAY

Release November 14, 2013
Last Update June 12, 2014
Developer Supercell
Google Play Installs: 50,000,000- 100,000,000
Top Grossing Rank (Google Play) #39

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EVERYTOWN

Release March 4, 2013
Last Update June 23, 2014
Developer WeMade Entertainment Co., LTD.
Google Play Installs: 1,000,000- 5,000,000
Top Grossing Rank (Google Play) #4

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Gameplay Analysis

HAY DAY

Hay Day’s gameplay is designed to be accessible and welcoming to all gamers, especially players belonging to a more casual audience. From the cartoonish, almost children’s storybook looking visuals, to the numerous tutorials at the beginning, the game tries to make the player feel as comfortable and stress free as possible as they ease into the game. The controls are simple and intuitive to use, making completing multiple objectives in a short amount of time easy and quick to do.

For each level gained, rewards are given to the player in the form of new tools, extra land to grow more crops, new areas to explore and other various enhancements. Almost every reward is immediately useful to the player, giving the game a constant feeling of momentum and progress. It is always possible to complete a task and receive some sort of reward from doing it, whether you spend five minutes or one hour playing.

Tasks in the game though, occur in real time. This means that there is a waiting period for each task to finish before the player can receive a reward or a finished item. These times can range from little over to a minute to over a day. Players have the option to use premium currency to speed up time and instantly complete the task if necessary, but the game never puts the player in a situation (outside the tutorial) where this is a requirement.

Hay Day capitalizes on social sharing by allowing players to visit each other’s’ farms to lend a helping hand or buy goods. Facebook and Google+ integration also allow players to include their real friends into the game.

EVERYTOWN

 

Artistically speaking, Everytown is much more familiar to the Korean audience. Not only is it a more traditional anime style, but even the UI is more cluttered and complex than its foreign counterpart. This complexity is carried throughout the game play as well, requiring more work from the player in order to get the most out of the game.

Rather than starting out with a huge swath of land to farm, players to build their town from a small, square plot, to a bustling metropolis filled with restaurants, factories and farms, all of which need to be maintained. A significant amount of micromanagement and player interaction is necessary to keep towns lucrative and active.

For example, along with the normal activities of crop farming, buildings need to be cleaned in order to produce the best items. Once items are harvested or created, they can be combined with other items to produce something of more value.

NPCs give you tasks to complete for in game currency along with experience points to grow the size of your city, allowing you to make it more successful. Different characters can be unlocked who also come with their own unique items and abilities to earn more experience and opportunities to grow your town. Like Hay Day, certain actions take place in real time, also offering a way to speed up time through the use of premium currency.

Everytown features a heavier social emphasis than Hay Day by connecting with other friends and players through their respective Kakao accounts. Like Hay Day, players can visit each other’s towns and earn currency, complete jobs and sell their own items to other players. While being social is not required to succeed at the game, it is heavily encouraged as a fast way to earn currency. In the higher levels, maintaining a large town and having enough currency to expand your town further would be a difficult task without the extra points from other players.

Kakao integration is likely one of the major reasons why Everytown has seen more success than Hay Day. Kakao, by design, is a much easier and less intrusive way of engaging with friends, and is more ubiquitous in Korea than Facebook and Google+.

Monetization

HAY DAY

Screenshot_2014-06-27-10-27-51(1)Hay Day features two kinds of currency in game, gold and diamonds with the gold acting as in game currency and diamonds acting as premium currency. A majority of items can be purchased with the in game currency, which is relatively easy to obtain as long as the player is willing to invest time completing tasks and selling in game items. However, since many of the activities take time to complete, the game’s option to use premium currency to speed up the time can be tempting to some players wanting to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time.

The major pay walls hit in waves particularly where storage is concerned. The players’ barn and silo can only store a finite amount of goods, and players can expect to feel the squeeze every five levels or so as they advance through the game. The items needed to expand the barn and silo storage are rare and can only be either discovered randomly, bought with premium currency, or be lucky enough to find them in the shops to buy from another user.

Prices for both the standard and premium currency range from reasonable to outrageous. A small helping of currency both standard and premium will cost you little more than 3,000 won. However for larger amounts of currency, players can be expected to pay over 100,000 won.

Everytown

Kakao_Everytown_FreetoPlayEverytown features three kinds of currency in game: hearts which you gain from other players and are used to buy items for your characters, gold which is used to buy items for your town, and seeds, the premium currency used to speed up real time events in the game. However, unlike Hay Day, you only have the option of purchasing premium currency. The prices for this currency range from a little over 1,000 won to almost 100,000 won. Players can also earn currency with incentivized downloads of other Kakao published games.

Perhaps most importantly, there is simply more to spend money on. Not only can you spend money to speed up your progress, but you can unlock new characters and purchase different upgrades as well, allowing for deeper customization of your town than you can find in Hay Day. Combined with Kakao integration, this is likely a big reason that Everytown has outpaced Hay Day.

Conclusions

Despite being in similar genres and sharing the same core gameplay, Everytown offers more depth and a more familiar environment than Hay Day. Both in terms of art and layout as well as the complexity of game play.

Though both games have social integration, Everytown has leveraged the might of Kakao to help push it forward, where Hay Day has used the less popular Facebook and Google+ platforms. Everytown also puts more emphasis on connecting and playing with friends, making it a more socially cooperative experience.