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 

Game Spotlight: A Thief is coming to Android and iOS

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Thief-Lupin-2

The mischievous Thief Lupin is coming back to Android and iOS devices this fall as Bluewind prepares to release the second adventure of the masked jewel fiend. Thief Lupin 2 features all new puzzles, levels, and characters with the familiar gameplay fans have come to love from the series debut, which reached the top 10 free games in 57 countries. In the sequel to their first major hit, Bluewind has refocused their effort and made the game Lupin was always meant to star in.

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If you’ve played the original Thief Lupin, the basics in the sequel will not be too hard to master. The goal of the game is to achieve a three-star rating in all levels of the map as you fight your way through different worlds facing off against vampires, giant puffer-fish, and hordes of bats. Each level challenges players with time limits, skill-use limits, and other goals that must be achieved to earn stars. Complete more levels to earn points and unlock new characters and items.

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Players familiar with goal oriented free-to-play games like Angry Birds, and Plants vs. Zombies will find this a refreshing return to casual games amid the recent trend of more RPG oriented releases. The one touch mechanics in a simple, 2D platform environment are accessible to all players. As you earn more in-game currency you can unlock skins, boost your health and defensive items, and add more characters to your roster. Among the team of friends joining Lupin in his new adventure are the Pirate Katarina, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Mummy.

Check out the game play below and check for more Thief Lupin 2 updates by liking the Facebok page.

Send a tweet and spread the word about Thief Lupin 2! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for news on more great indie games from Korea!

 

Facebook Games Blocked in Korea

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Korea_Facebook_Games

Korea’s Game Rating and Administration Committee (GRAC) shut down Facebook games.

On August 26th, with very little fanfare, stop payments were placed on games like Candy Crush Saga, limiting players from spending money on micro-transactions. By Friday, all  Facebook games were blocked domestically until they receive a rating from GRAC.

The move appears to be motivated as part of an effort to crackdown on social casino games.  Gambling is illegal in most of Korea but online and mobile social casino games have been left alone so far. Rather than target one group of games, it appears the committee has attempted to bring all Facebook games in line with Game Industry Promotion Act that was established in December 2013.

Under the act, games must be rated by a panel of nine people that includes professors, attorneys, and NGO members. Decisions place games in one of four categories:

All: games that can be enjoyed by anybody.

12+: games that should not be used by minors under 12 years of age.

15+: games that should not be used by minors under 15 years of age.

Adult only: games that should not be accessed by minors or youths.

Not surprisingly, there is a fee for developers to get their games rated.

Games are supposed to receive their ratings within 15 days of filing their application, but there is no word yet on when the Facebook games will return. Companies that fail to act swiftly in getting their applications to the board are facing serious harm to their revenue and user retention.

This is not the first time government regulation over game ratings has caused problems in Korea’s game industry. Starcraft II was delayed after receiving the ‘Adults Only’ rating in 2010.

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.

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

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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.

 

 

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

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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. 
 
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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 

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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. 

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 

 

 

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

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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.