Game Spotlight: Spirit Sweeper – The Minesweeper-based RPG for Mobile!

comingsoon_spiritsweeper

For most people, Minesweeper, recalls images of the mid-90s.  The game was arguably the hardest of the prepackaged Windows games that helped so many bored office workers pass slow afternoons behind cubical walls. It might not be anybody’s most favorite game, but it does have a certain nostalgia.

That nostalgia is what Seoul-based developer Wispsoft is banking on in their upcoming minesweeper-inspired mobile game, Spirit Sweeper. And they’re hoping that nostalgia will encourage people to support the game on Kickstarter.

SpiritSweeper_Wispsoft

Taking place in a fantasy world of golems, witches, and knights, players can unlock and choose from eight different characters to conquer their friends and battle internet strangers for sweeper supremacy. But rather than attempting to avoid mines, the objective of Spirit Sweeper is to go head-to-head against other players and be the first to discover 10 spirit stones. Like minesweeper, each number revealed indicates how many stones are near that tile.

SpiritSweeper2

Wispsoft has set a modest goal of reaching $5,000 in crowdfunding which will contribute to finishing the last leg of development as well as develop an additional story mode. Fans of the classic minesweeper will find themselves with a great new update to the game and lovers of casual titles like Candy-Crush and Bejeweled will find themselves right at home.

Check out the Kickstarter page and contribute!

 

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crowdfunding-korea-tumblbug

Start-ups and indie companies have had a hard time getting off the ground in Korea. Indies have traditionally been associated with being amateur and in the trend driven culture of Seoul, indie doesn’t always translate into the quirky viral love affairs as it does in the United States.

Thankfully, this trend is starting to change and crowdfunding is starting to gain momentum on the peninsula. Already there have been successes in the tech world.

Opportune, for example, helped the blue-tooth accessory maker, Semi-link, increase revenue by 230%. The company gathered 130 million won through the crowdfunding platform and allowed them to begin successfully exporting their products. Cultural and art projects are now finally starting to see similar successes.

The film Another Family, for example, earned gathered 1 billion won through crowdfunding. The movie is a fictionalized story about Hwang Sang-ki, a 23- year old Samsung plant worker who died from leukemia in 2007. It was the first commercial film in Korea to be financed through crowdfunding. Now games are starting to see a slice of the crowdfunding pie.

 

Platform Type Company
Donation Tumblbug
Fundu
Good Funding
Upstart
Sponsor/Donation Concrete
Sponsor/Share Investment/ Lending Opportune
Lending Money Auction
Pop Funding

 

While there are a number of crowdfunding websites that have popped up in the last year in Korea, in this article we will focus on Tumblbug, arguably the most popular of the platforms for game funding.

Tumbling into money

Tumblbug tells you what they’re all about in their slogan, “get smart, fund art”. There is perhaps no better crowdfunding platform in Korea for art and cultural projects having trouble finding financing.

Launched in January 2011, it bears a striking resemblance to Kickstarter. The landing page features different project categories including comics and illustrations, music, photos, film, and games.

tumblbug-game-page

Contributing to projects is done in much the same way it is for Kickstarter. Users sign up with an account, or through Facebook, then select the project and donation amount. Payments can be made with credit cards or via bank transfer. Once the payment is made, contributors get a message with information about what rewards they will receive for their contribution level.

Although hard numbers for data are not available, Tumblbug has helped fund hundreds of independent artists, musicians, filmmakers, and game developers. There are currently 81 active game projects as of this writing, including board games, dice games, tabletop RPGs, and PC and mobile titles.

Some successful game campaigns include:


안녕뀨잉펫 (Hello Happy Pet)

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와들와들팽귄즈 (Waddle Waddle Penguin)

Tree of Life

tumblbug-crowdsource-herodetected

Hero Detected

Like Kickstarter, running a successful campaign means more than just posting it online and hoping for the best. A great example of how the platform can be leveraged actually comes from one of our own clients – Owlogue.

Planting a garden of fans

Owlogue is small, Seoul-based, studio built by a husband and wife team. They have released six mobile titles so far, three of which are part of the Mandrake series (the second of the series participated in the Big Indie 40 Project run together with Latis Global and the Korea Creative Contents Agency).

The games are casual, quirky, collector-sims where players plant seeds and harvest Mandrake characters to get their stories, and anime-style artwork. The goal is to collect as many of the Mandrakes and their accompanying artwork and stories as possible. As you can probably guess from the titles, the first two games – Mandrake Girls, and Mandrake Girls: Garden of Secret – focused on artwork of girls. The games catered to a small, but loyal audience, though they never made a big hit in the charts. But things changed for the third game in the series.

mandrake-girls

Realizing that there are plenty of games featuring anime girls on the market, Owlogue decided to mix it up for their third installment of the series, Mandrake Boys. As you can probably guess, the game revolves around the same mechanics, but features boys in the artwork rather than girls.

Success in alternative avenues

With a small budget, Owlogue had to take a conservative approach in marketing the game.  They knew they already had a fan base from their two previous games to work with, so they decided to make turn to Tumblbug to help promote the game. The campaign was for adding voice recordings, an added value to an already complete game. This united their fan base from the previous games and got them involved in the development of the third installment.

Though they started off with a modest request of just a two million Korean won (~$1,912.80 USD), they ended up raising 15,957,011 won (~$15,261.25 USD) from just 403 backers. After reaching their initial goal, they set a stretch goal of 10 million won (~9, 564.00 USD) with more rewards including an art book. The fans loved it and a large majority of them also happened to be avid twitter users. The campaign went viral on Twitter, hitting the top trending topics in Korea and drawing in new fans, even if they didn’t contribute to the Tumblbug campaign.

tumblbug-mandrake-boys

In the end, Mandrake Boys made it to the top 40 grossing games in Google Play, and saw similar success on the Naver App Store, where they are currently making the majority of their success. Though Owlogue attributes a lot of their success to luck, the choices they made  with their Tumblbug campaign and outreach to Twitter played a major role and were innovative choices for indie devs in such a competitive market.

Have questions? Let us answer them!

If you’ve got questions about crowdfunding in Korea, the Mandrake series, or any of the platforms we’ve talked about today, leave a comment below and let us know! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more great articles about Asia’s biggest game markets.

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.

 

OTT-Apps-Kakao

 

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.

kakao-business-explained

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.

kakao-talk-dragonflight

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 

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

Kakao-games-chagu-chagu

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

Kakao-Talk-차구차구

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

 

Arcade Simplicity

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

Kakao-Chagu-Chagu-Arcade

 

Card and Item Collecting

 

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

 Kakao-착구차구-gameplay

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

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

 

Quests and Mini Games

 

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

 

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

 

profile picKyle Hovanec is a writer currently living and working in South Korea. He writes for several Korean publications including Latis Global Communications. You can contact him at khovanec87@gmail.com 

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

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

All Free-to-Play is not equal  

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

Free content is ubiquitous 

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