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!

 

Steam Updates Storefront: Is Discovery the Key for Mobile?

Steam-Logo

steam1

Steam’s slogan for its new update says it all: A Smarter Storefront. Personalized Just For You.

The update introduces a “smarter” homepage that recommends games based on past purchases, what you’ve been playing, and friends’ recommendations. While this type of personalized targeting has been widely popular with music and video platforms like Netflix and iTunes, the game industry has been slow to follow suit. Steam’s new update may be the push we need towards better discovery tools in a saturated content industry. 

In the past nine months alone, over 1,300 new titles have been added to Steam, which brought the total catalog to over 3,700 games. For indie devs with little to no money to spend on advertising, getting page traffic was difficult to say the least. By far the most interesting feature of the new update is the ability to follow “curators”. Curators can be any individual or organization with an opinion on games and wants to share them. Steam’s curator pages now offer a place to organize these recommendations and following a curator will also send their recommendations to your homepage. To become a curator, you need to create a group, or already be an officer or moderator in a group.

 

After less than a week, the update has been having a big impact as one Gamezone article notes:

Developers have been very open about how the update has affected them, taking to both their blogs and Twitter accounts to reveal the changes they’ve seen on their Steam Store Pages. Andrew Spearin, the Creative Director at New World Interactive took to his blog to reveal the affects of Steam’s Discovery Update on Insurgency (a tactical FPS). Spearin cited how much trafficInsurgency‘s Steam Store Page received prior to the update and post update, here are the numbers:

  • Sunday: 5,800 (pre-update)
  • Monday: 21,500 (post update)
  • Tuesday: 83,284 (post update)

While he did admit that the game was recommended by prominent figures (and Curators) in the gaming world, the spike in people visiting the store page is obvious. If you’re wondering just how visible Insurgency has become on Steam due to the update, the figure is “370% over night.” Spearin is not the only one discussing the potential that Steam’s update has allowed for indie devs.

Curating on mobile

If 3,700 games to sift through seems like a lot, consider that the Google Play Store now has 1,500,000 live apps. Even if only 1% of that were high quality games worth playing, that would still be a whopping 15,000 titles to sort through. With more apps added every day, discovery on both Andriod and iOS is becoming difficult for studios on shoestring budgets. So could a curator model much like Steam introduced be the answer? Korea has been experimenting with that very idea for a while now.

Afreeca TV is a popular video streaming service, though it is not well known outside of Korea. Given that live streaming popular online games like League of Legends and Starcraft are by far the most popular streams on the platform, it made sense when Afreeca TV dipped their feet into the mobile gaming pool last year with the introduction of the Gamecenter.

afreecatv1

 

Broadcasting Jockeys, known by the unfortunate acronym BJs, create “clans” where they can live stream their favorite mobile games, and even play with their fans. Their audience can reward them by buying “chocolate”, a premium currency on the platform that can be exchanged for items in the store, and even real cash. Users, in turn, earn chocolate by downloading games, making in-app purchases, and participating in the platform in other ways.

So far the platform is quite small and experimental, with just 178,000 Gamecenter subscribers, but engagement levels are high with the average user playing 5.5 games on the platform.

Is this the next move for Google and Apple?

With such great results for video and music services, and impressive possibilities being explored by Steam, could this be the future for mobile gaming as well?  This would work particularly well in Korea where word of mouth from trend-setting power-bloggers is a powerful marketing channel. Do you think this would work on a scale as big as Google Play and Apple? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think!

Korea Guide: Apple vs. Google Play

Google-Play-02

Google-Play-02

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

 

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

 

Apple vs. The Samsung Factor

 

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

6395902_orig

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Google Play: Home of the Indies

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Buff Knight, a Korean Indie supported by Google.

Buff Knight, a Korean Indie supported by Google.

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

 

Publishing for Each Store: What You Already Know

 

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

 

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

Game Spotlight: Mobile MOBA League of Masters Coming Soon

mobile-moba-leauge-of-masters

For hardcore gamers that love 16 hour DOTA sessions and weekend LAN benders, mobile has rarely offered anything worth a look. The Apple showcase last week showcased the first game that may really change all that with Super Evil Megacorp’s Vain Glory. But companies in Asia have already been working on bringing core, MOBA-style games to tablets. Korean-based developers, AppCross, are throwing their hat in the ring with their upcoming title, League of Masters. 

mobile-moba-leagueofmasters

The free-to-play title expands on the lessons learned from AppCross’ first mobile MOBA, Soul of Legends, improving on many of the mistakes made in the first of the series.

To start, rather than a map with a single lane, the League of Masters map has two lanes and a jungle. Each lane has three towers to destroy before reaching the nexus. The jungle includes two minion camps and a crystal, which when destroyed spawns a Cerberus for your team. The Cerberus minion is much larger and stronger than all other minions. It will stay in your lane until killed by the enemy, and can only be brought back by destroying the jungle crystal. But the most exciting features of the game are in the new multi-player options.

mobile-moba-voicechat

Players can now opt between three different PVP modes: 1 v 1, 2 v 2, or 3 v 3. League of Masters features voice chat for quick communication with teammates. There is also a clan system and e-sports mode for truly competitive players that want flaunt their MOBA dominance.

Rather than selling runes and skins, League of Masters takes a new approach to monetization. Players can purchase skins that come with stat boosts. The game is not slated for release until the end of 2014, but its one that MOBA fans should definitely look out for as the year winds down.

Send a tweet and spread the word about League of Masters!  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more news on great indie games from Korea!

 

tumblbug_logo_crowdfunding

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)

waddle_title_think_02

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.

The Risk of Acquiring a Hit Game

microsoft-minecraft-acquisition

microsoft-minecraft-acquisition

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine hit the nail on the head yesterday: acquiring a hit game is stupid. Commenting on the announcement that Microsoft is acquiring Mojang, makers of Minecraft, for $2.5 billion, he had this to say:

Buying a game company is like buying an aging baseball player. You’ll need a miracle to get another hit. And while they might have plenty of fans, they probably aren’t making a lot of new ones…There’s no guarantee it will produce another blockbuster; players will eventually move on from Minecraft, and I doubt anyone is going to buy a dopey Windows Phone just to play a slightly different version of the pixelated sandbox game.

Have we learned nothing from Zynga, Rovio, King and Dong?

Valuing a game on a user-base, as fickle as most gamers are, is asking for disaster. Case in point, Zynga and King both did their IPOs on the heels of their success with FarmVille and Candy Crush Saga. Both have tanked since as their users moved on to the next flavor of the year. This is especially true on mobile where brand loyalty is almost non-existent.

Rovio has long tried to run counter this by establishing themselves, not as a game company but as a brand. Rovio’s spokesman, Peter Vesterbacka, can be heard repeating this mantra at game conferences around the globe. They have their hands in toys, amusement parks, snacks, and even perfumes. But as Constine points out:

there are only so many pigeons you can chuck at pigs, and now its CEO is out after profits sank 52 percent in 2013. If someone had acquired Rovio at the height of its success, they’d be kicking themselves with steel-toed boots right now.

There is an argument to be made that Minecraft does have some unique characteristics that might make it a more valuable proposition. As Keith Noonan at the Motley Fool noted:

The notion of paying more than $2 billion to acquire a company that is primarily known for one game is sure to raise some eyebrows; but Mojang and Minecraft may be a special case. Very few titles in the history of gaming have shown evidence of comparable staying power, and few have a similar potential to aid Microsoft’s aim of bringing its existing gaming resources together with its mobile and cloud focus. If Mojang can engineer successful follow-ups to its megahit, inside the series and beyond it, the company would justify its asking price and be a significant asset for Microsoft.

Even Constine sees there may be hidden potential, noting the game has potential to become a digital platform for creativity much like Legos. However, we’ve never seen a game company with a single title turn into a lasting legacy worth $2.5 billion. The argument is summed up well in his final note:

And I’m sorry, Microsoft, but no one is going to ditch all their other apps and Androids or iPhones for a laughable Windows Phone just to play some special version of Minecraft. If you’re telling yourself that’s why the deal makes sense, your blood-Kool Aid content has surpassed legal levels. Stop drinking it. Kids don’t want Windows Phones. They’re not cool.

You know what is cool? Minecraft. You know what’s an easy way to change that? Have one of the lamest, old-man corporations buy  

Trends in Korea

ipo-cookie-run

Big buyouts are nothing new to the Asian gaming market. SoftBank and GungHo’s $1.53 billion purchase of 51 percent of Supercell based off its success with Clash of Clans is perhaps one of the more notable.  But in Korea massive IPOs from game companies with a single title have been few and far between. SundayToz launched its IPO off the back of Anipang, one of the first titles to hit the KakaoGame platform. The company is currently worth approximately $160 million and its share price rocketed during the first quarter of 2014 on the heels of its IPO.

Other notable companies include DevSisters, the company behind the hit “Cookie Run”, who are gearing up for a an IPO valued at $132 million. PATI Games saw a $20 million injection from Tencent in exchange for a 20% stake in the company earlier this month. Famous for the popular game I Love Coffee, the company is estimated to be worth $100 million. Finally, the flavor of the year 4:33 studios with their game Blade, received $9 million from LB Investments and Korea Investment Partners in May this year, valuing the company at approximately $40-$50 million.

The trend in Korea so far has been far more conservative than the staggering valuations we have seen out of Western companies, and even China and Japan comparatively.

Are these trends a bad omen?

So far, we’ve seen a lot of these IPOs and grandiose valuations cause problems in the industry. As a result, studios have been bought and sold, with people losing their jobs in the wake of poor decisions. But we want to know your thoughts:

Is this type of M&A activity the engine that is going to drive the growth of the game industry, or are we seeing feverish excitement that will ultimately collapse and level off? Is it an overall positive or negative for game developers at the bottom rung of the industry? Leave your comments below!

 

Datascope: Asia’s Mobile Gaming Landscape

investigations-magnifying-glass

Ever wondered how many downloads it takes to get to the top of the download charts in Korea? Or how much daily revenue you need to hit the top grossing spot in Japan’s Google Play Store? We’ve got your answers! We put together this infographic covering the data of North East Asia’s biggest mobile game markets. Don’t forget to hit the Share buttons below and to share with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Sales-Data-Mobile-Games-Asia

Chuseok Madness: Korea’s biggest holiday hits the tech world

mobile-games-chuseok

mobile-games-chuseok

The summer heat is leaving Seoul and the mountain leaves are turning bright orange and red. It’s the time of year for Korea’s most important holiday: Chuseok.

Similar to American Thanksgiving, Chuseok is the biggest holiday on the Korean calendar. Every year millions of people leave the city of Seoul to visit friends and family in the surrounding provinces for a five day weekend of great food, soju, and traffic. Lots of traffic.

But it’s not only express ways that get overwhelmed with traffic. Every year the country’s biggest telecoms – SK, LG U+, and KT – have to reinforce their networks in preparation for the spike in communication traffic that comes with the holiday.

This year, telecom companies estimate mobile traffic to increase by 500% in some congested areas, like highways, as people make their way to hometowns. An overall 2.7% increase in communication traffic is expected for the entire country.

Korea-Telcom-Companies

As the Korea Joongang daily reports:

“the number of unlimited data service users has increased recently, data usage other than voice calls and text messages is expected to go up significantly. This year’s Chuseok holiday runs from today through Sept. 9, and for some companies includes Sept. 10.

The number of voice calls is expected to increase 5 percent, text messages 32 percent, and the use of wireless data 20 percent. Use of T Map services is expected to jump 166 percent.

SK Telecom will operate a special communications situation room during the six-day holiday. It will also reinforce its spam message monitor system.”

Chuseok in Games

Chuseok is also having a big impact on mobile games. Several companies have created special, in-game events to take advantage of the holiday. A few examples include:

monstertaming_chuseok_event

CJ E&M’s 몬스터기들이기 (Monster Trainer) planned a songpyeong event (Korean rice cake desert).

tinyfarm-chuseok-event

Com2Us’ Tiny Farm is hosting a harvest event with rewards given passed off the number of rice plants users can harvest.

mystery-event-chuseok 회색도시’s (Gray City) Chuseok update includes a mystery code event where users can find codes and unlock special gifts.

Spice up your games with a touch of Chuseok

Korean-thanksgiving-chuseok

If you’ve got a game in Korea that you’re looking to spice up with your own events there are plenty of things to consider. Food, for example, is an important part of the festival.

One of the most recognizable Korean snacks around the Chuseok holiday is songpyeon, a sweet rice cake that holds sesame seeds, beans, and other traditional ingredients. They are often green, pink, or yellow. Fruits, like apples, are also a seasonal favorite around the Chuseok festival. As much as food, ceremonies are a big part of the tradition as well, some more popular than others.

One of the more common family events is to visit the burial grounds of relatives and pay respect to earlier generations of family. Because of this, public cemeteries are often quite crowded during the holiday season. Others include bull fights,  weaving, traditional performance art, and traditional music.

 

From everyone at Latis Global Communications, we wish you all a Happy Chuseok! Don’t forget to join us on Facebook and Twitter so you can get more updates about the Korean gaming industry!

Korea’s Cinderella Law is About to Become a Pumpkin

shutdown-law-korea

shutdown-law-korea

In spite of the fact that South Korea has one of the most vibrant and talented e-sports communities  in the world, the game community has always had a love-hate relationship with government regulators.

Perhaps the most well-known example of this is in the country’s infamous Cinderella Law , set in place to prevent youth from playing online video games after midnight. Also known as the Shut-down law, its implementation in 2010 was mostly a response to fears over video game addiction.

Since most online games require users to sign-up using their government issued identification number (similar to a social security number), the implementation was rather easy. Anyone born after a set date was booted from online games after midnight, and not allowed to play again until 6 AM. But the efficacy of the law has been called into question since its inception.

The results of a 2013 report, for instance, show that children 9 to 14 are still more likely to play online games than mobile, offline PC, or console games.

It has also been relatively easy to skirt the law by using a parent or older siblings ID to create an account (with or without their consent). Realizing this, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has called for law to be reformed, stating that most families have been standing on their own values, rather than the government’s, in deciding whether their children are allowed to play video games.

The proposed revisions would come into effect next year, and would allow children to play online video games after midnight, providing they had their parents permission.

[source: Games in Asia]

 

We want to hear your thoughts!

Do government regulations on gaming ever work? What is the best way to handle the potential threat of online gaming addiction?

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