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

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

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

Kakao Talk Messenger

Kakao Talk Messenger

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

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

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

 

The Origins of Kakao

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Enter the Gaming Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Can I join too?

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

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

 

How to Submit a Game on Kakao

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

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

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

 

The Future

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

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

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

 

Have a question? Contact us!

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

 

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

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

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In this modern age of globalization, reaching beyond your own market and expanding into a different one makes sense from many different perspectives. Expanding to larger group of users who are interested in playing your titles is an excellent way to increase revenue and brand awareness across a global market.

While there are many large and successful markets within Asia, its impossible to deny the explosive growth and success of the Korean gaming market. With a total worth of over 9 billion dollars that continues to steadily grow, the gaming market, and specifically the mobile gaming market is one success story after the other, with some of the most popular mobile titles making up to $300,000 daily in revenue.

With a heavy saturation of mobile devices, and a population that embraces and plays titles faster than any other country in Asia, now has never been a better time for foreign developers to make the leap into the Korean market.

What Korea Offers

Korea currently has mobile penetration rate of over 100%. Within that 100% nearly 95% of all users use a messaging platform to communicate with their friends and family. While messaging platforms are beginning to pick up steam in North America and Europe, in Korea popular platforms like Kakao have dominated the scene for over several years, and show no signs of slowing down. With over 70 million users in other countries using Kakao and over 90% penetration rate for Korea, Kakao is a platform to connect with all demographics. Whether young or old, rich or poor, everyone uses Kakao to communicate.

 

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If you’re wondering why this matters for games, the answer comes from Kakao’s own distribution service. Along with communication, Kakao also offers users a gateway to download books, coupons and even games through its service. The introduction of games has proven to be a massive success, with a majority of the most popular and highest grossing mobile titles in Korea coming from Kakao. Learning how to publish through Kakao offers a huge advantage when it comes to promotion and distribution with a large network of users who can advertise and share a game with the swipe of a finger.

What About Google Play/iOS?

While western developers are used to prioritizing the iOS market place over Google Play, it’s important to realize that in Korea, the opposite is true. With Android devices making up the majority of hardware sales, Android enjoys over a 90% share of the market. This is largely due to domestic hardware manufacturers like Samsung and LG. As such,  Apple has barely made a foothold in the marketplace and domestic game developers tend to take and Android first approach.

 

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For a developer unfamiliar with the Korean market, it may seem like a daunting task to try and enter the fast paced and demanding market. While there are some barriers to crossing over to this market, understanding the market and having a plan that allows developers to utilize various platforms and market places is the key to success. Messaging platforms are starting to catch on with game distribution, with other similar services to Kakao such as Band, Line, and MyPeople starting to offer games through their services. While Kakao definitely has a strong grip on the messaging and gaming market, success outside of Kakao is not impossible. For example, Clash of Clans, is the number two highest grossing title in Korea as of this writing,  and it is not distributed through Kakao. Success without Kakao is entirely possible, as a well made and popular game will sell regardless of platform. Knowing what Korea likes to play is another big step in confidently breaking into the market.

What Korea Likes to Play

Games in Korea fall into three categories: casual, mid-core, and hard-core. Casual titles being colorful, easy to play titles that all ages and demographics can play. These include games like puzzle games  and endless runners, such as the famous Cookie Run, developed by Devsisters. While these are by far the most popular titles in Korea, they also come from a market that is the most crowded and most competitive and they don’t monetize as well as mid-core and hard-core titles. The genre also suffers from a lot of copy-catting as smaller studios try to get a slice of the pie.

Mid-core games have more advanced game mechanics and require more commitment than casual titles. Examples of this are the hack and slash titles and action RPGs, such as the mobile blockbuster Blade, produced by 4:33 studios.

Hardcore games offer the most complicated and time consuming gameplay, requiring the user to invest the most amount of time and effort in the game. RPG’s and Turn Based RPG’s are most common in the hardcore genre, including titles such as Soul of Legend, a mobile MOBA.

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Seoul of Legend, a hardcore, MOBA from Korea.

Mid and hard-core offer the most opportunity for western developers. The casual market is saturated and difficult to gain recognition.  Without international momentum to carry into the market, as King had with Candy Crush, developers from abroad are likely to drown in the noise of Korea’s casual market.

Planning for the Future

The best opportunity for western developers lies in the mid and hard-core markets. Not only is it a less saturated  market, but they also tend to monetize better, with users willing to pay more and invest more of their time in their games. While some mid to hard core games have begun to find success, it is no where near the same level of saturation as the casual tiers, this means that the market is ripe for new ideas and new titles.

With a high saturation rate of users, a market that makes millions of dollars daily and a niche that is still waiting to properly explode with popularity; the opportunity for western developers to publish their titles in Korea has never been more advantageous. Researching your demographic, knowing what the audience wants (or what is popular) and most obviously, having a great game are the keys to succeeding in Korea.

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Have a game you’re interested in releasing in Korea? Let us know about it! Leave a comment and a link to your game. Don’t forget to connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for more pro-tips on making hit games for Korea.

 

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

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.

 

 

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

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

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

 

Arcade Simplicity

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

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Card and Item Collecting

 

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

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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 

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

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

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

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

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

The Things in Common

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

1. All five games were created by developer Netmarble.

2. Each of the titles is available through KakaoTalk.

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

KakaoTalk Distribution

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

Three Tiers of Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#15: Chagu Chagu:  An arcade soccer title

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

Gaming on a social platform

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Kakao Talk Odds & Ends: What makes a great Sim game?

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

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

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

Overview of Games

HAY DAY

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

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EVERYTOWN

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

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Gameplay Analysis

HAY DAY

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

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

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

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

EVERYTOWN

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monetization

HAY DAY

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

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

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

Everytown

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Player Behavior in Korea

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

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

Keep these points in mind as we move forward.

Overview of Games:

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

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

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Gameplay Analysis

Blade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Mu: The Genesis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monetization

Blade

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

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

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

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

Mu: The Genesis

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

Conclusions

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

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

Tell us what you think

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

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

Kakao Talk Odds & Ends: How Wooga targeted Korea

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jelly-splash-icon*Update 1*

The title of this post has been changed and some of the information edited. We felt it was misleading from the point we were trying to make. Ultimately, as one of the commentors has pointed out, Wooga probably did not earn much in Korea. They did some good things for people to learn from and  we hope you find it valuable!

*Update 2* Here is a Pocket Gamer presentation that Wooga gave about their experience entering Korea.

Overview

Developer Wooga
Release Date November 2013
Google Play Downloads 500,000 – 1,000,000
Top Grossing Google Play Rank #54 (Nov. 2013)

In November 2013, Wooga launched Jelly Splash for Kakao Talk. They were among a handful of foreign games on the platform at the time. While they didn’t dominate like Clash of Clans or Candy Crush, they made a small impression on the Korean charts and their model is one that developers can look to for valuable lessons.

The Jelly Splash Stats

 

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Top grossing ranks for Jelly Splash on Google Play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within two weeks Jelly Splash hit their peak at #54 in the overall top grossing ranks for Google Play Korea. They remained in the top 100 for a little over a month, with a steady fall off at the beginning of 2014 until now.

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Top downloads for Google Play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They hit the #4 spot in top downloads in under a week of release, but like many games, saw a sharp decline almost immediately. Less than a month after claiming that #4 spot, they were down to #516!

What is important to note here, however, is that although their download numbers jumped off a cliff, their revenue stream remained relatively steady over the course of three months before slowly slipping into irrelevance. This means that whatever they did in that first month earned them a base of loyal, paying users.

 

What they did right

Rapid, viral growth

Just like their statistics show, the first month for Jelly Splash was extremely important. Following that first month, they were getting almost no downloads, but they managed to convert enough of their user base that they had a steadily tapering revenue over the course of a few months. The rapid, viral growth of Jelly Splash can be attributed to a number of marketing strategies that Wooga used to launch the game in Korea.

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A subway advertisement for Jelly Splash in Korea.

First, they knew that offline marketing was important. I can still remember seeing sings for Jelly Splash in Gangnam Station while waiting for the subway. Offline marketing is an integral part of virality in Korea, particularly where subways are concerned as this is where a lot of casual players spend their precious gaming minutes.

On release they made a special emoticon event to pair with the game, helping push their virality even further.

They also tapped into the right marketing and user acquisition networks within Korea, Tapjoy and IGA Works being two of their most significant partners.

These factors combined allowed them to build up a tidal wave of support and ride it out for as long as they could.

*Note* We love different perspectives so I wanted to include the thoughts of one of our commentors. He pointed out that Wooga likely spent a lot to get their initial support – around $100,000, and probably saw a terrible ROI for it. He notes that the top 60 only pulls in ~$5,000 per day and given that they only held top 60 for a few days their investment wasn’t really worth it. He’s right about this aspect of it, so we’d like to thank him for his contribution to the discussion.

 

Optimized and localized

If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say “I don’t need to localize, my game doesn’t have much text,” I’d be a very rich man indeed. A lot of developers still think they can get away with mediocre and sub-par localizations because they think their game is easy enough to figure out.

Wooga made sure that everything from their Google Play store page, to in-game text was in Korean, and made sense for their users. Differences from the iOS version included unique sound recordings, emoticon packs, and new achievements.

Understanding the platforms

Entering the Korean market means that one must have a good understanding of the dynamics of Google Play, Android, and Kakao. Whether or not you choose to go with Kakao (and you can be successful without it), you still need to understand how it operates and how it impacts the game market in Korea.

Wooga ultimately decided to use the Kakao platform, and understood that there is a certain experience that Kakao gamers are used to. For them, that meant optimizing for its UI design and making the game not only fun, but familiar.

The big take-away

Not every game is Candy Crush or Clash of Clans. While both of those games have enjoyed massive success in Korea, they are the exception rather than the rule. Both have managed to sustain their revenue stream at a relatively high peak, but the truth is, a lot of games fizzle out rather quickly in Korea.

Wooga still managed to reach #2 in the top games list, a decent win for a foreign game on the Kakao platform, and managed a small revenue stream the course of a few months. There are likely things they could have done differently to boost their revenue and sustain it over a longer period of time. If anything, they are an example of understanding that your Lifetime Customer Value (LTV) varies in each market, and needs to be one of your top considerations when creating a global strategy.

Tell us your thoughts

What strategies do you think made Wooga so successful in Korea? Do you think they made any critical mistakes? Have you tried launching a game in Korea? Tell us about it! Leave a comment below and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

 

Kakao Talk Odds & Ends: Birzzle Fever

Birzzle Fever for Kakao Talk

birzzleBirzzle Fever is a fast-paced match game where players compete to be the best by trying to create high-scoring combo-chains. Players can try to beat solo missions, level up their birds for more rewards, and compete against their friends for the top spot in the leader boards.

 

Overview:

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  • Developer: Enfeel (South Korea)
  • Rank on Kakao Top Grossing: #267
  • Release Date: August 26, 2013
  • Last Update: May 12, 2014
  • Google Play Installs: 500,000 – 1,000,000
  • Supported Languages:  English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Swedish, Traditional Chinese

 

Pros/Cons Summary

Pros Cons
Familiar gameplay (match-3 genre) Cramped UI, Small Font
Decent engagement loops Frequent crashes
Cute artwork and characters Not enough relevant events
Competitive play Not enough fresh updates
Fast-paced, short sessions Poor localization strategy

Where they got it right

 

Birzzle-Fever-GameplayThe match-3 genre is an easy pitch in South Korean. This may also be seen as a bit of a downside in an over-saturated market, but the familiarity of the game play makes it accessible and the cute bird cartoons make it easy to engage with for all ages. The short, timed play sessions are perfect for the platform and create the same sense of urgency that Anipang, Kakao’s first big game, used to become so successful. The leader boardBirzzle-Fever-Gameplay2s are built into the Kakao platform, allowing you to invite friends to the game and then compete with them (a standard for the platform these days). This feature meshes well with the competitive nature of Korean culture.

The missions are structured so that players must complete a certain amount to level up. They are just challenging enough to encourage continual play while allowing players to purchase gems and skip over particularly difficult missions or ones they don’t want to complete. Overall, I’d say the engagement loops are reasonably strong, but they could be better.

Where it went wrong

 

Birzzle-Nest-FeatureGiven that the game was developed by a Korean developer, they got a lot of the fundamentals right. Unfortunately, they failed to take it to the next level with some basic problems. Granted I was playing the English version on Kakao, but I can tell that they didn’t think about localization from the start just by looking at it. The UI is cramped and was likely not designed to be elastic. Their solution to this was to shrink the font to make the words fit, making impossibly small on even a large phone screen. They also forget that English doesn’t word wrap the same way Korean does, so in  several spots sentences just break in the middle of a word.

The game crashed quite a bit while I was testing it as well, and this was a frequent complaint in the store comments that doesn’t appear to have been addressed.

Finally, and most importantly, the game suffers from a lack of relevant events and updates. To stay on top of the market in Korea, weekly updates and events are generally expected. With dozens of new releases every week, the only way to stay on top and keep your players interested is to come up with new content.

 

 

What could be changed?

The first thing I noticed that was lacking was the Birzzle Nest feature, where you can level up the six different kinds of birds, which each give you different bonuses in the game such as increased experience, bigger combos, more coins, etc. It almost looks like they designed it to have more birds, but never released them. This would be an easy way to update the game on a consistent basis to keep players engaged. Looking at the charts below, both the Google Play Store and App Store analytics show the same trend, suggesting that players got bored with the game quickly. It appears some kind of burst campaign gave them great initial downloads, but they failed to support that momentum and it dropped off quickly.

 

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The Google Play Store analytics hint that Birzzle Fever failed to keep up with the downloads from a strong initial burst campaign.

 

App Annie Ranks Birzzle Fever

Birzzle Fever had a lot of downloads early on, but tanked quickly due to poor retention strategy.

Tell us your thoughts on Birzzle Fever

What do you think could have made Birzzle Fever a bigger success? You can download the game on the Google Play Store or in the App Store and give us your opinion on the game.

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