Game Spotlight: A Thief is coming to Android and iOS

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Thief-Lupin-2

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

thief-lupin-2-gameplay

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

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

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

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

 

Facebook Games Blocked in Korea

Korea_Facebook_Games

Korea_Facebook_Games

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

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

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

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

All: games that can be enjoyed by anybody.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Korea Offers

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

 

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

What About Google Play/iOS?

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

 

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

What Korea Likes to Play

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

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

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

MOBA-Mobile-Korea

Seoul of Legend, a hardcore, MOBA from Korea.

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

Planning for the Future

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

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

Tell Us WhatYou Think

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

 

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

Building Community: How to run effective events in Korea

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In game events and promotions are a way for publishers and developers to accomplish two things with their game: to keep their current user base interested and to gain new players to expand the game’s numbers. While it may seem like a straightforward way to gain new players and keep your old ones, there is much more that needs to be done in order to keep your existing audience happy and convince newcomers to download your game. Like nearly every other aspect of selling a successful mobile game in Korea, planning, knowing and respecting your audience are key factors to having in game events and promotions that maintain interest or fall flat on their face.

Selling your event

Along with selling the initial game itself, the right kinds of advertising for in game events requires not only a keen understanding of the game’s audience, but the game itself. It goes without saying that if you’re going to promote for an event for Blade, you’re not going to have cutesy animals dancing all over the screen.  Along with having a promotion that matches the tone of your game, there are also some general things to keep in mind.

Successful advertising for game events and promotions always seem to have these key features:

Humor goes a long way with promoting in Korea. Unlike western audiences, Koreans rarely want a bullet point explanation about each event or item give away. Short, funny promotions using characters from the game or real life celebrities (more on that later) can help grab the attention of Korean gamers.

Promotions also have to be exciting and eye catching almost immediately. Flashy banners with lots of colors and big letter fonts will usually catch the people’s attention. For example, the game Chagu Chagu often features ads with large font, action scenes from the game and an excited announcer. People who play the game are already familiar with how the game works, so focusing on getting to the point quickly makes for more effective advertising than a tepid run down of each promotion or event.

Korea-In-Game-Events

Koreans are crazy for celebrities, and love to see them interacting and using the same things that they do, including playing the same games as them. It’s no secret that attractive and famous people sell products. Often you’ll see games with famous K pop stars and actors playing popular mobile games in an attempt to promote new content. A player beginning to become bored with a title may now have a renewed interest if one of their favorite stars is promoting the game, and showing off new content.

Communication with the player

While a majority of western gamers may find the use of pop ups in games cumbersome and annoying, Korean games tend to be more accepting and receptive towards in game pop ups and pre game screens, reminding of them of the latest event. Using various forms of social media are also effective ways of promoting events and also gaining a look at the amount of interest people are showing as well. Using the example of Chagu Chagu again, the game sends messages and updates to a user’s phone to remind them of events and the amount of time they have to participate.

Plus-Friend-Event-Kakao

Message apps like Kakao also have the ability to add Plus Friends related to games that integrate with your friend’s list and send messages about each game event. Through the seamless merging of games with social platforms, publishers have the power to promote and advertise for their game’s events in a way that a majority of Korean gamers find both useful and un-intrusive in their daily lives.

Worth the time

While savvy marketing and smart integration are important to running successful events, the most fundamental factor in separating successful events from failures comes down to one question: Is it worth the time?

Korean gamers care about the games they invest time into. They care about their time and effort spent playing games and are always looking to feel like their hard work and playtime are rewarded. All mobile games, eventually fall to the point of being too repetitive and simplistic to gamers, who then begin to look elsewhere for a new, exciting experience. The most successful mobile games know this and are always trying to offer new events with different kinds of prizes ranging from in game items that are either rare or exclusive, to real life prizes such as cash and Macbooks to keep people interested.

Events that show up around specific days such as holiday or nation-wide events have shown to be successful. Popular games such as FIFA Online 3 ran a variety of World Cup themed events that proved to be very popular among users. Golf game Golf Star has events that happen during the different seasons and offer different items, avatars and discounts for the summer period.

Cookie-Run-Kakao-Event

For more in depth titles such as MMORPGs, having events is important to convincing players to keep playing. One example is Sunkuk: Rule the World, an MMO that has in game events as a main feature, featuring new events with new items and prizes available everyday rewarding players simply for logging in and participating.

It’s important to note that while in game events may differ across different genres and different publishers, the successful games all share the same thing when it comes to events. Events must quickly catch the attention of the player, offer strong incentives to participate and feature events and timing that coincide with the real world. Gamers are much more likely to remember to participate in events related to real life things rather than try and remember specific time periods.

In game events if created with the user in mind, can provide a way to boost interest in a game and allow a game to continue to be successful by offering players new reasons and most importantly, new interest in a game, potentially allowing a game to thrive in an always competitive and always changing mobile market.

 

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

Kakao Talk Odds & Ends: Kakao Games Celebrates 2 Year Anniversary

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The team at Latis Global is glad to send Kakao Games a big congratulations on their 2nd anniversary. For the past two years, the mobile gaming platform has gone from a small up-and-comer with just a few games, to one of North East Asia’s most important distribution platforms boasting hundreds of AAA and indie titles. To celebrate, we’ve created an infographic to show just how far they’ve come in such a short time.

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As always remember to follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, for more great articles about games in Korea.

 

 

Mobile Game Trends: Why is BAND Games failing to compete with Kakao?

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There’s no denying that the Korean mobile game market is a market big enough to share. Since the success of Kakao and their own distribution system, other media outlets and competitors have been scrambling to cash in on Kakao’s success, hoping that their own unique spin to the social networking and gaming distribution scene.

BAND from Naver is one of the latest services to attempt to join the increasingly crowded market. BAND strives to deliver service that allows you to create different groups for different kinds of people you want to communicate with. Similar to Google Plus, BAND allows users to curate their followers, giving the user full control over what information is shared their friends. Along with their social media feature, BAND also features a marketplace to distribute chat stickers, coupons and games. While this seems like it could possibly be a interesting and unique alternative to Kakao, in terms of game distribution, BAND unfortunately features several flaws that hold it back and ultimately, keeps it squarely in the second tier spot compared to other services such as Kakao and HIVE.

A New Way to Communicate

On the surface, BAND appears to be on the right path for game distribution. Launching May 12, 2014, BAND launched their service with 10 titles for their game store. Similar to Kakao, while distributed on BAND’s service, the games themselves could also be downloaded through Google Play’s Store or Naver’s N Store.

Band-Games-Icon

One month later, BAND switched to an open platform format, meaning that any game could be offered through the platform, no longer limiting it to just BAND titles. It was shortly after this that the company announced that they would be acquiring more than 250 different developers to make games for BAND with the goal of releasing a new game every three days, giving BAND an average of around 40 games per month.

BAND was also attempting to gain the goodwill of their developers as well. Keys for application programing were sent to 170 different gaming companies in order for developers to quickly and efficiently upload their games to BAND. Along with a starting development kit, making games for BAND also appeared more profitable than other resources since developers could avoid paying the 30 % tax fee that other services offered and could end up keeping 52% of the profits made from each game, slightly more than some competing services.

The Problem with BAND and Games

The problem with BAND isn’t with the service or attempt to gain developers, its the games and target audience. While Kakao Games originally attempted to appeal to women in their 30’s and 40’s, and then expanded to the casual audience, BAND’s target audience is with men in their 30’s and 40’s. While this by itself is fine, its also a limited audience, arguably smaller than any other target group in the Korean mobile gaming market.

The casual audience is massive. The hardcore audience continues to slowly grow. The middle age market men hasn’t exactly moved massive amounts of mobile games nor has it made the meaningful impact outside a few select genres that BAND seems to hope for. A quick look at the top grossing games in Korea has the highest ranking BAND game, Legion of Heroes an MMORPG,  at number 134, the next two are both 148 and 191 respectively. While its not impossible that men in their 30’s and 40’s may want to play an MMORPG on their mobile devices, its not all that likely either. The genre’s target audience: the hardcore gamer would be the most interested, and with several other alternatives on much more popular services, it seems unlikely they have any incentive to switch to BAND anytime soon.

 BAND-Rankings

Missing the Target

 

It’s possible that BAND hopes to start at the middle age men market, and then branch out to a more casual market, similar to what Kakao did, however this provides another problem of being too little, too late. A majority of BAND’s available titles, despite having different titles, look oddly familiar. Puzzle games, endless runners, and other titles similar to their rival service fill the market place. While this is not an entirely bad move, making what you know will sell, in this case it does more harm than good. Nothing about these titles offers any new gimmick or interesting enough twist to the formula in order to entice anyone to play these titles. Instead it comes off as more “me too” games that already exist on more well established services which again, gives very little reason to leave.

The casual market is over-saturated to the point that it’s no longer feasible to make a clone of a successful game and expect success overnight. Knowing who your audience is, knowing what they like and knowing the games they want to play now (and beyond) is the key to success in this quick moving and unforgiving market. Having 250 developers to make games for you is pointless if you’re not exactly confident who to target those games towards.

There’s potential with BAND. The service is steadily gaining more follows daily and there have been signs of success with the overseas markets gaining interest. However, as far as game distribution goes, BAND seems to be thinking more in the now than the later, Mobile game users are more savvy than ever when it comes to downloading games and in order to keep up with the demand, distributors and publishers need to be even smarter.

 

 

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

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

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

Kakao-Talk-차구차구

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

 

Arcade Simplicity

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

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Card and Item Collecting

 

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

 Kakao-착구차구-gameplay

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

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

 

Quests and Mini Games

 

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

 

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

 

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

Mobile Game News: Mergers and acquisitions in Korea

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The numbers are big. Big with a capital “B” as in Billions.

In Q1 2014, gaming mergers and acquisitions (M&A) shook the industry with over $5 billion spent acquiring games companies, just shy of the entire 2013 spending.

If those numbers aren’t big enough, Digi-Capital’s latest report estimates the value of the mobile game industry alone will be $33 billion by 2017. Yes, the game industry has been rife with acquisitions in the last year and a half, even if they haven’t always played out very well.

Zynga’s recent purchase of Natural Motion made headlines earlier this year – a more hopeful acquisition than the fiasco that was OMGPop; Talkweb bought controlling stakes in Huorong Game; and a number of other major deals have fueled a valuation bubble.

Given that much of the growth and mergers are being driven by Asia , we thought we’d shine a little light on some of the big deals made in Korea this last year, and what they mean for the future of the country’s mobile gaming market.

Kakao, Gamevil, and CJ Making Moves

The last year has seen a number of high-stakes mergers in Korea, forming partnerships that will ripple across the game industry in all of Asia.

Gamevil and Com2Us

com2us-hive-logoFor a long time, these two mobile giants had a rivalry that played out in app store release schedules like clockwork. When one would release an RPG, the other would soon follow, often in the same month. But their points of contention ultimately provided them with common ground. First, there was a similar user base. Second, they both had a big enough reputation to remain independent from Kakao, avoiding its steep revenue cuts. The merger resulted in the creation of the Hive, a strategic move to provide a separate platform from Kakao.

Kakao and Daum

Merger-Kakao-DaumThere is no telling what may ultimately result from the Kakao-Daum merger that was announced earlier this year, but there is obvious potential for broadening both social integration and advertising platforms. If Kakao manages to smoothly integrate their services (Kakao Story, Kakao Music, Kakao Page, etc.) with Daum and take advantage of Daum’s advertising platforms (Ad@m, TNK, Value Potion), it may prove to be one of the strongest mergers in Korea’s mobile game industry.

 CJ and Tencent

Tencent-CJ-Games-PurchaseAny discussion of the mobile industry in North East Asia is bound to bring up CJ and Tencent. Last year, Tencent bought a 26% stake in the company for $500 million. CJ’s diverse portfolio has proved to be a solid investment for Tencent, as CJ now has five games in the top 20 grossing charts on Google Play. How long can CJ’s dominance last? It’s hard to say.  If Daum and Kakao manage a strong, successful partnership, then CJ will likely remain on top for a long time to come. Their early investments in the OTT platform have given them a major edge in the competition, and the money they are making hand-over-fist in the game market will only fuel their continuing dominance.

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

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

All Free-to-Play is not equal  

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

Free content is ubiquitous 

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

Mobile Game News: Dark Souls Copy Infringement Case

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

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

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

Dark Souls Copyright Infringement

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

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And their subway advertising felt a little borrowed as well:

 

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

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

Aesthetics and Mechanics

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

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

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

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Mika Mobile’s Battleheart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gamevil’s Epic Raiders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

So did Blade rip off Dark Souls artistically?

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

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

 

 

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

A Culture of Copy-Catting

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

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

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

Bad for Mobile Game Industry

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

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

 

Tell us what you think

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