Korea Guide: Apple vs. Google Play

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Google-Play-02

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

 

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

 

Apple vs. The Samsung Factor

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Google Play: Home of the Indies

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Buff Knight, a Korean Indie supported by Google.

Buff Knight, a Korean Indie supported by Google.

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

 

Publishing for Each Store: What You Already Know

 

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

 

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

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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#GamerGate: What about Asia?

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tropesvwomen

Just when you think the flames of #GamerGate might be dying down, something fans them once again. Two days ago, The Escapists #GamerGate forums were brought down under a DDOS attack. If you don’t know what #GamerGate is, this Vox.com article puts it succinctly:

 

Like all hashtags, #GamerGate has come to mean about 500 different things to thousands of different people. But at its heart, it’s about two topics:

1) The treatment of women in gaming: The start of the story (which is actually the latest permutation of a long-evolving firestorm) came in late August after indie game developer Zoe Quinn and critic Anita Sarkeesian were both horribly, horribly harassed online. The same harassment was later lobbed at award-winning games journalist Jenn Frank and fellow writer Mattie Brice. Both Frank and Brice say they will no longer write about games. The FBI is looking into harassment of game developers.

2) Ethics in games journalism: Some argue that the focus on harassment distracts from the real issue, which is that indie game developers and the online gaming press have gotten too cozy. There’s also a substantial, vocal movement that believes the generally left-leaning online gaming press focuses too much on feminism and the role of women in the industry, to the detriment of coverage of games. (One of the sites mentioned in this debate is Vox’s sister site, Polygon.)

The #GamerGate issue has largely been focused in the US and Western markets and hasn’t really affected the Asian scene. In terms of journalist ethics, the enitre media industry runs differently in much of Asia and is held to different standards and understandings than in the west. And though the issue of women and video games in Asia is mentioned, the arguments are soft-spoken and often fly in the face of what most PC individuals would consider acceptable.

For example, the Vietnamese game company VTC recently hired women to wear “3kg” signs drawn on their chests in a marketing campaign. Games in Asia picked up the story:

Given gaming’s already negative reputation in Vietnam, this is just another move that suggests publishers have no shame when they are trying to market their games. Many other game sites in Vietnam also need this kind of content to pull in more traffic. Quan Nguyen, CEO of Game4v, said that content like this can easily pull in one million views in one night. On the other hand, a good review video would get only a thousand. Most of these sites survive on advertising, which means they need more traffic to make more money. In other words, breasts are keeping these sites alive.

There is also the fact that at nearly every major Asian game conference the issue of “booth babes”, girls that model in cosplay or scantly clad outfits for major brands, is brought to light. This is perhaps most prevalent at Chinese game shows.

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But issues of gender and gaming go beyond the models in Asia. Earlier this year the South Korean based International e-Sports Federation (IeSF) stirred up controversy over gender-equality when they announced that the Hearthstone competition would be male only. 

A Male Dominated Space?


At the heart of this argument is an oft cited statistic that women now make up 52% of “gamers.”  While that might be true, as pointed out in the video above, that number undoubtedly coincides with the bloom of mobile gaming. Mobile is arguably a more casual platform very unlike the console and PC titles that have defined the “gamer” moniker for so long. Hardcore games like League of Legends and Halo still cater to a predominantly male audience, and its likely that this pattern will continue.

And that’s ok.

If core games don’t appeal to the majority of a particular gender, that doesn’t mean the industry should change them so that they do (and given how well they are selling, its doubtful they will). But that doesn’t mean that gamers need to take a hard-line, hate mongering stance against their female critics.

 

That seems to be the status quo as far as Korea and the rest of North East Asia are concerned. Women are neither rejected from participating (think ToSsGirl, the famous professional Starcraft player), nor does the industry accommodate anything that resembles Western feminist ideals.

 

Tell us what you think

Although by Western standards the Asian game scene has a long way to go, it has so far functioned without much loud criticism. In fact most critics of gaming in Asia come from the concerned parents who are more worried about their children becoming addicted to games than they are about female representations of sexuality.

Is this an acceptable model as long as everyone is quiet and happy? Leave a comment and tell us what you think about #GamerGate and the Asian game industry.

Game Spotlight: Mobile MOBA League of Masters Coming Soon

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Korea Guide: Releasing Your Games in Carrier Stores

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olleh

For the last two weeks, we’ve talked about mobile platforms like Kakao and Line, two messaging apps that went on to become highly successful platforms that succeeded through games. This week we take a look at another marketplace in Korea, that despite not being mentioned as much as their more popular peers, are still important retail channels that warrant a look for developers looking for an alternative in Korea.

 

The Big Three

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Korea has three major telecoms to choose from: SK Telecom, KT and LG U Plus. The combined three operators have a subscription base of over 30 million users and a near 108% penetration rate. This makes Korea one of the first connected device markets in the world to achieve saturation. Along with mobile services each of the three provide a variety of other services including internet, phone and TV services. While each of the three companies are among the top grossing and most successful companies in Korea, SK Telecom is the most successful in the mobile market, with nearly 50% of the market share.

These three telecoms, provide mobile services along with other multimedia options for their users such as music, movies and apps. Kakao may have taken the crown as the most popular platform for games and other media, each of the services’ own app stores offer their own intriguing differences and advantages.

 

The T Store

After launching in 2009, SKT’s T Store set out to offer a place for developers and publishers to have a open mobile marketplace and as a result ended up becoming the first mobile open market in Korea. Calling themselves a “clean open market”, this means that anyone is free to submit a idea proposal and as long as the contents are not deemed illegal or harmful by an outside approval committee such as the Game Rating Board, can move forward with the approval process.

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SK Telecom’s T Store

 

Along with publishing, distributing games on the T Store is also a more open process. Other application stores provide applications for smart phones and mobile devices based on their own platform. Regardless of the type of device or carrier the user has, they are still able to use and access the T Store and all of its 1.5 million contents, which according to Flurry’s 2013 report on South Korea, 96% of which are free. With this in mind, the T Store currently has 22 million subscribers of which 12 million are monthly active users, making it largest app store in Korea.

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SK Telecom’s T Store

The T Store also utilizes its own mobile payment system called T Cash. With T Cash, users can be used for app purchases as well as real world transactions like train and taxi fare. Nearly 54% of app purchases from the T Store are made with T Cash.T Store also allows other forms of payment including credit card payment and charging purchases to a existing phone bill.

For developers interested in putting a game on the T Store, they are invited to sign up at the T Store Development Center. Those planning on selling a game on the store have to pay a yearly registration fee, where the money paid for the fee goes towards the assistance of covering the cost of the development and verification of contents. SKT also offers digital rights management to protect developers from piracy. Developers can choose to use drm offered through SK, or any other form they wish to use.

The developers set the price of the game they wish to publish and are allowed to keep 70% of revenue with the remaining 30% going to SKT as a commission for infrastructure upgrades and marketing.

Since May 2010, SKT has opened the T Store to all three wireless carriers in Korea, letting customers interact and download content from the T Store regardless of their carrier. A month after opening the service, the number of LG U + and KT subscribers was around 7,000. This number grew to a reported 300,000 subscribers by September 2011 and crossed the 3 million subscriber milestone in 2013.

By opening its doors, the T Store has become the largest mobile content market in Korea. The store currently has 400,000 contents consisting of games, apps, VOD, e books, music and coupons. The most popular items sold on the T Store are games. According to Flurry’s analysis on the South Korean mobile market, 68% of their revenue comes from games and game related apps. On average, revenue from games generated about ₩5,657 (U.S. $5.27) per user per month compared to an overall average of ₩3,135 (U.S. $2.92) per user per month in revenue across all other forms of digital content for all customers. T Store not only includes games exclusive to their marketplace, but games from LG U +, KT and Kakao as well.

 

LG U + and KT Application Store: The Soft Launch Stores

Since becoming available with all three carriers, the popularity of LG’s and KT’s app store has diminished with a majority of subscribers using either T Store or platforms like Kakao. For developers looking to publish a title on a marketplace, both LG and KT are inconsequential when it comes to finding a dedicated users base. However, thats not to say that both stores aren’t without their uses. For the savvy developer, both stores can function as a way of soft launching your game allowing developers to beta test and fine tune their games before releasing a revised and perfected version to  T Store.

LGStore

LG U+ Game Center

Due to the user base for both of these app stores being much smaller, both stores offer the chance to work with a much smaller audience when publishing a game. Not only does this allow feedback from users in terms of what they like and don’t like about the game, it also offers developers time to fine tune and update their title while still making a profit. In the end this allows developers to find and fix potential problems that games can run into such as network and firmware compatibility issues and gradually revise the game until all the issues are fixed. Having already soft launched their game, developers can now submit a version of their game that through feedback and testing, is perfected and ready for a larger marketplace.

 

Submitting to the LG U + and KT Olleh App Stores

The LG U+ App Store or LG SmartWorld offers over 4,000 apps ranging from themes to games. As of 2014, users are able to download apps from both their mobile devices and the SmartWorld website as well as sync their purchases on other devices by signing up for a LG Account.

Along with the app store, LG has created the LG Mobile Developer Network, a website designed for third party software developers working on LG mobile devices. The website allows developers to create and share widgets as well as develop and test their games and applications with the Virtual Development Lab (VDL) and Over-the-Air (OTA) downloads.

When submitting an idea, developers can register on the SmartWorld website, allowing developers a wide amount of options and methods in both submitting and distribution. Developers are allowed to register their project through both traditional means by filling out the included form or by attaching a link to the developer’s youtube video. Developers are also allowed to choose the pricing of their app and also choose in which countries they wish to distribute.

Finally, when submitting a proposal, developers have to sign up for a LG SmartWorld CMS membership, which has slightly different specifications depending on whether your app will be free or sold for profit, like the T Store, the developer is allowed to keep 70% of profits with the remaining 30% going to LG.

Developers wishing to publish their apps on Olleh must register at the website Seller Olleh Market to become a KT Web Partner. From here you can register your proposal to be submitted to KT where your proposal will go through two evaluations. If the proposal passes both evaluations, the developers is contacted in order to take the next step in putting their app on the marketplace and where details such as pricing and payment are discussed. Keep in mind however, that the developer website, along with the proposal process is all in Korean, meaning that a translator or guide is needed if one chooses to go forward with the process.

 

The Changing of the Guard

Before the days of smart phones SK, LG and KT ruled the gaming market. They were the gatekeepers, the ones who ultimately decided which games would be featured on their marketplace and ultimately, which games would be featured on the front page of their respective application stores. Back then games on the front pages were the games that everyone downloaded and played while other games would become lost in the backlog. It came to the point that developers and studios would go out of their way to make friendships with the companies in the hopes of getting their games featured.

This all changed with the release of the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, true open markets where developers no longer needed to go through the three companies just for the chance to put their games on the market. Apple and Google introduced a true open market for anyone who wanted to develop and opening the doors to everyone from small studios to major publishers.

A major shift was brought to the world of Korean mobile gaming. The gatekeepers who ruled the market were no longer necessary. A new age had begun.

 

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Kyle 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 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Tumbling into money

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

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

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

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

Some successful game campaigns include:


안녕뀨잉펫 (Hello Happy Pet)

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와들와들팽귄즈 (Waddle Waddle Penguin)

Tree of Life

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Hero Detected

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

Planting a garden of fans

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

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

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

Success in alternative avenues

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

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

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

Have questions? Let us answer them!

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

The Risk of Acquiring a Hit Game

microsoft-minecraft-acquisition

microsoft-minecraft-acquisition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trends in Korea

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

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

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

Are these trends a bad omen?

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

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

 

Will Apple’s New Products Make Waves in Korea?

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apple-iwatch-release

For decades the tech world has been attempting to respond to one of the greatest problems ever to plague the first world: too much junk in our pockets.

This weeks announcements from Apple may have people forgetting about loose change problems for good. With the release of their new payment system this fall, Apple hope to have us tossing out our wallets (and the money in them) in exchange for digital purchasing and a brand new Apple Watch.

But how will these new products fare in Korea, where the products are not as fresh and face some stiff competition?

Apple Watch vs. Galaxy Gear 2

As the home of Samsung, its no suprise that Korea is an Android-centric market.  Any Apple product release is inevitably followed by a Samsung comparison, so here’s how the Apple Watch stacks up to the Galaxy Gear 2:

Apple Watch Galaxy Gear 2
Size 38mm and 42mm 41mm
Camera No 2mp
Sensors Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Heart rate Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Heart rate
Connectivity Wifi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 4.0 Infrared Blaster and Bluetooth 4.0
Charging Through a magnetic attachment Micro-USB dock
Battery TBD 2-3 days of use
Price $349 $299

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it comes to specs, the watches are not all that different. Apple Watch comes out the clear winner design wise, making Samsung’s Gear look cheap and clunky in comparison. But even the best designed smartwatch begs the question: is this a product anybody wants?

Aside from tech fans and early adopters, if Samsung’s track record is anything to go by, the answer is probably not. The first iteration of Galaxy Gear was a commercial flop. A short battery life and an identity crisis over whether to be a phone or a watch turned people away from buying it.

Add to the fact that only 9% of the Korean market is Apple based, and it’s unlikely we will see too many units moved in the Land of the Morning Calm.

Apple Pay vs Kakao Pay

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Although Apple Pay will only be available in the US when it rolls out this October, it bears mentioning for the Korean market.

Consumers in the United States have not traditionally used their phones to pay for goods and services at retail stores.  Mainly because of the ubiquity of credit and debit cards and a lack of other, digital options. But Apple is trying to change that with their new pay service, which will integrate payments into your already existing Apple accounts and they’re making sure that you feel secure.

Usability wise, the system is simple. Since iTunes already has your credit card information, making your first payments is easy. You will be able to add additional cards by entering details yourself, or simply snapping a photo of the card you want to use.

The new fingerprint identification system available on iPhones adds an extra level of security not available on other digital payment systems, which typically require passcodes. Apple Pay will also not store credit card information on its servers. Instead, the information will be stored on a secure chip right on your device. And it’s not even your real card number. Apple will verify your card information with your bank, then store an alternative card number on the phone. That way when a merchant’s system is hacked, only the alternative number is compromised.

iphone-fingerprint-security

This is the type of tech that has the potential to do extremely well in Korea’s small Apple market where consumers have long been used to making payments with digital systems. Though apple will have some catching up to do by the time they finally release Apple Pay in Korea.

Last week Kakao made the announcement for its new pay service, Kakao Pay. The service is similar to Paypal and requires that customers type in their passwords to make payments. While this might seem like more of an inconvenience than that the fingerprint mechanism Apple uses, it’s a much simpler system compared to the complex authentication requirements currently used for online shopping in Korea.

The service has already launched for Android users and will be available for iOS in November. Kakao Pay users can register up to 20 credit or debit cards. BC Card Co., Hyundai Card Co. and Lotte Card Co. have already signed up to work with the platform and many more are expected to follow suit.

Kakao Pay will first offer users gift coupons that they can purchase, and extend its payment system over time to be used in major bookstores, supermarkets, restaurants, and e-commerce.

Apple will have its work cut out for them in Korea should they decide to roll out their own payment system to compete in Korea. Kakao is used by over 90% of smartphone users, both Android and iPhone. If Kakao Pay is successful, it is unlikely that a large portion of the small Apple user base will make the switch by the time Apple decides to roll out its services here.

Leave a Comment:

What do you think about Apple’s new products? Will you buy any smartwatches or adopt the new payment system? Tell us what you think in the comments below!

Datascope: Asia’s Mobile Gaming Landscape

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

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Naver and Games: An introduction to Line, Band, and the Naver App Store

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Last week, we discussed the Kakao platform and showed the essential knowledge necessary for getting started with Korea’s most popular mobile platform. Today, we take a look at Line, Band and Naver AppStore. Three related platforms that seem similar, but function very differently from one another.

The Beginning

Naver began as a project within Samsung to develop a Koreanized search engine. After some early successes, the company was spun off in 1999 as the search portal Naver, which also included a children’s site and a game portal: Hangame. In July 2000, after a meeting between Naver’s CEO Lee Hae-Jin and Hangame’s CEO Kim Bum-Soo, Naver merged with Hangame Communications and changed their corporate name to NHN, or Next Human Network, in 2001. It was through this union of being Korea’s top web and game portal that Naver became Korea’s top internet company, with the next several years spent expanding and creating new services. such as Knowledge iN, a question-and-answer service similar to Yahoo Answers and Quora.

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In 2006, co-executives Kim Bum-Soo and Lee Hae-Jin came to differences over several areas including revenue and the future direction of NHN. This would turn a once thriving partnership into an epic rivalry that continues to this day, as Kim Bum-Soo would leave NHN to form his own company, Kakao Corporation. Through the eponymous KakaoTalk, Kakao Corporation would dominate the mobile platform landscape in Korea for years to come, leaving NHN struggling for a response.

Competing against Kakao: Line, Band and Naver Apps

One year after the release of KakaoTalk in 2010, Naver introduced Line, a messaging app similar to Kakao and developed for multiple operating systems.

Line-Messaging-App

Line was developed by NHN Japan, a division of NHN. At the time, NHN’s team in Japan realized the importance of alternate communication in times when mobile service would not be as reliable and wished to create an app that would allow this kind of communication. After pitching the idea to NHN Korea and getting the idea approved, they quickly went to work on developing the Line app. Launching in June 2011, Line quickly caught on in popularity in Japan, gaining over 50 million users within a year, a number that took Facebook three years to achieve.

While popular in Japan, Line could not shake off the incumbent KakaoTalk’s popularity in Korea. Nor was Line able to create a similar game platform like KakaoGame, a huge moneymaker in Korea, or KakaoStory, an enormously sticky SNS app . This led Line to pursue a more global approach to their business, and with stunning success. Line quickly overtook KakaoTalk in terms of total global users, boasting over 450 million users worldwide. This was twice the number of KakaoTalk’s users, and in battlezone countries where both companies competed for users, Line would consistently emerge victorious over Kakao.

To counter KakaoStory, NHN went with Band, an SNS platform developed by the Naver subsidiary Camp Mobile. If KakaoStory is the Korean mobile version of Facebook, Band is the Google Plus equivalent. Band heavily emphasized exclusivity, similar to the “circles” of Google Plus, and was thus great for creating vibrant, close-knit communities. Band would take off as a way for amateur sports teams, music bands, club organizations and the like to enhance productivity and engagement within their groups.

Naver-BAND

But this still left a gaping hole in the NHN strategy: the lack of a gaming platform similar to KakaoGame. In 2014, NHN announced two complementary gaming platforms that would both take effect around April, 2014. The first is Band Games, a messenger-based gaming platform similar to KakaoGame. The second was the Naver App Store, an independent, Android-based store that would promote and share games with through a desktop/mobile hybrid approach, dubbed the “Naver mobile game channeling service”.

Publishing games through Band or Naver AppStore is a different experience than going through Kakao. These two services distinguish themselves through the tools and flexible options they offer to both publishers and designers in terms of marketing and revenue models.

Band of Brothers

band-games-naver

Band Games is based on the concept that close-knit communities make for better gaming buddies. Sending game invites over Band involves a higher level, as Band friends enjoy a more intimate relationship due to the exclusive nature of the app. This differs a bit from the somewhat “spammy” nature of KakaoGame, which encourages users to send invites to acquaintances and lesser-known friends.

For Band, launching a game does not come with the evaluation process that comes with Kakao. Camp Mobile came to this decision by wanting to give choice to the users and not the platform holder, putting faith in the users to decide what is worth downloading and what is worth avoiding. Band also offers a competitive rate for developers and publishers, taking as little as 14% compared to KakaoTalk’s 21% commission. Combined with Google’s 30% commission, developers using KakaoTalk end up taking just 49% of their revenue. With Band, developers can expect to take at least 56%, and as much as 64% if they use the Naver App Store.

Band-Naver-Games2

Along with this, according to the Appasia August 2014 report, the demographic for Band tends to be older people between the ages of 30 to 40. While the number of users is much lower, the older market tends to have much stronger purchasing power than a younger audience.

Though released with much fanfare  in April 2014, developers have not received great returns for their involvement with Band Games so far. It is difficult to find more than one Band game that ranks within the top 100 grossing in Korea, with no significant success in the Downloads ranks as well.

Naver Appstore: Enter the Search Giant

The first thing to realize about the Naver AppStore is that because it’s Android-based, it does not require developers to make both a Android and iOS version of a game. This differs from Kakaotalk, which has a policy of only accepting games that are available on both platforms. Naver is also in the process of gaining the support of larger publishers who have already found success in other marketplaces such as Google Play and T-Store. This is also a move that aims to strengthen the reputation of the platform and provide a more reputable place to develop and publish when standing next to the competition. Naver plans on supporting games on the app store by using their own search engine to run advertisements and promotions with a goal of attracting at least 30,000 new users.

Naver-App-Store2

The Naver AppStore is also lenient to publishers when it comes to making a profit. Developers and publishers keep up to 73% of their share of revenue of profit with Naver only taking a 10% marketing fee, 10% user mileage fee and a 7% channeling fee with the channeling fee even going back to help out the developers and publishers.

Naver App Store also provides a service called Naver Beta Zone, an application which allows developers to post their games still in development and have users beta test them. Users are rewarded in-game items or other pseudo-monetary prizes for their participation. This works both as a strong marketing tool and an effective form of QA, as games can generate buzz at the pre-launch stage, and bugs can be caught by dedicated and passionate users.

Naver AppStore stresses the cross-platform benefits between desktop and mobile. This really shines from a marketing perspective in several ways. First, mobile games on the Naver App Store appear in Naver search results, allowing them to receive SEO-related boosts to discoverability. Second, Naver coupons and other forms of e-currency that were previously limited to the Naver website are now being ported over for mobile use, allowing for appealing marketing campaigns. Naver also takes a hands-on approach to promotion, often providing perks and discounts at no cost to the developer. Finally, the Naver App Store provides alternative payment methods that are more conducive to younger users. Naver provides “top-off” methods of payment in addition to the traditional credit card and carrier based billing methods of other app stores. This allows for younger users to “top off” their cards with cash and use it for in-game purchases.

After 5 months of operations for both services, it looks like the Naver App Store is the early winner, with developers privately sharing glowing reviews of the Naver App Store’s services and profits. (Unfortunately, Naver App Store profits can not be tracked on sites like Appannie, as they are an independent service.) Still, it remains to be seen if either platform, in unison or independently, can become a true contender to Kakao Games.

The Future

In recent years, NHN’s search results have fallen over 4%, while their mobile searches have experienced a 53% increase. While services like Line may not have found the explosive success in Korea that Kakao has, their hold on the overseas market continues to grow with profits of over $513 million and over $12 million in mobile gaming revenue. It is expected to almost double its profits by 2015. While it may have not beaten Kakao, NHN remains one of  its strongest competitors, both in Korea and abroad. By expanding overseas, there is hope that by offering mobile messaging services that offer everything from games to media, they can catch on to a foreign market whose main use of messaging apps such as WhatsApp is strictly for messaging only.
On the surface however, it seems that their success may seem contradictory to their current business strategy. Line, Band and Naver AppStore seem to be competing against one another, each service fragmented and lacking a central roof to unite them under. NHN does not see this as a weakness, but rather as a strength that sets them apart from the competition and allows each individual platform to to perform to their own strengths. NHN has said that they believe in “strengthening the core competitiveness of each business”, meaning that each individual platform can operate more nimbly and in the end, respond to the competition quickly and without the additional weight of other platforms and their individual needs weighing them down. While Line, Band and the app store may all distribute games, their audiences are different with each platform functioning differently enough that the concern of each platform competing against one another doesn’t really matter in the end.

 

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