Time and sales have gone on to show that the Kakao platform is an extremely powerful platform when it comes to having a source to deliver games to a wide audience. Successful publishers have fully embraced the Kakao model and their success shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
While using Kakao is a huge advantage to becoming successful in Korea, it is by no means the only route to success. Several publishers are currently experiencing their own brand of success both in Korea, and overseas without relying on KakaoTalk to reach potential customers. Publishers like Com2US have demonstrated how to be successful without Kakao, demonstrating that knowledge of your demographics, a willingness to expand to the international community and giving your player base incentives to stay loyal can allow them to stand their ground against the juggernaut that is Kakao.
In the Beginning
In 1999, Com2US created their first mobile phone game and in 2008, produced their first game for smart phones, making them one of the first companies in Korea to successfully tap into the mobile gaming market. Combined with advertising company AdMob, Com2US was able to learn and discover what are now considered essential skills in selling a successful mobile game. Com2US found success by learning how to target consumers by age and gender, essentially targeting people who had not even downloaded the app yet. They learned the importance of tracking and analytics, and were able to quickly identify the difference between success and failure, and therefore learning where to place their focus to optimize profits.
The Rise of Kakao
For the next 15 years, Com2US and rival publisher Gamevil would have fierce competition as the mobile market began to take its hold on Korea. Com2US was the first developer to earn 10 billion won in revenue.
This period of success leads us to modern times where Kakao has become a major force in game distribution and the success of Com2US has begun to decline, unable to compete with Kakao’s social based distribution system. Faced with a fierce competition, Com2US was purchased by rivals Gamevil, and the two publishers formed their own distribution platform: HIVE.
Both Com2US and Gamevil’s catalog of titles are available to download from HIVE as well as the applications and features from Com2US’s Hub and Gameevil’s Circle distribution platforms. With HIVE, gamers who enjoy each company’s titles can interact, share, download and create a community around their favorite mobile games. HIVE in essence, is a platform less focused on social interaction and more on communities of like-minded fans and gamers. HIVE caters more to the mid and hard core crowd rather than the casual gamers that Kakao attempts to ensnare, but as stated before, this is a market that is ripe for growth and has proven to be one of the most successful and less crowded areas when it comes to finding success.
Why Different is Better
While it’s undeniable that Kakao is a highly successful way to distribute games, Com2US has been able to not only hold its own in the crowded mobile market, but remain a strong competitor against Kakao. While it would seem likely that building a service similar to Kakao and then trying to outdo them at their own game would be the route that most developers would attempt to do (and most likely fail at), Com2US has found success by separating itself from the majority and doing something completely different.
As mentioned earlier, HIVE offers a social experience built around the games themselves, offering players to meet each other and form relationships and communities through the games, rather than the other way around, which is how Kakao operates. While this may alienate those who only want to play games as a time waster and little more, those who enjoy the games and those who are fans have an almost guaranteed community of similar individuals from all around the world.
Through HIVE, many of the marketing duties are shared by the two developers along with administration duties such as communities, stats and game updates. Also through HIVE, the developers are allowed to interact with their audience and fans in a way that KakaoTalk does not allow. One example is allowing gamers to participate in open betas and polls, not only giving them a chance to have early access to games, but to allow Com2US to practice that important lesson they learned nearly 15 years ago: finding out what gamers like, and marketing a new title to them early and at the peak of its popularity. Com2US, through years of experience, has realized what many smaller and less experienced developers have not yet grasped: the importance of making new games while their current games are popular and having a marketing campaign that targets current users of a popular game, and therefore linking it to a new, potential title.
While Com2US has achieved success in Korea, its success can also be credited to some outside sources as well. Many of Com2US’s titles such as The God of Fishing and Summoners War: Sky Arenas have achieved a huge level of success outside Korea, and have been embraced by foreign mobile markets across Asia and the United States. While gaining revenue from outside markets, Come2US has also found success on devices that most Korean developers have experienced difficulty becoming successful with. Com2US’s games feature attractive 3D artwork and visuals, but are still able to run on even low powered devices, making the entry and price range for gamers to enjoy their titles very accessible. Com2US has also found success on tablet devices with both of its most popular titles: The God of Fishing and Summoners War, an impressive feat considering the Korean market and the difficulty they have faced in trying to find success on these devices.
Old Dog, New Tricks
The mobile gaming industry in Korea is an industry where refusal to adapt and change most often results in failure. Those who are flexible and creative, are often the ones who can stand the test of time and cement their legacy as more than just a passing fad. Com2US has managed to be at the inception of mobile gaming in Korea, reach incredible heights during the market’s rapid growth, see itself loose to the competition and finally reinvent itself to remain a strong competitor. With both The God of Fishing and Summoners War, Com2US is said to be earning more than 500 million per day on both titles, numbers that rival and in some cases, surpass many Kakao based games.
Com2US may not have the same number of casual gamers that Kakao can boast about, but in this case, they don’t need to. Com2US has successfully used its past knowledge and game development experience to craft compelling games and in the process, create a community of dedicated gamers who will most likely remain loyal as their fan base and revenue continue to grow.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org