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.

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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 

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

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

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

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

What Korea Offers

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

 

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

What About Google Play/iOS?

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

 

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

What Korea Likes to Play

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

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

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

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Seoul of Legend, a hardcore, MOBA from Korea.

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

Planning for the Future

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

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

Tell Us WhatYou Think

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

 

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

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.

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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.

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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 

Game Community Management: How Latis and Fincon Revamped Hello Hero

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What’s the secret to increasing user retention by nearly 60%? If you’re Fincon, creators of the Korean hit Hello Hero, the answer is: a little Latis muscle.

Over the last two months Latis and Fincon have worked together to revitalize the company’s Western user base. Together, we turned stagnating channels into vibrant places for users to gather, chat, and expand the Fincon brand.

The results speak for themselves:

  • 215% increase in forum users
  • ~960 topics, 8,560 posts
  • 58.97% increase in 20-day retention

 

Here are the tips we used to help Hello Hero’s Western community thrive.

Performing Community First-Aid

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Analyze

You can’t fix your community problems if you don’t first analyze them. Before throwing content at your wall to see what sticks, take stock of the current situation. Where are the majority of your community members hanging out? What problems are you facing in reaching them? They might not like the community content you are trying, or you may not be hitting the right channels. Identify these problems before you try fixing anything.

Fix

Now that you’ve identified what problems you have, you can start drafting solutions. Ask yourself:  what roadblocks can be removed? How can we add more channels? If you have an active Facebook, but a weak Twitter, consider bolstering your daily tweets. If you already have an official forum, look for other online communities, such as Toucharcade, where you can build a presence.

Grow

Once you’ve figured out what channels you’ll be focusing on, start growing your community. Engage with them daily, and remember that creating fans is more important than creating users.

Manage Your Channels

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Official forums offer a chance to give your game, and your company brand, a personality. Your community manager should be a leader. In Fincon’s case, this was Fincon_Milo. This leader will not only give a voice and personality to the company, but they will reach out to hire and manage moderators, and push content consistently.

*Tip: pay your moderators with in-game currency and have them help you create and manage your forums.*

Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are great places to encourage engagement with contests, memes, and other jokes. Remember to target your posts by language, and to actively respond to comments. You should be part of silly, trivial conversation, not just a microphone for content.

Let your fans contribute

Making your fans feel appreciated is the true cornerstone of community management. Bring them into the game by giving them a sense of ownership. For Hello Hero, this meant addressing the community as “Guardians” rather than users.

Sharing your resources and artwork to allow your community to be creative is another great way to foster loyalty and fun with your user base.

Whatever channels you decide to use, always remember: love your fans, and they will love you!

Your Turn

Have you had any experience with community management? What strategies did you use to make it work? Leave a comment and let us know! As always, remember to follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

 

 

Pocket Gamer Helsinki: What Asian Game Market is Right for You?

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Last week Latis was pleased to accept a speaker invitation at Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki to talk about using Korea as your gateway into North East Asia. This week we are happy to be able to share the presentation with you and provide a summary of our key points.

 

Four Take Away Lessons

Point #1: Korea is wrongfully overlooked because of China and Japan

China is like the great whale of the mobile market. It’s a behemoth, high profile market and country in genera, and offers a lot of potential. Problematically, we are not always capable of seeing the total picture of that potential due to extreme market fragmentation. Chasing down China without a well refined strategy is a good way to get swallowed up.

When we think about Japan, at least where the game industry is concerned, the thing that generally comes to mind are the titans of the industry – Nintendo, Capcom, Square Enix, Gungho, etc. Japan is home to some of the most well-known IPs in the world. To compete in Japan and do well is to earn credibility for your talent in the world’s biggest gaming market.

Compounding this is the general perception that the Western world has of Japan due to its cultural exports. There are a lot of silly game shows, manga, and films that are well-known in the west and there is a general appeal to going to Japan because of them.

But what about Korea?

Even though it is the third biggest mobile market, it’s being over looked in favor of China and Japan. It has a strong and thriving mobile game market and, if you are serious about being an international game company, you can’t afford to ignore it. Along with Japan, Korea is a major driver of Google Play revenue and many of its characteristics make it the best of the three major North East Asian markets to enter first.

Point #2: Korea is easier to do business in than China and Japan

The first factor that makes Korea a great entry point is simply ease of business. This includes things like, how many loops do you have to jump through to do business? How easy is it to find an honest partner? How tight are business regulations? Can you expect transparency? The answer to these questions are going to greatly impact your ability to be successful business in any country you go to, but are often forgotten by developer-focused, or younger companies.

Where North East Asia is Concerned, Korea wins the contest hands down.

The world bank does an assessment of ease of business and has created an index to examine these factors. It includes: procedures, time, cost, and minimum capital to open a new business, protection of investors, enforcing contracts, resolving insolvency, strictness of regulations, transparency, entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial activity, good practices and government regulations, and transparency of business regulations.

South Korea ranks 7th on that index, with Japan coming in at 27th, and China lagging way behind at 96th. This ultimately means that South Korea has a more open business environment with less risk. For those that already have a lot of experience and a network in one of the three big markets, it might not mean much. But particularly for first timers or mid-level companies with not a lot of capital to risk, these are

Point # 3: Korea’s market factors mean less investment, less risk

Some of these market factors include:

  • Korea has one of the best mobile networks in the world with ~91% 4G coverage. Japan hovers around 68% and China lags far behind on network infrastructure with 4G only available in major cities.
  • Korea is one of the first smartphone markets to reach near saturation with around 73% of people owning a smartphone. Korea is a great test case for how consumers will act in a near-saturated market.
  • Korean and Japan both far out perform China in buying power. Where Korea and Japan have similar rates for unlimited data plans, Chinese mobile users are looking at $100 USD for 5GB of data.
  • Though CPI data shows Japan is by far the best country for profit margins, those numbers do not include extra marketing budgets such as television spots and subway ads. Those upfront costs are considerably more expensive in Japan than they are in Korea.

Point #4: Korea’s soft power influence is supplanting Japan

For over a decade now, Korea has been taking over the importance of Japan’s cultural exports. Korean dramas became big in China first, then moved to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. They got huge in South East Asia, and now the Korean wave is firmly planted throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and even Myanmar. Music, fashion, television, movies, and games coming from Korea tend to do well in South East Asia, so performing well in Korea may open doors for you there as well.

There is also the soft power and recognition that is slowly building in the West with people like Psy. He represents a slow changing shift in the way that Korea is perceived by the West, and the relationship will only continue to grow. Over time this means both cultures will be more open to new types of content.

 

 

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

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

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

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

Player Behavior in Korea

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

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

Keep these points in mind as we move forward.

Overview of Games:

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

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

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Gameplay Analysis

Blade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Mu: The Genesis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monetization

Blade

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

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

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

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

Mu: The Genesis

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

Conclusions

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

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

Tell us what you think

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

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Driving Retention in Free-to-Play: The basics of community management

community-management

Any conversation about free-to-play games inevitably takes a turn down one, if not two, frustrating rabbit holes. The first is how it is evil, destroying the game industry (a conversation I am guilty of myself), or it gets mired in the details of some facet of user acquisition, usually cost or retention.

I’m going to be diving down that second rabbit hole to talk about some basic community building strategies that can help you create a better experience for your users that will make them want to stick around for more.

Understanding the Role of Community

Nicholas Lovell of Games Brief wrote an excellent article about free-to-play game development that everyone should read. He details the business funnel (consisting of acquisition, retention, and monetization) and the game model pyramid (consisting of the core loop, retention game, and superfan game).

Though he doesn’t detail the role of community in his post, understanding where it fits in is an integral part of creating the retention that is so important in both aspects of his model.

So where does community fit then?

Snugly between acquisition and retention, with a bit of overlap in both areas.

business-funnel

 

 

 

 

 

Your community has to find a balance between these two things. It has to be easily accessible so that new users can latch onto it quickly and feel at home, and it has to offer your current players a way to feel connected to the game even when they aren’t playing it – a non-trivial task. To truly leverage the power of your community, you’ll need to have at least one community manager to oversee it.

Community Manager’s Role & Tool Set

The community manager exists in an ambiguous space between customer support and public relations. At times they will be pushing press releases and managing crisis, and other times helping solve customer inquiries. They will also need to provide feedback to the developer or publisher about what changes the community would like to see implemented in the game.

Not every game is going to have the same community needs, but the basic foundation remains relatively similar across the board. You’ll likely want to create a fan site program (a basic kit so fans can create their own sites), a forum, and a social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.).

Keep in mind though, these are merely the distribution channels. You’ll need to fill them with quality content for them to be of any real value, and there-in lies arguably the most difficult task.

Creating Good Community Content

One of the biggest mistakes I see even big studios make in community management, is creating lackluster content for their communities. They are so focused on the in-game world that their community sphere ends up being nothing more than an official forum overloaded with spam, a barren Facebook page, and a deserted attempt at a twitter account.

Rather than waste your time trying to figure out how to force Facebook and Twitter to work for you, focus on the actual content you create and use social media as a distribution channel. While there are no hard and fast rules for what kind of content your community will enjoy, you can start by asking yourself one simple question:

How can my community engage with this?

The best community content is the kind that can be built on and modified by your users. Whether its memes, contests, or forums, allowing space for your users to project their own identity onto the game creates a sense of ownership.

This is particularly important in the free-to-play sphere where purchases are typically for consumable items and users don’t actually own anything they buy. Visual, shareable content, like infographics, memes, art, and videos, are particularly good for driving interest and engagement.

A cautionary note, however: even after you’ve created great content and set up the proper distribution channels, you’ll still need to pull people in to interact with you and your brand. Each piece of content you create should have some kind of ask: participate in the discussion, share, like, etc.

Making Your Content Work for You

As I mentioned at the beginning, community building overlaps between user acquisition and user retention. This means the community activity you foster needs to accomplish different goals at different times. These include:

Helping your users be successful with your game

Tutorials, build guides, item recipes, strategies, and how-to faqs are extremely valuable for helping new users interact with your game. They help overcome the initial bumps in the road that cause users to leave early. Clash of Clans created this content early on in their Japanese release and it helped them turn the region into one of their most profitable markets.

Grow your user base

The kind of easily sharable content that helps spread your brand and bring people into the game. This can also be things like inside-jokes that the established community already understand and reaffirms the brand image and identity of the game community.

Provide feedback for improvement

Discussions and feedback prompts that community managers can relay to publishers or developers to make improvements in the game.

Before spending time creating any piece of content make sure to ask yourself what goal will this help me achieve?

Share Your Ideas

Have you had any experience with community management? What practices did you find most helpful? What are the foundations you found most helpful for building from the ground up? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Kakao Talk Odds & Ends: How Wooga targeted Korea

jelly-splash-header

jelly-splash-icon*Update 1*

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

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

Overview

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

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

The Jelly Splash Stats

 

jelly-splash-googleplay-grossing

Top grossing ranks for Jelly Splash on Google Play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

jelly-splash-googleplay-downloads

Top downloads for Google Play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

What they did right

Rapid, viral growth

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

jelly-splash-offline-marketing-korea
A subway advertisement for Jelly Splash in Korea.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Optimized and localized

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

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

Understanding the platforms

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

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

The big take-away

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

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

Tell us your thoughts

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

 

Weekly News Round-Up: May 24th

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1. Rumor: Daum and Kakao to Merge

daum-kakao-merge

The Korean web portal, Daum, is rumored to be talking about a merge with Kakao Talk, the well-known OTT messaging service. Daum, like Naver, offers a number of internet services including a free web-based e-mail and messaging service, forums, shopping, and news. Daum is considered the underdog by some, particularly now as Google and Naver are emerging to dominate the market. The rumors say that no money will change hands in the deal between Kakao and Daum, but will all be done through stock.

 

2. Band Games Launches with 30 Million Users

band-games-30-million

Line’s new gaming platform, Band Games, launched with 30 million users last week. It stepped into the gaming platform business earlier than its legacy competitor, Kakao Games, which launched when the Kakao platform had 50 million users.

Band takes the typical chat experience and turns it on its head by focusing on creating small communities. Band takes the chat-room and turns it into a club with a section for announcements and scheduling for events and updates.

 

3. First Glance at Maple Story 2

The sequel to Nexon’s hit, Maple Story, is slated to go into closed beta later this year. The company released their first sneak peak trailer earlier this week.

A Day in the Life: Postmortem on a Launch Failure

Running-Quest-Banner

Sterling Selover’s story is one that a lot of developers are familiar with. He had a great game idea with a twist on a favored genre, some friends willing to help make it into an international success, and even great press.

But like so many hopeful game developers, a few bad decisions led to the game flopping in the charts. The game in question is Running Quest, an RPG runner hybrid inspired by games like Temple Run, Everquest, and Elder Scrolls.

In spite of his efforts to combine those games into a mobile chart-topper, it peaked at #611 in the top grossing charts for the iPhone in the US. I met Sterling in January at the London Pocket Gamer Connects event, just prior to the release of the game. At the time, I told him I thought the game could do really well in Korea (and I still stand by that), but he was already overwhelmed with the international releases he had scheduled.

I’ve kept in touch with him since and he agreed to share some of the lesson he learned in working on the project on the blog. They are brief and to the point, but they highlight the problems and decisions a lot of young developers have to face when releasing their games, so I hope you’ll be able to learn from his experience too.

Q: Why did you choose Japan as your entry point into Asia as opposed to Korea?
A: I chose Japan and China because I personally knew people in those regions that were willing to help translate the app for a reasonable share of the revenue in those countries.

Our Advice: While it’s great to have people you know in new markets, translation is rarely done on revenue share basis and ought to be a relatively inexpensive cost in your marketing budget. It’s better to partner with someone who is able to deliver, not just localization services, but access to a network of ad agencies or publishers who can assist with translation and user acquisition obstacles.

Q: If you could single out the biggest problem or mistake that was made, what would it be?
A: Spending money on advertising as opposed to user acquisition.

Our Advice: No doubt user acquisition is the problem to solve in the mobile sphere. It’s both an issue of quantity and quality, so not only do you need to acquire users, you need to make sure you keep them. Resources will also need to be allocated to community building and maintenance, so factor those into your budget when you decide to tackle new markets.

Q: I saw that there were multiple languages available for the game, what was your methodology for localizing it and what made you choose those languages?  
A: I will likely not be localizing in the future.  I have not generated a return for the investment in localization.  I chose the most popular languages of English, French, German, Italian, Spanish as that is pretty standard these days.  I also included Japanese and Chinese because I knew people that were willing to help.

Our Advice: For an initial release, immediately expanding into multiple markets without prior experience may be a bit more ambitious than feasible. Entering a new market is a time investment, so make sure you’ve got a good understanding of what is required of you for each place, or look for publishing/marketing partners who can handle the bulk of the work for you.

Q: What would you do differently the next time you make a game?
A: Strategic partnerships and have a rock solid plan for development and marketing.

Our Advice: As mentioned above, this is a great tip. Strategic partnerships and development plans are a must.

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from making and marketing Running Quest?
A: Don’t release the product until its ready and don’t commit to anything until you’re ready.

 Our Advice: Not really much to add here. Solid advice.

Q: Tell us a bit about your upcoming projects/game releases.
A: I’ve started working on a very cool top down, RPG, adventure game.  Think The Legend of Zelda : Link to the Past meets Dark Souls.  That’s about all I can say for now.  We will actually be releasing the game on PC/Mac before Mobile, but it will be released on mobile as well.  The game will also be a premium title with no In-App Purchases.

 

Tell Us Your Thoughts

Have you released an unsuccessful game? What lessons did you learn? What advice would you give to someone releasing a title in multiple markets at once?

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