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Seoul-full: Massive Multiplayer Gaming in South Korea

Seoul-full: Massive Multiplayer Gaming in South Korea
Seoul-full: Massive Multiplayer Gaming in South Korea
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One goal of my trip was to learn more about the legendary massive
multiplayer gaming business in Korea. On Thursday I was glad to be
invited to meet Jin and Peter (the youngest business people I had met
so far) who seemed happy to enlighten me. They were part of the online
business team of T3, the company behind the hugely successful niche
market multiplayer game, Audition. Starting out with 20 strong team,
T3 have been building massive multiplayer games for 6 years. Following
the massive success of Audition, which danced to the tune of revenues
exceeding $40M, T3 was acquired by Hanbitsoft in May of this year
(2008 btw) to become a company of over 700 people.

Audition is a bit like those dance mat games you see nowadays on most
consoles, but without the mat. Instead of a maximum of 2-4 players,
thousands are able to play online simultaneously. In my opinion, it
closely resembled a very fun but relatively unknown Playstation 1
title, called Bust-A-Groove
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bust_A_Groove). Players log on and join
a room, which is effectively a dance stage controlled by a leader, who
is the player that initiates the room and selects the track that
everyone dances to. Instead of using a mat, it just uses the arrow
keys ? players basically tap out the keys according to the sequence
presented and characters step in and out for solos and dance battles.

Simple stuff. So how does Audition attract 60-70K users a day and
bill so much money? Powerups and items. The more you play and the
better you dance, the more items you can buy to improve you characters
and play for special song licenses.

You'd expect a game like this to appeal to the Cyworld pre-teen girls
audience, but actually their main demographic is players aged between
18-24 with a 40/60 male/female split. So was it the same case as
Cyworld, namely, where the girls go, guys will follow? Yep, replied
Jin and Peter, but Audition wasn't just a game, it was a way for
people to meet each other.

If an equivalent game was as popular in the UK, it would most likely
be linked to Simon Cowell and some kind of reality TV format and a
host of derivative content products. However, despite the Korean
massive multiplayer gaming market being worth $2240M, more than the
rest of the world combined, TV tie-ins were surprisingly not a feature
of the industry. To Peter and Jin's knowledge, the only game that has
had a TV tie-in was Maple Street, a 'casual' MMORPG, popular with
pre-teen girls in the US. In fact, Maple Street is so popular that it
enjoys a plethora of revenue streams from derivative content, such as
guide books, game cards, pens & pencil cases. Derivative content
mobile products, such as ringtones and music, was not a general
feature either despite T3 sharing the same distribution partner for
the game as DirectMedia did for their mobile content, the popular
download portal Yedang.

Mobile social networking also was not on their radar although they had
seen many successes promoting the game via online social networks and
portals. I suggested the prospect of being able to play online, earn
experience points and then power up the character via mobile on the
train home and my hosts just laughed. Basically in Korea there's no
need. If I wanted to powerup my character that badly, I need only spit
ahead of me and I'd probably be at the door of a PC hall (PC bangs).
Fair enough ? I'd seen PC bangs on every block of Seoul.

So presumably this lack of PC gaming halls was a reason massive
multiplayer gaming had not reached the peaks of Korea in the rest of
the world? Well, yes and no, explained Jin. The US gaming market is
poised to overtake Korea within the next few years despite the fact
that most US and EU gamers prefer joypads and consoles over the
traditional mouse and keyboard PC gaming. Besides, it's not like the
west is not well connected; most families have a PC in their home.
However, in particular case with the EU, population density is low
meaning there is little incentive for ISPs to upgrade their
infrastructure to provide the kind of bandwidth needed to have a great
online gaming experience. Never have so few been able to support the
costs of so many.

Apparently growth of games tended to explode when players realised
that playing co-operatively boosted their success. Social clients,
such as VOIP and IM, were a feature of most games but part of the
success in Korea was also down to the fact that PC bangs allowed
people to form teams and participate on mass physically together,
rather than simply virtually. The growth of games and PC bangs sort of
coincided in that respect, as games got more popular, so more PC bangs
opened.

Jin and Peter told me how the massive multiplayer online gaming market
was incredibly competitive and the most popular games were produced
equally in the US as in Korea. The most popular games in Korea were
Role-playing games (RPG), Lineage, by Korean company NCsoft and World
of Warcraft by US company, Blizzard. First person shooters (FPS) were
the second most popular format with games such Sudden Attack produced
by Gamehigh (Korean) and Counterstrike (US). Real time strategy (RTS)
games were third most popular format with games such as Starcraft and
Warcraft being incredibly successful. A contact had actually suggested
that part of the appeal of these games in Korea might well be down to
the fact that you could play and smoke cigarettes at the same time.
Therefore in order to enter these crowded market of loyal players,
companies needed to discover niche segments and audiences ? for
example more casual, non violent games initially aimed at pre-teens
and light gamers, such as Audition or Kart Rider.

Most importantly, Jin and Peter stressed that the day to day running
off a massive multiplayer gaming company was to be understood as
critically different to the outputs of your average console publisher.
Success was really a matter of maintaining service levels rather than
purely gameplay innovation. Online gamers preferred responsive servers
and glitch free computing over amazing functionality. So perhaps,
gaming is not only for nerds and other outcasts who cant get
girlfriends. In fact, you only have to think of think of the national
frustration in the UK when Hasbro banned Scrabulous on Facebook, to
get a sense of how fundamentally social the experience gamers are
having is. Whether you are gunning down radioactive foes, relaying
space battle tactics or stepping in for your dance-off, no one wants
to be cut off from their friends. And as Korea has proved people will
pay good money just to make sure they can keep sharing the experience.

Posted by jc1000000

10th Nov 2008, 01:47  

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10th Feb 2009, 08:38

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14th Feb 2009, 08:05

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