Gaming in South Korea

In SFGate, there is a great forecast article by Jeff Yang about MMO evolution and South Korea. He basically describes the success of MMO in Korea, showing how this "american invention" has been turned into a "a $15 billion market cap" due to two main reasons: "the nearly universal availability of broadband Internet, due to a concerted government effort to invest in its digital infrastructure during Korea's boom years of the early and mid Nineties". And the "dramatic collapse of the South Korean economy in 1997" which led laid-off people to on-line game to avoid being depressed (!).

More interesting to me is this part of the article that shows how koreans/asians see the game industry, as something different from the European/American vision:

"E3 is a gathering for the old school videogame industry," he says. "It's driven by consoles, and it's all about the retail channel -- people pushing hardware and selling boxes. We think the future of gaming is very different. The Internet has given developers a real opportunity to play on a level playing field--to create a market where the best ideas win. And the breeding ground for the best ideas right now is here -- in Asia." (...) "We think the whole concept of spending $50 to buy a box, and then paying $15 a month just to try it out -- that's ridiculous," says Hong. "In Asia, virtually all of the new games that are being released are 'free to play' games. What this means is that you can try a game out just by downloading it and registering. But if you want certain enhancements -- special items, more abilities, unlockable characters -- you pay for those. About half of the revenues in the Korean games market today come from virtual item sales. People get hooked on the game, and they want to build up their characters beyond a limited level. Get it free, play the damn thing for free, pay for what you like. It's an enormously powerful concept."

In addition, Yang also presents some game design issues that seems very relevant:

""The entire Lineage experience was possible because of the 'blood pledge' feature," says Hong. "It's the key ingredient of the game --it forces gamers to build relationships and creates social hierarchies. (...) This counterbalanced relationship between "seniors" and "juniors" is written into the cultural DNA of many Asian societies (...) Sword of the New World as his magnum opus, a sweeping epic inspired by European Baroque style, set in a fantastic variant of the Age of Exploration. The game had been developed with a unique new concept in mind: Instead of creating individual characters, players would create families consisting of as many as 36 characters, of which three could be controlled at any time. "It's very much an Asian concept," says Hong. "Korean players, for instance, tend to create multiple accounts, so they can experiment with every class and skill variation. And because players would always complain about not being able to juggle all of their different accounts easily, Kim thought, well, what about a game where you could have all these characters together? And making them into a family -- all the characters in an account have the same last name -- well, that's very Asian too."

Why do I blog this? some relevant material/data here to be employed as appetizers in discussion with game designers. I find interesting the way the korean do not make differentiations/silos between what is in the game industry and what is not, a recurring problem here in Europe.