Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why aren't there more Korean video games?

By this point, we all know what a big deal South Korea is in the gaming community. From StarCraft to League of Legends to Counter-Strike, Koreans dominate the competitive gaming world. But why don't we see more video games developed by Koreans?

Of course, there are a fair number of games made in Korea. The country has a very PC-centric gaming culture, so most of these are online PC games. But the majority are aimed at the domestic Korean market. Korea's biggest international hits are almost all massively-multiplayer online role-playing games, like Wizet's MapleStory and NCSoft's Lineage and Aion. The popular MMORPG Guild Wars, while developed by American studio ArenaNet, was published by NCSoft as well. Another Korean MMO, Gravity Co.'s Ragnarok Online, was a flop in the West, but a huge hit across Asia. Many of these Korean online games pioneered the free-to-play business model that's so trendy worldwide today.

But considering what a huge gaming consumer market it is, these Korean games are a mere blip on the radar. It's a country of 50 million people and a GDP per capita of $32,000. It's also the most internet-connected country in the world, due to government programs aimed at establishing nationwide networks. So why haven't we seen a true Korean international blockbuster?

Let's look at Canada, another "developed nation close to a much bigger gaming powerhouse." Today, Canada's games industry is thriving. Vancouver and Montréal are hotbeds of game development. A big part of this is because many of the biggest Canadian developers are owned by foreign publishers. American gaming juggernaut Electronic Arts alone has either opened or bought a huge percentage of Canada's major game studios.

What about South Korea? Japan is only a stone's throw away, yet Japanese publishers have been incredibly reluctant to open up shop in Korea. Why is this?

You don't need to take an Asian history class to know Japan and Korea aren't quite fond of one another. The reason Koreans love PC gaming over consoles in the first place is because many Japanese game consoles weren't even sold in Korea. This culture clash may be at the heart of the Korean games industry's problems. And it's why, while Japanese gamers have hesitated to embrace Western genres like real-time strategy and first-person shooters, Korea loves StarCraft and Counter-Strike.

With South Korea a rising star on the global stage, we'll likely see a few more games from them in the future. But they need to get a little more friendly with their neighbors to the east if they want to become an international player in the game world.

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