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(News Focus) S. Korean online PC game developers eye mobiles, consoles

All Headlines 15:54 November 19, 2010

By Lee Youkyung

BUSAN, Nov. 19 (Yonhap) -- Riding the wave of wireless Internet, South Korean game developers are pursuing online games for smartphones, tablets and consoles in a country where many feel non-PC game titles do not bring in the big money.

Though personal computers remain the most popular form of online gaming device to South Korea's hard-core gamers at the ongoing G-Star game fair, a growing number of software developers have made their new titles available on Apple Inc.'s iPads and iPhones, consoles and personal computers.

"Our goal is to enable users to enjoy the same game on PCs and the iPad," said Kim Tae-gon, who is overseeing the production of "Blood of Three Kingdoms," a Web browser-based game to be published by South Korea's game powerhouse Nexon Corp.

Game players can test working versions of the Three Kingdoms on personal computers as well as on several iPads at Nexon's G-Star booth. As the final piece is still in the pipeline, the iPad version is yet to offer some features available on the PC, such as an ability to engage in battles and wars with characters.

Drawing plots and characters from a Chinese historical novel, "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," this so-called massively multiplayer online (MMO) game will cater to gamers who do not want to sweat on downloading large-size game packages but still want to enjoy glamorous graphics and intense action at any place, at any time and on any device, he said.

"The great thing about Web-based games is their accessibility," Kim told reporters in Busan. "You can play the game in any Web browser as long as you have the Internet."

In South Korea, more than ninety percent of households have broadband Internet and one of teens' popular afterschool activities is to play online games at ubiquitous cybercafes.

Despite being one of the most broadband rich countries in the world, the genre of the online game that flourishes in South Korea is the so-called massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), played on personal computers, such as "World of Warcraft," or strategy simulation games like "StarCraft." They won the heart of Korean gamers and turned many of them into hard-core players, enthralling them with intense battles and spectacular graphic quality among others.

The producer said that the Three Kingdoms will revive what hard-core gamers love in MMORPGs -- sense of movement, liveliness, action and avatars -- in the Web browser, while letting them play the game on personal computers and pick it up from the same place later in the subway with tablet computers.

"We wanted to change the preconception about the Web-based games that they are static," Kim said. "If their degree of completion becomes similar to MMORPGs, then a lot of people will turn to Web-based games because of the accessibility."

MMORPG players first download software from client servers of game companies to their PCs, which takes anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour. So far, hard-core Korean gamers have been willing to wade through such hassles.

"Right now, Web-based game players are not the same people who play MMORPGs. But if there is a right motivation that opens up, they (MMORPG players) will migrate to Web-based games," he said.

The Three Kingdoms is among the string of Nexon's new games designed for next-generation platforms. The company, which is the biggest Korean game developer and publisher by revenue, is showcasing smaller-scale games like "2012: SEOUL" on the iPads, which will become available on Android-based smartphones and tablets in coming months.

While Nexon's Three Kingdoms shows the company is betting that the Web will be the next popular platform of cyber gaming, WeMade Entertainment Co., the country's No. 6 online game developer by revenue, has introduced two new game titles for Apple's smartphones and tablets: "Petz" and "Master of Defense."

Unlike the Three Kingdoms, they are mobile applications, which can be downloaded wirelessly on the iPhone or the iPad device and they can be shared on social networking sites with friends.

WeMade, which has a mobile game unit called WeMade Creative under its wing, will also develop the same game titles for multiple platforms, not limited to Apple's operating system, it said.

Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., which is participating in the G-Star fair for the first time in five years, is hoping that South Korean gamers' enthusiasm for online PC games will spill over to games played on its flagship PlayStation 3 game console.

The company has partnered with South Korean game developer to create the PlayStation 3 version of "Kingdom Under Fire 2," a real-time strategy video game, which will be also available on PCs.

"This is our attempt to expand our lineup of content for the PlayStation 3," said an official of the Japanese company's local unit.

As an emerging field in South Korea, mobile games managed to only draw lukewarm responses from local gamers at the G-Star in Busan.

"The iPad games were new, but it was inconvenient and the controls didn't work well," said a 16-year-old student from suburban Busan who asked not to be identified. "The iPad is too expensive and isn't much fun. I like computer games with a lot of action."

Others gave credit for its portability.

"It's good that the iPad is portable, but I have to look at its price," said Min Jun-won, a 20-year-old. "There isn't much content available in mobile games. I usually enjoy PC games. They are large-scale and more fun."

Online developers do seem to recognize that most money in South Korea's game industry comes from hard-core players who play more than three hours a day, rather than from casual players, which are the usual target for mobile games.

"We have spent a long time thinking about (who would be our targets)," said Lee Seung-ro, director of WeMade Creative. "We are releasing two mobile games for casual gamers and two mobile games for MMORPG players."

The game industry will eventually embrace the explosive growth of the mobile trend unfolding in almost every other industries, developers said, as more and more people buy smartphones.

"Light (game) users rarely turn their PCs on at home," said Rim Chong-kyoon, a director of Nexon Mobile Inc. "My personal opinion is that in three to five years, the boundary between PC games and mobile games will disappear. People will want to play games anywhere, anytime."


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