10 Korean products I would export to the U.S. (if I had an export business.) #5 online games!
Okay, this article is a bit late, because U.S. versions of many Korean games have already hit the online gaming market. But listen to what I have to say here. I first came into contact with Korean online games in college (sometime in the late 1990’s), when a U.S. version of a Korean game called Quiz Quiz was being tested in the U.S. market. It was eventually doomed for failure, as the only people who seemed to be playing it were Korean-Americans who were already familiar with the Korean version. I naturally liked it and wasted a lot of time trying to dress my little game show participant in different outfits from the prize money that you could win on quiz quiz. What’s more, it wasn’t simply a one player game that you tried to simply answer questions, it was an online event with users from all over the internet. Each round of the game had different mini games and the way you would answer the questions was very different. Because the game wasn’t being updated, eventually I had run through all possible questions in a week of play, and started to get repeats. It was then that I got bored with the game and stopped playing. I’m sorry I never bought you the kangta bangs, little gameshow dude…
Later, as my contact with Korean people from Korea increased, I learned about the vast online community of video gamers in Korea, and what games were available for free. I think for a while there was a good rival to Nintendo’s Mario Kart series, called Kart Racer, that was actually better, as you could play against people that weren’t even in the room with you. There were also many MMORPGs, which I probably would have been addicted to. Not to mention the vs. tetris games, and chess, and lots of other games you could play against real people in real time.
Why are you talking about games that you’ve heard of, didn’t you actually PLAY any of them?
Unfortunately no. And that’s actually saying a lot, because I am addicted to video games, especially of the 2D variety, which most web based games tend to be. I spent my college years rediscovering my Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo, and emulating all of these on my computer. In addition I wasted so much time with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Tekken3 on my Playstation. In the dorm where I lived, friday nights were officially Mario Kart 64 nights. I am a bonafide gamer!
Get back to talking about why you didn’t play any Korean online games!
Well, there are two major reasons for this. First, I had a mac in college, and in Korea there is a constant problem where programmers believe that the only OS that exists is whatever happens to be the most popular one created by Microsoft. Compatibility with non-microsoft software or hardware has always been and still is a problem, especially in Korea, though this is slowly changing. Very slowly. So slowly that when I finally bought a new computer after college I got a sweet machine running XP. Yes I miss mac, but it was really annoying trying to find software for it online. With this problem, most of Korea’s online games were inaccessible to me unless I used my roommate’s computer. And he didn’t seem to like it that much, especially when HE needed to use it. But even if I was able to use his computer, I still wouldn’t have been able to play.
Why, did he have a mac too?
No. He was fairly rich, and had the most up to date, snazziest, geekiest computer that would put most small time hackers to shame. If it was on the internet, it was on his hard drive. He had several different operating systems, and nothing you could download wouldn’t work on his computer. It was the best non-Mac machine I have ever laid my eyes on.
If you are a dedicated reader, you will recall that in an article about cyworld, I lamented about Korean websites not allowing you any membership unless you had a Citizens’ Registration Number. The same was (and still is) true for all the popular online gaming sites. This is the major reason why I never played any of them. I couldn’t unless I called up a friend in Korea and asked him or her to give me their CRN. That’s not information that people like to give out so easily.
For a while, people would simply make numbers up, and it actually worked for a few sites, but the websites caught on and received databases of valid CRNs from the government with which to cross check these. I was basically out of luck after that. It is possible to join these sites if you are not a citizen, but the process involves faxing your passport to the gaming company and a long waiting period. Um, no thank you. In America we call that “sensitive information”.
These policies basically killed off what could have been a huge dedicated block of consumers, as Korea’s online gaming technology was centuries ahead of anything the U.S. had to offer at the time. Now the competition has caught up, and even though Korean gaming sites have their localized versions, they missed out on a huge opportunity back then.
But don’t the gaming sites offer the games for free and get their revenue from advertisements?
Wouldn’t those advertisements, in the Korean language, for products you can buy in Korea, have been worthless, as most American players wouldn’t even have been able to read them?
So why was it a missed opportunity then?
Simple. The gaming websites could have gotten advertising from American companies selling products in America. Perhaps even better than that, from Korea’s perspective, is that it would have been a great engine to advertise Korean products made by Korean companies, that were for sale in the U.S.
Once again, the silly policy on the CRN issue was a detriment to Korean commerce. I hope one day that whoever is in charge wises up and removes this stupid rule from their websites.
Many Korean citizens say they like the rule, as it keeps their interaction with non-Korean users to a minimum.
I think though that building a wall around your store is not the best way to draw customers… and if the wall is precisely the reason why your customers are loyal to you, then I don’t want what you are selling.
(Edit: This article claims that in 2011, Korean online games will top $2 billion in revenue, largely thanks to sales in foreign markets. I still don’t like the localized approach, I think it would be better for Korean and non-Korean users to interact with each other, but still, $2 billion? WOW!)