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Online-Games: Becoming More than a PastimeThe past development and future of Korea’s online game industry
Cho Hee-soo  |  groovedannie@yonsei.ac.kr
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승인 2009.05.25  23:18:52
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IN THE past, games were regarded as just children’s entertainment. Due to successful content development and marketing, however, games have now become an independent industry. Japan, in the video games market, and the United States, in the online game market, monopolized most of the overall game industry in the early days; however, Korea is currently recognized as the leading nation in the mobile and online game market. This result is due to the innovative and continuous efforts that were invested in the games industry, both by the government and business. Among the diverse categories of games, The Yonsei Annals would like to analyze the past development and the hidden side effects of Korea’s online game industry.

                                                       History of Korea’s game industry
  
  Among the complex elements that made it possible for Korea to become the leading country in online games, one can categorize these in to three stages. First is the late 1990s, when the super-internet began to spread rapidly and widely. This period was when online games started to develop and were commercialized in response to their many users. The forerunner at that time was the well-known Nexon Corp., with its game “The Kingdom of the Winds,” and NCsoft Corp., with “Lineage.” The primary boom of these two games continued into the second stage, in the early years of this decade. Along with the previous spread of the super-internet, the numbers of PC bangs, which earn income based on those who play online games, increased considerably. Moreover, the well-known slogan of Microsoft, “1 house, 1 PC,” became a reality for Korea, with governmental support in providing secondhand PCs to the needy. Such a change enabled games users to enjoy games at home. With the support of such social change, this period is recognized as the heyday of Korea’s online game industry. “Games such as “Kart Rider,” and “Crazy Arcade” were played by more than ten million people at this time. It sounds a bit outrageous, but such a number of users showed that a true heyday had come,” says Hwang Sun-kyu (CEO, GNC Interactive Co., Ltd). Having an outstanding past like the above, Korea’s online game industry is continuously developing in several dimensions. Diverse games contents are also actively being exported overseas, and are regarded as well-made games.


                                                            Main actors in making games


   

 photographed by Kim Ga-young

   
 
  Despite the fact that any game is the result of unflinching team spirit among many people, the so-called main actors in making games are the producer, programmer, graphic designer, and the marketer. “A producer is the one that plans the overall scale of the program. The main content of the game is decided when producing, making it possible to say that the producer plays the most important role when developing a new game’s contents,” says Hwang. When the big picture is completed, that is when the work is passed on to programmers. “These people convert the plan into computer language. Encoding every single element of the game and making it a ‘product’ is their job,” says Lee Heung-joo (General Manager, Dept. of Korea College of Information & Technology). “Graphic designers visualize the numbers 0 and 1 into actual graphics. Graphic engines used in this field were all imported from the States or Europe. However, NCsoft decided to use engines that are developed by our engineers from this year,” says Kim Kun-woo (Assistant Manager, Public Relations Team, NCsoft Corp.) Advertising and marketing is separate from the actual programming process, but also has an important role in informing the users about the consummate product. “In order to promote a game’s content, not only advertising the content but also preventing players from quitting playing and luring attention is needed. Continuous interaction with the users is needed, and every service related to such an interaction and communication is a responsibility of the public relations team,” says Kim Young-joon (Director, Game Developing Team, Nexon Corp.).


                                                 Outstanding success of Korea’s games industry


   With the main four playing their roles, Korea’s online game industry peaked in the early 2000s, and is still enjoying a pre-eminent international status. There are several reasons that have made Korea so prominent in this field. “I started to engage in this so-called game industry at the very beginning, in 1996. I am, if I can say this, the first generation of the gaming industry. Although we did not have a complex operating system like nowadays, we still played and made classic games. Such a start can be reminisced about as a stepping stone for the future development of games, especially online games,” says Lee. “Developing well-made content needs much investment of time and money. In the case of “Ion,” NCsoft’s recently developed game, it took about four years actually to start commercializing this content. Moreover, the steps that we undergo to make an outcome are complicated and involve a lot of reorganization,” says Kim Kun-woo. Due to the continuous effort of brainstorming and development of new contents that can lure the attention of users, Korea’s online game contents are assessed as creative and striking. “The competition inside the game industry is very intensive. In other words, it is hard to grab the interest of the user for a long period of time without any differentiated characteristic of the content itself. Nexon started to make online games in 1994 and our early start made us have know-how about developing high quality games that both have originality and mediocrity Our successful games, such as Kart Rider, Crazy Arcade, Counter Strike online etc. reflect our continuous challenge and effort to provide new contents to our users,” says Kim Young-joon.


                                                      Social problems resulting from games


   When the sun reaches at its zenith, one’s shadow can be seen, whether it be short or long. The online game industry also has its side effects, and is currently becoming a social problem. The main social problems related to the rapid boom in games playing can be classified into two: the trading of item games and the mental disorders of users who play games too much. Games users buy and sell their online games items offline, and the high price of those items uploaded on sites such as item bay reflect the serious status attached. “I have once thought of buying game items with real money. Although I have not actually bought them, I was amazed at the large scale of the existing black market,” says an anonymous games user. There exist diverse reasons why such a black market exists. “Currently the games items market is widespread, especially in China  due to the export of our online games. People are definitely concerned, but there is no specific power or alternative to seize these and the games corporations are assuming the attitude of an onlooker,” says Lee.
   Another worry is because of those who are seriously addicted to playing games. Recently,  PC bangs there have been cases of deaths due to playing games for days and nights without sleeping. These addicted game users suffer from mental illness due to confusion of reality and virtual reality and lose track of living an ordinary life.  “Addiction is a problem that many game companies are aware of. To reduce such a side effect of harming one’s mental and physical health due to over-concentration on playing games, we have involved elements of rest as in-game content, such as quests or banners,” says Kim Kun-woo.


Foreseeing the future of the game industry


   Looking back at the past and at the ongoing present, Korea’s online game industry has a short but outstanding history of development. In order to maintain its development and dream of reaching another zenith, however, solid plans are needed.  Among the many plans that are in operation, National Assemblyman Hur Won-jae (Grand National Party) foresees the future development of online games by supporting them through enacting related bills. “In 2008, Korea’s games industry exported a lot of game contents world- wide and this resulted in an income of 1 billion dollars. However, China, Japan, and the United States have recently entered the game industry, making the competition more aggressive and hard compared to the past. An alternative to staying still amidst this struggle is needed, and I believe that governmental support based on legislation would be helpful for the industry’s future development,” says Hur. With the backing of governmental support such as legislation, the game industry foresees a hopeful future. “Online games will soon dominate the contents market. Korea currently has a comparative advantage compared to other countries in almost every needed technology to develop games. Exports have been, and are, continuously increasing, giving a chance for outstanding development. The future is surely bright enough to elevate the status of the game industry as our new representative industry” says Kim Young-joon.


                                                                         *         *        *


  Development is as important as maintaining the status quo. In order to do so, an influx of both ambitious and talented people is needed in the Korean online game industry. “The game industry is a place where one can dream, make that dream, and actually accomplish it. There are few industries that give a chance for the young to live their dreams,” says Hwang. Just like the advertisement of a certain sports corporation, impossible is nothing in games. So why not challenge oneself for a dream that is not yet dreamed of?

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