Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cultural irrelevance - how not to lead a "Korean Invasion" of games

The scenario is all too common:
  • Game (x) is really successful in country (a).
  • Interested parties wish to capitalize even further on success of Game (x) by introducing it to another country (b).
  • Thing is, Country (b) doesn't buy it, and Game (x) is a flop. Country (a) scratches its head.
The story coming out of the Escapist, called "The Korean Invasion," is a nice summary of just such scenarios.

  1. Lineage II did 'barely OK' in North America, compared with the Korean success (1 million players).
  2. Cyworld (the multi-dimensional Facebook-like application used by 40% of Koreans) was ported to the United States in mid-2006, to attract about half a million members (hmm... are they Korean ex-pats?).
The question in this article is why North American launches fall so short of the Asian originals.
The answer, my friend, is in local cultural relevance. Scenarios like these definitely refute the thesis that the 'games' or 'applications' in and of themselves can be in any way addictive. (read some recent developments on this argument). Rather, as I have cranked many a time (especially concerning Korean contexts), a game's success, "stickiness" or what have you, has much more to do with the local context of implementation.

Even going off the top of my head for reasons:
1. The Lineage narrative harkens back to castle-siege mentality and Confucian hierarchical philosophy--something that Koreans are quite acquainted with. North American MMORPGs are generally more individualistic and meritocratic in gameplay. Sean Lai's research at Georgetown addresses some of these contrasts well.
2. As for Cyworld... big strike again. When I heard rumours of its launch in the USA, I was saying to myself... uh oh. Especially after seeing that minimal qualitative research had been done to account for audience reception in the US and the Korean application would be tweaked minimally.
I could hear the big thud from across the 49th parallel.

There are indeed some innovative business models coming from Korea however, such as micropayments and a myriad of mobile phone applications that integrate with daily life.
In a land where piracy is unabashedly rampant, one would do well to observe how people are still making money. In comparison, North American businesses could withstand some adaptation of traditional business models in order participate effectively in a climate of increasingly intangible goods.

A good read. See for yourself.

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