Monday, December 14, 2009

Video Games.

Koreans seriously know how to play video games. Anyone young (or old) enough to play the online multiplayer FPS game Counter-Strike will remember just how horrific of a beating they received from anyone with a Korean screen name. Koreans take their video games quite serious. Almost too serious.

In late 2007, Korea received a somewhat unique distinction for opening one of the world's first boot camps for youths with internet addiction. Many of the participants cited video games as one of the reasons for their addiction (spending upwards of 17 hours a day online). There is also a reported 240 separate Internet-treatment centers sprinkled across Korea to help battle the growing problem.

Goodness, and I thought checking my email twice daily was bad.

It should come as no surprise that Korea reports that over 90% of their residents have regular access to high-speed internet compared to America's still impressive 75%. Yet, as wired and online as Koreans are, the only American mainstream game to have any real international success is Starcraft, a RTS originally published in 1998(!) that is considered archaic (opps, I meant classic) by today's standards. Most games today in the American market are fortunate enough to still be played three years after launch; yet in Korea, Starcraft is still worrying Korean mothers as to whether their kid has gone to the PC 방 or not.

Since 2002, Starcraft has been professionally played and set up as a spectator sport. Big name companies like Samsung and SK Telecom have sponsored such cyberathlete teams whose members play on average of 10 hours of gameplay a day (during training) and live in corporate dorm houses with fellow cyberathletes. Such members are not recruited but chosen out of countless applicants. The lucky few who are hired receive a weekly allowance and are monitored by a live-in house attendant (a coach of sorts) and are furthermore discouraged from distractions such as text messaging and intimate relationships. I almost wish I were making this up.

For that matter, I almost wish I were making up this dialogue.

Seducing Mr. Perfect

But I digress.

Online Korean gaming netted an approximate 2.35 billion USD in 2007 in combined sales. Korean MMOGs have penetrated the international barrier and have effectively oversaturated the American MMOG market; forcing many companies to offer their games for free or with minimal Pay-To-Play features in order to stay financially competitive. A reported 1/3 of the population of South Korea has registered and played KartRider at least once. Even non-traditional gamers have found enjoyment from free, ad-sponsored online versions of 화투 and 윷놀이.

But America isn't exactly unplugged.

The mind-bogglingly popular American MMORPG World of Warcraft comprises of over 60% of the American online gaming market and boasts a staggering 10 million current subscription base. Not so small potatoes anymore now when compared the 5.5 million current subscription base in Korea. Oh, and the American release of Grand Theft Auto IV secured two new places in the Guinness Book of World Records. One for initial day sales (310 million USD) and another for initial week sales (500 million USD) making it the most profitable entertainment release in history thus far, surpassing the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

It seems that Koreans and Americans differ on a few other things as well.

One distinct difference between Korean gamers and American gamers is demographic representation. While most American gamers fall into the 25-40 age range, the average Korean gamer is barely 17 years old. Another difference lays in the popularity of console video games in America. The Nintendo Wii was officially launched in Korea just last month; almost two years after the North American launch. American console sales outnumber Korea almost 3 to 1 and the trend shows no sign of stopping.

It seems that Korea's video game focus seems to be on online, interactive, socially-driven games while America favors the pick-up-and-play mentality of the Wii and other games designed to be best enjoyed offline.

I don't know - it's not clear on which has the upper hand in the market and whether it really should equate to bragging rights or not. Maybe I should focus more on exactly how I was pwned like a n00b on Sudden Attack last night.

And on that note, I'll leave you with this:

I'm Sorry, I Love You