South Korea is home to over 200 games developers – the majority of which self-publish their games online for PC – a not unimpressive level of scale for a country with a population just shy of 50m.
The main clusters for development are capital city Seoul and southern port city Busan.
The major players in the area are all developer/publishers which follow the now-established self-publishing and service route. The businesses predominantly boast a large number of employees working in development and support.
Key companies include Nexon, NCsoft and NHN. All have massive turnover – NHN in fact has the largest market capitalisation (over $5bn) of any company on the Korean version of NASDAQ, KOSDAQ. Revenues for software sales – across internet cafes and the like, plus retail – are now estimated at over $3bn annually, with the export value of domestically produced games recorded at $565m in 2005 according to the Korean Games Development and Promotion Institute.
Introducing new business models and innovating with technology is Korea’s biggest strength, rather than boasting a powerful ability to generate new brands and franchises, talents which countries in the West promote. This certainly has a lot to do with how the country has a strong internet infrastructure and some of the highest broadband speeds and market penetration in the world. Which itself explains why almost all consumer gaming activity centred on PCs, with a scant console games market. Although that is changing through official releases of the PS3, 360, Wii and DS and local offices for the format holders, it’s still thought that console makes up under ten per cent of Korea’s games market.
Overall, Korea is already seen as well-developed – especially by those local companies now looking overseas for growth – thanks to the wide-spread acceptance of computer games in the country and mass market and cultural penetration of things like internet and gaming cafes.