Korea: An Also-ran?

How the Korean game and web industry could have been, but may not be.

I have worked, played and lived in Seoul for the past 11 years. I'll get that out of the way.

So when the buzzword was "virtual items", I used to politely nod and then yawn.I have lived, played and worked virtual item economies for about as long as I have been here. There is nothing controversial or demeaning about the business model to me. 

When the buzzword was "mobile applications", I used to smile and cough appreciatively.I had played games on handsets since the start of the century, utilized mobile video capture technology and infrastructure in work and play in my career on the web side of things.

When the buzzword was "social networks", I used to pretend to listen and try not to be bored. After all Cyworld was the grandaddy of it all. I had worked on a video based "social network" Freechal's Q. Getting ready to roll out a "widget market" when Myspace was aborning. 

I was so full of it, that if you pricked me the hot air and manure methane would have made me the Human Torch.

and I am a reflection of the Korean game/web industry. 

Because none of these concepts and structures that can be argued was executed on a large scale in Korea first, was iterated upon, refined, and systematically analyzed/ripped apart. No. We were so proud we had built all this up ourselves. We were so proud that we suddenly got rich and important. We were proud to be mentioned.

We forgot that much of what we made was born out of desperation. We forgot to look and analyze the unique environment from which these things were born. We focused on the superficial elements of the products/services and ignored the processes that needed to be changed.

The Korean game industry got complacent. Then we started to falter. Now ursurped.

There are very few Korean game studios/companies involved in social gaming. Think about it. From the country that had Cyworld. That had these giant companies like NCSoft, Nexon, and Webzen that were expertly weaving the virtual item business model into game mechanics. No. Korean. Zynga.

 I will examine this more closely in my next few blog posts but here will be my big points:

1) Korea has followed the Japanese model for too long and will fade into decline like the Japanese industry is doing in slow motion.

2) Korea has a tendency to foster a few giants but utterly grind the new and small into dust. In these giants, the operational processes are haphazard and insular.

3) Corporate structures in place and aped across the Korean industry are not fit for the fast paced and lean adaptation required. We are Microsoft zombies here. and finally:

4) The local media/popular culture does not breed the cultural imagination, thematic complexity, and the championing of daring that gives that spark. or "Sci-fi, spies and Silicon Valley is good for games".

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