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Korea: Clarifications & Solutions

In my (now) rapidly progressing series on Korea: Clarifications & Solutions.

I didn't expect the responses to my first Gamasutra blog post on Korea I got in messages and emails. I thought that no one would bother to read. I was going to progress to discussions on microtransactions and be just as critical of what's being done in the west. Was giving context and a more fully rounded view of the Korean industry than most get.

The best laid plans...and all that. The things you do when you wait for things to compile and bug test.

I was accused of whining and ranting. It's a fair accusation. I was asked why I stayed here so long if it was bad. It's not. Or at least I think I can make a difference. Which is why I have taken the step into being an entrepreneur and gone into business with people who are amazing technically, managerially, conceptually...(okay so when do I get paid for this praise?). But I am happy and excited now. Tired too (just spent an all-nighter). But I am walking the walk or at least trying to; except this is the first time I have tied these shoelaces and am desperately trying not to trip.

I want the Korean game industry to do well. But I think we here in Korea need to take a good hard look at things. And to be fair I brought the criticism without providing solutions. Data and evidence was supposed to come later. But I'll provide solutions first. Then explore the data in later posts. 

I posted this earlier in the comments of my first blog post but I will repost in altered form here:

Closest Historical Model/Predictions

The closest and most salient one would be the boom-bust-revival of some of the game/creative industries in Europe; the tech industry in Taiwan. I will probably go into detail in my next blog entry. However, I will also have another unfortunate prediction: China will follow the Korean model and will only be relevant within the Chinese market. But honestly? They don't need to actually go outside their borders and they will be fine. Korean companies? not so much.

Practical/Cultural Stumbling Blocks
Starting a small and new business is significantly cheaper and easier ( not just legally but in terms of mentorship opps, cheap/open source software & tool usage) in the US, Singapore, Taiwan, and in various other territories than it is in Korea AND Japan.

STUMBLING BLOCK 1: Patent protection is also significantly weaker in Korea which allows large companies to essentially clone any innovations, products, and even superficial aspects that a smaller company has introduced without reprisal from the law.Thus driving them out of business. It can be argued that this is the same anywhere HOWEVER in the US you have more of an acquisition culture which also prizes the personnel behind such innovations wheras there is no similar culture/perception in Korea.

SOLUTION: Stronger IP law slanted towards the new and innovative (lets not become the US but this is the other end of the spectrum). Focus on the teams and not the products as being the competitive advantage. AT least other game industries elsewhere pay lip service to that ideal if not strongly prize that.

STUMBLING BLOCK 2: In most game & web industries in other territories; it is usually the distribution/investment channels that gain size but leverage the outside development and resources available in the industry. Korean companies try to do EVERYTHING inhouse. They try to be the developer, publisher, distributor, marketing all at once. Outsourcing is not the rule here it is the exception. Sounds great until you realize that it damages the industry as a whole and doesn't make these fat bloated companies that adaptable either.

SOLUTION: OUTSOURCE to outside the companies for more! Focus on specific areas and strive to be efficient in those. Form ecosystems with partners instead of simply one time contracts.

STUMBLING BLOCK 3: Systematic processes are the exception. Example: preproduction in most Korean game companies goes a month, maybe 2 months. Toolsets are not the norm. Source and milestone management is done through an excel spreadsheet. Pipelines? Make it up as you go. China, Singapore, Taiwan (and to some extent) India have benefited immensely from partnerships/outsourcing with foreign companies in establishing, understanding best practices and the logic behind systems used in development, publishing, etc. Korea never had this mix of outside and inside cultures.

SOLUTION: Korea needs to have more companies doing more work outside Korea; and not as the lead partner. Korean companies have to swallow their pride and do alot more of the outsourcing work that they used to mock the Chinese for. Just sending people to conferences ( where more often than not they do not engage in casual networking outside) is not enough. Sustained commercial activity in a subordinate role is needed for an industry to get the foundations necessary. And for god's sake, take care of your source code. Use project management tools and not excel.

Korean Corporate Issues

Many of the larger game companies have to stop aping corporate structures/cultures of the large conglomerates like Samsung. It starts with something as simple as your title/rank. You may be a lead artist but only be a "daeri" (associate) in the corporate structure. A lead producer may be only a "chajang" and be lower than his engineer. This muddies up roles, accountability and responsibilities. It extends to certain departments which may be necessary when dealing with manufacturing (like a central planning office) but are not only unecessary but detrimental to game and web development and even online publishing/distribution.

SOLUTION: Simplify Simplify simplify. Your rank and role should be the same. Corporate structure on the whole should be as horizontal as possible not vertical in the software space.

Korean Inspiration (or I need to own a media empire)

Korean popular media is essentially retelling of the mundane. We live in what is essentially a perfect setting for a 'Fringe' or '24' or even 'Chuck' but we get 'General Hospital' and 'Celebrity Squares' 100% of the time. There is no comparable 'Star Wars' or 'Doctor Who' touchstone of inspiration of the fantastic, futuristic, or bizarre.

Parody is non-existent. Comedy is usually on the level of slapstick. Even Russia had political satire for awhile...but Korea? It's not there. Music is one genre: boyband/girlband all the time. No Company from a garage myth (since the 1950's at least). No famous dropouts. Everything has to be Seoul National University or else.

There is no counter culture. There is no niche culture. There is no technocratic geek culture. The lack of the left field. The lack of the fantastic. This then leads to the inability to dream. The inability to critically think.

It affects our storytelling and narratives. When did you understand the background story of any Korean game? It affects our UI's; when did any Korean site,gadget or tech have innovative interfaces? It affects our daring; there is no cheering on the underdog here. More or less cynical acceptance and criticism for even trying.

SOLUTION: Give me a media company. :) Nevermind. I'll just build one later.


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