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Focus On Korea: Ntreev's Kang Talks Pangya, Westward Moves

Continuing its examination of the Korean game biz, Gamasutra speaks to Jamie King of online game developer Ntreev about their titles, including Pangya (Super Swing Golf) and Trickster, and discusses the difficulty for Korean companies
With the rise of microtransactions and the rise of titles such as MapleStory in the casual MMO business, South Korean gaming has been growing in respect and relevance in the West. There's a lot to learn from this rich, constantly evolving market, which grew up along lines so different from the U.S., Japan and Europe that it's difficult to compare -- and compete with. To that end, Gamasutra has already spoken in-depth with a variety of members of top companies in the market, conducted principally at the recent annual Gstar trade show, to offer their perspective on the industry in 2008 and going forward. In this exclusive interview, Gamasutra speaks to Jamie King of online game developer Ntreev about their titles, including Pangya (Super Swing Golf) and Trickster, and discusses the difficulty for Korean companies to break into the international console game market. Can you tell us the history of Ntreev? Jamie Kang: Ntreev started in December of 2003, but some of our key players, like our CEO and our CTO and some of our key programmers and developers, started game development in the early 1990s. So actually, I can say that we started in the early ‘90s. So we are the first generation of the Korean game industry. Many of those people were originally from Sonnori? JK: Yes, that's right. Do you hold any claim to the old titles, or are they all under the Sonnori brand? JK: Some titles belong to Sonnori, and some belong to us --- Pangya and Trickster. Ntreev's been doing a lot of new products, while Sonnori's kind of relying on its old properties. Why did you choose to go in the original direction? JK: Most of our old titles belong to Sonnori. But you also went in a new direction at the time you switched, because you went much more online, whereas previous development stuff was in... JK: The PC area. Right. What was the decision for going online? I know everyone was doing it at that time, but from Ntreev's perspective, why was it a good time to enter that market? JK: At that time, in 2000, it was a trend to switch the PC industry to the online game industry. The one reason is that the PC game industry in Korea was getting smaller at the time, so we had to have a new cash cow. You have a U.S. subsidiary. How is that going? JK: They started their company from 2006, and at that moment, they launched with Trickster. Recently, they also signed a new, second title, which is Grand Chase. How many staff members do you have? JK: In Korea, our staff are almost 300, and in the States, we have 14, at the moment. And in the U.S., it's just publishing? No development? JK: No. You're releasing Trickster through the U.S. subsidiary, but Pangya is coming to the Wii from Tecmo. What are the advantages of either one? JK: With the Wii and Tecmo, we don't know much about the console gaming industry, so we have to find a good partner. In terms of the online games industry, we know a little bit of that, and we have many partners in the world, and we thought that we could do it in the States. With a subsidiary, the good thing is that we can control our territory and that... In terms of the online industry in the States, except for the big giant groups in the States, there are not many companies involved in the online game industry. For us, it's really difficult to find good partners who could run Trickster in a better way. Maybe in the future, more companies will participate in the online games industry in the States, but I think it will take some time. We can't wait until they come. One of the reasons why we entered the States is the States has a lot of big potential for new partners, because the original online game comes from the States, right? Although we're booming -- the Korean company expanded the market -- the original comes from the States. With Tecmo, it’s co-development. But actually, most of the work was done on the Tecmo side, because we thought that if we did co-development with 50 percent/50 percent, then we couldn't have ended up with a good product. So we thought that one side had to lead the development. The console game market in Korea is not that big, compared to that of the States or Japan or Europe, so I don't think the Wii going to be that big. But I would say hopefully it will have some hits, compared to other console games, because of its uniqueness. Have you thought about the Xbox 360 market at all, for the West? JK: We're already interested in entering other console markets than the Wii, like the 360 or PS3, but our question was, once we started, can we meet the standards of the 360? For us, although we are already interested in those game markets, I think we're still under discussions whether we have to do the 360 or PS3. What do you think about the current online environment in Korea? It seems to be getting very crowded with lots of different titles. JK: Yes. I think the online gaming industry in Korea is very competitive, because there are thousands of developers, and more than one hundred publishers. So it's getting crowded. But in terms of the game environments, since 2000, we have a lot of experience in the online game industry, which could meet the Western market as well, or other Asian markets. So we are quite confident with those. So do you think there's still room for the Korean market to grow? JK: I think it will grow, but less than recently. Most Korean big companies are looking for another market, like the European market, or the States. Some companies are also concerned about the Western market being very difficult for online, because we don't have really good broadband penetration. JK: But in that sense, I can see it's very promising, because once they have the broadband infrastructure, the online market can grow much bigger than that of in Korea. What do you think are the main limitations on console gaming success here? JK: Maybe piracy. Maybe the biggest problem is piracy here, and the second one is most Korean parents think that games equal evil. Gaming is really a bad thing. They don't want to pay their children to have the console games. Maybe that mindset is one of the biggest problems for us, because most console machines are really expensive, so the parents have to pay for them, instead of them buying the things. How is that different from the parental perspective for online games? JK: Most parents...for online games, the cost is much smaller than that of console games, so that even though parents don't pay for the children, children can pay with their pocket money. I have heard from some of our staff in the States and some of our friends that the item selling-based games in the States have a lot of potential to grow, because a lot of signs indicate that the revenue model goes up, and that they like it for anything and hand games in the States. They have a lot of...their revenue is still growing, and a lot more users are coming to pay for it. So I thought it was a good sign for us or other Korean companies in the States. What is next for Ntreev, going forward? JK: We wanted to be a global publisher, and until now, we were positioned just as a game developer. But since 2005, we positioned ourselves as a global publisher. At the moment, we have more than seven ongoing in-house projects and three other studio projects as well. Can you say what any of them are? JK: Yeah. Project Alice, Project Blue, and... actually, these are the names of the teams. We also have Pangya PSP, Pangya 2, Project Force, Project Edge, and Dorothy. Project Dorothy. There's Project Dorothy A and Project Dorothy B. Those are the console and DS titles. The Dorothy ones are new titles, and Blue originated from Soulless, an earlier game. But it's not porting -- it's a new game. Do you think that the PSP market is going to be good enough for Pangya at this stage? JK: No, I don't think so. We have a big problem with PSPs, because for those titles, we are looking for a global publisher, but it's not easy to have a good publisher, because most of the key players in the world are very hesitant to a Pangya PSP title, because a Pangya PSP title is really limited. They're very careful to choose their titles, so we have some problems. Is Tecmo not going to do it? JK: We are in discussion with Tecmo as well as EA, THQ, and Activision.

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