Mobile gaming is expected to generate $1.4B in Korea this year, and mobile games like Anipang have become a cultural phenomena within the country. It’s as common to see older women in their 60′s playing games in the subway as it is to see younger children playing games at the bus stop. What makes Korea such a prime market for mobile gaming? We at Ultra believe it comes down to three main factors:
- KakaoTalk’s social graph and its implication for game discovery, competition, and social interaction.
- Seoul’s expansive, wifi-equipped subway system.
- Korea’s exceptionally high smartphone penetration rate.
1. KakaoTalk’s Social Graph
For a more in depth analysis of KakaoTalk, read our article: What is KakaoTalk’s Business Model?
KakaoTalk is Korea’s leading mobile messaging service with over 100 million users. It also serves as a social gaming platform. Kakao reviews and selects games from independent studios to host within the app’s game center. This selection process puts a relatively small number of games in front of millions of users every day, which leads to many downloads in and of itself.
However, the multimillion blockbuster hits are a result of gamers actively messaging (some might say spamming) their friends with their latest high score or invitations to install games in order to compete against them. This form of social discovery is similar to that of Facebook’s Activity Feed and Requests features, which if you’ll recall, put Zynga’s Farmville on the map with 10M daily active users back in June of 2009.
Kakao gamers, like Facebook gamers, benefit from posting their achievements and inviting friends to install new games. Aside from bragging rights, users can earn in-game virtual currency or additional play time from such actions. And once installed, games played with friends can become even more addictive, especially for competitive gamers who wish to surpass their friend’s top score. For less competitive types, Kakao games allow friends to interact in a more cooperative manner, by gifting friends with items or visiting their garden or café.
It is this combination of social discovery, competition, and enhanced gameplay that has helped Kakao games reach such massive popularity across all age groups in Korea.
2. Seoul’s Expansive, Wifi-Equipped Subway System
City infrastructure also plays an important role in the country’s widespread consumption of mobile games. The Korean subway and train system is vast and heavily used. Of Korea’s 50M population, half live in Seoul and its metro area. Ridership for the Seoul subway system is reportedly 2.4B riders per year with 6.7M daily riders. This ranks the Seoul subway system as the 2nd busiest in the world (Tokyo ranks 1st).
Heavy ridership is just part of the story. Korea’s modern, LTE and wifi equipped subway cars provide an ideal space for gaming. Daily commutes can be long and uncomfortable. Children and professionals escape the shoulder-to-shoulder morning rush, not by reading books, but by gaming and chatting with friends on KakaoTalk. Because Korean subway cars are equipped with the world’s latest in telecommunication technology, travelers never miss a beat from their games, chats, or streaming TV shows thanks to LTE speeds pegged at up to 150Mbps–nearly triple that of speeds in the US.
When other subway commuters around the world might be limited to offline activities such as reading, listening to music, or engaging with pre-downloaded content, Korean commuters can past the time playing simple, competitive games all the while remaining connected online.
3. Korea’s Exceptionally High Smartphone Penetration Rate
KakaoTalk’s mobile games are reliant upon the smartphones needed to play them. Fortunately for Kakao, Korea is a global leader in smartphone adoption with a 73% penetration rate according to a July 2013 survey conducted by Google Korea. This puts Korea as #1 or #2 (depending on the research institution) in the world for smartphone adoption. For children ages 6-19, the rate remains high at 65% (Korea Communications Commission). Furthermore, Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer, is based in Korea and heavily promotes its products across a vast range of Korean advertising channels.
For a quick overview of the Korean mobile industry, see our article: A Macro View of the Korean Mobile Industry.
To conclude, several factors are behind the massive popularity of mobile games in Korea. Trends in smartphone adoption rates provide a majority of Koreans with access to KakaoTalk and its internal game center. High speed wireless access throughout the Seoul transit system allows commuters to play online without limitation on a daily basis. Lastly, this technical access combined with KakaoTalk’s social discovery and sharing functions provide a solid foundation for Korea’s booming game market.