By Cho Jin-seo
Nintendo's ``Wii'' is to arrive in Korea this spring after a long wait from game fans.
The official launch of the game player may rattle the Korean game industry, which has been dominated by locally made online games that run on personal computers.
Wii has been by far the most popular game player in the world, with more than 20 million units sold worldwide in only 14 months until last December. Nintendo hasn't sold it in Korea, citing various reasons such as worldwide supply shortage and worries of software piracy in Korea.
The usually reticent Nintendo Korea refused to confirm the release date. But it was found that the company had applied for the rating of its two best-selling Wii games, ``Wii Sports'' and ``Play Wii,'' last week with the Game Rating Board ― a strong sign that the launch is imminent probably before Children's Day, which falls on May 5. In separate applications, Acitivision, an American game software company, also received ratings for its two Wii games in Korea last week.
``We will make an official announcement once we are all ready,'' said Kim Sang-yean, public relations official of Nintendo Korea.
In 2006, Nintendo gave a pleasant surprise to game fans all around the world by introducing Wii, which has a remote control that can sense the motion of arms. Using the ``Wiimote,'' gamers can imitate various actions, swinging a baseball bat, hurling a bowling ball or pointing a rifle at a target.
It was an instant hit in many countries including Japan and the United States and the popularity still remains strong. According to market researcher NPD Group, Nintendo sold 432,000 Wii players last month in the United States only, far more than 280,800 of Sony's PlayStation 3 and 254,600 Xbox 360 consoles by Microsoft.
Wii's Korean debut, however, will have to face rampant software piracy. The company has already struggled with the widespread use of illegal game copies of Nintendo DS, which was released a year ago here. Those copies can be easily obtained on many file-sharing Web services free, despite outcries from game firms.
It is unlikely that Wii can beat the horde of online pirates. Even before its official release, many game shops in major electronics stores such as Yongsan and Kukje Electronics Market have been selling imported Wii players that have a special chip transplanted to run duplicated game CDs.
Known as the ``Wii Key,'' the chip that breaks the copy protection is inserted in the game console at dealer shops for around 50,000 won, about a fifth of the price of the game player.
Nintendo recognizes the problem very well. Last month, the company's U.S. office issued a statement concerning piracy in Korea.
``Korea is an important market for Nintendo, and Internet piracy is seriously affecting the growth of the video game industry in the country," it said. ``The unprecedented momentum enjoyed by Nintendo DS and Wii makes Nintendo an attractive target for counterfeiters. We estimate that in 2007, Nintendo, together with its publishers and developers, suffered nearly $975 million worldwide in lost sales as a result of piracy.''