China Eyes Games Market
By Kim Tong-hyung
Chinese computer game companies are devoted to mastering the skills and savvy of their more experienced Korean counterparts, so gaining acceptance from hard-to-please Korean gamers would be a most lavish compliment.
After enjoying rapid growth in recent years and benefiting from the mainland's megalithic playing population, Chinese online game publishers have been looking to leverage their dominance in other markets, and Korea looks to be the latest one.
Leading the pack is Perfect World, which recently reached a deal to publish its role-playing action game ``Chi Bi'' in Korea through KTH, the local Internet company that operates online game portal ``All Star'' (allstar.paran.com).
Perfect World became the first Chinese online game company to scale the Korean market when it was released through CJ Internet in 2006. The game enjoyed moderate success and Perfect World is now intent on building upon its bright start through Chi Bi and ``Zhu Xian,'' another fantasy role-playing game to be released by CJ Internet.
The company also signed a licensing agreement with Korea's Eya Interactive late last year over the release of ``Legend of Martial Arts,'' an action game based on a popular Chinese sitcom that reported a peak of 600,000 concurrent users in China.
Perfect World's bombardment of new products here reflects the company's confidence in competing and winning in arguably the world's toughest online games market.
Most foreign game developers deployed a gradual approach to the Korean market due to high local standards for technology and game play, which makes Perfect World's all-out offensive all the more impressive.
Perfect World could be the first of many Chinese game companies attempting to gain a foothold here, with industry insiders saying there are ``two or three'' more major licensing deals in the pipeline, which may or may not involve other Chinese heavyweights like Shanda Online and Kingsoft.
Korean game developers claim a competitive edge over their Chinese rivals in terms of game quality, such as the sophistication of graphics and game play. However, new Chinese titles such as Chi Bi, which boasts impressive 3-D graphics and nearly 15,000 quests, suggest that the gap is closing significantly.
``Perfect World, as one of China's top game developers, has proven its competitiveness with a series of successful products in recent years and we are confident that the games could achieve a strong following with some tweaking here and there for local users,'' said an official from CJ Internet's game business division.
``There can be no question of the quality of the games or their operational capability. Perfect World has experience providing its games to a massive audience in China, with the number of concurrent users reaching the hundreds of thousands despite having to work with worse computers and network environments than in Korea,'' he added.
Korean online game companies are uneasy about surrendering ground to the Chinese, who are already beating them in other Asian markets.
There's also incessant talk within the industry that the Chinese game developers, armed with bigger budgets and appetites, are looking to absorb some of their Korean competitors.
Shanda's acquisition of Actoz Soft in 2004 certainly ruffled some feathers here and there are talks that some major Chinese companies are involved in the competition for Yedang Online, currently the biggest prize in Korea's merger market.
According to the Korea Game Industry Agency (KOGIA), there were 15 games that had more than one million players in the global online games industry last year and 10 of them were Chinese-made. Korea has four games with more than a million users and the United States had one.
Chinese game companies exported 28 titles last year, KOGIA said, with Perfect World finding significant audiences for Perfect World and Legend of Martial Arts in 17 countries, including Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and Brazil.
Kingsoft currently controls about 80 percent of Vietnam's online games market with revenue from ``Swordsmen Online.''