Downturn Boon to Online Game Firms
When bad news hits, Koreans tend to seek escapist entertainment, which nowadays seems all about staying home.
The economic turmoil has most businesses reeling from tighter finances and collapsed consumer demand, but NCsoft, the country's biggest computer game producer, is one of the few companies struggling to hide its giddiness.
Its new online game, ``Aion,'' is managing to live up to its enormous pre-launch hype, garnering around 150,000 to 200,000 concurrent users per day since starting commercial services last month.
It took NCsoft four years and 25 billion won (about $19 million) to release the fantasy RPG, but the lavish spending might end up looking like a bargain investment if Aion indeed proves as the heir apparent to the company's iconic ``Lineage'' franchise.
Company officials are claiming that gamers are responding to Aion's creativity and sophisticated action features, which now include flight and aerial combat, but it's also hard to deny that the recession has been a blessing in disguise for the computer games industry.
As one of the more inexpensive sources of entertainment, games seem to be raking in money at a time when purse strings are tight. Even the rising jobless rate is a boon for the gaming companies, as analysts point to past correlations between employment levels and playing time.
According to Rankey.com (www.rankey.com), an Internet marketing research company, the country's male Internet users, who provide the biggest customer pool for online games, are spending around 19 to 24 hours per month on the Internet this year, compared to 16 to 21 hours last year.
``With online games, you just need 10,000 won to keep yourself entertained for most of the day, so you feel that you are really maximizing money spent,'' said an NCsoft spokesman.
``We are confident that games will retain their popularity even through the economic downturn,'' he said.
Games are not the only products that are enjoying soaring popularity. With people beginning to spend more time at home, the sales of electronic products, such as televisions, audio players, ovens and ``kimchi'' refrigerators, are also seeing increasing sales.
According to Danawa (www.danawa.com), an online commerce portal, the sales of television sets at its affiliate sites reached 1,418 units in November, up from 1,167 units in October and 956 units in September.
Sales of cassette tape players and CD players, dinosaurs in recent years with MP3 players becoming conventional, are also rising, combining to sell nearly half a million units this year, according to industry estimates.
An official at Inkel, which owns the largest market share in cassette players, explained the growth as the rising demand of students who are opting to study English and other subjects at home, rather than spending money on ``hagwon,'' or private cram schools.
Microwave ovens are also enjoying popularity, with LG Electronics saying it sold more than 13,000 units of its ``Dios'' products just last month. The rise in sales of kimchi refrigerators was explained as a result of more people choosing to make the traditional pickled vegetable dish at home instead of buying it.