How do you approach the world's biggest games audience? If you're a developer or publisher with global ambitions, South Korea must be on your mind - it's the gateway to Asia and a huge market in its own right.
And the best way to experience the Asian industry is through the biggest exhibition and conference in the territory - G-STAR, the annual event in Busan, South Korea.
G-STAR provides an amazing platform for entry into the Asian game market. The event offers visitors an optimum business environment with relatively low participation cost coupled with maximum opportunity for meeting the industry.
It always features the best selection of game companies, from indie developers to the largest firms and in 2018, a focus for G-STAR will be international attendees, as well as the indie game scene.
This year’s G-STAR takes place on November 15th to 18th at BEXCO. PocketGamer.biz and Steel Media have partnered with G-STAR to bring the Big Indie Awards to Busan that week.
To get a sneak peek of what G-STAR has to offer, as well as ask practical questions about how best to approach the South Korean and Asian markets, we spoke with Shin Chul Kang, president of Korea Association of Game Industry (K-GAMES) and chairman of the G-STAR organising committee.
PocketGamer.biz: When was K-GAMES, the Korean Games industry association, founded and why?
Shin Chul Kang: Why the association was created can be divided into domestic and overseas reasons. Domestically, there's the need for a positive understanding of games, since it's an area of popular culture and a need for the gaming industry to handle issues together.
Overseas, there's the expanding and pioneering of the market, mutual assistance, the ability to adapt actively to a rapidly changing environment, the need to take the lead and be responsible for the community and economy of the industry. Our association was established in 2004 to solve these problems smoothly.
The Korean games market was worth $9.7bn in 2016, with an estimated 3.4 per cent growth by next year.Shin Chul Kang
How big is the games market in Korea?
In 2016 it was $9.7bn (108,945 hundred million Korean Republic Won). In 2016, online games were the largest part of the games market (42.6 per cent) with mobile games making up 39.7 per cent of the market. The Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) estimates that the market will continue to grow strongly. It estimates a 3.4 per cent growth in the overall games market by 2019.
What are the big opportunities for Western companies in South Korea?
The Korean market has tended to focus on PC, online and mobile so far. But with the recent development of games being localised in Korean, the console market is also expanding. So I think the Korean games market is a good target for Western companies in terms of its potential.
Korea is a good test market for Western game studios.Shin Chul Kang
What advice do you have for Western developers and publishers who want to do business in South Korea?
The characteristics of Korean gamers should be the most important things to consider. Korean gamers are comparatively less loyal to their games. If you are a famous game studio, Western people tend to instinctively trust your product… but not in Korea.
Because loyalty to game studios is low, favourite games change very quickly over time. In order to develop a successful title in Korea, a top priority is to grasp the current trends of the industry and examine Korean users' tendencies. So Korea is a good test market for Western game studios.
What are the big gaming trends with Korean gamers at the moment?
It seems that the console market is expanding. Localised games are getting really big and, in fact, games that are not good enough nor perfectly localised don't get played; even if the brand is really famous.
The growing number of console games in the Korean language seems to mean that Korea's console market is getting bigger.
And what are the main challenges?
Win-win is the most important phrase in the Korean gaming market! In addition to large game companies, it is important to establish a foundation for developers and for the growth of startups and indie games.
In recent years, the boundaries of the international games industry are disappearing. I think it is an important vision for the Korean games industry to create content that everyone in the world loves.
Understand trends and issues in the Korean market - it leads the world games industry.Shin Chul Kang
What should Western developers do to get the most out of G-STAR?
Most importantly, understand trends and issues in the Korean games market - it leads the world games industry.
The tendency and characteristics of Korean game users are unique compared to other countries. If you cannot understand the user trends, you won't be able to release successful games in Korea.
It's important to work out a clear segmentation, targeting and positioning marketing strategy. Conduct business meetings with big game companies in Korea, and actually meet with users in Korea directly through G-STAR. It will help Western game companies to catch up with the Asian market and the next global gaming trend.
How much of a success was last year's G-STAR events in Busan? How many people attended?
In 2017 there were 2,857 booths and 676 exhibitors. 35 countries were represented and there were over 2,000 trade visitors. Over 225,300 consumer visitors attended. This represents steady growth in the last five years (over 19 per cent growth since 2013).
The reaction from attendees was very positive. In a survey, 82.4 per cent of exhibitors reported a positive overall impression of G-STAR. And 84.9 per cent of trade visitors said they intended to return!
We're looking forward to serving as a game festival, not just a game exhibition.Shin Chul Kang
What is new with G-STAR this year? What's your focus in 2018?
We are expanding the basic exhibition infrastructure and preparing a pleasant environment for business participants.
We plan to expand the conference and investment markets, which are official sub-events of G-STAR; they're on a larger scale than ever before. We're also collaborating with partners to put on other fringe events too.
This year, G-STAR is using that key phrase 'win-win'! We want to create a space where indie companies and startups can exhibit their content. We're looking forward to serving as a game festival, not just a game exhibition.
What are you most looking forward to at the G-STAR event in 2018?
Our conference is expanding each year, both quantitatively and qualitatively. We're working to create a conference session where we can talk about the fun in games with core developers from popular game studios who have global hits.
I always like to see good sessions with experts from the best game developers – we want to give the audience a good time.
Early Bird registrations for G-STAR are still available (just!) and anyone that registers before July 27th will receive a generous 10 per cent discount on ticket prices to the leading Asian conference and expo.