The Asian-Pacific gaming market was slated to generate $51.2 billion in revenue in 2017 — almost twice as much as the North American market, over which it traditionally ranks. Asia’s gaming industry is on the rise, both in traditional games and mobile games. China, Japan, and South Korea are the main countries advancing the market in this region.
It’s known that there are more Chinese gamers than people living in the USA. Meanwhile, Japanese gamers are famous for their gaming obsession; it was a Japanese gamer who first reached the thousandth level on Steam, buying more than 5,000 games. But what have we heard about South Korean gamers? South Korea’s market is sixth in the world by earnings ($4.2 billion) — almost on the same level as its closest competitors, Germany and Great Britain ($4.43 billion and $4.23 billion, respectively).
Gaming as a Dream Job
Gaming ads are everywhere in South Korea, from billboards in metro stations to ads on TV. Instead of going to the movies, it’s common for couples to go to a gaming club on a date. More than half the population enjoys gaming — there are 25.5 million gamers in the country.
According to research from Newzoo, 49% of them are between 21 and 35. The majority of gamers are male. For them, gaming isn’t a way of escaping the real world but rather a type of social activity. Most Koreans play outside the home at special clubs, so-called PC bangs. There are around 20,000 of these in the country.
“In Korea, games are the barometer of the generation gap … The best way to avoid addiction is for families to play games together,” said Jun Byung-hun, the head of the country’s e-sports governance body, KeSPA.
Becoming a professional gamer is the dream of many Koreans since it means a good income and popularity almost on a national level. The income of such gamers increased by more than 50% in 2017, up to $92,000 a year.
In 2014, Chan-An University, one of the Top 10 institutions of higher education in the country, even started to accept gamers on the same terms as talented soccer players or basketball players. Busan’s annual G-STARexhibition attracted the attention of the entire gaming world. Around 200,000 visitors come to the event.
Cybersport and Online Gaming as a Basis for Cloud Gaming Development
Such a buzz isn’t surprising since South Korea is the cybersport capital of the world. This is one of the first countries in Asia in which cybersport started to develop. A stadium for gamers appeared back in 2005. The audience for this type of sport in the country numbers more than 7 million people. Online games, the second-most popular type of game in South Korea after mobile games (in this niche, online tournaments are also very popular), is growing 14.9% a year.
The explosive growth of online games is possible thanks to the country’s high level of network bandwidth. By the end of 2017, South Korea was in fourth place out of the countries with the fastest broadband internet (127.45 Mbps) and eighth among the countries with the fastest mobile internet (47.64 Mbps).
This is one of the main opportunities for cloud gaming development in South Korea, 92% of whose inhabitants are internet users. What’s more, according to trends presented at the last G-STAR show, Korean interest in PC games is returning. The best way to access these games is to use a service that makes it possible to play from the same devices from which Koreans are accustomed to following cybersport competitions and participating in online contests.
Will Blockchain Change the Korean Gaming Industry?
Gaming is one of the first industries being changed by blockchain. There’s already no doubt that the synergy of gamers and blockchain enthusiasts will bring a new wave of innovation to this industry or perhaps even a revolution in the way we’re used to playing. Leading gaming concerns are considering blockchain and cryptocurrency opportunities for improving their products, while in South Korea, the industry leader Nexon bought the Korbit exchange in 2017.
“Unlike typical game companies that have an interest in crypto primarily as it relates to the purchase of game items, Nexon’s acquisition indicates its interest in the industry as a whole,” says Steve Kim, foreign legal advisor at Seum Law.
But governments pose an obstacle because they haven’t yet fully determined cryptocurrency and ICO regulation, a topic that’s now inextricably linked with blockchain technology. In September 2017, South Korean startups collected $89 million in token sales. This was the last straw; ICOs were banned in the country, following China, another major cryptocurrency market.
Cryptocurrencies can be traded for now, but conditions are getting tougher every month. As recently as January 2018, the government forbade anonymous trading. Now all owners of virtual wallets must link them to real bank accounts, and foreigners are completely forbidden from investing in cryptocurrency in South Korea. That said, South Korea is third in the world by market trading volume, behind Japan and the USA.
Experts doubt, however, that it will come to a complete ban. Like many other countries that have dealt with the popularity of cryptocurrency, South Korea needs time to formulate new legislation and choose a regulation method that will have a beneficial effect on the country’s economy.
Meanwhile, South Korean startups, including gaming startups, are preparing to launch ICOs in international jurisdiction. By the time their projects are close to implementation, the world’s cryptocurrency situation should be calmer. “There is nothing frightening in the regulation, and it will benefit honest market players in particular. But the point that affects the emotional instability of all the participants is in the lack of a clear and transparent plan of activities,” says Playkey CEO Egor Guriev.
In the end, digital gold is here to stay, and governments will learn to deal with it — especially in those countries whose populations include many gamers hungry for technical innovations, as used to playing as breathing.