The market for video games in Korea is quite different the West and even Japan. Online games with cash-op models reign supreme while consoles are just ramping up. To get a better feel for the market in South Korea and to see what it’s like to localize a Korean game we investigated Audition, a popular music/rhythm game from T3 which has been localized for North America.
What inspired Audition?
Seung-Jae Park, T3 Entertainment Online Business Team Representative: With Audition, we wanted to work on a new kind of MMO that wasn’t heavily immersed in a fantasy aesthetic or combat-based gameplay. We’re all big fans of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, so we adapted that style to create a massively multiplayer game where people can play along with the music they love while also making friends and competing with other individuals from across the world.
Audition has been released in over a dozen countries with fully localized versions in each territory. How do you think RedBana can expand the popularity of the US version further?
Right now we’re discovering what US audiences like most about Audition and building on those aspects with regular patch updates. As we add new music and game play modes and continually refine the experience we hope that the experience will draw more users to the game. For example, when Audition first launched, much of music was Korean pop. We’ve been adding more mainstream US artists like Lady Gaga and Fall Out Boy and even introducing our fans to emerging artists from MySpace.
We developed the PSP version in T3 and released in Korea as well as all the other countries where Audition was already released. It was most successful in China and Southeast Asia.
Are you planning to make anymore PSP games or console titles?
Right now we do not have plans for additional PSP games or console titles. In the future, if we see that a particular country can do well with a console version of one of our games, we will definitely consider it.
I could have sworn I saw a version of Audition in the arcades too, I believe it was… Taiwan. Is T3 looking at arcade development too?
We did develop an arcade version of Audition back in 2007 but it was never released. The development has stopped since the arcade market in Korea has been slow.
As a console and MMO publisher, what do you think the state of the South Korean video game market is? Are there too many MMOs? Will console gaming ever have a chance?
If you think about it, the landscape here is almost the opposite of the US where console games dominate and PC games have a nice niche. The huge difference right now is how the two cultures approach spending on games. US consumers prefer to buy games as a whole and finished package hence the popularity of console games.
In Korea and other Asian nations, consumers have come to expect free-to-play games with consistent updates and small increments of payment through microtransactions. But things are changing on both sides, Growth on both ends is very gradual as individual tastes shift from title to title, but and we expect that console popularity will increase here in Korea just as MMOs are growing in popularity in the US.
Aside from growing Audition and Warcry, what are T3’s future plans?
We have an English-learning game called Audition English that we are releasing in non-English speaking countries. There are more than ten other projects that we are working on and if we feel that it would fit well for American audiences, we will definitely be looking into that. Stay tuned!
Nexon originally held the rights to Audition. Was the change in rights how Redbana got started?
Eric Liu, Global Manager of Redbana US: Redbana was founded as the North American development and publishing division of T3 Entertainment. The takeover of Audition operations was a perfect opportunity to kickoff Redbana’s launch in the US. Our goal is to be a premier game development and publishing studio, brining even more T3 titles to the US as well as working on our own IP.
Picking up a MMO, especially an established one, must be difficult. What are some of the challenges you faced?
Other than the language, we didn’t change much about Audition in the process of bringing it stateside. The biggest challenge has been finding out how the appeal from Eastern audiences translates to US audiences because the two cultures have different tastes and different reasons for enjoying video games. As we add content to Audition, we’re learning more and more about what our new US audience likes and how to create content within that game that’s compelling for them.
Another issue that we faced was the transfer of existing Audition accounts from Nexon over to our new Redbana Portal site. There are always technical and customer service problems that arise, but luckily we powered through them and began normal operations pretty much immediately after Nexon’s Audition came offline.
What changes do you plan to make from Nexon’s business model?
Nexon did a good job of providing music in Audition for the mainstream audience. One thing that we intend on improving is the inclusion of top billboard popular and up-and-coming artists like Lady GaGa and Ke$ha. Another important factor in keeping the audience interested are the monthly updates that we are now doing that not only include new music, but a plethora of new features and fashionable avatar items.
One thing interesting about Audition is the audience, perhaps like the MapleStory audience, doesn’t realize it’s a Korean game.
I think most of our fans realize it’s an Asian game due in part to the manga-inspired avatar looks. They may not know if it’s Korean, Japanese or Chinese but the style is inherent within. However, we’ve also noticed that once it becomes popular enough in certain social groups that it becomes their game regardless of where it was developed. We think that this transition is easier because Audition does not have a fantasy setting, which can often draw heavily on Asian history and lore. Dancing, fashion and making friends are pretty universal concepts across all cultures.
Audition is infused with American pop music. How were you able to acquire all of these licenses?
We actually work with a lot of independent artists from MySpace, and that’s typically a matter of reaching out to the artists and composers directly. In the cases of mainstream pop, our producers work very closely with multiple music studios and clearing houses.
How is the North American version different from the Korean release?
Not much was changed when we brought the Korean version to the US other than the language and some of the cultural references. Like other games from overseas, the US version may be slightly dated so that the kinks can be worked out before it comes stateside. However, each update we add to the game is full of new content and since we launched in the US, there has been an update every month since release.
Your publicity strategy seems quite different. Audition isn’t mentioned much on gaming sites, but you have coverage in Seventeen and on MTV.
Audition is much different than traditional console and MMO games. We see, as I’m sure you do, that as video games become more accepted on a mainstream level they tend to fill different niches and take on different roles. It’s not that we avoid coverage on gaming sites, it’s just that we find more interest from sites that cover more mainstream entertainment.
With so many online games already on online, how can RedBana increase the game’s market share?
Our strategy is to continue adding the highest quality content on a regular basis and continue adapting the game to be more relevant to US audiences. This keeps current fans engaged while drawing in new players as word spreads about new music, gameplay modes, and in-game items. We think cultural localization is as important as simply just translating the text from Korean to English.
We aren’t planning any console development at this time, however we’re always considering at our options and listening to feedback from our fans.
What’s next on Redbana’s agenda? Are you going to release more T3 developed online games in North America?
We have some very big titles planned for North America, one of which was just announced — Mythos, which will be released in 2010. Stay tuned for more information on additional T3 developed titles!